Tuesday 24 May 2011

Things I have learned in two years

Exactly two years ago today, we were getting off a plane at JFK with two overexcited small boys, and about eight suitcases containing a lot of our worldly goods. As we piled into a yellow taxi and headed for Brooklyn, we were arriving in a new country with nowhere to live, not even knowing exactly where we would live, no schools or nurseries sorted for the children, no car, no furniture, no friends. When I look back on it now, I think I was remarkably calm.

It has definitely been a steep learning curve, and there have been lows as well as highs. But I have no regrets, and if you asked me to move to the States all over again I would.

So what have I learned in two years in the New York area? Well, hundreds of things, but I thought I would just jot down a few to mark the anniversary. Some of these are genuinely things I really had no clue about before we left the UK - just goes to show that however much you think you know American culture from TV, books and films, it is very different living here.

1. I know what the following initials stand for: the GOP, NPR, the DMV.

2. I have become familiar with the following foods: matzoh, sliders (we even cooked them on the BBQ at the weekend), s'mores, challah bread (now Littleboy 2's favourite lunch), Goldfish pretzels (Littleboy 1's favourite snack).

3. I have learned that bigger is always better. If you are asked to a party and hostess tells you just to bring yourselves, bring yourselves plus three large dishes of food. And one small present looks bad at a kid's birthday. Buy something in a huge box, plus, possibly, another gift as well.

4. When my neighbor told me two years ago she was going to be honored at a gala, I thought it was some kind of carnival and she would be travelling in a float. I really did. Now I know that a Gala is a fundraiser at which someone is honored with speeches, presentations and ads in a journal.

5. I have learned that America is a country of extremes. Extreme weather (just look at the devastating tornadoes this week); extreme politics; extreme views. None of your British reserve or moaning about the drizzle. Things are either fantastic, or devastating. Never just a bit 'meh'.

6. I am learning to embrace the 'soccer mom' culture of the American suburbs. I'm not actually turning into Sarah Palin, but I genuinely enjoy watching the boys playing football*, and caught myself turning up in the soccer mom uniform of baseball cap and denim shirt last week. *(Actually, truth be told Littleboy 1 plays football. Littleboy 2 mainly sits in the grass and plays with the dandelions. The Doctor confesses that this is what he, too, did during sports classes as a child).

7. I honestly thought that summer camp was when you went away and camped in the woods for six weeks. Now I know that this is 'sleepaway camp', and summer camp just means a form of (hopefully fun) childcare to ensure that you don't go crazy during a 3 month summer holiday. I have become a fully paid up fan of summer camp.

I could go on, but I'm running out of time and today my Dad arrives from England for a week. I'll be interested to get his take, not just on how the boys have changed since his last visit, but how I've changed too. Because it's been an educational experience for all of us.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

All partied out

This time of year is all about parties for me. No, I'm not sipping champagne in some fancy Manhattan locale, if that's what you thought (as if). I've spent the past few weeks both organising both Littleboy 1's birthday and helping to organise a local fundraiser.

The birthday party was probably the easy part. I gave The Doctor the task of creating the Angry Birds cake, and he did a great job (see picture). Never mind that the purchase of the Angry Birds keyrings, at vast expense from a dodgy website, seems to have resulted in our credit card being stopped because somebody fraudulently used his details.

As for the party itself, we had bravely decided to have it at home - an unusual thing in this area, where most kids' parties take place at themed venues, where everything including entertainment, pizza and cake is thrown in, but the price can be upwards of $500. Instead we hired a magician, re-erected the boys' trampoline and prayed for good weather. The signs on the day were not good - a damning forecast of heavy rain. We spent the morning hurriedly clearing the decks of our house, making space for 20 kids. I had already made up pass the parcel in anticipation of lots of indoor games being required.

But, 30 minutes before the first guests arrived, the skies cleared, the sun came out and the sodden trampoline was dry enough to bounce on again. We were away. The party was a success, with everyone playing mainly outside - I practically had to drag them in to play pass the parcel, a game American kids are not really familiar with but seemed to enjoy hugely. They ate their pizza outside on picnic rugs - another aspect I am sure was eccentrically British, but seemed to go down well. As they left, one little girl informed me it was the 'second best party' she'd been to - the best being her own. I took that as a vote of confidence.

Meanwhile, the other party I'm involved with has been causing huge stress. These fundraising Galas are huge in the States, and I had no idea previously what was involved. Basically the occasion always has an honoree, and that person's friends and family are encouraged to come along and spend a lot of money on tickets, raffles and auctions. There is also a 'book of the night', in which people are encouraged to take out ads saying what a wonderful person the honoree is and congratulating them. Muggins here - a volunteer with the organisation - ended up being the editor of this tome, and has spent the past week dealing with all the fun involved in producing a magazine with a team of volunteers who don't really have time to do it, people sending in ad copy via fax at the last minute and other ads mysteriously disappearing. Add to that a diva designer who threw a strop and resigned via email, and you have about a week of sleepless nights. And that's on top of my real job - the one I get paid for. Sigh.

Oh well. I shall be more than ready to don my cocktail dress come the weekend and party. At least this time I won't have to worry about kids injuring themselves on the trampoline...it'll just be the irate adults whose ads never made it into the book.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

The Gallery: Chilled Out

Yes, yes, I know I'm breaking all my own rules. But when I saw that this week's Gallery theme was 'Chilled Out', I knew exactly which picture I wanted to use (I took it a couple of weeks ago). Besides, he looks so cute here I couldn't resist. Littleboy 2 loves to chill out, preferably with thumb in mouth. So he was delighted by my friend's new hammock.

Sunday 8 May 2011

Mother's day strikes again

Longstanding readers may remember that last May, I committed a cardinal sin.

I booked Littleboy 1's birthday party for American Mother's Day.

I had no idea that Mother's Day was this sacred day in the U.S. Not just a day to give Mothers a card, or maybe a bunch of flowers, but a day to be set aside as extremely special, on which nothing else can take place, especially something that doesn't involve the immediate family. It was as if I'd suggested a wife swap party or going out clubbing on Christmas morning - the horror in people's voices as they replied that no, they couldn't possibly come.

This year I cannily booked the party for next weekend instead, but I still found myself completely amazed by US Mother's Day. All week, people have been asking me what was I doing for Mother's Day - to which I had to politely shrug my shoulders and mumble that I wasn't sure. The truth is, we had no special plans - if I was going to celebrate Mother's Day at all it would probably be the British one. It was nice when the Littleboys gave me their cards from school ("I love you, Mom"), but I was quite happy with that, thank you very much. They'd already been ordered to bring money to buy presents at a 'Mother's and Father's Day fair' (Littleboy 1 chose surprisingly wisely; a plant for me and a torch for The Doctor).

As the day grew closer everyone was wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day. Even the schoolbus driver said it on Friday as I and the other 'Moms' collected our kids at the bus stop. Meanwhile, a group of us were trying to organize a group photo to be taken for an event we're involved with; a time needed to be found at the weekend, but then one person pointed out via email that 'Sunday is Mother's Day' so of course should be completely ruled out.

My European friend, who has been here for five years and is therefore more ingrained into US calendar dates, thought it might be nice to do something for Mother's Day - perhaps go out for lunch. But when she phoned a local restaurant, it was completely booked out. We decided instead to go for a picnic, so this morning I set off to the supermarket and the bakery to get some supplies.

I kid you not, the supermarket was like Christmas Eve at Waitrose. The trolleys had run out; people were queuing to get inside. The clientele was almost totally made up of Dads, buying special Mother's Day lunches and bunches of flowers, and a few kids. The few other women there looked harried and pissed off.

Undaunted I carried on. I went to our favourite French bakery; it does the most delicious croissants and rolls. They were sold out - at 10am, which is unheard of. (I learned later from our picnic companions that they were sold out at 9am). Everyone was also in there buying huge cakes for guess what? Mother's Day.

I eventually tracked down croissants at the third bakery I visited (luckily we are blessed with a lot of bakeries in town). Phew! As I drove home, every single ad on the radio seemed to be Mother's Day related.

The picnic went very well - it was a glorious day and we walked on the beach after lunch, the boys dipping their toes into the still icy water. As we got back into the car, Littleboy 1 gave me a handful of shells he'd collected. "For Mother's Day," he said, beaming angelically.

I'm still resisting, but next year you might find the lure of Mother's Day is too much. I will be expecting a large cake, thank you very much, will have booked the brunch weeks in advance and will send out my children for croissants at dawn.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Now we are six*

*With apologies to AA Milne. Whose classic children's book is one of Littleboy 1's birthday presents today.

*Now we are six, we love Angry Birds. We are the author of several books on the subject, all illustrated in great detail and stapled together lovingly. We are confidently expecting an Angry Birds themed cake for our birthday, but we may not get one, as Mummy is just not that creative (and yes, I have seen the video made by that enterprising father). Possibly Daddy will come up trumps. We also like to build Angry Birds structures in the garden, using planks of wood from the fence and rocks from the landlady's flower beds. This is not always popular with Mummy and Daddy, although they secretly admire our creativity.

*We remain a cheap date. When asked where we want to go for our birthday treat supper, we opt for one of the town's most cheap and cheerful pizzerias.

*We are a promising footballer (much to our parents' surprise, as neither excelled at sports when young). After the not entirely successful stint at basketball, we show great prowess on the soccer field, having taken to it like a duck to water. And if that doesn't work out, we are also a talented skier, impressing all instructors with our ability as well as our enthusiasm.

*We are learning to read and write, something that thrills our Mother. We love to create books, and she was honoured to star in one of them, the bestselling tome All About Mummy. We also like to read the Biscuit series of books, which to our delight features the words Woof Woof on every page.

*We have a lot of energy. This is great, except when the school, for reasons best known to itself, decides that it won't have outdoor play for six weeks because it's cold outside. We then present our teacher with some challenging behaviour, rushing around like a mad thing and bouncing off the classroom walls. Remarkably, this behaviour disappears once outdoor play is resumed.

*We are constantly covered with bruises from knee to ankle. Not to mention that scar on the forehead and other weekly injury hotspots. All that sport and rushing around like a crazy person takes its toll, you know. But, most of the time, we don't seem to mind. In fact, we take life's knocks with remarkable equanimity. As long as we are allowed to play a little bit of Angry Birds on the iPad......