Monday 23 January 2012

Snow embarrassment

The first snowfall of the season, and a very civilized one it was too. A respectable four inches, which meant that everything looked icing-sugar pretty when we woke up on Saturday morning, but not so outrageous that it meant several hours spent shoveling ourselves out of a hole (like last year).

It was still snowing heavily, but in a fit of enthusiasm, and thinking the roads might be a bit slippery for driving, we decided to walk the mile or so to Littleboy 1's football practice. The boys had already been playing outside for a good half hour by the time we had to leave, and were suitably snowy. I put Littleboy 1's soccer gear in a bag, donned my ski clothes and boots, and we set out. The Doctor and Littleboy 2 followed behind; the idea was that they would come halfway just for the walk and then come home.

It soon dawned on me, as the snowflakes stung my eyes, that 1) walking into a blizzard was not actually that much fun and 2) we had not allowed nearly enough time to get there on foot. Littleboy 1 managed to fall into a slushy puddle within the first hundred yards, soaking his gloves and jacket, and then proceeded to moan and whinge for the entire journey. The snow was in his eyes...he was too tired....he was cold....why on earth hadn't we driven...and so on (you get the picture). Trying to march as fast as I could, I kept having to backtrack to hurry him up, coaxing him up the snowy roads like a little donkey.

Eventually we arrived, 15 minutes late, at the school gym where it takes place. Everyone else (well about half of everyone there normally is, one half having wussily stayed at home while the other 50% made it there warm and dry in their SUVs) was playing football. All the parents solemnly watched as I stripped Littleboy 1 to his underwear, dressed him again, and then proceeded to hang various bits of sodden clothing around the gym, on whatever I could find.

Luckily he regained his enthusiasm within minutes and was off to kick the ball around. But then The Doctor and Littleboy 2 appeared. Littleboy 2 had determinedly followed us the whole way - I think he thought he was going to miss out on something. He was also covered in snow from head to foot, so I had to remove yet more socks, gloves etc. and find places to hang it up, as The Doctor went home to dig the car out.

I could tell they were all thinking, Crazy British Mother, but tried to carry on as if nothing remarkable were happening. Yes, every day I remove a load of wet ski clothing and find door handles to hang it on. Yes, I thought it would be a really good idea to walk a mile in a blizzard with two small children. Yes, I'm looking really quite calm, considering, sitting down to look at my iPhone now, just like the rest of you.

I really quite enjoy it sometimes........

Monday 16 January 2012

Celebrating Dr. King.

I've never thought that hard about today's holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day before - other than that, as a federal holiday, it isn't the best-timed. (I don't know about you, but I'm not really ready for a bank holiday weekend in the middle of January - I'd rather have one in the spring when the weather is more conducive to being outside, and we don't just feel as if we've barely recovered from Christmas).

But as the Littleboys grow older, we've started to talk more about the meaning of the day - and it's brought it home to me that it's an excellent idea to celebrate the hero of the civil rights movement. At 5 and 6, the Littleboys already know from their school all about Dr. King, and what he stood for. They know that there was once a time when black and white children couldn't sit in the same part of the bus, drink from the same water fountains or attend the same school. They told me a story about Dr. King having a white friend when young, and the white boy's mother telling the child he couldn't play with his friend. They also told me all about Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to go to a white elementary school in the South. And they can explain to me exactly why the rules that Dr. King fought against were unfair.

It's more difficult to explain to them why he was assassinated - they seem very confused by that, but I don't want to shield them from things like this, so I just try to convey to them that there were some bad/ignorant people who didn't like what he was doing. I've also tried to impress on them that this isn't ancient history; that this was only going on a decade or so before Mummy was born, when Grandad was a young man. (In fact, watching the DVD of The Help this weekend rather reminded me of this - the early 60s may seem like a world away, but for my generation it really wasn't).

Brought up in a fairly diverse area where they play with black, white, Asian and Hispanic friends, the boys would probably have no real idea about racism so far if we didn't have this day to focus minds on it. In American schools, I feel like they're always focusing on some forthcoming calendar event - but I'm glad that this is one of them. In addition to all the Halloween, Valentines and Mother's Day stuff they come home with, we now have drawings about Martin Luther King Jr.; Littleboy 2 was particularly proud of a paper plate with a picture of him on it, surrounded by black, white and brown handprints he'd cut out and glued on.

Of course the UK didn't have a civil rights movement or a Martin Luther King figure, and our history evolved somewhat differently, but I wonder what is done in British schools to start the conversation about racism and intolerance? After all, though we've come a long way, these are still massive problems for society, and the more education they get about such things from an early age, the better.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

A taste of things to come?

It must be an American election year, because NPR, the radio station we listen to as we wake up each morning now seems to be firmly given over to politics. We are hearing about the ins and outs of the Republican candidates as they fight it out in the primaries, which might be interesting if any of them were at all dynamic or charismatic, but they seem distinctly lacklustre (and they're Republican too, which doesn't help them in my estimation).

This morning we heard about a tiny hamlet in New Hampshire where there were only 9 voters. Newt Gingrich and someone else got one vote each, Romney and Huntsman got 2 each. Wow, hold the front page! If this is a taste of things to come, I might have to start listening to Radio 4 on 'Listen Again' every day, not just at the weekend.

Meanwhile we are dealing with the US government in our own little way. We need to renew our visas this summer, which means a trip back to the UK as you can't do it from within the US. Trying to be organised, we booked the flights ages ago, and The Doctor has assembled all the many pieces of paperwork ready to make our appointment. The other day, he rang up the US embassy in London (at vast cost as they have a premium rate line), paid $16 to even give his name, then gave them all our passport numbers and visa numbers, names, ages, dates of birth, star signs.....only to be told that the only available appointments were in February. Seeing as we are there in April, this is not particularly helpful. They could not tell him when the April dates would come through, so we now have to have the embassy on speed-dial and just have to keep ringing and checking - and eventually paying another $16 to re-register. The last thing we want is to miss the date we want, as the visas take up to two weeks to come through, and of course we need our passports back to return on our booked flight back to America. Sigh.

All in all, January 2012 is shaping up to be a pretty dreary month. For the last two years here, January has been cold and snowy, which although difficult to deal with has been quite pretty, and exciting for the kids. But this year we've had no snow as yet, and the grey, intermittently chilly weather is reminding me distinctly of England. The Doctor and I are also on a health kick, so cutting back drastically on the booze and fatty foods - although I'm still enjoying running, which I guess is something.

The only comfort is a new season of Downton Abbey on PBS, plus a box set of The InBetweeners that my brother-in-law sent us for Christmas (labelled by him as 'The anti Downton Abbey). I'm also excited about seeing The Book of Mormon on Broadway in February thanks to a Christmas present from The Doctor (for UK readers who haven't heard, it's a smash hit musical written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame).

Plus there's the thought of seeing family and friends in April, and spending some time in the UK after a break of nearly two years. At the moment, sitting soberly in my study on Long Island, the idea of a night out with the girls in a Soho cocktail bar seems like a distant fantasy in a far off land. I can't wait until it becomes a reality.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Speed dating on chairlifts and other Vermont tales

Happy new year!

We have just returned from a week in Vermont. After a seven hour drive home yesterday, the Littleboys returned (grumpily) to school, and The Doctor and I returned (grumpily) to work. And so on to January, a month in which we have both decided to forego wine for three days a week. What is more, since we left early on Boxing Day morning, our house still looks like it did on Christmas Day, with toys old and new strewn everywhere, in between the dried up spines of the Christmas Tree. Happy days.

Vermont was as lovely as ever, but ski-ing this year provided us with some challenges. For one, the snow (not good anywhere in the US at the moment) has been inconsistent, so only 30% of the resort had opened up. When it did snow, the ski-ing was great, but then it would warm up again within 24 hours, leaving the slopes an interesting mixture of slush and ice. There was also a thick cloud sitting on the mountain most days, meaning that the beautiful views of the Green Mountains we enjoyed last year were mostly obscured.

Littleboy 1, at 6, has now also passed the age where all day ski camp is included in the package; we could have paid for him to do it every day, but it's expensive, and after the first two days, when they managed to put him in the wrong class for his ability, we decided he'd stick with the two hour lesson instead. This meant someone had to be back at base camp to pick him up at 12 every day, and because some of the runs were shut, this involved taking a shuttle bus from one part of the resort to the other. (On New Year's Day, sharing this bus with a load of hungover snowboarders was NOT fun).

The net result was that The Doctor and I spent parts of several days skiing by ourselves, and sharing long chairlift rides with strangers. After the first day of doing this, The Doctor compared it to 'speed dating' - you have to pour out your entire life story to someone within a 15 minute window, and then never see them again as you ski off in different directions. Luckily my 'rides' were fairly interesting; a good thing too, since on one journey the chairlift broke down for a good 15 minutes.

Still, we adapted to the new routine, taking Littleboy 1 ski-ing with us in the afternoons as he improved (by the ending of the week he was beating me down the hill, and taking flying leaps over bumps whenever he got the chance.) I still got to have my Amaretto coffees in the Black Bear Tavern, and the warmer temperatures meant at least your hands and feet weren't blocks of ice by the end of the day. Meanwhile, Littleboy 2 progressed steadily at ski camp. After spending just one afternoon with us, when he decided to throw a major, glove-related tantrum midway up the mountain, we decided it was best to keep him there. (We asked him if he would have behaved that way at camp. "No," he answered, wide-eyed. Yup. He is as good as gold with teachers and other people, saving the meltdowns for us).

Anyway after a nice but fairly low-key Christmas Day (Highlights: the boys loved their new toys and were really thrilled by Christmas; Lowlights: I was ill and on antibiotics, and the 'ham' we thought we had bought turned out to be a shoulder of pork due to some communication problem with the butcher) it was good to get away from it all and have nothing more to think about than whether to do another ski run, or go in and warm up with another hot chocolate. We even got to see the New Year in at a rustic Vermont inn, with the boys safely having separate fun on a 'kids' night out' which involved bouncy castles and pizza. Here's to a healthy, happy and productive 2012 for all. Now, pass me the sparkling water....