Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Photo Gallery: Bond

Everything they do, they do it together.

They are each other's best friend. If one goes on a playdate, the other wants to come. If one has a day off school ill, the other is miserable. When I ask them who they play with at recess at school, they answer that they play with each other.

They are not twins, but 19 months apart. They are not identical in character, far from it; Littleboy 1 is energetic, enthusiastic and tends toward the manic while his brother is quieter, thoughtful and goes at his own (often frustrating to us) pace. But, like all the best couples, their differences complement each other perfectly. They have a very special bond.

Which is why I'm concerned that they might not be going to the same school in England. Not at first, anyway. Their father says they will just "have to deal with it". And I guess that's all part of growing up. Whatever, I hope they will still have that unbreakable fraternal bond in years to come.

This post is part of the Photo Gallery at Sticky Fingers; theme this week is "Bond". The photo was taken last weekend, when ice covered the beach and bay opposite our house; a truly beautiful sight.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Back to London with the Beckhams

Ever since Victoria Beckham and I were pregnant at the same time, I've felt a sort of affinity with her and her family. They moved to the US around the time that we did; now, they're back in London just as we are heading back ourselves. What is more, according to the Daily Mail, they are renting a house in "South London". The mind boggles at where, but I have a feeling it won't be Catford. Could VB be esconced in Nappy Valley? You never know...

What I do know is what private school the Beckham boys are at. I'm not going to reveal its name (partly out of respect for their privacy, and hell, I don't want to get sued or anything) but I know because my brother in law sends his son there. When we were having lunch with them in London, I jumped at the chance to help pick up our nephew from school, after hearing that David himself had been spotted at pickup time on more than one occasion.

Sadly he was not there that afternoon, but my nephew did reveal, unprompted, that "Romeo is already the most popular boy in the school!"

I'm wondering how Vicks is adjusting to life in London. Is she shocked by how much it costs to park your car in the capital, and that no shop has a huge parking lot behind it? (Probably not - sure she has a chauffeur). Is she wondering how to get Goldfish and Oreos for her sons in Tesco's? Will the boys lose their American accents quickly, and will they miss baseball, basketball and dodgeball? Will Harper have a problem converting from diapers to nappies? Does VB have to remember her canvas bag for groceries, because they charge you now for plastic ones? And can she remember her chip and pin number? I certainly can't.

I'd love to have a chinwag with her about coming back to Blighty. Is she excited by life in London over so many years away? I'd like to think so. Or is she looking up at the grey January sky and wishing she was back in sunny California.

Whatever, it is quite comforting to know that all the most glamorous couples are moving back to London this year.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Friendships vs moving on.

I've been thinking a lot about friendships recently, and was also prompted by two other bloggers to write about this subject. First, a post at The Potty Diaries about the difficulties of losing friends when you're an expat. And also, although she's not an expat, a post by Talk About York, in which she mentions a friendship ended because she moved from one part of the country to another.

I've also myself posted before about friends moving on, and, as a "Third Culture Kid",  I've always known it is one of the hardest things about expat life. But now, I find myself in the position of being the friend who is about to move on. I'm aware that I have only seven months left here and I'm wondering how much I'll see of the friends I've made in America in future.

When I left England, although I knew I would miss my friends, I knew it wasn't forever. Although I was aware that many of them would also move away (out of London, in many cases), I felt sure that I would resume my social life and friendships at a later date, and in the meantime stay in touch with them via email, Facebook and Skype. And I have done, in the main. Whilst a few people have dropped off the radar, most of my previous close friendships are very much still in place.

When I moved to the US, I met a lot of people very quickly (although it was a good nine months before I became "friends" with anyone on Facebook or knew them well enough to phone up at a moment's notice, other than my lovely German friend, my soul mate in 'not-being-American'). Now, however, I have a strong network of friends in the town. I've met them through school and preschool, through book groups, online and offline mums groups, community organisations and just by virtue of being neighbours.

The other night  I missed out on going to my monthly "International Moms" night out, which has been a great source of fun over the past year. There are fellow Brits as well as Europeans, Australians, Asians and a host of other nationalities with whom to quaff wine and swap stories about expat life and the experience of living in America as a non-American (both the postives and the negatives. It's not just bitching, I promise!) Although the reason was that I was too jet-lagged, and ready for bed at 8pm, perhaps there was also a part of me that wondered if it was really worth meeting anyone new or keeping up with vague acquaintances at this stage in the game.

But in a way, that seems lame. I don't want to withdraw from my social life just because I'm leaving. And I hate to think that people might start make less effort with our family because we are going - that would be terribly sad for the Littleboys and for me. I'd also like to think that there are several people here who will become lifelong friends, with whom I'll catch up in future either in London or out here. I certainly don't want to neglect those friendships.

However, at the same time, maybe it's time to start thinking about who really matters - both here and in England. Friends who are really there for me, and who I would be there for in return. In an age of hundreds of Facebook friends and contacts, it's sometimes easy to overlook.

It's a quandary, and I'd be interested to know how anyone else managed.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Frankenstein's hallway (and other misadventures in education)

One reason for our trip to the UK was to make arrangements for the Littleboys' schooling. As we won't be in London until August and the chances of getting a place at a good state school at that time of year seem rather slim, I'd registered them for a couple of private schools in the area where we are hoping to live. At least, I reasoned, if they got a place there that would be one less worry about the move back.

But this being London, it isn't just a case of registering and stumping up for the fees - entry is highly competitive and involves assessments and interviews and tests. The boys are both doing fine academically at their own school, but, having been educated in the US system where school begins a year later than in England and takes a while to catch up, they were not exactly fully prepared for this ordeal. In spite of our attempts to home-tutor them with Carol Vorderman's "Maths Made Easy" for the past few months, there was still a lot of ground we hadn't covered.

And it wasn't just a case of having never done fractions or not knowing the metric system; the whole culture of primary education over here is different. For example it only started to dawn on me the day before Littleboy 1's first interview that he had never, in fact, sat a test before. He expressed surprise, for example, that the work he was doing would be timed. "What happens if you don't have time to do all the answers?" he asked, bewildered. I had to break it to him that he would lose marks if that happened. I also had to point out that if he worked out his maths answers out loud, as he is prone to do, it might not be such a good idea. "Will there be other boys there then?" he asked. "Oh, I thought it would just be me....".

Knowing that the exam side might be tricky, I had tried to impress on the boys that they should talk about their extra curricular activities in the interview. They should, I emphasised, mention swimming, football and, especially for Littleboy1, piano lessons. While I don't want to turn into one of those pushy London mums, I felt sure that everyone else's little darlings would have been coached to boast about their many talents, and my boys would need to differentiate themselves in some way. Littleboy 1 is (truly) good at the piano, and while the school wasn't interested in hearing him play, at least he could talk about it.  "Tell them about your concert in Manhattan at the Steinway hall," I told him. "That's something that little boys in London won't have done!" (He did indeed perform at the Steinway showroom in December, as part of a concert arranged by his piano teacher, on a very luxurious grand piano).

Afterwards, we asked him about the interview and enquired whether he had remembered to mention the piano. "Oh yes," he said. "But I forgot the name of the place. So I said I had played in Frankenstein's Hallway on a $98,000 piano."

We had to laugh. But my sense of humour failed a little when he related the next incident. The teacher had asked him to tell a joke, probably as a result of him mentioning that he liked jokes. For some reason best known to himself, he chose to tell a knock knock joke that a) didn't make sense and b) involved the words "Grandma, get your butt out of here"! His claim that the teacher had laughed did not exactly make me feel better.

What with that, and the fact that he said the most interesting part of the day was the "giant sausage" he got given to eat at lunch, I am not holding my breath. Meanwhile, Littleboy 2 gave nothing much away about his one on one assessment; all I know is that when the teacher came to get him, she asked where he lived in America. "By the seaside," he told her. Top marks for geography!

Monday 7 January 2013

January in London

We're in London.

It's grey, it's mild, it doesn't get light before 8am in the morning. As I write, I overlook Greenwich Park, which is looking green-brown and grey in the mist. A little further away, I see the masts of the Cutty Sark, and the surprising spike of the Shard in the distance. Further still, the BT tower. I used to work around there - Fitzrovia. It's all very familiar. My home city.

In the park, parents are out in force with their children, despite the January gloom. It's a far cry from Long Island, where everyone goes into hibernation from November till March.  I sit there supervising the boys in my thick Long Island coat and sheepskin boots, feeling out of place amongst the light jackets of the London mums. I used to be one of them, but now I have morphed into somebody different, no longer pushing a pram but watching my older Littleboys play a game about spies in the sandpit, not needing me to be involved at all.

The boys have school interviews later this week, and The Doctor is out sorting out his job for when we return. We're starting to think about where to live. Suddenly, July seems very close. Our sojourn in New York will be over, and a whole new chapter will begin.

Let's hope for the best in 2013.