Wednesday 25 September 2013

A new routine

We are gradually settling in.

Littleboy 1 is having to get to grips with not only wearing a school uniform at school, but having to get changed at school or either PE or games- something he never had to do in the US. This means that he a) loses items of clothing on a regular basis (at least he has the name tapes) and b) often appears at the end of the school day with something on back to front or inside-out. On Friday he told me "Today is my favourite school day." I expected that it was because it was almost the weekend but no - it was the only day he didn't have to change clothes.

Littleboy 2 is getting to grips with swimming lessons through the school, which involve wearing a swimming hat for the first time in his life. After the first one, the teachers asked me: "Can he swim?". "Yes," I replied, surprised, "He's a really good swimmer." The swimming coach had reported back that he wasn't obeying any instructions and he wondered if he spoke English. When I enquired, Littleboy 2 informed me that he "couldn't hear". I've worked out that it must be the swimming hat......

The Doctor has finally started work, having cleared all manner of CRB checks, identity checks and occupational health questionnaires. Of course, when he took in all his official certificates to say he's a qualified doctor, no-one really gave them a second glance.....

For me, it's just been incredibly busy. As well as working, childcare and catching up with my UK friends, I've been working out how the heating in the house works, and trying to contact a piano repair man who only answers the phone on a Monday and won't allow you to leave an answerphone message. Fun, fun, fun.

I still haven't met many fellow parents at the school, but there's a coffee morning later this week at which I hope to make some connections. At the moment I feel like the only Mum outside Littleboy 2's school gates who isn't chatting gaily to a friend, and because of the dash between the two schools, I usually arrive at Littleboy 1's school a hot mess, dragging little brother behind me.

I also hadn't realised how much difference it makes with the school day being slightly longer than in America. By the time we get home from pickup, it's ten past four, and almost time to start homework and piano practice. They also get homework on weekends (a bit much, I think) so in some ways it feels as if you never get a break.

I'm already looking forward to half term....

Saturday 21 September 2013

Saturday ad break

As some of you may know, my day job involves writing about advertising. I have to watch hundreds of ads every week, good and bad, and sum them up in a few succint paragraphs. I don't often share ads on this blog, but sometimes I come across one that I think would make my readers laugh.

Having just moved back to England and discovering the "joys" of the school run, this one definitely did.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Down memory lane on the seafront

Beach huts on the seafront near my old school
On Saturday, I checked in at a little hotel on the seafront in a Suffolk seaside town. Across the road, the grey sea lapped in unfriendly waves, while huge container ships made their way slowly across the horizon. It was a view I hadn't experienced for 22 years. But oh, so familiar.

This was my first return to the seaside town where I boarded for seven years, from the ages of eleven. I walked out of there at 18 and never looked back. The school closed three years later, so there were not return visits, no school reunions. But now someone had organized one via Facebook, and here we were.

Ah, the power of social media. With us all turning 40 this year, everyone had become incredibly nostalgic, posting old school photos and remembering teachers. To my surprise, people who I never would have considered friends at school had "friended" me on Facebook. Even people who had been bullies and, not to put too fine a point on it, bitches. Now they were all turning up, at this former grotty seafront pub now, amazingly, transformed into a boutique hotel.

I wasn't sure about going. None of the few friends I had stayed in touch with and seen over the years could make it, and there were only a few people going that I had been at all close to. But when I met one of them at Liverpool Street Station and travelled up with her on the train, I knew I had made the right decision.

When you live with people, day in day out, for seven years, you share quite a bond. Memories that have been tucked away into a far corner of your mind for years. A shared sense of place and experience that binds you together, despite the intervening years.

And that was the overriding feeling of the evening, which I enjoyed far more than I expected. In fact, it was fascinating. The main thing that surprised me was how many other people confessed that they had hated boarding. Even people who appeared, at the time, to be thoroughly enjoying it. It was interesting that to a woman, we all said we would not ever send our own children to boarding school.

Also interesting were the friendships that had endured, and those that hadn't. The people who confessed that when they looked back on their friendship with certain people, they saw that it wasn't healthy. The girl who had been haunted over the years by the fact that she said something awful to one girl, who then left the school as a result. The two girls who had stood by someone else who had a terrible car crash the year after we left school, and spent a year in hospital.

I was also amazed by how other people remembered me. Someone said they thought I was sporty - I never was, and spent the whole time imagining that everyone thought of me as useless at hockey. Someone else (hilariously) remembered me as a "mathematician" - turns out they had me confused with my best friend. At school I thought of myself as rather square and boring, but people didn't remember me like that. They remembered that I was good at drama and writing, and wrote funny plays for the end of term show. The people I assumed despised me at school probably didn't, after all.

In a way, our group were a microcosm of the ups and downs of life. There had been marriages, children, divorces, accidents and illnesses - even one death. At forty, I was able to see the amazing women behind the silliest of girls. Age might bring lines, but it also brings a deeper level of understanding to all of us.

So I'm glad I went. In some ways it exorcised some demons. In some ways it reminded me of a part of my life I've suppressed for years.

And looking at the unexpected blue of the sea the next morning, under a cloudless Suffolk sky, a tiny part of me admitted that perhaps it wasn't all that bad.

Friday 13 September 2013

First week over....

Well, we survived the first week of new schools, new house and new everything.

Considering I was on my own for four days of it, with The Doctor away at a conference, I think it went pretty well. I managed to get to the parents' evening, thanks to my father who babysat. I managed to get them to school and back every day, without being late for anything or forgetting any games kit. We did all the homework. Littleboy 1 only lost one item of school uniform - and his teacher managed to find it again today.

On the downside, the weather has been completely foul and I'm hating the London traffic. Since we left the number of parents in "Chelsea tractors" seems to have proliferated and the driving become more aggressive. Of course these same cars were everywhere on Long Island, but at least there the roads are wide and the parking spaces large. On South London's narrow, speed-bumped roads, trying to dodge big shiny 4x4's filled with harried looking mothers is just not fun.

But at least the boys seem to have settled with remarkable ease. Littleboy 2 is quite the novelty in his new school as the only new pupil in Year 2. Everyone at the parents' evening had heard all about him, and he was even voted onto the "school council" by his classmates. (This involves going to see the headmistress once a week and solemnly reporting requests from his class. Apparently most of them are about whether the school can have a trampoline or a swimming pool).

Littleboy 1 pronounced his first day "awesome" and has been incredibly enthusiastic ever since. He's been put in the top group for football and is reassured to find that his classmates like Angry Birds and Star Wars just like the boys in America.

If only adults were as adaptable as children.....

Monday 9 September 2013

Back to school: UK vs US

My New York friends go back to school this week (at least, their children do), so I've been reflecting a little bit on the differences I've noticed so far between the rituals that accompany back-to-school in the UK and in the US.

Spend the week before frantically buying uniform and attaching name tags (or sew-in name tapes, in my unlucky case, see previous post).

Spend the week before shopping for nice new kids' clothes at Target and, if you're super-organized, writing a name on the label with a Sharpie.

First day in the plaground: everyone's discussing their summer holidays and where they went.

First day in the playground: everyone's discussing which summer camp their kids did

You're not sure what day your child has PE and when to send in the PE bag

It doesn't matter what day they have gym, because they don't have to get changed for it.

Everyone's already looking forward to half term/wondering how they're going to arrange childcare for half term

Everyone's already thinking about Halloween costumes. There's no half term (although there are an awful lot of random days off in November).

The school run means the traffic everywhere is a nightmare

The traffic isn't any different from usual, although there are more school buses around

Everyone's posting pictures of the first day on Facebook
Everyone's posting pictures of the first day on Facebook

At least some things are the same the world over.....

Thursday 5 September 2013

My first school run

It's been a momentous week.

We've moved into our new house in London, and both the boys have started at their new schools, Littleboy 2 yesterday and Littleboy 1 today. I've spent all week unpacking boxes, labelling uniform and pencil cases and shoes, and making tedious phone calls. The Doctor, meanwhile, has been wading through reams of cable trying to make all our various media work properly, setting up direct debits and making tedious phone calls.

At least one of my biggest dreads - the sewing on of hundreds of name tapes with only five days between acquiring and wearing said uniform - went smoothly in the end. Thanks to the Doctor's aunt and a friend of hers, all name tapes were sewn on in one long session, sitting outside in a Greenwich garden one warm evening accompanied by bottles of prosecco.

I still have to sew on the "large initial" name tapes, which haven't arrived yet and which must apparently be attached in exactly the right place on sports kit or else who knows what will happen (see uniform booklet, the whereabouts of which are unknown).

All was organised for the first school run. The Doctor would take Littleboy 2 to school and I would pick him up at 12.30 (it was a half day start). I would take the local train one stop, and make a leisurely trip to a nice-looking bakery before picking him up and travelling back by bus.

All was fine until I reached the station - although I did notice there was a huge queue of traffic on the road and that the police had closed off one section, although you could still walk to the station. Turns out a lorry had hit a railway bridge, giving a knock on effect on both trains and traffic. I quickly worked out I was very unlikely to be there at 12.30 if I took the train. While this might be OK in a few weeks there was no WAY I was going to be there late to pick up Littleboy 2 on his first day at a new school in a new country.

I started sprinting up the road to the nearest bus stop. No mean feat considering that a) I haven't run in a year due to my chronic pain problems, b) I was wearing flip flops and c) and it's unusually hot in London this week - more like New York temperatures in fact. The buses were there, but stuck in a huge jam - the first driver told me "you'd be better off walking, luv". I rang The Doctor and told him to jump in the car and head for the school in case I didn't make it.

So I carried on running, at least half a mile, in my flip flops. Eventually the traffic eased (I saw the lorry which had hit the bridge) and I managed to jump on a bus for a few stops. I ran the last hot, sweaty 100 metres, and got there just as Littleboy 2 emerged into the school playground with his class. (The other mothers were all serenely chatting about their holidays in the Algarve and no doubt wondering who this wild-eyed, red faced newcomer was).

"Mummy, why are your hands so sweaty?" Littleboy 2 asked me as I took him firmly by the hand. By this point The Doctor and Littleboy 1 had also arrived and parked around the corner. We flopped into the car, hot and exhausted, then had to go off and look for lunch which I had failed to buy.

I'm really going to miss that yellow schoolbus. Still, if nothing else, my first school run taught me that I am still capable of running. I might be donning my trainers next time though.