Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hey, Other Parent, How YOU Doin'?

Happy Father's Day! Husband, did you hear me? I said, HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!! Hello? Hel...Oh, that's right. You're away for the weekend with your mates.

Actually, we've never done much beyond cards for these Hallmark holidays so he's not missing out on anything special except, of course, those precious moments of childhood that are so fleeting. EXCEPT THAT. I mean, I doubt that all that motorcycle-riding-countryside-visiting-wine-drinking-with-friends will be able to make up for it. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's pining away for our company. PINING AWAY. If he's lucky, we may still give him the cards.

Only 24 hours to go until he gets home. Not that anyone is keeping track. The kids and I have done all the requisite weekend activities: swim lessons, soccer lessons, visited parks, had friends round, gone to friends' houses, run errands, eaten pizza/sausages/cake/lollipops and not bathed. (I know. We are gross.) Sadly, our Sunday afternoon play date was cancelled (because we smell?), but it looks like rain and tomorrow we go back to the weekly routine.

I don't actually find solo parenting as difficult as I find it lonely. It's easy enough to get kids fed and wrangled onto buses to the pool and all, but I miss having someone adult to talk to in the down times. Don't get me wrong, M and O are great to be with and obviously I enjoy all the precious and fleeting childhood moments, yada yada, but by 6 p.m. I would like to talk to someone who can maintain an actual dialogue. And ideally knows how to operate a Screwpull. (THAT OPENS WINE. You guys should really get your minds out of the gutter.) When I'm on my own, once the kids are in bed the house is super quiet, and I usually end up eating something involving cheese and watching old episodes of Mediumzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...Oops, sorry, I put myself to sleep just now. But you get the picture. 

The alone time is also one of one of the hardest parts of staying home with the kids. We live in a booming metropolis and there are tons of stay-at-home-moms in my neighborhood, but while I see quite a few other adults during the day, it's often doing parallel activities alongside them as opposed to really engaging with them. Conversations happen in snippets while you pick up the kids at school or push them on the swings, and relationships are frequently based on the mutual fact that you have children. Trying to have a normal conversation (let alone develop deeper friendships) is really difficult if you have to sprint away every 45 seconds to keep your kid from death by jungle gym.

Luckily, I talk reallyreallyfast.

Hi! My name is Caroline. This is M and O and we are looking for some friends. We come from America and lived in France and love to eat fish fingers and peas and doing drawing and playing in the garden and we are on our own this weekend and are starting to get bored so you do want to come over and hang out? We promise to shower.

In all fairness, I've met some really great people since moving here, particularly via M's school. But it doesn't change the fact that when you are all home during the day, you have little kids to look after and not as nearly as much time as you'd like for leisurely coffees. It's more like sip of coffee, tell your kids to stop hitting each other, sip of coffee, please don't climb on that table, sip of coffee, why don't you guys share the ball, sip of coffee, I think I see poop coming out the top of that diaper. Not that work is this fabulous magical place with meaningful adult conversations and endless cups of coffee (ok, fine, there is a lot of coffee), but I definitely remember being able to start whole sentences and then actually finishing them. Without a single reference to poop. Mostly.

So, yes. If Husband could hurry up and get home, that would be great. I'm getting tired of cheese and running out of episodes of Medium to watch. Also, I think all the pick up lines might be starting to scare the other parents on the playground.

Side note: I just found myself shouting at O not to do "roly-polys" (somersaults) because he "might break his neck." Because that's likely, right? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mum's the Word

O just came up behind me as I sat quietly down to use the computer and ripped a band-aid off the back of my ankle. "Hurting, mummy?" "Um, yes, O. It is now. Thanks."

I was sitting down to type something about kids extra-curricular activities and how the US and UK differ, but that's going to have to keep. I just completely distracted myself by typing the word "mummy." With a U. Apparently, that's me. And while I am used to hearing it from the kids, I still have a hard time writing it out without conjuring up Scooby-Doo-style images of goofy dead guys wrapped in toilet paper. (Hey, it's actually old Professor Smith!)

M used to speak with a Brooklyn accent, but she switched to an English one within 3 months of our move here and quickly transition from Mommy to Mummy, probably from hearing all her nursery friends and having it reinforced by Husband. She can still imitate some of the American sounds with other words, but there is really no hope for O, who cannot pronounce the letter "R" to save his life. Hurting is Huhting. Water is watah. Horse is Hoss. Fork, you get the picture.

For the most part, I don't really notice their accents. But when I'm around other Americans or we travel back home (home?), it strikes me anew. They sound so English! Quick, somebody feed them some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Talk about sidewalks and pants! Play the American national anthem! Teach them about baseball! (God, someone else better do the baseball thing because I have no clue. All I know is that there is something called an RBI, thank you NY Times crossword. And beer. And hotdogs.)

And the thing is, they are English. Mostly. M actually told me that she "likes the rain" MORE THAN SHE LIKES THE SUN. Since we don't have any plans to move, I wonder how much of a connection they are going to feel with America. Will it feel at all like home? Or maybe a second home? Or perhaps it will just be that place they go for vacations. I love our life here, but I also loved growing up in the US and wish they could experience some of that as well. How else will they realize that dessert does not have to include dried fruit?


Ok, I'm fine now. I just realized I have some work to do planning my 4th of July BBQ (to be held July 3rd since they are too inconsiderate to give everyone the following day off.) That's when I'm going to start the indoctrination. "Listen here, children. The 4th of July is a Very Important Holiday. That's the day when MOmmy's country told Daddy's country to fork off. We like to celebrate it with potato salad. Dig in."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Get in Line

Yesterday we went to the American Embassy in London to renew M's passport. Despite a seemingly organized process which requires you to book an appointment in advance, we spent over an hour standing in the pouring rain, waiting to get through security.

I'd like to think that this was some indication of how top-notch secure the building was, but I'm pretty sure that inefficiency was to blame. They were only letting one family (or person) in at a time, and there was no one explaining what they wanted us to do (take out all our electronics, put them in plastic bags and check them all in, to be picked up on leaving.) So you end up fumbling around in the base of your purse for that USB key you forgot you had while 25 people standing out in the rain glare at you.

They should make it like airport security, because at this stage we all know what to expect. Shoes off. Coat off. Bulky sweater off. Laptop out. Belt, earrings, necklace, and watch off. Liquids in bags on top. Frankly, by the time I'm anywhere near the scanners, I'm half naked and waving my passport and boarding pass at anyone who glances my way. Even O and M know the drill. Last time we were traveling, M got really mad because they weren't making her take her shoes off. Like "What is the deal with these people? Don't they know it's AIRPORT SECURITY? These Crocs need to be SCANNED!"

As you wait outside, miserable and freezing cold (it's the English "summer", so about 62 degrees and raining. Come visit!) you end up watching all the newcomers try to go directly in through security. See, everyone there has an "appointment" for a certain "time" so we all arrive thinking that the huge line we are seeing could not possibly be meant for us. How could it? We are Americans with Appointments! I need to be inside at 8:30! Those other suckers should have read the website.

So you glance around, looking at your dripping Appointment paper and head straight for the security team or the wet dude with hunched shoulders and folder in a plastic bag information desk and explain that you need to go inside to renew your passport or whatever.

American: I'm an American. I have an Appointment
Wet Official: You're going to need to stand in that line there.
A: But I have an Appointment. For 8:30.
WO: Yeah. You need to get in line.
A: But it says 8:30 right here. Do you see that smudge?
WO: Mmhmm. Still, you'll have to wait.
A: Are you sure? Because I have an APPOINTMENT.
WO: Yes, you need to wait.
A: Shoulders slump. Heads for line.

Sometimes, people will go through this song and dance two or three times. They keep leaving the line to check on their Appointments while the rest of us stand there and glare angrily at the couple in security who brought their stroller loaded with enough stuff to camp out for a week. (I was being smug because we left O home with a babysitter. Had he been with us, it would have been me leaving the line. "Seriously, you better let me through for my Appointment or else I'm leaving this wet and screaming two-year-old at security with you.")

I think it's that, generally speaking, Americans don't like to assume that the line is for them, and we will verify that we really do have to wait before grudgingly and complainingly joining it. (As compared to the the Brits, who will cheerfully stand in any queue they see. Look, a queue! Jolly good. Pity about the rain but mustn't grumble! After all, I think I see a bit of blue up there! (pointing at a storm cloud.) It's charming.)

All in all, we were outside for a little over an hour. It wasn't so, so terrible, because we amused ourselves with the Expat Umbrella Game while we waited. No joke, pretty much every single person in line was holding an umbrella with a company or school logo on it. Like "Welcome to your new job in England. Here is your umbrella. You're going to need it." And they were right.

Now we are waiting on M's new passport, and I'm only going to have to go through this fun process a couple more times this year when I renew my own passport and get my residency visa. Next time, I'll be sure to head straight for the line.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Out to Lunch

We took a day trip to an actual, sandy beach this holiday (many of the local Norman beaches are stony), and the kids had a ball building small, crumbly sand castles, digging holes, and in O's case, shoving sand into every nook and cranny possible, including his diaper, pockets, ears and my iPhone case.

In the evening back at home, our faces still glowing from the wind and bright sunshine, Husband and I were reminiscing about the fabulous time we'd had.

Me: Wasn't today fantastic? It really felt like a vacation!
H: It did! We should do that more often.
Me: I know. It was idyllic. Just PERFECT.
H: Yes, perfect.
Me: Idyllic.
H: Yes.
H:...Wait a sec, I think we're forgetting about lunch.
H: Remember lunch? When O had that screaming fit and you had to leave the restaurant? You know. Lunch.
Me: Oh right. That.

And the thing was, in the light of the beautiful afternoon I really had forgotten about the less-than-idyllic restaurant lunch. This is obviously the same kind of biological, survival-of-the-human-race amnesia that results in couples having more than one kid.

But don't worry. I remember now. As, I'm sure, do the rest of the diners sitting on the terrace and also possibly the people driving by with their car windows open.

There really isn't much of a story: Mostly our lunch involved us sitting down to eat at a cafe in Deauville, and O screaming his head off. SCRA-AH-EEAMING. About everything. Because he was tired. Because he's two. Because he couldn't run around in the street where the cars were. Because we sat him next to M. Because we didn't sit him next to M. Because he wanted his mommy. Because he hated his mommy. I don't know. Because.

We tried everything. Letting him sit on our laps, giving him an extra straw, drinking from the special grown-up glasses, you name it.

We were only able to finish our lunch because I finally caved into his demands for a pacifier (even though we are trying to cut it out) and because I left the restaurant with him in a stroller and ended up threatening him with NO BEACH TODAY AND ALSO POSSIBLY NO ICE CREAM EVER FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. This is probably not my finest parenting moment. It's probably not OK to threaten two-year-olds. I mean, I don't even know if two-year-olds understand threats. But I was desperate for a way to get him to calm down enough to rejoin the table so that we (and everyone else) could eat the food that was already sitting on the table.

Seriously, why do we even bother?

It comes down to the fact that taking young children out to a restaurant is always a gamble, and yet, we go out to eat at least once a week. Most of the time it's not a problem, but sometimes it can be a disaster: One of those meals where you spend your entire time trying to reign in your children, keeping them from making too much noise, trying to get them to eat the sauce, worrying about how much they are bothering the other diners (a lot) and why the hell is the wait staff taking SO FREAKIN' LONG TO BRING THE BILL OH MY GOD WE ORDERED IT 30 SECONDS AGO CANT YOU SEE WE ARE TRYING TO GET OUT OF HERE.

And we are paying for this pleasure! Sometimes, for fun, I also like to stick pins in my eyes.

But really, we do it because we aspire to those great times when everyone is well-behaved and eats everything, and we hope desperately that just because we have kids doesn't mean that we can't carry on doing the things we used to enjoy. I don't want to be permanently relegated to those places with jungle gyms where it's OK to run around yelling or to the snack bar/picnic table. I love eating out and good food and want my children to learn to behave appropriately in restaurants so that we can enjoy it together. How can you do that without taking them out?

(Let me clarify that I'm not talking about 5-star dining establishments, but about your every day, casual restaurant. One that serves lots of wine. Obviously.) 

This strategy worked for M, who is now five and for the most part really well-behaved in restaurants. (I've blocked out that previous post where she threw a fit outside the school. Biological amnesia hard at work!) Though she's a picky eater (no sauce, no meat), she can sit through a couple courses to get to the ice cream. So, let's see, O is two now so that's...only three more years of dragging him out screaming to get to that stage! Excellent.

What are your thoughts on kids in restaurants? Is it worth the effort?

PS - We live in Twickenham and often visit Normandy, so if you are thinking about a nice leisurely lunch, can I recommend Asia? At least for the next couple years.