Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Over and over and over and over

Summer has begun. At least that's what the school calendar is telling me. I wouldn't really know for sure because I'm still wearing jeans and sweaters and carrying an umbrella in my purse, but my Facebook news stream is filled with Americans complaining about something called "heat" and posting pictures of themselves in these funny short pants with no lower leg portion. And weirdly, all their tops don't seem to have sleeves.

We are finishing up a long weekend in Normandy before heading back to the UK. It may only be 65 degrees F but Husband, M and O spent Sunday splashing around the beach with a friend, getting soaked by waves and proving that hypothermia can be fun, dammit. I was camped on the rocks, properly dressed (see jeans and sweater, above) and holding firmly to my No Swimming Until The Air Temp Is Over 90F policy. Apparently, this makes me a party pooper, but I just laugh and wave my fingers at them, enjoying the fact that I still have feeling in my extremities. At some point, we are going to sit down and have a family discussion about how "sunny" and "warm" are not one and the same.

In another five days we head to the US for vacation. I'm really looking forward to it with the exception of the long flight on my own with two kids and the jet lag. Jet lag sometimes messes with routine, and if there's one thing O likes, it's his routine:

Wake up.
Shout from bed that he wants to "Geeeeet dooooowwwwn!"
Repeat until an adult wakes up and comes in to open curtain.
Get out of bed, throwing all pacifiers back in because they are not allowed downstairs except in cases of emergency. (Don't get me started. I know he needs to quit but he's a total pacifier junky, and there is no chance in hell I'm going to deal with withdrawal symptoms during this vacation. I hate to admit this, but he can scream longer than I can hold out.) (Obviously this is not a sore subject.)
Get adult to take him downstairs for "Miiiiiiilk!"
Ask to watch Nemo.
Get regular TV instead.
Receive milk in the yellow cup. Not the blue one. THE YELLOW ONE.
Watch 15 minutes of dumb regular TV before getting bored and demanding "Beeeebix!"
If there is no Weetabix in France or the US or wherever you are, you must negotiate until you come to terms. Terms being Cheerios ideally.
Eat Cheerios out of the Mickey Mouse bowl. Not the farm animal one. THE MICKEY MOUSE ONE.
Yell "Finished!"
Start day.

I like my morning routine as well, but that pretty much consists of having coffee, The End. Whether I get that coffee in a blue cup or a yellow cup is irrelevant. Sometimes I make it, sometimes Husband makes it, sometimes I sit at the table, sometimes in the armchair (though NEVER ON THE COUCH NEXT TO O) but kids are all about doing the exact same things over and over and over. And then again. Sometimes we like to mess with them, because when people are that punctilious, it's too easy. And fun:

So, M, you want eggs for breakfast?

Noooo! A bagel! You know I like bagels! 

Oh right, a bagel. Toasted, right? 

Noooo! Don't toast it! 

Oh yeah, that's right. Not toasted. With peanut butter. 

JAM. AND CREAM CHEESE. Cut up into 8 pieces.

Cut up into 6 pieces, right. 

8 PIECES!!!!

As far as O is concerned, Tiddler could be the only book in our house. M would wear the twirly flowery party dress every day. Dinner would always be pasta and peas.

Obviously they find it comforting, and when we travel we try to keep things as consistent as possible and the messing around to a minimum. We bring the milk cups (though not the cereal bowls), sit them in the same spots on the couch (even if it's a different couch), and have the same conversation about Weetabix. When it's time to go to sleep at night, we sing the same songs (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for O, Tender Shepherd for M) and go through the same hand-holding, no-door-shutting routine.

Jet lag can make things more difficult, with the kids (and sometimes us) waking up at crazy hours and a lack of sleep making them more sensitive than usual. On those days joking about eggs can end in tears. Luckily, we'll have enough time in the States to get into our regular routine and enjoy the vacation. I hear it's summer over there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quiz Me

Well. I'm back. It's been exam cramming central here for the past few weeks, and rightly so. I cannot remember the last time I took a real test, and in the space of three weeks I've had to take two that really count. So I've been spending all my free time procrastinating drinking wine studying.

Test 1: Driving Theory -

Does anyone remember Drivers Ed? No? Me neither. For some reason, all I retained from two weeks of classes in high school was the part about "velocitation," or "the phenomenon caused by driving for long periods at high speeds." You'll have been in the car on a road trip, driving at 80 for the last eight hours, and when you exit the highway onto a smaller road you have a tendency to drive at about 60 mph, and it feels like 10. Sadly, this is the one piece of driving knowledge that does not come in handy here. Because if you drive for a long period of time at high speed you will end up in an ocean.

So needless to say, I had to prepare a little to take the UK Driving Theory test. It includes such common sense questions as:

"When approaching a zebra crossing where there is a child in a wheelchair attempting to cross, do you A) accelerate and swerve around them, B) honk your horn and use your bumper to nudge them to the other side, or C) slow down and prepare to stop?"
(The answer is B. No wait, I mean C.)

But it also asks stuff that involves memorization:

"If it's freezing and rainy and you are traveling at 60 mph in a car with a camping caravan attached, how many metres stopping distance do you need to allow?"
(The answer is 146. But the real question is, who are these idiots who are going camping in the freezing rain? And the answer to that is: English people, in summer.)

There is also a part of the test called "Hazard Perception." You view a series of videos of different road scenes taken from the point of view of the driver, and you are asked to click the mouse when you see a hazard. But be warned! If you click too soon, it won't count. And if you click too late, it also won't count. And if you click too much, you score an automatic zero. So it's not so much a test of "perceiving hazards" as it is one of "controlling neurotic behavior."  One of mine showed a horse that dances out into the middle of a country lane in front of the vehicle. Aha! A Hazard! Click. Wait, did I do that too soon? Click. Crap. Now I might be too late. Click. Click. You clicked too many times and scored a zero for this clip. Fuck.  

Thankfully I managed to get it together enough to squeak by with a Pass. So next it was on to....

Test Two: Life in the UK

This is an exam designed to test your knowledge of....Life in the UK. This includes:

The Changing Role of Women
The Regions of Britain
Migration to Britain
Customs and Traditions
How the United Kingdom is Governed

And more. 

Now. I have been living here for two years and am married to an British citizen. I have navigated the school system so far and have been a part of a house buying process. I speak fluent English. (Or American. Whatever.) And after almost eight years across the pond, I consider myself fairly educated about European living. But if I had not bought all the study materials and spent some quality time taking practice tests, I would be on a boat back to Washington.

Seriously, that test was not easy. And I'm pretty sure that if they did a pop quiz for current UK citizens you would find a lot of people failing. A quango? Nope, no clue. The year Guy Fawkes did his blowing up Parliament thing? Sorry. The percent of people who own homes in the UK? Couldn't tell you.

Now, I get the importance of demonstrating a good understanding of the country you wish to permanently reside in, but this seems like it might be taking it a little far, particularly for people whose English isn't quite fluent. I sat and waited for my results with butterflies in my stomach, convinced I hadn't passed (probably because of all the stupid questions about the various European regulatory bodies.) Luckily, I again squeaked by. At least it's a pass/no-pass system and not based on Grades, because I think I must be a full-on D student at the moment. Don't tell my parents.

Both these tests required that you memorize a lot of information and spit it back out. And in my case, forget it immediately afterward. There is no chance I can both care for my children, remembering to do homework/change diapers/bring in PE kit, AND retain the stopping distances/population percentages, so I spent both mornings before the exams ignoring my kids and frantically memorizing shit before heading into the tests with a panicky look in my eye. Like "Can we please get this business started because I have a very limited time before all these useful facts start leaking out of my brain OMG HURRY UP LET'S GO ALREADY I HAVE TO GET HOME AND MAKE A BEE COSTUME."

Now I can focus on the upcoming Practical Driving exam (Wait, you want me to drive on the LEFT?! HAHAHAHA!) (Husband says not to make that joke) and my Indefinite Leave to Remain visa interview. Husband and I will be going in together to prove that we are real, married couple, armed with various important pieces of paperwork and a video of us bickering. As long as they don't ask me what the difference is between the European Council and the European Parliament, I'll be fine. Maybe I can impress them with my knowledge of velocitation. The UK is lucky to have me.