Sunday, March 27, 2011

Overprotective or right on the mark?

Cate's class went to the London Zoo last week but I wouldn't let her go with them. I'm trying desperately not to be a hover mother, but I couldn't help myself this time.

My child enjoys her school and the school is great. She's learning a lot and I'm very, very happy with the education she's receiving. But they are not really overly protective of her which annoys me. For instance, I see photos of Cate playing in the playground, in the dead of winter, without her coat buttoned up. They don't oversee her bathroom breaks (no need to elaborate), she doesn't eat much for lunch and often comes home ravenous, they rarely wipe her nose, and with her ear infection two weeks ago, she would have leaks that came out of her ear, into her hair and then down her cheek and neck. I've complained about attention to detail but it falls on deaf ears (oh, the irony).

When they said they were going to the zoo I signed her up and paid the fee and volunteered to go with them as a chaperone. But I was turned down. I had no sitter for X and siblings were not welcome. Therefore I was not welcome.

The rule was to drop my daughter off at the zoo and then pick her up five hours later as they weren't hiring a bus or taking public transportation.

This made me very, very nervous. Cate likes to run ahead, sneak behind things, play hide and seek (when no one else even knows the game is on!) and is basically....just a three year old. She's not shy and does like to speak up but under pressure she clams up. She knows her first and last name and our names but is too young for phone numbers, etc. I was not comfortable, at all, letting her go without Fen or me there to keep an eye on her.

Now, I don't want to knock the teachers or the other parents, but with 35 kids going - it would be easy for my little one to slip away. I thought long and hard about it and decided she was not going. It only takes a second for a life changing accident to happen and if anything went wrong - even if Cate went missing for 10 minutes I would completely lose it. I'd turn into that lion!

According to the Guardian, in 2009 over 500 children were abducted in the UK. Granted the majority are taken by a divorcing parent - but still! She's a cute kid and I want her safe here with me.

This is not to knock the school or it's supervisors - it's all about me and my child. She's too young to go to a huge place like the zoo without a parent. Maybe when she's older she can go on a field trip without one of her parents but for now - no.

Think I was right on this one?

Whatever the case, she had to go to the doctor about her ear anyway, so I took her in the morning and then we went to her favourite fairy store for treats, had ice cream, went out to lunch, went to the playground, had movie night with popcorn and then had a friend over the following evening for late night movies (although all they did was run around the flat and play -which was fine). We took her to the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial playground in Kensington Gardens on Saturday afternoon as well. She was spoiled rotten. And deservingly so. we'll go to the zoo when the weather gets better as well.

Regardless of what anyone thinks - I'm comfortable with my decision and I'd do it again tomorrow.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pushy People

Yesterday I was verbally accosted at a playground. It was my first day back out into the world after being sick for seven days! So I was thrilled to be out and it was a gorgeous, gorgeous day.

We started with our usual routine - ballet and then home. Fen took Cate to see Toy Story 3 (again) on the big screen while X napped and I took advantage of my alone time to tidy up and read a little. After lunch, we headed out to Regent's Park to a playground there.

It was a mob scene. Kids were everywhere, so were their parents. I had X and Fen took Cate. For 45 minutes I followed my little guy around, went on the swings, into the sand pit, down slides, and all over. The Fen and I switched and I took Cate. She was on the slides, where there were other kids, bigger, smaller and everything inbetween. She was getting pushed aside, bigger kids, around 8 or 9 were running up the slides and the smaller children were queuing up to slide down them. So cate and I went to another slide.

One boy in particular kept pushing Cate out of the way to make the final three steps up to the slide. I told her it was okay the first few times, then I told her to say something to him so  he knew she was there, but he kept doing it. Then I said, "Push your way on, Cate."

Okay, perhaps NOT the best parental advice but the kid was just a bully. However, his father, a short, chubby guy sporting a fanny pack (I kid you not) shouted at me, "Why don't you teach her some manners instead of to push back?"

I was absolutely stunned. His 4 or 5 year old son kept pushing my daughter, and other kids out of the way to get to the slide unapologetically and his father never said one word to him. But the minute I say something to my daughter - to defend herself, he jumps on MY case.

I replied, "Excuse me?" I was so stunned that I was being reprimanded by someone I've never seen before on a playground in front of my child. Meanwhile Cate waited her turn while his son shoved her and another child aside AGAIN.

"I said, 'why don't you teach your daughter some manners instead of telling her to push back?'"

Now, I'm no wallflower and I will fight customer service, airline ticket agents, city hall, etc with vigor. But on a playground with my daughter looking on? I'm not really going to engage someone. So I said the only thing I could think of, "If you had taught your kid manners we wouldn't even be having this conversation, dude." (don't know why I tacked on 'dude' - in the moment thing I guess).

"This is the matter with you parents today..." he started. Cate had just come off the slide. I put my hand up and said, "Whatever, guy. Get over it," and walked away. I walked over to Fen and told him about it and pointed the guy out. But I told him to let it go, which he did.

Cate and I went about our business for another half hour or so. And when it was time to leave. I gathered up X and walked over to our pram to strap him in. Lo and behold there was Fat-Fanny-Pack and his big mouth. He saw me coming and made a hot beeline to a woman standing right next to my pram.

"You won't believe it," he started. "Some woman told her child to push back on a playground. Who does such a thing?" He went on and on as I had my back to him strapping in my 15 month old child. When I stood up and looked at him (the woman was then going on about the downfall of the next generation because parents today were awful) he smirked!! He was taunting me!! So I sneered at him and marched over to Fen.

Fen is a very nice guy, very sweet, gentle, loving and all around wonderful. But he is 6'1" 190lbs solid chunk of Samoan/Kiwi rugby-playing muscle with a scowl to boot. Trust me - you do not want to be on the receiving end of his wrath. He walked across the playground calmly and had words with the guy. I don't know what he said, it was not a scene, but the guy stepped backward and then Fen came back to me. I'm not sure if anyone else even noticed but we walked out of the park. Halfway up Primrose Hill I asked what happened. Fen just said he asked if there was anything else he had to say about his wife or child. He didn't. I'll bet.
My Fen

Now, I don't know if we handled this right or not. I was content to just walk away the first time, but the whole thing upset me. I don't need strife on a playground. Was I wrong to have told Cate to push back (like I said, not my best parenting moment)? Should I have fought back? Should I have not said anything at all? All I know is the guy had NO right to talk to me, at all. Who was he to tell me what to do when his own kid was the troublemaker? I'm still upset about it. A pox on his house...I say.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When zombies and dinosaurs attack!

Once again I'm getting over a terrible ailment - had the worst sore throat, fever, chills, sweats, aches, pains for five days now. I've only ventured out to the doctor's office and then on the school runs to drop Cate off. Otherwise, I've been at home, usually alone with X. It is not fun. The good thing is I've finally watched all my taped TV.

I'm not going to gripe about how London is not good for my health because that is just glaringly obvious. But with the fever and the restless sleeping comes nightmares. And when I have a scary dream it's usually a whopper. I dream about my husband dying, or worse - leaving me for someone else, about my children going missing and about being attacked. Two reoccurring themes: the creepy hemocyte, hive dwelling, zombie people from Will Smith's I Am Legend and dinosaurs.

I don't watch scary movies - none of them. Not horror, slasher, sci-fi, vampires, zombies - nu-uh. Not for me. Because of my over active imagination and tendency to overreact worry I take it a little too literally.

When I was pregnant with X we watched I Am Legend because Fen assured me it wasn't that scary. Wrong! Scared me half out of my wits. I used to live right in Madison Square Park so I knew that area well. But we were living in a brownstone in Brooklyn - with bars on the front windows but none on the back which hosted our zombie-friendly back yard. Fen had to travel shortly after that movie and I barely slept because my hormonal brain kept thinking about the horrific zombies from I Am Legend. Honestly, I knew I was being nutty but I couldn't help myself. I thought of escape routes and hiding places for Cate and myself, should anything (including home invaders, thieves, etc.) happened. Complete ludicrous now, but really exhausting then.

I haven't even thought of that movie in about two years - but I dreamt about it last night. I woke up with a start, but rolled right back over and fell asleep.

The dinosaurs stem from Jurassic Park - the original. I love that movie but it scared my some kinda stupid the first time I watched it. The T-Rex in particular. The scene when she busts out of the fences after gulping down the lamb is my favourite one. Even now it wins me over. I do like a little scare from time to time.

But that movie came out in 1993 - when I was first in New York City trying to make it in publishing. Money was tight and sometimes I'd make $20 stretch an entire week. I would dream of dinosaurs when I had financial difficulties and I figured that dinosaurs represented debt to me. I dreamed about them a lot in the mid nineties. I walked to and from work almost every day from east 89th and 1st Avenue to Rockefeller Center when I worked at Simon and Schuster. On that 45 minute walk each way I would entertain myself by window shopping on Madison Avenue (Lord knows I couldn't afford a THING in any of the stores back then) and wondering where I could hide or run to should a giant T-Rex wander up Fifth or Lex. (Mind you - the dinosaurs were all female, so a discerning, fashion forward dino would want the best eats Manhattan had to offer - which is the upper East Side, natch)

But two nights ago the T-Rex from Jurassic showed up in my unconscious mind again. So on the school run yesterday I once again, after about a 15 years lapse, entertained myself with searching Hampstead for the best dinosaur hiding spots. There are plenty - in case you're wondering.

I'm feeling heaps better, but I think that having all this time on my hands isn't good. I wasn't feeling well enough to work, too exhausted to read, sleeping WAY too much and not wanting to eat so cooking was out. I love to read, write, work, cook and get out an about when I'm on my own. So this week has been just an exercise in returning ghosts from the past. Sure don't miss them. And I can't wait to get the heck out of here soon! Almost out of the woods...and happy thoughts... happy thoughts

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Salad Years... or should I say fruit?

For the past few nights I've been woken up by one or both kids. This happens all the time, as you may know, but this week I've had trouble falling back to sleep and when I do, I have the weirdest dreams.This often happens when I'm a bit stressed and lacking in sleep.

Last night I had the most vivid dream - of the house that was across the street from us when I was a child. There was a girl named Jamie Sawyer who lived there who was our best home friend  (not be be confused with our best school friend, mind you.) My older sister, KK, (she's on the left, my brother Kevin in the middle, my younger sister Tracy is in front, and that's yours truly on the right - and I still have the same hair colour. Hmmm.) and I hung around with Jamie for 6 years until she moved to Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Jamie was one of those girls, even as a young child, who was in a hurry to grow up.

When we were both five years old we got drunk. That's right - likkered up. My father had a collection of miniature liqueur bottles. A lot of them. They were off limits and I never really had any interest in them until Jamie thought we should play with them. Since they were stored in a cabinet we could easily access if we pulled a chair over and climbed on the counter - we helped ourselves. Mixing the booze with water - we cooked. And drank. And then fell into a drunken stupor. My parents were horrified and I'm fairly sure our housekeeper/nanny was fired. We had a period where we ran through them quickly (the housekeepers) and I'm fairly certain she was one of that crew.

That was our only 'bad' time. We spent most of our time having  wonderful afternoons, weekends, and school vacations. Between her back yard and ours, we had season upon season of fresh fruit, off the tree to eat. Her yard had tangerines, jujubes, guavas, grapefruits, cherries, key limes, avocado, loquats, gneps and tamarinds. Our yard had sour oranges (a cross between a lemon and orange - delish), mangoes, key limes, coconuts, and sea grapes. You can read about them all here if you're interested.

Every day we'd devour fruit - sometimes we'd pick cherries - not maraschino cherries - tropical cherries which have soft seeds and are more tart. We'd drown them in lime juice and slurp them down. We'd peel limes, grapefruits or tangerines and have eating contests - stuffing them whole into our  mouths. Or eating two limes and then taking a sip of milk (don't try it - it's terrible!) One of our more wicked past times was to suck the guts out of a guava, chew it up and wait for a passing car then spit it out as if we were throwing up. Charming. We were only about 8. I've grown to realize this is gross. But it was hilarious at the time. We got in trouble for this a few times when people complained to our parents.

Across the street from our house and next door to Jamie's there was a nice wooded area. We had 'forts' in there - we'd have 'rooms' designated to different things: crafts, cooking, the dormitory (we were fascinating with Enid Blyton and her many characters who went to boarding school), the hospital where we took unsuspecting lizards from time to time to 'operate'. They all made it in the end but I'm sure they were less than pleased with our attention.

We played spy games, Barbies, Fischer Price Little People and everything kids do. We often went swimming at the Johnson's (another neighbor who only had boys). They had the biggest pool on earth. It's a huge pool, complete with baby pool, a slide, a diving board and it was 12 feet deep which was great for diving contests and holding your breath. We'd spend HOURS in that pool. Marco Polo was a favourite.

On Saturdays we'd ask our mom to bring Jamie to the beach with us. We had a membership to a private beach on Paradise Island. In fact, we had our wedding reception at Club Med because it was on this beach. I just love it that much. Atlantis has bought it, much to my dismay, but here's a photo - It's still gorgeous - just imagine how beautiful it was before Atlantis was built:
At the beach we'd swim all day. Or walk out to the end of the rocks (on the left in the background) which was always fun because of a natural canal that ran through it. We liked to try and catch the trapped fish, left behind after the tide rolled out. We'd practice our gymnastics to impress the tourists or beg mom to let us go and buy a fruit punch from the cabana.

Jamie hosted our first sleepovers. At her house - which is what I dreamed of the other night. I haven't thought about it for ages. It wasn't a tremendous house, it just holds a lot of great childhood memories for me from the sound of their old fashioned phone ring (the phone was housed in a nook in the wall), the living room 'stage', their covered patio, Stan's room (he was a teenage cousin who came to go to school on the big island. he was also our babysitter and the nicest guy on earth. He had very cool stuff like black lights, in his room), and so on.

So on this particularly tough night I dreamed I was back in it hanging out with Jamie and KK

When we were twelve Jamie moved, as I mentioned. Her mother had just had another baby, also named Cate, like my daughter. They came back from time to time but around 17 we fell out of touch. Our fathers kept in touch so we heard how she was faring. Jamie was married and having her first child at 17.. She had three children all together and opened a seafood restaurant called the Golden Grouper in her twenties. As I mentioned, I always thought she was in a hurry - she was interested in make up, boys and all the trouble that comes with it, long before we were. She married early,  had three kids before she was 24. I could never understand it. But it makes sense to me now - Jamie died about ten years ago from pancreatic cancer. She had a happy life, albeit too short. And I think about her from time to time. But it makes sense that she was in a hurry - she had to have a full life in half the time. And she did.

Whenever I go home, which isn't very often now. I always look over there and wonder what it looks like inside. The neighborhood is very different now - all houses, no woods anymore. And I always think of what a nice, easy childhood I had filled with fresh fruit, beaches, good friends and loads of laughter. I know I'm lucky and I want the same for my kids. I hope they find Jamie's of their own one day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cate's First Report Card

Here's the little star!  Cate is in nursery and we had our first parent/teacher meeting yesterday. Cate is doing very well, I'm delighted to report. Of course we think she's a tiny genius, but truth be told she's quite normal, bright, and adapting well to her not-so-new world.  Here are a few of my favourite comments from her report card:

Cate is chatty and likes to join in telling us about what the has got up to at home. Yikes! I will have to watch what I do now! 

Her writing is coming along really well - her handwriting is excellent for her age.A future novelist?

Cate has become increasingly confident and independent during her time at Nursery. She settled in well and made friends with many girls. She will play alongside most children and can share and take turns. Hmmm, this is not the case with her brother. Oh dear.

Cate likes all creative activities in the Nursery. Her favourites are painting, playing in the Home Corner. She will join in all Nursery activities when encouraged. She is always keen to join adult initiated activities especially cooking.She loves helping me make dinner. A future chef?

Cate likes to dress up and dance and sing. She enjoys drawing and mummy features frequently. It's nice to be acknowledged!
Cate is happier inside than out, often choosing to stay in to work independently at the writing or creative areas. She is interested in the world about her, she enjoys tactile play and acting out scenarios with the little figures. Fen will be crushed if she's not sporty. I will teach her yoga - you can do that inside!

Overall, she's doing very well. And as you can see, she's becoming quite the ballerina. I think that may be her favourite class of all. Too bad it's at the crack of dawn on Saturdays!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hector and the Secrets of Love

Has this ever happened to you? Someone uses a turn of phrase you've never heard, or you learn about something new and all of a sudden it seems to be everywhere: on the telly, on the radio, your friends are saying it. Well, that's the case with Francois Lelord's Hector and the Secrets of Love for me.

Gallic Books sent me a copy, I thought it was non-fiction, so when it arrived I thought, Geez, I don't know if it's for me. But then I saw it everywhere - in magazines, in every book store - I couldn't get away from it. It was like the cosmos were telling me to read it. So I did.And what a lovely surprise it was!

The general synopsis:
What is the secret formula for love?
Hector, our intrepid psychiatrist, sets off on a new globe-trotting mission – and this time he's looking for LOVE.
One of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies has employed him to track down their brilliant scientist, Professor Cormorant, who has disappeared abroad with the secret of a modern-day love potion.
Leaving behind his troubled relationship with girlfriend Clara, Hector's adventure takes him to the Far East and into the arms of beautiful Vayla, forcing our hero to think deeply about what love really is/means.

It was light, engaging and an easy delightful read. Although it was originally written in French and translated by Lorenza Garcia, nothing was lost in the translation. I'm usually not fond of translated books but Perfume by Patrick Suskind remains one of my favourite books of all times (not the movie, mind you).  It did have it's moments of cliched comments on love: 'Love is smiling the moment you see each other' (I may be paraphrasing) but overall it was a thought provoking and practical look at true love.  It's peppered with wonderful thoughts on love: 'In love, if we really knew what the other person was saying maybe we wouldn’t understand them at all’ and 'sometimes we argue most with the people we love the most.'

Overall, it's an excellent read. If you're wondering what the secret to love is, this won't solve it but it certain does try and it's an entertaining look at what love is all about. My favourite line: 'love isn’t easy, even for psychiatrists’. Amen to that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blasted London Foxes

Think this fox is cute? He isn't. He, or one of his ilk, is a serious pain in the neck right now. When we first moved to London I was surprised to hear there were foxes in London. But they are here - en masse - probably outnumbering humans in Hampstead. I've seen a few and they are not cute.

Last night two, or more, foxes decided to get it on in the front garden. It's not a pretty thing, this fox mating - at least it doesn't sound nice. They made an almighty racket and I'm fairly sure it was right outside out window. They may as well have been inside the bedroom (after they were done I swear I smelled cigarette smoke!)

Granted, I was already awake - Cate got up to complain about owls in her room (there aren't any), which woke up X, who is teething and decided to voice his discomfort, and Fen forgot nose-strips so there was a constant growling, rolling-snort emanating from his side of the bed. Then the foxes chimed in. I've been awake since 4:30am! It's madness.

For fifteen years I travelled for work - to conferences, meetings, etc. One year I spent 53 nights in hotel rooms - alone. At first I loved it but then it wore on me and I tired of it. How I longed to settle down, have a family and not have to travel for work. Right now - a hotel room on my own for a single night sounds divine. No kids waking me up, no imaginary owls hooting my children from their slumber, no death-rattle snoring from the man I love, no teething infants shrieking in the night and no blasted London foxes having an orgy in the yard.

And if I were to have that night I would pine away for all the above - minus the fox. I can't win. Ah well. Thank God for wine.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Finding my groove again

With half term over and Cate back in school this Tuesday, I'm finding it tough to get back into the groove of working and being a mom.  I know I'm not alone in this - in fact I know many women who work and have families. But I work from home, which, again, doesn't make me unique.

For some reason I can't seem to get back into the groove. The past month has been really busy with sick kids to boot. Last week, as you may have read, was busy with a million half term things. Now I have my mornings free to play with X and work when he naps. The nanny arrives in the afternoon and I go to work. I break for dinner, bath, story time and bed, then I'm back to work as I keep New York hours - which happen to be five hours behind London.

It hasn't been a problem before but I can't snap back into it. I still do it, just doesn't feel like it's flowing right now. I juggle a lot of things with my job and I work in just about all my spare time (if there is such a thing). But because I maintain a social life as best I can, most people here don't see it. Which became apparent recently.

The other day a new acquaintance asked me if I was going to a women's club function this week (tonight in fact). I said I had to work (and I do, I have conference calls until 10pm). She looked at me sideways and said, "You work?" We went through the whole, "What do you do" thing. Then she said, "Can't you take the night off? It's not like it's real work. You work from home." Now I don't know this woman well at all and I'm certain she didn't mean to insult me so I just smiled, said, "Well, it sure feels like real work," and got out of the conversation and the store post haste.

Just because I don't dress in a suit, hop on the tube and spend 10 hours a day in an office doesn't mean I don't work. And it doesn't mean what I do isn't real - my clients would beg to differ. I take great pride in what I do and I actually love it. But I was still a little taken aback. I'll get over it.

It was my decision to keep my job, work from home and raise my kids as a part time SAHM. I'm determined to get my groove back soon. And I'll maintain this until both kids are in school. Then I might retire!