Thursday, November 27, 2008

English or American?

A while ago, Dom and I were asking Max if he was English or American. His answer usually just repeated the last word in the question so we could predict his response:
'Are you American or English?' Answer, 'English'.
'Are you English or American?' Answer, 'American'.
But then he got the gist of our responses: 'English', 'Yeaaaaah!' 'American', 'Noooooo'. Clearly our negative response held more appeal for him because he is now always American. In fact, he and Oli hold dual citizenship but here are a few of the facts;
Max got his social security number well before his parents.
Both Max and Oliver held US passports before British ones.
Fy engines go 'whhiiiir' not 'Neee Naaah'.
'Table cars' go 'ding ding'.
Halloween isn't scary.
Fireworks go off in the summer (4th July not Bonfire Night).
We get mail not post.
Grammar is dodgy.
Prepositions are scarce.
In fact, Max's American-ness is increasingly evident in his vocabulary. His first word was 'Hayo' (Hello) and even though his second utterance gave away his English parentage ('cup-o-tea') it is now the Rs that give him away as the yank in the family - CaR, DooR, MoRe (Or could it be the Cornishman in him?). Certainly the Rs are now creeping in all over the place - even where they don't exist. Thomas the tank engine, you may remember, has a big presence in this household and the other day Max pitched in with his ever present refrain of 'Where's Thomas? Where's Thomas?' But I noticed that 'Thomas' had actually become 'TaRmas'.
'Say 'o'' I said (as in 'clock'). 'o' Max replied.
'Say 'Tho'' I said. 'Tho' he replied.
'Say 'Thomas''. 'TaRmas'.
So there you have it, we are raising an American. Having said that, there is much confusion over tomatoes which started off as British, then became American ('tomaytoes') and are now inexplicably 'bonartoes'. The last frontier will be the loss of the T in butter and water, he isn't yet saying budder or warder although ask him where he lives and you'll get the sing-song answer 'San Fransisco Cidy'. But this country is, after all, the land of the immigrant and many a proper Cornish miner came here to try his luck during the gold rush 150 years ago. It is said that if there's a hole in the ground, you'll find a Cornishman at the bottom of it. So we are following well-trodden footprints (without the hole). Amid the cast of many extraordinary characters I heard about growing up in Cornwall's Penwith peninsula, there was one called 'Yanky Will'. I believe he was so-called because he 'went to there once'. So if that is the criteria upon which my family is to be judged, then it is clear none of us can escape our lengthy sojourn on this side of the Atlantic. Today is, in fact, our third Thanksgiving in America. It's a 'holiday' I like more and more. It lacks the commercialism that so often identifies American culture and that has become so blatant at Christmas. It is very simply about families getting together to eat. But I like it not so much for the turkey but also that it staves off the Christmas sprawl (Here, it's pumpkins til Thanksgiving, then fairy lights ONLY once the turkey has been devoured). Last year it was a proper family affair for us and like millions of truly American families we celebrated with a big bird, stuffing and the works. But this year, Dom is heading to London for his sister's wedding and I am parenting alone. Max and Oli, the true Americans in this family, may well feel cheated - I opted for lunch at a 50's style diner this year rather than a vigil over the oven punctuated by intermittent turkey basting. It is certainly evident that Max was very much ready to get into the Thanksgiving swing of things. I was told that although his friends had swiftly discarded the 'Turkey' hats they made at preschool, Max was the only child determined to wear his the entire day - 'I just want to wear my TuRkey hat, OK?'

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wrapping it up

This kept Max busy for a good ten minutes...we got out a set of stamps and went to town on the packing paper I saved from our move earlier in the year. Now we have some very distinctive wrapping paper for Christmas.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Puzzling Chit Chat

Last week as I picked Max up from preschool, one of his teachers commented on how talkative he'd been. She told me he'd been sitting next to her telling her the colours of things, but not just that one thing was green and the other blue, but that there were different kinds of blues and what a blue something might say to a green something and so on. A few nights before I'd been telling Dom that Max's chit chat had started taking over my head. I go to bed with his voice ringing in my ears as if I've been out to a concert. It reminds me of when my brother and I were home from school one holiday and it was raining. Mum got out one of those 4000 piece jigsaw puzzles and we spread the tiny pieces on the dining room table. Each one was no bigger than a 2p piece and each one had to be turned over and identified as sky or water or brickwork and matched up to something else to give it some coherence. We spent an entire day obsessively putting the picture together. And all day, while focusing so intensely on our task, we listened to the local commercial radio station with it's inane chatter and repetitive jingles. When we went to bed that night it felt like the noise from the radio had inhabited every corner of my head and I honestly thought I was going mad. I remember my brother laughing when I asked him if that was possible. I was sure I'd heard of that happening to someone. And nowadays I sometimes feel as though my life is a bit like that jigsaw day - I spend all day turning over the minutiae of childrearing; Has Max done a pee? Have I got his snack? What about his supper? Where's the monitor? Is there enough milk? Where are the keys? Where's his hat? Does he need suncream? And in the background is Max's endless commentary, mingled with the clatter of toy trains or boxes being emptied; "I want to make a SHOP. I'm going to step over Mummy. Hold ON! Go round and round. It goes ROUnd and ROund. I'm going to take these to the laundry. Then hide. PeekabOO. What's swiss one? That's Bertie. Where is the ulla piece, Mummy? I want to make a REINdeer, OK? I JUST WANT the reindeer Mummy. The kettle makes noisy, Mummy. I'm making a train track, OK? All right?" .....I feel exhausted just writing it down! And frankly sometimes I do feel a little insane from it all. Three years of motherhood, the picture is still being pieced together and I'm sure I'm losing brain cells. But I've done Max a disservice if I've indicated that his chit chat is inane. To the untrained ear he might in fact sound really quite profound. A while ago Max began reciting his bear stories ("'I'm up here Big Bear' called Little Bear, 'I've made my own cave.'') And now he's moved on to song lyrics. He was recently overheard saying "You can't break my spirit. It's my dreams you take." James Blunt. Inane or not, the moments of silence in our house are pretty rare. Before I became a parent I'd go round to people's houses where there were kids, or be out at a cafe with a family, say, and the noise level was all consuming, even debilitating. I found myself mute as I watched the source of those rising decibels. But now I'm the mother so the story is different. I was on the phone to my brother a few months ago (before he became a father) when there was an avalanche of lego followed by the jaunty rendition of the alphabet song coming from the fridge magnets - all that, above the din of Max's banter. My brother told me he kept on expecting me to suddenly have to rush off, or at least take cover, hadn't the neighbour's house just fallen down? No, that is the soundtrack to our life these days and now I'm even capable of having a conversation amongst it all. That's not to say the silence, when it happens, isn't appreciated. I'm sure I will delight over Oli's first word as much as I did over Max's but at the moment when Max is at preschool and I'm at home with Oli - whose vocab consists of a gentle rarrrh - oh, that quietness is wonderful!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ranch Life

We have just come back from a weekend at 'The Ranch' near Point Reyes. We spent a week there in the summer and on our first night the cattle made such a noise we wondered if we had completely misjudged how peaceful the great wide open American countryside could actually be. I know it's ridiculous to go to a ranch and then complain about the cows but that night they made the phrase 'a cow says moo' look distinctly inadequate. 'The cow moans meruuurrrghhhhhhh' would more accurately have summed up their braying that night. There was some nervous laughter at breakfast as we made reference to this racket and silently wondered if it would go on all week. It certainly wasn't a noise I remembered from the Cornish countryside of my childhood or that of my grandmother's farm at Blackwell. But it turns out the cows were being weaned and that evening had been separated from their calves, hence the agonizing moans. Being pregnant at the time and dare I admit it, perhaps a little hormonal, I could sympathise with their pain. Anyway, the upshot of all this was that the owners promised us a free weekend at their spectacular idyll later in the year. Of course, when they suggested it, we, in best British form, said it was totally unnecessary...but they only had to insist once before we took them up on the offer. It sounds corny but it really is heaven there. And the timing was perfect because I was getting a dose of the baby blues last week. It might have been partly due to the fact that Max gave us a sleepless night the week before when he came home from preschool with a tummy bug. I haven't had a full night's sleep in 11 weeks, since Oli's arrival, so having an entire night stolen from me and with it the anxt of a sick child, it fairly did me in. But my blues were not entirely down to sleep deprivation. It's also that feeling of being overwhelmed (in a good way) about how precious these little lives are. Oli is just adorable and suddenly no longer a newborn. Looking at him now, with cheeks like delicious pale peaches, I feel those first few months have almost passed me by, they went in such a flash. I know that all sounds such a cliche but it's nevertheless true....Gone are those precious times when Oli, like a crumpled kitten, nuzzled his head into my shoulder, gone are the blistered little lips as he nursed, the tiny hands, the tiny everything and small dark eyes like a seal pup's. Of course, I love seeing Oli grow but I already feel nostalgic for that moment when he was first born and the nurses flung him on me and this little face, so familiar because he looked just like Max had at birth, gazed up at me and seemed to ask 'Where am I? And how did I get here?' The ranch in Point Reyes feeds into my feelings of nostalgia. When we arrived and I jumped out of the car, it smelled like summer holidays - fresh cut grass and dessicated manure! It was a balmy moonlit evening with hares and deer jumping out of the path of the car. Max ate a boiled egg with soldiers on a high bar stool in the kitchen while I washed Oli in an old tin tub I found under the sink. I grew up on stories of how my grandmother had once sterilized our baby bottles in a horse feed bucket and I thought she'd be smiling at the tin tub bath. Max spent the weekend befriending a John Deere tractor and climbing fences and he was also introduced to the concept of splinters. Dom and I weren't allowed near the tractor or the splinters so enjoyed the sunshine and the silence, because the cows had got over their trauma, and this time they were quiet.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Final thoughts on Obama's win...

Here's the last of Dom's musings on the US election 2008. Of course, while he was glitzing with the likes of Obama and Brad Pitt in Chicago, I was struggling to convince Max that we were to watch CNN not his favourite DBD for this one night. Over to Dom....

Why did McCain lose? Even if he had run a flawless campaign and made no mistakes the odds were seriously stacked against him. When you are running for the incumbent party and your President has the lowest approval ratings of all time (23% and beating Nixon which is no mean achievement) and 90% of the population think the country is on the wrong track you are plainly at a massive disadvantage. He was also up against a democratic candidate who blew fund-raising records (US$605million), is, I believe, a once in a generation orator, made no mistakes and had all the luck. Luck meaning a real time financial crisis played out during electioneering which undoubtably benefited Obama (being the opposition candidate and not having a record to defend).
Looking back, I would pick two moments in the campaign which proved disastrous for McCain. One - suspending his campaign ahead of the 'Bailout' completely backfired, saying that his first debate should be postponed and "rushing back to broker a bailout deal in Washington". Firstly he didn't rush back, he chose to stay in NYC for another 24 hours, canceling all interviews and was seen leaving just about the most expensive restaurant in Manhatten that evening. Having then got to DC, he then said nothing (literally nothing by press reports) during the round table Bush organised to help break the deadlock. Thirdly no deal was struck. So not only did it make him look ineffectual and erratic - it looked like cheap political electioneering (borne out in the polls afterwards - 60% thought it was a political stunt) and finally it also looked like he didn't want to debate. Two - The Palin pick. McCain is I believe a smart guy but there is absolutely no way she was properly vetted and it really was a very stupid decision. By the time the election came around only 4 out of 10 people thought she was capable of being president (compared with Joe Biden where it was 8 out of 10). As people got to know her the less they liked her. She never really recovered from her interviews with CBS News and she became more partisan as time moved on (turning off independents/swing voters) revving up a pretty ugly side of the Republican base at campaign rallies.
I thought McCain's concession speech was superb, actually better than Obama's acceptance speech. I have lost count of the amount of people who said that if he had acted and spoken like that during the campaign who could have done alot better. Who knows.
One interesting point is how comedy played, I think, a significant part in McCain's downfall. All the big late night talk show hosts from David Letterman to Jay Leno firstly ripped McCain apart (repeatedly night after night) for his antics over suspending the campaign and then came the now legendary Saturday night live sketches of Sarah Palin's CBS interviews became a national laughing point.
Another interesting point is how the Republican party has turned on Palin. I read an article the other day about how the party was trying to trash her as much as possible over the next 2 weeks in the hopes of killing her career stone dead. The elders of the party see her as albatross around their neck because the base love her but independents (20% of electorate who decide elections) don't. They see a very real possibility that she will win the Republican nomination in 2 years time and doom them to another defeat. There are daily negative stories now from McCain aides on Palin. Fascinating to see if she can survive. My current favourite is how she thought Africa was a country not a continent.
I was at Grant Park in Chicago last Tuesday night and literally standing 20 feet from Obama when he made his acceptance speech. As someone who has always had an interest in politics but certainly never inspired by it (maybe until now) - it was amazing and eye opening. When CNN projected that Obama had won it, the reaction was the eqivalent of Rooney scoring the winning goal in a world cup final (we can all dream)..people went beserk. It was impossible not to be moved when Obama spoke - everywhere I looked people were crying. I knew i was witnessing a moment of huge historical significance especially in this country which has such a history of racial discontent. The fact that an African American who comes from a minority which make up 13% of this country had broken through and achieved the ultimate was frankly an amazing feeling. Will Obama be a good President? Who knows. But the way he ran his campaign gives me hope.

Until the next election cycle...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day USA 2008

HORRAY! Barack Obama this space for Dom's update on what it was like in the thick of it at Chicago's Grant Park....