Thursday, December 24, 2009

Handmade(ish) Christmas

Last year we managed to make some wrapping paper and a reindeer pop-up card (too taxing to repeat), oh, and of course the CD of Max's favourites. This year...well that might give too much away. Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action!

I suppose I thought we might hear a few words of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer at the 'holiday performance' at Max's school yesterday...but what with the excitement of being on stage under all those lights, and keeping the antlers in place, and spotting faces in the crowd, well it seems the actual song wasn't so important...

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Proper Fug

It is fug season.  Even in California.  The rain has kept us inside, doors closed, and the cold has reintroduced me to chilblains.  And so the weekend fug forms.  In our house the word 'fug' has broken out of it's dictionary definition.  It still hints of Collins' Concise 'hot stale air' but has also attracted other nuances unique to our family.  For us, a fug generally includes a light floor covering of newspapers; strewn supplements, discarded driving sections and the news pages folded in upon themselves like a fortune telling cahootie. Likewise, cushions and pillows must obey the laws of gravity and find themselves suitably muddled into the mess.  To create a real fug, there must be jumble of toys and bedding liberally applied to the sitting room floor.  One thing that works very well and is the current favourite in our house, is a rocket ship made with duvets dragged from bedrooms, blankets pulled from boxes and the contents of the saucepan cupboard.  A fug can be enhanced when an elaborately engineered train set, built with such care, is then bulldozed and lies abandoned in the chaos.  A Christmas tree dropping needles will help in establishing a proper fug and a warm fire, if you have one, will do wonders.  At that point Dom will be reveling in it, he will sigh contentedly saying 'Ahh, now this is a proper fug, all we need is a dog.'
Some of you will have spotted that a fug isn't that different from a tip. A stuffy tip (thankfully without the dog). In the absence of an open fire, we have a thermostat. And, here is the biggest contention; let's call this, the battle of the fug. 
Our thermostat is on the wall near the kitchen, we walk past it to do just about everything. Dom sets it to 72, I turn it down to 60. Dom raises my 60 to 76, I see his 76 and turn it back to 62. Dom then ratchets it up to 80 and I switch it off. And so it goes on. Saturday. Sunday.
I am by no means obsessively tidy.  But, I generally keep cushions on chairs and bedding in bedrooms.  When I'm down on the floor, playing inside with the boys, I find I group the toys, putting the cars together, or the farm animals in the farmyard. I can't help but search out the missing shape for the sorter, or find a way to make the geometric bricks fit neatly in their cart.  I confess to picking apart playdoh to try and separate the colours.  I dream of having an organised craft cupboard.  And so I fight the fug here too.
By Monday I have majority control over the house again and most importantly, the thermostat. But it's hard not to like a fug, it denotes the weekend, and the season, and I can take solace in the fact that we don't yet have a dog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A thumb-sucker

I love the fact that my youngest son sucks his thumb.  I love it for practical reasons; that he can soothe himself easily and that the simple act of finding this amazing digit can take the noise level in the house from storm force to silent in just a few seconds. I love the index hooked over the nose and the fact that he can find it in his sleep and sometimes, when I'm dressing him, he will agree to remove it from his mouth, only so long as it takes to put an arm in a sleeve.  I love it because he looks so sweet; his big pupils widen a little as he brings his hand to his mouth and then he settles in to a silent pulse.  He often brings up his other hand in prayer-like support, interlacing his fingers and holding on fast to the little finger of his sucking hand. I've noticed too that when I pick him up, he often pops his thumb in his mouth as if to reconfirm the safety of my arms.  He's putting the keys in the door.  He's home.  I love trying to make him smile until his suction goes. I love the thumb's over-sucked wrinkliness when it is not in his mouth and the strange fact that I never need to cut the nail. I love it because it so clearly tells me his mood.
I think Max hates it for as many reasons.  I've spied him giving it a go, trying to see what Oli takes from it. He puts his dry thumb in his mouth and, with a look of mild confusion, takes it out again, as if someone has asked him to chew clay.  There is no pleasure, no comfort.
'I don't want Oli to suck his thumb!' Max will declare when we are driving somewhere. He wants an accomplice on the back seat. But the two boys have different ways of dealing with the restrictions of car seats. Max wants music to take him somewhere interesting, Oli wants his thumb to take him off to sleep.
I love the story I was told of a friend who, as a child, had so many toys on her bed that every night, she tucked them in under her duvet, then, in the absence of a place to put her own head, would curl up to sleep on the floor.   Max's bed is not dissimilar; a muddle of dogs and cows and lions and bears and some woolly birds.  His dirty blond teddy with the fading blue ribbon round his neck is Oli's thumb in the mouth. For Oli, soft toys are batted away as an irritation.  All those carefully selected rabbits and elephants, given before we realised what kind of boy we had amongst us, are piled up, untouched, in a withy basket in his room.
I wonder what these differences portend. If anything. Are the thumb suckers of this world more self sufficient? Do teddy lovers crave more support from others? And were does it leave the rest of us who remember neither, except perhaps, an old raggy?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving IV

Before the arrival of digital cameras I had this brilliant idea for a chick lit novel.  A 20-something girl (OK, me, back then) takes her film reel off to be developed.  The photo shop isn't very glam, down a back street near the train station. She pays to get it processed in 24 hours but she's a radio journalist and ends up going on a job that takes her away from home most of the week. Then she has to see her parents at the weekend, there's some issue that needs dealing with.  She's also just broken up with her boyfriend.  So anyway, it's the following week when she finally rushes back to the shop, she's working nights and running late, she's on the phone with a friend who's trying to set her up, it seems to take forever for the man to find her photos.  She sees her train coming, takes the film he's offering, gives him a tenner and runs for the platform.  Once on the train, she opens the envelope to find she doesn't recognise any of the pictures.  Annoyed, she bungs them in her bag and plans to take them back the following day.  Being fairly chaotic, it's another ten days before she gets back to the shop - and she finds that the place has closed down, or closed due to flood damage or something.  About now I realised I needed a middle bit to actually make it a novel.  Anyway, the photos get stuffed in a cupboard, forgotten.  But somehow it turns out they are pictures of her future.
Luckily I don't have to write the book because John Buchan did, back in 1932, when he penned A Gap In The Curtain. I haven't actually read it, but got a precis from my mum many years ago, probably as she was steering me away from a major literary gaffe. 
But I've often wondered what I'd have made of it all, back then, if I'd got a glimpse of my life ahead of time.  Just a few snapshots. Who hasn't wondered?  Would I have been able to piece my story together? Would I have seen my children as my own?  Would I have recognised my home? Would I have been scared of what I saw?  Would I have vowed to wear more moisturiser, or spend more time at the hairdresser?
I raise the issue because we are fast approaching our fourth Thanksgiving; a celebration we have, for better or worse, traded for Guy Fawkes Night.  No sparklers or fireworks this month, no bonfires warming cold hands. Instead, a vigil in the kitchen and a 12lb turkey.
Four years. Max is now a sensible, if dogmatic, three and a half year old. Oli seems to have a glint in his eye, a sneaky smile as he waves food from his plate to the floor.  He still smiles like he did in those early months (although now with some teeth) but he's also got a mean frown in his repertoire too, and an executive index finger that can point out his needs with alarming precision.  Tomorrow, in the absence of a dish of sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows (there's only so far we can go to make the feast authentic) that finger will no doubt be pointing at the 12lb turkey.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Last week we were faced with the return of the tantrum.  First it was the occasion when I closed the garage door, without consulting the self-appointed garage troll, after I'd driven him home from preschool. Then there was a more complicated scenario that involved a tray, 2 bottles of milk, a hungry 15 month old and a missing packet of biscuits, at six in the morning.  Most recently it was Billy Idol.  We were in the car.  Dancing With Myself had been heard no less than 5 times.  Just as Billy nears the end he starts shouting 'sweat, sweat, sweat.'  Bleached-hair, fist-pounding, lip-snarling, it's hardly Tin Pan Annie, but Max picked it out himself from the CD storage book, and has since become single minded when it comes to punk pop.  Billy Idol's Greatest Hits is a winning album, but unfortunately we can only listen to the one song.  Max refuses to let the playlist go beyond that first track.  (Next up is Mony Mony, come on, it's taking you back, I know it).  This time we are determined and tell Max we aren't going to rewind.
'Here she comes now...' starts Billy, but we can't hear much more because Max, from the back seat, is wailing on about having 'the OTHER song, the OTHER one'.  I try explaining that there are plenty of good songs, we just can't have that one again, but it doesn't help. Wrong or right, I switch the music off.  Wrong.
I tell Max he needs to ask nicely and say 'please' to get the music back on.  He stubbornly refuses, and instead goes with the 'sweat, sweat, sweat' technique: it's grating, noisy and monotonous; all we can hear is 'MORE, MORE, MORE'.  It's like he's jabbing us with a sharp object.
By the time we reach home he refuses to get out of the car, which means I have to part lift, part drag him out of the vehicle, which means he bolts when his feet hit the ground, nearly running into the road, which terrifies me and makes me go for the vice grip, which stops his legs moving altogether, which in turn doesn't make it easy to cross the road and blatantly isn't very nice for Max, which then sees him going for the kick-mummy-tactic, which means he goes straight to his room.
I stand at the top of the stairs, waiting for the door to reopen, as it inevitably does, and hear my wailing, red-eyed son tell me through the tears; 'I JUST WANT TO LISTEN TO BILLY IDOL'. I realise I could have played this one a bit better. I could have just played the song, again.  He was tired, I should have known better.  It made me feel weary, physically and mentally.
I wouldn't normally be sharing this glorious parenting moment but it sets the scene, because it was a few days later that I heard about and then started reading Nurture Shock. It was just the thing I needed to give my parenting new inspiration.  There's a lot of fascinating information about neurons, which I won't remember, but there's also some practical stuff in there - like telling a child he's a genius probably won't have a positive outcome on his schoolwork, or tactics on how to stop a child lying.  And there were some interesting facts to think about, like the nicest kid can also be the meanest, or that teenagers just don't see risks the same way as adults do.  Interestingly there are some things that are fairly unchangeable, like sibling relationships - they're established early and probably stay that way into adulthood - but then there's a lot that's highly variable, like helping those siblings to co-operate early can have an influence, and the fact that there are a lot more factors than just brains, that feed into intelligence. The book made me look at the bigger picture, which is always helpful when you are knee deep in the moment.
Being armed with all this information is both good and bad. It's amazing to learn about the neuro-biology of children and I feel I now have a few more tools to try and create family harmony and sibling friendship, but it also feels like a lot to remember, and more reason to feel guilty when, in spite of it all, I still don't know how to handle the Billy Idol tantrum.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where next?

Yet again Dom and I are questioning where we should live.  Where we should live! I can't believe we haven't worked it out yet.  Max, however, has worked it out. He wants to live in San Francisco.
Until recently Max thought San Francisco was actually our house. There was much confusion when I told him his preschool was also in San Francisco.
'No.' I was roundly told, 'Not in our house!'
'All this is San Francisco' I said, gesturing with my hand to the homes and shops around us.
'San Francisco Cidy?' asks our little American in disbelief.
'Yes, San Francisco and the cidy are the same thing - and everything around you is in the cidy.'
I've found, sometimes these days, I copy Max's pronunciation. It's partly because he can do authentic American, but mainly so he doesn't self-correct all his adorable inaccuracies. How mean I am! But how sweet it is, when he talks about walking on the paperment, or gets the haircups, or wants a story about amnals before he has his breakpast.
I digress.  Where to live.  The whole problem started when we left the UK and set our flip-flopped feet on a sunny San Franciscan sidewalk one balmy, February evening, four years ago.  We fell in love with the place because it seemed to be everything the UK was not; warm and welcoming; safe and friendly, even verging on nostalgic, and it was so easy to get around.  It takes just minutes to get from city to beautiful seaside, where else is that even possible?  It inspired us. And it felt like we were on holiday.  But by definition a holiday must end.  What we miss most, besides Earl Grey tea that's actually drinkable, is good friends.
So the unanswered question is 'Where next?'  It's not very helpful when I'm trying hard to live in the moment.  There's no other way of living, is there, with a one year old trying to walk and a three year old rattling off questions from the crack of dawn until long after the sun has gone down?  Some of my favourites recently have been: Why does your nose have holes in it? Why do your eyes not have bones in them? Why do you need the black in your eyes?  We are so deep into biology, there's hardly time for questions of geography.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good enough to eat?

Not sure about the colour of the icing, but the glace cherry looks very convincing. It's actually soap. Max and I could well have stumbled on a winning homemade Christmas gift idea. Hot layers of melted glycerine poured into a cup cake mould.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Plywood reality

Oh, will you just look at this! The Garage has been completed. It has a lift and a ramp and perspex in the windows and an awning thing where the pumps are meant to be, and a tunnel.  Breathless enthusiasm?  Trust me, Max is almost as excited as I am.  Don't ask me what the cars are doing over the pump shelter when there's ample parking on the roof; or why there's a petrol pump and another vehicle on top of the elevator.  I think the police have it in hand.

I know what you're thinking; it could do with a lick of paint.  But Max kept asking me if he could test it out and I thought, you know that's not such a bad idea; if he immediately overcranks the elevator it's better that I mend it before I've glued the roof on.  But in the end he's been surprisingly gentle with it, although aggressively territorial.  And I'm going to leave the paint job for another time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Words repeated

It's always funny when the phrases we use at home are repackaged and repeated, with the added twist of a three year old's comprehension. Max has been known to ask his parents if they need a hand in the loo. "Do you need any help?" he'll ask us through the closed bathroom door.  I've also heard him tell Dom he's "had a long day" when asked how the last 12 hours of play went for him.
Over the past year when Max has been trying to communicate with Oli (2 years his junior and yet to get his first word on the vocab scoreboard), quite obviously he has not been given any intelligible responses. I've tried to tell Max that Oli doesn't really understand.  It seemed to help a little with the frustration Max felt when his train track was mauled or his tower destroyed.
"When we tell him not to do that, he doesn't understand." I say.
I try to demonstrate by asking Max to put his finger on his nose. He does it beautifully.
"But look", I say, "if I ask Oli to do the same thing, he won't, because he doesn't understand."
Well, now that Oli is a little older, it's quite possible he might understand. He just might touch his nose.  Or he might answer me correctly when I ask him what a dog says.
'What does a dog say Oli? " I ask.  I try to encourage him by pointing at one.
"What does a dog say?"
I promise you, Oli does have a noise for a dog's bark even though it's not really a 'woof' and I may be only one who can recognise it.  On this occasion, Oli gives a baby babble that, I can't deny, sounds nothing like a dog.
I see Max looking at me.
"Mummy," he says with a knowing pause and a sigh that hints of despair at having to spell it out yet again "he doesn't understand."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New York: The Subway

It's confounded him for two weeks: He can hear the trains, he just can't see them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Soon after Oli was born, I congratulated myself on devising a major time-saving plan. If you've dressed an infant in the last ten years, you'll know that the designers of baby clothes just love poppers. There are poppers at the crotch, poppers at the neck, poppers down the middle and sometimes half-way up the back.  Some of Oli's trousers would look like chaps but for the poppers, and just when you think you've got to the end, you realise you've popped it up all wrong, and you have to start all over again.  Are they trying to drive us sleep-deprived parents even crazier?  Wouldn't velcro just be so much easier?
Here was my plan: I was only going to pop one of the crotch poppers on Oli's onesies. Haaa! It was going to save me hours.  I'd be accumulating time like reward points on a credit card.  I reckoned I'd be saving about 2 seconds at every change.  And in that early muddle of breastfeeding and sleep-deprivation I could smell a lie-in.
Women in the street, often mothers themselves, look nostalgically at your infant and tell you how fast time goes. They tell you to savour every minute, as if you're the one chasing your child into Kindergarten.  But it's not us who sets the pace.  These days I feel that if I take a night off, a night away from meal planning and preparing, or doing laundry or thinking ahead to creative distractions for my children, hell, if I indulge myself in an early bath or just zone out for a while, then I am in debt for an entire week; endlessly scrabbling to get back on track; desperately trying to produce something edible from an empty fridge or get that nasty damp smell from the clothes I let sit in the washer too long.
I had so many ideas for what I'd do with my extra seconds.  I was going to sell a line of re-purposed woolens, patchwork a duvet cover out of a bunch of old shirts, customize some napkins for birthdays and christmas, finish that toy garage, write a book!
I remember talking to a childless friend soon after I'd had my first son. I was, no doubt, harping on about this issue of time.
"The baby does nap, right?" she said.
"Well, yes," I agreed "but the chore count has quadrupled."
Oliver is now one year old and no longer in onesies, which makes me wonder how I spent those extra seconds. This evening, precious minutes passed as I tried to get a splinter out from under my thumb nail, only to find it was a grain of sand, and not the source of the throbbing at all.  No doubt, some of those seconds went into similarly memorable moments.  Or perhaps I just lingered a bit longer with little boy I was stealing from; another kiss, another raspberry on his soft, round tummy.
Even so, I still think there's room for velcro.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

But Why?

We've hit it...the "but why?" stage.
"But why? Mummy?"
At this point, I'd like to add my own "but why?" to the author of Clifford the Big Red Dog.  To those who are yet to discover the joys of Clifford; he's a big red dog and when I say 'big' I mean, yes, as big as a house.  So Max raises a very good question, "Why?"
"Why does he grow so big?  Why is he the size of a house? Why does he need a crane to lift him out of his owner's apartment?" And here, I'll point out, we are reading this book out-loud in the library, the public library. 
'But why?' Good question. I should have checked it out sharpish and taken it home to read in the privacy of Max's bedroom. But instead, I can feel people lingering in the aisles near us, waiting for my answers.
Inconceivably the runt of the litter suddenly grows and grows, bigger than a horse; yes, bigger than a digger.
"But why?" says Max again.
"Well, let's read to the end, and maybe, we'll find out."
I can hear the browsers nearby shifting their weight. Instinctively I know, there is no answer, no salvation for me on the last page.
"He's about the size of a very tall tree, but a bit bigger." I approximate for Max.
"But why?"
I think Dr Seuss wrote a book about a goldfish who was given too much fish food, and briefly ended up in a swimming pool before being shrunk back to his real size.  I'm hoping Clifford's author will offer some sort of explanation, and if not, a return to normality, but no, there's nothing.
The book ends. The dog is still big, very big, and red.
"Can we take this book home?" Max asks.
Think of me, we've got it for three weeks.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Summer's last hurrah

Another great weekend at 'The Ranch'; Oli spent part of the time back in ye olde tin bath, as we attempted to cool down in temperatures in the nineties.  The summer's parting shot, before autumn takes over, perhaps? The soaring mercury made it hard to do anything with much enthusiasm, except have water fights with the hose.  We did venture out on Sunday to pick apples, which proved popular.  We were even given proper harvesting equipment.  Max was very good at sampling the crop: Honey Crisp and Molly's Delicious, the favourites.

Other than that, I read a copy of Lynn Truss', Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and vowed to re-edit this blog for punctuation.  I'm sure you are all going to pitch in and tell me how bad my grammar is.  I'll just say, at least I'm not dropping prepositions yet.  And on the matter of morphing into an American, I can tell you, Max is now officially calling tomatoes; 'tu-may-does'.  Three years of his parents' pronunciation is evidently not enough when it comes to 6 weeks back at preschool, with a 'tu-may-doe' plant bearing fruit in the playground.  Various visitors have told me that my sentences are going up in pitch as I near the full stop, turning them into question-sentences? So perhaps my Americanization is not far behind Max's.  I do romanticize Europe; and refer to the 'bathroom', and say 'gift' instead of 'present'.  And most telling of all, I do, sometimes, misinterpret Dom's sarcasm.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Christmas Morning

I remember it now, it's just as it was with Max; when he was somewhere between and a year and eighteen months. I wake to the sound of Oli's soft baby babbling.  It's 7am, if I'm lucky, but I got a full night's sleep so there's something building as I go to get the milk, a sort of excitement as I walk the corridors in the half light, and then, only when I'm armed with the bottle, I open the bedroom door, and there he is, the bundle I love, zipped into a sleep sack and trying to stand; and it feels like Christmas morning.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Plywood dreams

I need to frame a memory for you, a memory I have of a man called Pop.  When I was growing up, Pop lived across the road from us, in a cottage in the yard. The cottage was part of the farm we lived on (although it no longer functioned as such).  Pop was in his eighties, or at least very old, and he lived with Jean and Tom.  He wasn't our Pop, but he was presumably theirs, and it didn't cross my mind that we should call him anything else.  Jean helped clean our house, and Pop sometimes came over to join her for a mid-morning coffee and to eat drippings of lard on toast.  He always wore blue nylon overalls; the uniform of the nearby tannery where he'd worked in younger years.  The smell of the leather-curing chemicals lingered in the fabric.
Pop kept bantams and spent most of his time in a small shed which backed onto our chicken run.  He sometimes threw seeds and bread rusks to the birds over the stable door.  Inside his shed, the whitewashed dry stone walls were dark with dust and cobwebs. The sheets of corrugated plastic on the roof were covered in dirt and the place had the musty, fungal smell of droppings and feathers.  Jam jars of shrapnel, nails and netting staples were balanced on makeshift shelves.  Pops' bantams roosted above him on a support beam and the floor was wood chippings and sawdust.  It was not a place in which I ever lingered, but that gave it a curious appeal.
Pop's shed didn't beat my dad's for size or tool quantity.  In dad's shed the rafters were packed with coils of rope, rolls of chicken wire and folded fruit netting. Any size of hammer, spanner, chisel or screwdriver was available, snugly held between nails in the walls.  The work bench was as thick as a mattress and deeply etched with the scars of earnest sawing.  Dad's shed smelled of creosote and weed-killer and produced things on a grand scale like guttering systems, paint-stripped grandfather clocks and pheasant coups.  But Pop's shed produced toys; plywood creations for my brother and I.  Tool sheds were indeed wonderful.
Among Pop's toys for us there was a dolls house; two levels, four rooms. I loved it even though Barbie's legs stuck out of the window if she lay down in her bedroom.  He also made a fort for my brother.  I think Jos can still summon up the fury he felt when unjust parental arbitration meant that I was allowed fort-playing time - even though it was his.  The last creation was a stable that, having no interest in horses and being more familiar with cows, we turned into a bull pen.
With that shared, it might go some way in explaining why I decided, that in the absence of a San Franciscan Pop, it should fall to me to make my children a building out of plywood.  I've chosen a garage because cars have had an enduring presence in our house for a while now.  Here's what I should have known before I started:
A project like this should NOT be attempted without a tool shed.
We do not have a tool shed.
It really is cheaper and much, much quicker to buy a toy garage for your child.
If you produce a saw, a three year old will want to have a turn.
Working out the size of a drill bit in fractions of an inch is beyond my maths skills.
Max and Oli will have moved on to Star Wars before the project is actually finished.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Race

I'm kicking myself for not creating a podcast of Dom's swimming efforts over the past 5 months. It had all the potential for a great audio diary; the 6ft 4" non-swimmer challenging himself to race one of the most notorious stretches of open water, from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore.
Aside from the physical challenge of learning an effective freestyle, his initial concern was great white sharks. Those brutal killers come to the oceanic 'red triangle', which incorporates the northern California coast, because it's a breeding ground for so much marine life, perfect for hunting a vulnerable snack. Hungry sharks that have traveled miles for food, no thank you. Digging around on the internet Dom unearthed news that a great white was spotted in the bay three years ago. Three years? That's yesterday when it's murky below and you're dressed up in a wetsuit the colour of seal flesh. Admittedly it was about eight miles from the race waters but I think sharks can swim at about 25mph which means it could have been nibbling Dom's toes in less than twenty minutes.
Early August and during a day trip further up the coast, we found out the beach we were sitting on had been closed for six days after two shark sightings. Then, last month aggressive sea lions began attacking swimmers in Aquatic park, the open water practice area. That was quickly followed by a suicide victim being washed up there. A sombre sight; to see blankets thrown over the beached body, police cordons set up, ambulances by the shore.
I've forgotten to mention that this was actually a triathlon, after the 1.5 mile swim, Dom had 14 miles by bike and a 6 mile run. A month before the race Dom said he was worried. I nodded, perhaps my face contorted a bit, thinking how I'd feel ahead of a challenge like this.
'Worried I won't hit my fund-raising target' he went on. The fact that he'd already raised 17 thousand dollars for a UK children's charity seemed to have passed him by. The man wasn't thinking straight.
Less than three weeks til the race, the hottest day in San Francisco this year, and Dom throws in some last minute cycle training. In the upper eighties he biked over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausilito and back, then topped it off with a six mile run along the coast. I think it dawned on him then, that it wasn't all about the swimming.
What luck, then, that just days before the race an email came through saying that permits for the cycle ride had been revoked. It would now be a duathlon (although spell check tells me there is no such thing). Dom had mixed feelings about this, on one hand annoyed that he wouldn't be able to do the challenge he intended, on the other, after his hot lycra-clad biking efforts, undeniably a little relieved.
24 hours to race day and the sunshine turned to storm clouds. Claps of thunder shook the house in the night. At the pre-race registration, the other athletes appeared either very chiseled or had necks as wide as their shoulders. Back at home, the children and I made flags out of an old sheet and a bamboo with Dom's number drawn on in black felt tip.
Then, finally, race day; a grey morning lifted by porridge and ginger tea, a ferry to the start point and hands on hearts for the 'Star Spangled Banner'. A team of firefighters were swimming the race to honour a colleague who died attempting it last year. A fire boat had it's hoses going, the jets shooting out like huge water-tentacles. The spectators found their spot. Then the first of the swimmers started arriving at the beach. An hour in and Dom emerged from the water, a big grin. Total elation. Both the physical and mental battles won. No mistake, it was all about the swimming.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The fly-away kite

Here is our kite, back in October 2008. Exhibit A. Just in case you come across it...

because, yesterday it made a bid for freedom. The sun was shining, blue sky, high wispy cirrus above us and a strong wind in our faces. Not on the beach this time, but not far from it, there was a stretch of grass, then a gravel path, then some roped off scrub before the sand hit the sea. In my view a kite must have a tail and it's impossible not to smile, watching Max try to catch the ribbons as they curl and coil upwards chasing a pillow of inflated synthetic silk. You can see the excitement in Oli too, even though he's sedentary in the stroller. So while Max is doing his best to bring down the kite by yanking the tail, I am with Oli trying to get it to do tantalizing loops to keep everyone entertained. It is no easy feat when the kite only has one string and there's a gale keeping the grass horizontal. Then it happened. As always, far too quickly. A gust of wind and I dropped the reel, the one thing keeping this kite under any kind of control. As the spool started jumping across the grass I left Oli's side and began chasing it. I grabbed at it but the string was running out so fast it burnt my fingers. In my flip-flops I picked up speed, racing after the small coil of unraveling string. Max could sense the impending disaster.
'I want my kite back. Tell it to stop.' I could hear him yell, although his words were wobbling.
My plan was to jump on the string and save my hands. I closed in on it, but each time I stepped, my feet were inches from being effective. Ahead, I could see the roped-off scrub and felt convinced the string, the reel, something would get tangled in the fencing or the thicket beyond. But this kite could see Alcatraz, could see the sea, the city, it was so high now it could probably see the entire bay. It was stopping for no-one. When the spool bounced across the fence I realised I was running barefoot and and could hear a chorus of abandoned children in my wake. I turned to look at them; Oli in the distance, Max running after me, wet faced and red eyed. When I looked back to where the spool had been, it was no longer there and the kite was way above Alcatraz, an ever decreasing dark dot making a slow ascent into the blue. It was gone. I stopped, caught my breath and started walking back, retrieved my shoes and my wailing children. I wanted to reassure Max that it was fine, we'd get a new one. But it mattered to me too and I was just as annoyed. Annoyed that I'd dropped the spool in the first place, and that I hadn't caught up with it afterwards. Annoyed that sea birds might get caught in yard upon yard of nylon string, annoyed that I'd lost the kite, damn it. I said I was sorry, that it was my fault and that he was right to be sad, it was a shame. Oli was easier to console. His alarm was more likely to have been because be saw me sprinting away from him and could sense some of Max's despair. I foolishly suggested that Daddy, when swimming the Alcatraz challenge next weekend, might spot the kite and be able to retrieve it for us. As if a monumental fund-raising effort and an enormous physical challenge weren't enough...
This morning he wisely decided we should go straight out and buy a new one and return to the scene of the crime. Which we did. And this one has a much better handle.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A 1st Birthday

There's nothing like birthdays for marking out the passage of time. And so Oli, our little 'rubby' prop, turns 1. No teeth and not crawling, but clapping and pointing and sitting and stretching and smiling and sleeping and, when in doubt, a thumb in the mouth.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

For the record...

Last week I had two completely sleepless nights worrying about preschool. One side of my brain tells me this is totally ridiculous, to agonize over my three year old's scheduled playtime, I repeat, playtime. But the other side of my brain tells me this is a huge decision that requires an endless, frenzied if circular debate in my head. So there I sat, in bed, not sleeping, thinking about educational philosophies, Rudolf Steiner, Montessory, Reggio Emilia, for a deranged hour or two I became completely committed to home schooling (or is it Un-schooling?). In the darkness I wrote out pros and cons, added up pluses and minuses, formed bullet points and made lists of priorities. I felt completely at sea in a tempest of learning debate. I even found myself making midnight calls to family in the UK. Such was my sleepless insanity. Was my child being exposed to enough music, enough art? Was he getting enough exercise? Was he being allowed the right amount of freedom and yet being taught, too, to take instruction? Was it the right community for him, one both he and I felt comfortable in? All this, I was demanding from a few mornings of playtime.
I realise now, having passed the application deadlines (and with Max staying at the same school we had him in last year), that the preschool issue was just was one of the worries I could DO something about. I could be proactive, make changes. Some of my other anxieties these days just don't seem to have answers, like whether or not we'll ever move back to the UK, and where we want 'home' to be as the boys get older. (None of this demands violin accompaniment I know, and there's always joy in that post-worry relief, that was all it was - we still have our health and each other - but sometimes it's hard to see that at 3am.) And I think one other thing fed into my insomnia; a moment of loss as I flipped around in bed, too hot, too cold, and infuriated by some strange and unidentifiable ticking noise. I was sort of saying farewell to the three year old boy who has been living in our house, acknowledging that with another school year underway Max will turn four, get that torrent of testosterone and maybe lose all the sweet loving that takes me by surprise these days. The other week, I was changing him into swimming trunks at the pool when he said again that he loved me. My mind was full of what we'd have for lunch, whether I had the suncream, and the damn preschool debate and it was a slow thirty seconds before the words filtered through and I acknowledged what he'd said. I'll regret that delay when I haven't heard those words in weeks, months...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Computer ggglitch

There were just too many seconds of silence this morning. Oli was having a post-breakfast kip in his cot, I was brushing my teeth upstairs, Max was in the kitchen...and silent. As I came downstairs I realised my mistake. I had cleared away the cereal bowls, the milk, the yoghurt, put away the sugar and picked the cheerios up off the floor. Then on the one occasion I'd put the computer on the breakfast table, I had cleverly gone and left it there, exposed, awaiting destruction. Max was rubbing a soggy string of loo paper across the keyboard. His old toothbrush, the one I threw in the bin yesterday, was lying on the floor.
'What happened?' I tried not to let my vocal chords snap.
'I put toothpaste on the comm-pute-er.' Every syllable is enunciated. 'Then I spat on it. Now I'm cleaning it.'
I rush over to the invalid 'comm-pute-er'. Like a wet child rescued from a dangerous bath I hold it up in the air. Water drips onto the sideboard.
With gritted teeth I say, 'Thanks for telling me the truth', in the hope that one day, when it is a wet child, he'll be just as honest.
'But please don't get it wet, or spit on it, or...'
'Sorry' he mutters.
For the moment we still have power, although the mouse pad is glitching. How long does it take for a motherboard to rust?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Camp Part II

Well, except for the belt of mosquito bites across my hips, we are still in one piece after the camping trip. Not even a sniff of a mountain lion. In fact, I have since been informed that we weren't camping at all, but glamping (the top end variety). Imagine you arrive at the camp ground, the car sweeps in, it's high sun and you look out from a remote ridge onto the vineyards of the Napa valley. In front of you is a 12 ft teak table with benches. There are two large hurricane lamps. Two hammocks swing from the trees. There's a gas barbecue for our supper. Hidden from view, a little cabin with, oh joy, a loo.
When the darkness enveloped us we packed ourselves off to bed. In the moonlight Max took in the sight of Dom in his orange cocoon of a sleeping bag.
'You look a bit like Tutankhamun!' he exclaimed. And he wasn't too far off.
And even without much sleep and the aforementioned mosquito bites I was able to see again the magic of sleeping under the stars. When we woke at dawn, balloon rides were making their slow descent into the mist below us. And the shower! Like a freezing bolt of electricity. I'd go camping next weekend for that shower...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summer Camp Part I

Three weeks living out of a suitcase and two long haul flights is clearly not enough for Dom. No, we must go camping. I can't blame it all on Dom, I do have a sneaking suspicion it might be fun. It's our third attempt. The first we canceled because a child had a snotty nose and we anticipated a sleepless night (oh, and I have an unspoken fear of mountain lions). The second faltered because for some reason we got no sleep on Friday night, the night we were in our comfortable bed at home and we realised that rest rather than anything even remotely recognisable to our RV experience was the priority for the weekend. (And then we watched some terrifying documentary on California's mountain lions). This time there seems to be nothing standing in our way (except the fear of mountain lions)...But I'm sure we'll survive, we even know what s'mores are, which means we must be ready for the great American outdoors.

Quiet Time

I've been trying to find quiet activities for Max - and who'd have guessed it...he's sewing! A bit of cardboard and a holepunch and he chose the design. Here he shows off his craft...

Saturday, August 1, 2009


The other day Max told me he was worried;
'I'm just worried Mummy.' He was peeking through the curtains and looking out of the window.
'What about?' I asked, trying not to sound surprised or let him detect in my voice how my legs had gone weak hearing this little person who basically just plays, eats and sleeps say he was worried about anything. And anyway, isn't it my job to do the family's worrying? After all, I do it so well. I'm a total sponge for worry these days. It started with the long haul flights in July (Ok, it really started with pregnancy three years ago, but more recently it was the flights) which miraculously we survived, no emergency landings, no depressurized cabins, no dodgy sensors, no mid air crisis, just 2 cramped, hellish transatlantic flights with children. We're alive. Amazing. So now I'm worried about preschool, whether it's the right one, whether Max is going too many days, or not enough. And while we are on the subject of schooling, Kindergarten, I'm worried about it, even though it's 2 years off. Of course I'm worried about where we might be living in 2 years time, but that's another thing altogether. I'm worried about storage, because the house always seems to be a tip. I'm worried about childcare, worried I should be working, worried about everyone's health. I'm worried about Oli's head circumference (it's off the pediatrician's percentile chart which means everything from being absolutely fine to all sorts of medical complications I can't even bring myself to voice). I'm worried about getting this whole parenting lark right, which then opens the door on a myriad other 'mummy anxieties' too numerous to go into. So what could Max possibly be worried about, when I seem to have the whole thing in hand?
'I'm worried about missing Granny.'
Oh my heart! She's five thousand miles away. They both are.
'I miss her too' I say.
He turns away from the window and looks at me. He seems satisfied that in my huge repertoire of worries there is room for his too. I realise now, this is just the beginning.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some scraps of fabric and a bucket of sand

It's a door-stopper in it's middle age, a little saggy around the waist but still does the job. Inspired by a similar one in a shop in St Mawes, my parents became the recipients of my craft efforts earlier this month; something to stop a sou'westerly banging all the doors closed when you're having supper outside and trying to keep an ear out for sleeping children.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cornish Summer

The difference between summer in Cornwall and summer in California is this; when the sun shines in Cornwall you rush at it like you are trying to catch the tail of a flying kite. You run and race and try as hard as you can to cram in every ounce of summertime. Luckily Max has enthusiastically embraced a childhoods-worth of summer activities. In a few short weeks there have been boat trips and barbeques, lobster pots and mackerel lines, rock-pooling and razor shells, pasties, rope swings, grasshoppers and dragon flies. There's been ice-cream on eyelashes and leaking cones, 'grabble' and grass, sand in shoes and swim things and snacks, eel catching, crab catching, and scrambling down steep ravines to inaccessible beaches, no 'lifegardens' in sight. Oli has obligingly participated in all this strapped to a back or held in willing arms. We've dug out matchbox cars from the 1980s, and found they give the same amount of pleasure despite the decades. We've looked for trout in the stream and jumped in the waves of incoming tides. I've learnt again the smell of the fish cellars, a blend of rust and rotting mackerel. With a little less enthusiasm but still some wonder we've stared up at clouds of flat and ominous grey and walked out in rainfall in perfect vertical lines. We've looked up at soggy bunting and stared down at stings from nettles and searched in the hedges for doc leaf cures. And all the time there's been a backdrop of hydrangas; purple, pink and blue, tall agapanthas bending in the wind and the sweet smell of budlia, flickering with cabbage whites. The east wind has brought sunshine but choppy seas. Bright seagulls have cawed above us in the changing skies and at our feet, cats on the slip, have licked their limbs in the sunshine, seemingly the only ones who know the secret of how to slow the pace.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pillow Talk

I'm in haste to post something, anything to be honest. There's been a creative dearth in this house for a while and I need to put an end to it. I blame it on the streptococcal germs that put me in bed for a full 4 days last week. Thanks guys. Now they've gone and so far we've managed to avoid the bout of 'chicken pops' that's laid a few others low around here. ('Is that like lollipops?' Max asked) With a long haul flight not too far ahead of us I am hoping, please, for some continued health and happiness. And to celebrate my own good health I have finally finished a floor cushion I've been making. It's taken weeks. I took this project very slowly and very carefully in order not to screw it up and end up consigning it to the basement. I took it so very carefully but still managed to cut the initial panels out an inch short. But I'm fairly happy with the finished article, and Max seems pretty snug on it too...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Things I've learnt this week..

  • How to get 2 boys, 1 stroller, 17 cars, 1 bucket, 1 spade, 1 rug, 2 sunhats, a snack, some baby food, 2 cups, a spoon and 1 kite to the beach - and actually enjoy it when you get there.
  • How to say 'I can see that you are angry with me. It's important that you can express your anger. I love you. You cannot have another ice cream.'
  • A sticker factory tour that costs $3 is unlikely to be worth the 40 mile drive.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


They know how to get you, these kids, don't they?
Here's how it went in the park earlier; Max was playing in the red and yellow train by the sandpit, steering wildly. It's attached to the tarmac so his passengers were oblivious, but it had the manic energy of a child who's just been given the Two Minute Warning. The all-powerful Two Minute Warning. More recently known as, the all-but-ignored Two Minute Warning. I admit that my 'Two Minutes' have a tendency to expand and contract like gutters in the sunshine, but I try my best. I tell him so. I also tell him that if he doesn't come with Oli and I 'right now' there will be no music in the car on the way home. A harsh punishment. Finally, and after Max does one last circuitous lap of the playground via the spider-web climbing frame, the three of us are are on our way, down the hill, heading back to the car. But when we get there, and are eventually strapped in, there is no music. I have to do it. The result is big wet rolling tears and wails that are only just comprehensible. The aim here, of course, is that I relent and switch the 'MUSIC ON!' But I've learnt to be quiet in moments like this. My silence makes the words I do hear, that much more heart-wrenching;
'I just want to be happy!'
'I just want to be glad of you.'
I infer that he just wants to love me but I make it so hard for him. Ouch.
Later, washing his hands for supper proves an almighty task. The diggers outside are moving and must be watched. Peace signs are shown to the 'digger mans'. I loose my patience and start counting. 1, 2, 3,
'I'm trying my best' Max says.
'Where's he picking this up?' I think.
On the way up to bed he gives me a totally impromptu kiss.
'I like you Mummy, no actually I love you' he says.
And there it is, he's got me.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Green Card Holders

At some point during the middle of last week Dom and I became green card holders. Well, we aren't holding them yet, but we've been sent letters welcoming us to permanent resident status in the United States. I'm still technically meant to take myself off to a TB clinic because I have latent TB, possibly from years spent in the London borough of Brent, but I don't think anyone's checking. So when the card arrives we've been told we have to carry it everywhere. 'It's the law' says the piece of paper. Even to the corner shop? Out jogging? (as if!) But really? I can now think of dozens of places I want to go without my wallet; the beach, the playground, the run to preschool... I'm reminded of the time we were caught speeding near Yosemite last year. I say we, but it was (sorry Dom) not me behind the wheel. However, neither of us were carrying our passports as the CHIPS officer in bright white SUV appeared suddenly from the blind crest in front of us. Shiny sheriff's star proudly pinned to his right breast, shades down, beige uniform perfectly ironed, gloss black boots neatly crunching over the gravel of the turn-out as he paced towards us. He was incredulous that we didn't have any identification papers, 'in this time of heightened homeland security'. His voice went high pitched with utter astonishment. The upshot was that six weeks later Dom had to make a 4 hour journey to Mariposa courthouse to bargain with the DA and get the charge of infringement (one down from a felony if you can you believe it) reduced to misdeameanour and then wiped completely, which amazingly, he succeeded in doing. So we know what it is to brush with the law here without the right paperwork.
But the truth is, I'm not really sure what having a green card actually means to us. Sure, it's harder for us to be thrown out of the country. But strangely, that new privilege, after three years in this country and a nine month application process, is almost a bit of a let-down. I don't want to go on about my expat-anxt, but I thought this long awaited new status might be the jigsaw piece we were looking for, the thing that made the picture of our future a little clearer. But, no. It almost feels like we now have the freedom to leave the country, spend a year in Patagonia, buy a run down farm in Andalucia...a challenge for our next adventure, perhaps?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Growing Up

'Oli's not a boy yet' says Max of his nine month old brother.
I explain that Oli is a boy, just not a big boy, yet.
'When I am a baby I can sit in Oli's chair.'
Hmm. There's no going back little one. It's early morning and I'm giving Oli a bottle in bed, in my bed.
'Mummy, when you are small you can get in my bed.'
I thank him for that. Perhaps it's confusing that we only grow in one direction.
'And do you remember Granny was here yesterday.'
In truth she left days ago, but the past seems to be contracted into one big yesterday here.
'And Granny will be a big boy like me.'
Well, people change, they grow in size and understanding, but that might be stretching it.
'And I will play soccer ball when I'm younger.'
You may well do, my little American.

Friday, May 22, 2009

One of those weeks...

It's Friday night and it's been one of those weeks. Right now I'm trying to hold on to those moments when I've been forced to scoop a boy up in my arms and slap a big kiss on his cheek. I'm trying to enlarge the sweet moments so they aren't swallowed by the sour.
Oli deciding a 40 minute nap is plenty long enough thanks very much and crying from his cot, wide mouthed and sad, red faced and furious, just when I'm trying to juggle saucepans in the middle of a major cook-up. Then, me reminding myself how very small he still is, how he is soothed by having my little finger in his mouth or likes me to put my head so close to his that we almost share a breath, his little hand outstretched to explore the marvel of my eyelashes.
The week feels dominated by the morning spent with both boys at the DMV, yet another attempt to renew my driver's license. The whole thing was an exercise in observation and patience. One woman was breathing through the sleeve of her sweater, so as not to inhale germs I suppose. It seemed extreme but, along with the armed security guard, it reminded me it was hardly a place for children.
'What is he dooing?' Max asked as we sat down next to a man who must have had the body mass of the three of us combined.
'Well, he's looking at his phone and waiting for his number to be called.'
'Is he waiting for his number to be called?' Max is on his knees, bending over the back of the chair and looking at the man behind us. I nod. 'Is he waiting for his number to be called? And is he waiting for his number to be called?' He's pointing at a woman this time but I nod again. There must be 50 people, at least, and I can sense he likes this question.
'Everyone is waiting for their number, Max'
He moves on to the signage. 'No Visitors', 'Examination Area', 'Window Number 1'. We count to 25 as the tannoy calls out ticket numbers; F074, H007, G103. The sequence is so random I'm reminded of those unfathomable maths questions that ask you to write down the next number after 8, 21, 306, 24... An hour later Max is using the rope cordon as a gym bar. Security's getting heavier around us and we all want out. The meltdown happens later in the playground when Max wants to come down the fireman's pole.
'I-CAN-DO-IT-ALL-BY-MY-OWN' he tells me firmly.
There is a pause. Then, 'I-CAN-DO-IT-ALL-BY-MY-OWN-IF-YOU-HELP-ME.'
I had to kiss him for that, but it didn't avert the tears.
Then today, Max looked so excited running through the folds of multicoloured parachute silk at his gym class. And when he heard the lyrics in 'Hey there Delilah' which went 'planes and trains and cars', it stopped him in his tracks. He was grinning 'Did he just say 'planes and trains and cars?' And Oli, so adorable in the carrier on my chest, chunky, soft and sleepy, tiny nose, mouth slightly open. I hold on to those moments when I remember the three of us in the public loo, me bent over Max, asking him to please, just pee, and my sunglasses falling in the bowl. Yes, very

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Cars, cars, and pictures of cars

What's a mother to do with a boy obsessed with 'my cars'?

Ask him to line them up for a photo shoot. The result? One happy child...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hollywood Here We Come!

So here it is, my screenplay idea:
Imagine a British couple with 2 small children. He does the nine to five, she's at home with the kids. The family live...I don't know, let's say for the sake of argument, they live in San Francisco. They're relatively new to the city, 3 years or so (pure fiction all this, of course). Things are ticking along fine, there's the newness of living in America, the adjustment to parenthood, and your average domestic highs and lows. But there's one thing missing, good old friends. Then, one evening in June, the Mrs is feeling a bit down about all this, so she announces she's going to make it 'Friend-Making Month' and for the next 30 days she's going to throw everything at it. The next door neighbours will get bombarded by cupcakes, she's going to befriend everyone at the kids gym class and organise day trips, picnics and playdates. Well, the Mr rises to the challenge - he's going to befriend everyone at his own gym, accept the preschool dads night invitation, and do some cooking himself - perhaps he'll cook a curry. And so this couple end up pitting themselves against each other. Here I need to focus on some plot development...hilarious sequences would follow involving small children scuppering their parents attempts to befriend the neighbourhood. At some point the couple might devise a chart, (to go up next to the kids discipline chart) where they allocate stars for invitations out to dinner, in-coming phone calls, bonus points for snagging Americans, especially a Bart or a Sydney.
There'll be a lesson in all this, like if you're lucky enough to have a happy family you don't need friends, or your friends were there all the time you just hadn't given them enough cupcakes...then everyone will live happily ever after. Gotta go, gotta pitch to Disney...

Monday, May 18, 2009

These are the best days...

When I was working for a film producer all those years ago, we were trying to develop a script with a hot new writer about the life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. For all the heat around the author, the script wasn't actually very compelling and the director, who had once been famous for doing the music videos for the Sex Pistols, was seen as a liability, the ski-boot on the ballerina. I must have read and re-read a dozen drafts of the movie. It did finally get made but I had moved on by then and I only found out about it on the internet. But there was one line in that film which really resonated with me, I don't even know if it ended up in the final dialogue but it was when Coleridge and his wife, Sara, were living in rural Nether Stowey. It's snowing one night, Coleridge has been writing in a frenzy, working on the Ancient Mariner in an opium induced delirium and Sara has just had a baby. Now I think about it, having a writer, philes of opium and a newborn in the same house must have been utter hell but despite all this Sara is looking up at the stars one winter night, cradling her baby in her arms and saying to Coleridge, something like 'these are the best days' (perhaps it was a little more prosaic than that, but the gist is there.) There's no money, the house is freezing, Coleridge hasn't written anything of note, he's an opium addict, they're probably not getting much sleep. Coleridge tells her it's not true, there will be better days to come but she doesn't listen and repeats the line again. The words, or the gist of the words, came back to me soon after Max was born. Granted, we were living in a place with panoramic views of the San Francisco bay, not a hovel in Nether Stowey, but we were miles from family and had wrenched ourselves from our friends just when we most needed them. When we paced the dark flat at night trying to sooth our crying newborn we looked out on a moonlit bay and even though we couldn't believe our luck, it was also horribly lonely. But I felt the same thing holding Oli in the garden the other day, as he stared up at the blue sky and the blossom breaking out on the thorntree. 'These are the best days.' It must be something about having a baby or a child in the house. Photos of my own infancy pop into my mind, my mum in a big print sundress holding either me or my brother in her arms, squinting against the sunshine at the camera. Or the one where she's in a green toweling bikini on all fours with my brother emptying the contents of a watering can onto her back. I was having that 'best days' feeling as I put Max to bed last night. We'd spent the day in the sunshine, some of us digging dirt, running in and out of the paddling pool, eating ice pops. I told him I loved him, that he was great, an inspiration. He was thinking exactly what you are.
He lay there for a second or two, then put his fingers up his nose.
'Bogey' he said.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dear Oli and Max,

I just ate a crisp and got a mouthful of fuzz - apparently my hands now attract wool like velcro. It got me thinking about how my hands are exactly like my mother's now. And I was just about to post something along those lines when I remembered that this blog is really meant to be all about you, Oli and Max, but it has gradually slipped into being all about ME which really wasn't what I intended. So I'm making amends and giving you an update on your antics and hopefully it will set me straight and I won't feel the need to drone on about RVs and beauty salons and how my hands are old.
Oli, I keep thinking your dribbling is going to pay off and we are going to get signs of teeth, but no. Just drool. It's about a month now since you started babbling; da da da, ra ra ra, ya ya ya. Then ten days ago you said 'Ma ma ma' which of course delighted me and coincided beautifully with Mother's Day. No indication yet that you feel like crawling, for which I am thankful. I never believed your grandmother when she said your father didn't walk until he was two years old. But now you're here and have his physique and it makes perfect sense. And what with Max obligingly bringing you toys (not to say he doesn't edit them a little but), he piles them up on you as if you're on Crackerjack (BBC circa 1980), it rather takes away the incentive to get moving. As Dom says 'Once you're up, you're up.'
Max, today I had your 'report' from preschool, where the teachers told me you were reserved yet confident (which I obviously interpreted as brilliant), an observer with a solid base (brilliant again), 'quite the intellect' they called you, saying you were very good at expressing what you want. I'd never have guessed. Apparently they no longer sing the Slippery Fish song because you dislike it so.
Recently you've taken to inventing words and telling me the detailed meanings. The first 2 I'm not sure about but the last one I do like and will be using in conversation:
  • nagu (naegu:) n. 1. blue object given to a relative
  • rigas (rIgas) n. 1. area by the door
  • tuff (t^f) vb. tuffing 1. to run a vehicle's engine without creating motion (is that car tuffing?)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy Mothering Sunday

How very disheartening it is to go to a beauty salon and, as you walk through the door, hear the receptive, smiling beautician ask 'Eyebrow shaping?' when it hadn't crossed your mind to do anything to your eyebrows, in years.
'Eyelash TINT' I say pointedly, but now in the knowledge that my eyebrows obviously look like a wild hedgerow. My Mother's Day treat is suddenly barbed.
In this house we got Mothering Sunday all confused. I got the day off last Saturday and cards scrawled on by the boys on Sunday, only to find out mid-week that we'd been premature on the whole thing and it is actually this Sunday when I am meant to be pampered. Not sure I can expect more treats again just one week later... For the record, I chose to spend that precious day off contorting myself in a yoga studio four times hotter than the sun and then had the aforementioned beauty salon expose. I've got a much better idea for this coming Sunday; I'll just stay at home where I still get a workout and no-one challenges my beauty regime.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The R word

There's been a lot of talk about RVs this weekend. First Dom came back from a trip to LA full of a story about how some friends there, with children aged 3 and 1, had flown to Vegas, hired an RV and visited the Grand Canyon and Bryce National Park among other American landmarks. They said it was spectacular - a hugely successful holiday. Then a friend from New York came to stay on Friday night and told us he and his family (with kids slightly older) were planning an RV trip next summer, starting in Montana, route not finalised. I'm not sure he felt so confident about his plans by the time he checked out of Hotel Myers, after we had regaled him with the story of our diastrous RV experience. But then, today, a family of five tipped up for brunch - they'd started in a 31 foot Winnebago in Utah and were ten days into their trip. They reached San Francisco late on Friday evening and spent a wet day at Alcatraz yesterday. But even though the idea of a hot bath at our house was too much to resist for one member of the party, they all looked like they were having fun. Sure, they had their stories of god forsaken holes in the Nevada desert and freezing mornings when everyone was up at 5am, and a 2 hour journey that ended up taking 12 because roads were still snowed in near Yosemite. There was the odd mention of a whining child and the small fact that the water heater had broken, but otherwise they were still talking to each other.
And do you know what, for all the horror of our trip three months ago, I couldn't stop myself from having a look inside their vehicle. 3 months it's been and Max still points them out with a loud and excited 'RRRRVVVVVVV!' when he spots one. It's if we were unkindly wrenched from that vehicle by heavies, when in fact we couldn't be shot of the thing fast enough. 31 feet. It certainly looked a beast to drive, and worse to park. And even though they admitted frequent trips to Wendy's for double stacks and value french fries they also said they'd managed to cook occasionally - no mean feat in my book. And they looked healthy enough. Checking out the RVs interior, I was reminded how you have to be fastidiously tidy, never my strong point, and especially so in the rain when muddy footprints are threatening to tramp through the living space. But one thing I have learnt is that there seems to be a pain barrier with RV trips. The family in LA had a terrible first night when they thought they could stay in a Walmart parking lot outside Vegas but then found they couldn't and had to hole up somewhere even more hellish til morning. And like us they had problems with alarms going off and calls to Customer Assistance. The family we entertained with hot baths and scrambled eggs today had had some adjustment issues, the inflatable bed nearly bursting at altitude for one. And like us they had lost a wing mirror. And frankly it can't be fun relying on the kettle for hot water. So I suppose what I'm hinting at is, perhaps we should have stuck it out for another night or 2 back in February. Perhaps we would have seen the light after 48 hours. I guess we'll never know.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Max asked me last night,
'Is the dark coming, Mummy?'
'Yes.' I said
'Has it got stars in it?'
'Yes, it has.'
'I want to eat them.'
Ah, 'Might be difficult. They're very big and very hot.'
But this morning he woke with a fever, so perhaps he was out guzzling supernova in the dead of night.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Credit crunch casuals

Here we have classic recession wear, Dom's XL jumper, felted in the wash, now in the new-look junior range. Not sure about the fashion photography, especially with the the curtain pulley as choking hazard illustration, but you have to admit the fashion is pretty fetching.
I had 'felting' as one of those craft ideas I might try one day when I had a spare inch of brain space and half an hour to myself. Then like a ray of sunshine on the rug, it was suddenly upon me. I gathered up all the jumpers that I'd even stopped wearing on the daggy days when I wasn't planning to see anyone (except the kids, oh and Dom of course). I put them on a hot wash and waited. Nothing happened. So, it turns out they were all felted already. I should have just trusted my lazy laundry gene (The part of my DNA sequence that goes I'll-just-put-it-in-the-machine-this-once-and-next-time-I-promise-I'll-hand-wash). The great thing about felting is that it doesn't need hemming either so I cut and sewed this jumper in about 5 minutes. Voila. Only 4 more jumpers to reversion, now I'm just waiting for that ray of sunshine again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Max tries to communicate with his foreign mother

This is an update to the post where I get all sad because Max says 'warder' not 'water'.
It was about ten minutes before the whole bath-bed routine kicked in when Max decided he wanted to fill a bucket with water using the hose. I was cradling Oli, our little sumo seven month old, who was hinting loudly, a pulsing thumb in his mouth, that it was time to wrap things up and give him the bottle.
'Please can I have some wadder, Mummy?'
Max is by the outdoor tap, bucket in hand. I am standing on the deck, staring blankly, thinking on what grounds I can deny Max water and get him up to bed. He did say 'please' after all. There are at least 3 seconds of silence, they surprise everyone. But they are broken loudly.
It's 6.30pm, my brain is a blur, I'm on auto-pilot. Bath, teeth, bed and somewhere in there, a bottle for Oli. Spontaneity is not an option tonight.
'Warder.' Max says. It's quieter than I expect, like he's testing his voice. Then I realise he's changed his pronunciation. He either thinks I don't understand or he wants to keep me sweet with my pronunciation.
'Warder!' It's louder this time. I'm keeping quiet.
'Can I have some wharder?' There's real emphasis on the crucial word, and it now has a hint of breathy Irish.
His look says 'Do I have to spell it out, lady?' There's another pause between us. I'm intrigued as to where this vocal somersault will end.
'I need some war-Ter Mummy.'
And in that single word he sounds so English, if he was ten years older I'd be convinced he was taking the piss.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Wigwam

It was meant to be ready for the birthday party - and I was actually quite curious to see how it stood up to the test of 5 three year olds mauling it - but it wasn't to be. I have now finished it though. Five poles and two pairs of Dom's old jeans. It was too hot outside earlier so we set it up in the kitchen. I'm waiting for the call that 'Daddy's trousers have fallen down!' when the stitching fails but Max seems more interested in enjoying rather than destroying...

Friday, April 17, 2009

A birthday's coming...

Hip hip horray. Five sheep shop for the big big day. One of Max's favourite books. He actually knows the rhyme off by heart and reads it out loud as he turns the pages. It impresses Oli anyway.
So the birthday is on it's way and despite my attempts to play down the event there is supercharged excitement in the house.
'I am free in April' Max has been saying, then 'I am free soon.' Now, 'I am free on Sunday'. How am I going to break it to him?
The calendar on my computer has been popping up with '8pm Make Max's birthday cake' for the past 2 evenings. Why I thought 8pm was a good time to start baking, I have no idea. Glass of wine in hand, I've been pressing the 'snooze' option just to make it go away. But tonight I realise I am running out of time.
Baking. I do it sometimes and then it's out of my system and everyone is safe. I blame my tools, or really the lack thereof. Firstly, my Magimix is from the UK and needs a voltage converter the size of a microwave and an adapter plug I can never find. This evening I have resorted to the old fashioned wooden spoon. I think I could now arm wrestle a pit-bull.
My next problem is that I have, just the one, 9 inch cake tin. It's a challenge enough to get all the ingredients in the house but then I open the drawer and curse the day I only bought that one cake tin. At this point it is usually well past 8pm and the cake urgently needs cooking so (and now I remember doing the same last year) I pour all the mixture into my single tin and when it finally rises, I slice it through the middle.
Ting! To my surprise it seems to have worked. At the moment the cake is cooling down concave on a V-rack (the type you roast a chicken on). No wire rack, must get one.
In fact whenever a member of Dom's family come to stay (love 'em though I do) I realise how ill-equipped my kitchen is. There's the absence of the garlic press, the cast iron pan, the non-stick saucepan, the ice cream scoop, the spatula, the cutlery. I made the last one up, obviously.
So with a resolution to properly equip my kitchen by next year I will endeavour to put enough chocolate icing on this year's cake to disguise my culinary limitations. And in the mean time I can be thankful that my cooking is being judged by a group of hungry three year olds...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You should control your kids.

That comment is still eating at me. We were at the airport, just off a five hour flight, waiting for our baggage at the carousel. Everyone was tired. Oli was swinging his legs in the stroller, red eyed and hungry. Kristi was trying to entertain him with a plastic spoon. I was getting a bottle for him. Dom was at the luggage rail, waiting for the conveyor belt to start moving. Like all the other passengers we had our empty trolley parked up, hoping to be the first ones to put it to use. Very few, or more precisely, no-one, was sharing Max's excitement for the baggage reclaim area; the strange noises, the flashing lights, the carousel's clunky engineering, the trolley wheels. Max was enthusiastic, but he wasn't out of control. I admit, Max was in my peripheral vision, but here's what happened: Our excited 2 year old climbed onto the front of our trolley. Our trolley. He wasn't pushing it, he was actually just trying to sit down on it. As he climbed up, it moved. It moved about 6 inches and knocked a man's shin. I heard a sniper-like 'Fuck, you should control your kids.' The man wasn't actually addressing me, just swearing in my direction. I was too tired to deal with aggression, so I ignored him. He limped around for a while, occasionally massaging his shin, sucking in air and swearing under his breath. I made a kind of 'whoops' face to myself and told Max to stay near me and not sit on the trolley. The man's wife was standing next to us. She didn't say anything or look in my direction. I glanced over at Kristi and we exchanged a look that said 'that-couldn't-have-hurt'. I reassure myself that you can't get much speed up on an airport trolley in 6 inches. The man's bags come through and the couple move off. I assume that's the end of it. A good five minutes later we too have our bags and we head for the elevator. That's when the man ambushes us.
'You should control your kids.' he says again.
He's blocking our path, not shouting but jutting his chin out and frowning like he wants to start a fight. I'm holding Max's hand tight. Kristi is pushing Oli's stroller. Dom puts his hand across me as if we are bracing for impact in a car crash. Dom hasn't got a clue what the man's talking about or why he's starting with us. He was battling suitcases while all the shin-knocking was taking place.
'He pushed a trolley right into my fucking leg. I've got an ACL.' His voice is rising.
All I was thinking was, 'what's an ACL? Did he say ACL? ACM? ATM? How was anyone to know he had one in his leg.' Dom, incredibly, knows all about ACLs, the knee's anterior cruciate ligament. He's also got a quicker tongue than me and tells the man to mind his language in front of a 2 year old.
'Mind my fucking language? She didn't even fucking apologise.' He's indicating me.
At this point I start walking, Max in tow. I can see a sign for the elevator.
Dom has the trolley loaded up with 4 bags, a car seat and a cot and is probably thinking it inconceivable that it could be pushed at all, let alone with any precision into this man's leg.
'Go away.' Dom says.
To which, amazingly, this man shouts 'WHAT did you just say to me?' As if he's just been threatened with an expletive-loaded insult.
'I said go away and leave my family alone.'
With a bit of rocking back and forth, Dom finally gets the trolley going and he catches me up and rounds into the elevator. With Kristi and Oli quick behind, we press any and all the buttons to try and get away from the scene we just experienced. Perhaps the man had a point, but he blew it when he started swearing at us. I should have said as much - why do we always think of the wise cracks too late? Way to late. We were leaving the long-term parking lot before I managed to put my mind to the biting words I needed. Cue one of my favourite quotes: 'Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms round the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage.' Let's just say if it happens again, I might, by then, have come up with the right response.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I sometimes feel as though I live with a dozen boys, not just three, with one hardly off the starting blocks. There are spluttered raspberries and then, 'Is that my butticks?' followed by Max dissolving into giggles. Just one guess who taught him that. Then there's the issue of the loo seat, never down. I don't want to put you off ever visiting us or indeed inviting us to stay when we need a bed (or 3) but I can't pretend I'm not extremely tempted to install a urinal in the downstairs loo and put a picture of a stick man on the door. At least I'd never have to go in there. I haven't really been one for incense or potpourri but the time may fast be approaching. Before Oli was born I heard a comment made by a mother of 4 boys that alluded to the 'constant smell of fart.' I'm beginning to understand.
Sure, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the rough-housing, the chaos, the fascination with wheels (for Max the trucks, for Dom the sportscars). I love trying to get the train-set to fit together using all the track. I love the need to be creative with sticks and I love dirt under the finger nails. I love extracting splinters (how satisfying?) and kissing grazed knees and I love the colour blue. Oh, and of course a rare treat are those early morning rugby matches when all the boys are up and I am 100% off duty. And now it seems another happy surprise is when I find the loo seat down.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Postcard from Hawaii

That's where we've been, 'H'why'hee' as Max called it. It wasn't the most propitious arrival. Once Max realised that the airport/aeroplane experience was over he went into a wailing fit about wanting to go home. 'I just want to go HOME.' It appeared so simple. That there were now two and a half thousand miles of Pacific Ocean and sixteen degrees of latitude between him and his trains, he had not entirely taken onboard. But I'm not sure if he really wanted to be at home, or was just using home as a vehicle to get back on another aeroplane. Luckily the sun was shining and with some macaroni cheese in his tummy, he was soon persuaded Hawaii wasn't so bad. Top of the list of favourites were the rock pools in front of the house. The black rocks, once molten larva, slowly revealed to us the techincolour beauty living in their eroded ponds. There were hermit crabs in small black shells that had zebra-striped legs and turquoise eyes. They hid in holes in the dead coral. There was pale pink living coral and seaweed like little ivory trumpets. Max made a very happy rockpooling companion, obligingly rushing over to peer in the clear salty water when one of us cried 'I can see a crab' or a sea urchin or a fish. We saw a sea snake coiled under a rock and dark brown nudibranchs strewn around like sewage decorated in sand. There seemed to be tiny jumping fish and there were certainly crabs that skitter scattered across the rocks when you disturbed their afternoon shade.
At night the palm trees bent with the wind and the movement of the fronds sounded like rainfall. Lying in bed and listening to the surf, there was always one wave that suddenly sounded particularly crashing, louder than all the rest, and reminded me that we were in both a hurricane and a tsunami zone. Although we were informed that our evacuation routes were illustrated in the phone book, I searched both directories but could find nothing. I scanned the ocean horizon often and even found myself thankful that we had rented a ridiculously large vehicle called a Commander that would be able to make it cross-country to higher ground if the need arose.
When we wrote our postcards I asked Max what he would like to say to Granny. 'Dear Granny, I hope you love me. Love me.' I wasn't sure I had the punctuation right but wrote it down word for beautiful word.
Max loved splashing in the water at the beach and Oli began sitting up and developed a love for a good book - it was usually mine he was chewing on although Dom's completely disappeared so perhaps Dark Star Safari is in his tummy.
In the gardens there were red and yellow hibiscus and white orchids. And there was a tree in which you might have seen a spider web. The wasp-coloured spider was crouching in the centre. Then you might have seen another, and another and yet another, until you realised with horror and then awe that the entire tree was covered in a killing canopy, a cobweb matrix with spiders suspended all around.
At the farmer's market there were avocados the size of ostrich eggs and I bought cream apples, little plum-coloured globes that dripped milk when I quartered them.
We ate Ono and Opah and Swordfish and Mahi Mahi and thanks to Kristi, Max learnt to say the Hawiian name for a Triggerfish, 'Humahumanukanukaapua'a'.
And now we are back in San Francisco, after all my tsunami fears we are safely restored to our home in the Californian earthquake zone.

Monday, March 30, 2009

And all of a sudden...

There I was, thinking Max's questions were easy peasy when he threw me this one: 'Does peppercorns come from a tree, Mummy?' This was as he was going through the kitchen cupboards and asking me to identify the contents. I had to turn to wikipedia to clarify that pepper actually comes from a flowering vine, the peppercorn is the single seed inside the blueberry-like fruit. Who'd have known? His next question? Well of course, it was 'Mummy, does peppercorns say 'yum, yum, yum?'

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What do they say?

Apparently wind chimes say 'nee, nee, nee', worms say 'glub, glub, glub' and even inanimate objects must have a voice.
'What do they say, Mummy?' asks Max of the bamboos we are using to try and make a wigwam. 'What do they say?'
I offer something like 'click, clack' and it seems to satisfy, but this is just fuel for the fire - later it is the the traffic lights that have got to say stop or go and then it is the washing macheem that must speak to us. I tell him I'm not sure that a washing macheem says anything,
'No, no, Mummy, what does it say?'
And it has become virtually impossible to read Max a story because of this endlessly repeated question. For example, I started reading Rupert the Bear earlier,
'Next day, the sun is shining bright - "The old barometer was right"' I read.
'What is he saying?' says Max
'Well', I tell my curious listener, 'Rupert's saying "The old barometer is right"'
'No, but what is he saying?'
It's as if there must be some hidden subtext. 'Well he's saying the forecast is right...' I try reading the next line:
'But looking out, Rupert sees how the whole of Nutwood's flooded now...'
'What is he saying?' says Max again.
Luckily there's some dialogue coming up so I keep reading:
'"It's terrible!" says Mr Bear
"The Flooding has spread everywhere"'
To which Max responds, (and you'll know this one), 'But what is he saying?'
It makes the story drag a little.
I'm well aware though, that we are currently in the easy question stage. If Max isn't asking me what things are saying, it's 'what are they dooing? or 'what are those are?' and 'where is my that.' It's the next stage of questioning I should be bracing myself for, when I'm going to need to dust off my brain cells and recall my school science lessons to explain why bamboos grow straight, who switches the traffic lights to green or how exactly a barometer works.