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.