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.