Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gerald and Hims Baby Flies

I had not intended to take Anna wine tasting with the girls. Even I thought she was a tad young to appreciate the subtle nuances of the Zaca Mesa Cab Franc.

It had been raining all week, so I gambled and didn’t organize a babysitter. What were the chances that the sun would break through that very afternoon forcing LK away from the Golf Channel and back to work?

She was an absolute diamond though, and so were my friends and cousin who indulged the creature in all her two-year-old games, the most entertaining of which had to be 'Gerald and him’s baby flies'.

At the first winery Anna grabbed a Nemo book, crawled under a display table and quietly ‘read’ to herself for a staggering fifteen minutes while we worked our way through the enamel-scorchingly acidic whites.

Then she grew restless.

She decided to go hunting.

She saw a big housefly buzzing around the massive wall of windows to the left of the tasting table and she asked what it was, "a fly" I replied.

“What’s him’s name?” a question I was expecting because my little Buddhist is very conscious of the individual, and always asks me to name everybody and everything. After all, people have names, why not flies? Knowing that not providing a name would lead to five minutes of ‘what’s him’s name, what’s him’s name, Mumma, what’s him’s name’. I said ‘Gerald’.

She watched Gerald crawl towards the ceiling.

Then she spotted a cluster of tiny fruit flies on the lower panes by the

“Gerald’s Baby Flies!” she squealed and set about ‘taming’ them. She was amazed at how many she caught. No doubt drunk on some highly potent late harvest Zin Gerald’s baby flies proved an easy prey.

She caught about five, each one perfectly content to rest on the tips of her fingers - or so she thought. We hadn’t the heart to tell her that pinning them between her sticky toddler hands and the glass had not so much 'tamed' Gerald's Baby Flies as sealed their fate. She had five tiny carcasses on her right hand.

“I’m the best Gerald Baby Fly catcher ever,” she said “and now I’m going to hunt Gerald”

'Go for it', we were thinking, concentrating more on the double gold medal winning Syrah than the fate of poor Gerald. Imagine our surprise then when she runs over to us with Gerald pinned between her tiny fingers.

"I got him Mom, he's the biggest fly I ever seen".

Lord knows how she pulled it off, but she did indeed catch Gerald, and we put him in an envelope (makeshift coffin) for safe-keeping. Anna was worried about the likelihood of Gerald making a break for it, but Chilly comforted her by saying "I don't think so Anna, Gerald's not looking so good"

Let me know if you're ever overrun by Gerald's or hims offspring and I'll send her right over.

Necessity Is The Mother

The potty training is going very well, thanks for asking.

We did have that one 'wanna get away' moment in Longs Drugs last week, and a couple of accidents at school, but other than that she's being a little star.

As with all developmental milestones though, new accomplishments lead to new challenges. Now that we've chucked all her nappies we're now having to deal with the horror of our potty-training fledging and public toilets.

As most of you know, one of the tricks to keeping your day and your toddler urine-free is to ask them every hour on the hour whether they need to go to the loo. Then when they scream and say no, their tiny little arses heading for the hills, you ignore them and make them go anyway. This is all very well at home, but proves much trickier out in the real world. Fortunately, any mother of a toddler will have developed an excellent working knowledge of all public toilets in her home town during her last month of pregnancy when it was necessary to be no more than five minutes from that Nordstrom bathroom at all times. The problem is, even with the nicest public loos, they tend to have that little hygienic cut-out at the front of the toilet seat, which happens to be the perfect size of a toddler's pelvis. It puts a whole new meaning to 'mind the gap'. I could never do that to her.

Unfortunately, neither will I hold her over the loo until she performs. She's still getting the hang of the controls as it were, and despite several months of 'Body Pump' at my gym I would defy anyone to be capable of holding a 28lb toddler at arms length for more than five minutes while she tries to remember how to do a wee-wee.

She's pretty adept at straddling a 'grown-up potty' but that always leaves her clutching the underside of the toilet seat to hang on, and urrghh, no thanks. Another option was to go everywhere with her bulky toilet-seat insert, but there are some parenting lines I will draw. I mean, who wants to be the 'I've given my life and my dignity over to my child' parent toting a miniature loo seat with them everywhere?

OK, that is me at a winery this weekend with a glass of Pinot Gris and a toilet seat.

How times have changed.

I can't be too drunk to care about embarrassment all the time though, so I thought, there has to be a better way. Necessity is the mother of invention, and lo and behold I came up with my million dollar, guaranteed to lift us out of financial penury idea:

A blow-up toddler toilet seat (acronym BUTTS). Genius!

Until LK reminded me I'd be putting my lips near something that went in a public toilet (said the actress to the vicar).

Hmm. On second thoughts.

Actually, I did come up with a solution, and I know that all you seasoned parents out there will no doubt beat me to it with your time-tested tricks, but here's my offering; I worked out that if you use the disabled toilet, cover the seat with bum-protectors (thanks America, I love you), and have your toddler turn sideways she can hold on to the disabled bar and support herself while her bum overhangs the porcelain precipice. Bingo!

You're welcome.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Socked In

It's always lovely to have friends and family visiting from home. The kettle has been boiling nonstop for days and I have almost doubled my tea consumption in the last week. However, there is a downside to having guests from England, and that's the cast-iron guarantee that the weather will be awful throughout their stay.

This is California, sunshine is what we do. We'll give you a melanoma in half the time for God's sake. Not this week though. Rather like a toddler who will happily recite her ABCs until the big moment when called upon to impress, the California climate has taken one look at my cousin's suitcases and in the words of Anna has said 'NO I NOT!!!'.

It's grey and miserable and rather reminiscent of an English summer's day actually. Last weekend we were sunbathing on the beach, Anna running around in nothing but a sunhat, factor 50 and some very fetching Dora knickers. Then as soon as Ruth's plane touched down we were socked in with impenetrable cloud. I suppose this is why we are the 'Golden State' and not the 'Sunshine State'.

If you go anywhere else the weather is always a bonus, not a given. If you spend a week in the UK and are blessed with sunshine you think, wonderful, how lucky. If you arrive for a stay in California and are met with drizzle and gloom I think you're justified in asking for your money back quite frankly. I feel so bad, our guest only got to see a glimpse of our famous mountains after 3 days and she's off cycling around town this morning in a borrowed fleece and jeans. I understand that this is our 'rainy season' but that usually means a couple of days of torrential rain and then the odd cloud if you keep your eyes peeled. When I first came to SB, LK would point at the sky and say 'oh man, aren't those clouds beautiful', and I'd be thinking, 'oh yeah, clouds, marvellous'. Now I understand why, you just don't see them that often.

Until you have visitors of course.

Ruth's plane leaves first thing Saturday morning, so we should be in for a heatwave this weekend.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Doctor Who

My cousin is driving up from LA right now for a week's visit after having spent a few days kayaking in the Sea of Cortez. My cousin who's training to be an anesthesiologist (anaesthetist to you Brits) and who took a year out from medical school to be the ship's doctor in a round-the-world yacht race.

My cousin Ruth.

How many of you thought I was talking about a bloke after that first paragraph? It amazes me how many people do, and it also amazes me how often I fall for gender stereotyping myself. I said the same thing to my office, and not one person assumed she was female (including a female doctor who was interning with us).

So, fess up? Did you assume wrong?

Friday, February 15, 2008

He Who Laughs Last... never usually me.

Twenty valentines later, I pick Anna up at school yesterday to discover, twenty unopened cards in a bag stuffed on top of the pigeonholes!! A very apologetic teacher explained they must have been overlooked in the general valentine melee, but still.

I can't win.

I know Anna ended up having a great time, and I know that none of her two year old cohorts are going, 'wait, Anna gypped us, let's kick her arse'. It's also good to know that of the 19 cards she came back with 80% were shop-bought (yay other preschool parents, solidarity in our crapness).

Still. Roll on Valentines 2009. I'm going to own you.


Then, as if going to the 'drug store' (chemists) to buy sundry ladies items wasn't bad enough, attention can really be drawn to the fact you're standing in front of the 'unmentionables' section when your toddler looks up and goes 'Mummy, oh no'. I'm thinking, what? surely she's not critiquing my choice of lubricant (ahem) when she starts a little lubricating of her own.

Clean up on aisle 4, someone had 'a accident'.


On a brighter note (slaps that smile right over those gnashing teeth). A huge thankyou to ExpatMum for these awards:

Deeply humbled etc etc.

Raises cup of tea aloft *cheers my lovelies*.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dear World: Please Be My Valentine

I've just stuffed twenty valentines into twenty envelopes complete with twenty chocolates nicked from our office candy bin. Good grief America! Once again you've stymied me with your cultural holiday-a-palooza. I was really hoping to avoid this valentine-a-thon being as how Anna is only two and a half and the only thing she could possibly do with a Valentine is eat it, but then I found a 'Starfish class list' in Anna's pigeonhole at school yesterday and knew I was sunk. Yes my daughter is a 'Starfish', something I found out literally months into her preschool life which finally explained why she kept asking me if I was a 'Starfish friend'. I had been thinking we had a budding marine biologist on our hands, but no.

LK and I did have a lot of fun the other night drafting Anna's Valentine messages; 'Dear Shanti, I know you think you're cool with your organic individually crafted packed lunches, but you can share my PB&J if you fancy slumming it'. My fave was 'Dear Jack, have enjoyed checking out your delicious diaper-less arse from afar. How about a drink sometime?'. That sounds like Anna. In the end I went with the safe, vanilla option (moi?) and in each card I stuck to 'Dear Blah, Happy Valentines Day, Anna', even though some of these kids clearly do not go to school on a day that Anna does and have I ever met Jaia or Riley, and are they even male or female?

Nothing illustrates the difference between the UK and the US better than Valentines Day. In the UK, it's about sending that one person you fancy a secret card, poem or if you're really hard-up for a shag, maybe a small present. It's about romantic love and trying to get laid. Over here it's Love Inc ™. Everyone sends everyone else a valentine, because to miss someone out would be discrimination and we'd hate that wouldn't we? Our local (or similar) had an article about a woman with three children who started to rethink her plan to handcraft each valentine after completing only five of the seventy-five that she was required to make for her kids classes. WTF lady? Who would even embark on such a sisyphean task? I wouldn't get as far as Michaels to shop for supplies. Maybe things have changed since I was at school (sound of chalks on slates), do British children now have to bring a Valentine for every other child in attendance?

When I first moved here I was completely freaked out when Lance's Mum sent me a valentine. There was me thinking 'gosh thanks, but it's actually your son I'm after'. Just as well she didn't get him this years gift at the time, otherwise I would have probably run for the hills:

Nothing says 'I love you son' like Valentines pants.

I suppose the easy thing would be to claim cultural ignorance and avoid the issue entirely, but as I've learned with this whole parenting caper, it's not about me is it? I don't want Anna to be left out. I want her to have fun. I made the chuffing valentines. Given my history though I'm sure we'll be walking through the school gates this morning with our bag full of valentines only to be pulled aside by a teacher saying 'the class list was for informational purposes only Mrs K, we're not doing valentines today and certainly not chocolates, for Pete's sake they're only two'.

Anyway, happy Valentines day bloggy readers. I want to shag you all.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sooper Toosday

I couldn't vote in this week's primaries, because I've never become an American citizen. A fact that Netflix appeared not to be aware of when it decided to send me Maxed Out and Sicko this weekend. Both have been languishing on my 'queue' for a while, but interestingly popped up right before election time. Hmm. Nice try with your subliminal brainwashing Netflix! I wonder how many people across the States were going, wait, 'Sicko' was #1327 on my online DVD list - what the chuff, where's my 17th season of Lost?

One of the reasons I've not yet become a citizen, despite being out here for over a decade is because the US and the UK do not observe dual citizenship, unless you happen to be born with parents from each nation (although a lot of 'aliens' I know hold 'secret' dual nationality). Basically, if I chose to agree to bear arms for this dear country, then I would technically have to relinquish my rights to being a British citizen - and quite frankly after watching Sicko, not bloody likely!! Also, Anna has dual citizenship and so will any future K-spawn, and in this increasingly unstable world giving them the opportunity to hedge their bets citizenship-wise seems no bad thing. I have visions of them flitting between Berkeley, and the Sorbonne, living for a year in Paris then Prague, just because they can; whereas I'm sure they will actually use their US/EU citizenship to bum around Europe in a VW van until they find some equally directionless creature to marry so that they can live thousands of miles away from me.

Just like their dear old mother.

Anyway, I am a little conflicted about the issue of jury duty, err, I mean citizenship. Unlike a lot of immigrants to this country, I did not move here for the chance of a better life (Lord knows), I moved here in hot pursuit of some fine California ass. I do feel some form of obligation to the States though. I understand that citizenship for me, is not a right it is a privilege. I should support my adoptive country with more than my taxes, I should be more involved. I know that I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to move here, live life on the other side and move on from that deeply ingrained opinion that America=arrogance, waste, conspicuous consumption and insularity that most non-Americans hold.

The main reason I will not become an American citizen any time soon is because of the US Immigration Service.

Does any native-born American have any real idea how rude, inefficient, degrading, chronically underfunded and understaffed the INS is? I suppose if they did you'd hear fewer stories about how awful the DMV is. The DMV is a cupcake picnic compared to immigration.

I've been meaning to write a post about my experiences, but quite honestly even years after the event I am still so angry at the way I was treated that I can only throw down a couple of 'gems' by way of bullet-points. Spit them out as it were:

  • The Los Angeles INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) opens at 6am, the line starts forming at what, 4am? I live over two hours away. If you arrive at 6am and get to the back of the queue, chances are you won't get in because they have already seen their quota for the day.
  • My fingerprints expired 3 (three) times during my 'adjustment of status'. The third time I had them done I had a small cut on one finger, which rendered my fingerprints 'invalid', but they failed to notify me of this, and closed my case.
  • I had to get 'parole' each time I went back to the UK and wished to re-enter the United States, so that I could keep my green card application ongoing. The second time I applied for 'parole' they sent it to me with page 7 unsigned. Stamped, but unsigned. When I arrived at Atlanta airport they allowed me to carry on to LAX but took my passport from me and promised it would be returned. After hours or frenzied phonecalls, misdirected transfers and hang-ups I had to drive down to LA one month later, and stand in line at 5am to get it back.
  • When they take your photo at the INS there is a big sign that states 'if you blink you will be charged $10'. There are also posters everywhere in the INS building alerting people to overpopulation in the United States. As if they're trying to say, 'no breeding on the premises you filthy immigrant breeders'.
  • When I received my notice of receipt of application, the only piece of paper I was to get from the INS for a couple of years, my 'alien number' had been transposed by whatever muppet had filled in the form. For the next 4 and half years I had to explain at every work permit application, parole hearing, and fingerprinting, that I was not in fact Kim Phan from Vietnam.
  • Each INS official has a sign next to him/her that states 'we will not answer questions'. If you blurt out 'but am I even in the right line?', they will keep their heads down and gently tap the sign with their pen.
  • When I finally had my green card interview, four years later, the INS official said 'you guys don't have any kids?' (we gave you enough time, dammit). When we shook our heads he said 'Pets?' He then asked me to verify my phone number, that we filed our taxes jointly, then he apologized and said my fingerprints had expired (no joke) and my application would be held up until I got them redone. I was more amazed that he'd apologized than the fact that my fingerprints had expired again.
  • About three weeks after we went down to LA for the eleventy-billionth time to appeal that our case should not be closed, that my fingerprints were in fact valid, that I was not in fact, Kim Phan, my green card with arrived stealth-like anti-climax in the mail.
A green card when issued, is good for 10 years. Mine is due for renewal in a couple of years, which means I should probably get in line right about now. So you see, I will not be upping the ante and applying for citizenship any time soon. Well, not until you can check your application status online anyway.

I realize that getting an immigrant application in Southern California probably means I witnessed the worst side to the INS, and that hopefully people in North Dakota, Michigan and Washington are sailing through the requisite hoops with smiles all round. I would also like to say that for the record, the first time I re-entered the US with my Green Card, the immigration official at LAX smiled at me and said 'welcome back Ma'am'.

My point, to this diatribe, is that there is a general misconception in this country that it is somehow easy to immigrate here. That you just stroll across the border, or sneak across, and then a couple of months later fill in the papers and you're in. The truth is that it is so amazingly difficult, but that the States has a border with a country where people would happily stand on their heads for five years if it meant the chance of a work permit here. These same people are met with incompetence, hostility, rudeness and contempt. Their first introduction to the bureaucracy in the country is the INS. What a terrifying thought.
I would have liked to have voted in this week's primaries, but I won't be doing so any time soon.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yoga For Juveniles

About once a week I go to a yoga class. Now, I'm about as supple as a plank of wood, which may be why LK is so keen on me going, but this class is mainly about de-stressing. It is a restorative yoga class, and these days I am finding it one of the only healthy ways to quiet the endless chatter in my head. This class works like a charm, and I sleep like the dead afterwards.

I started doing yoga when I was pregnant with Anna, under the impression that it might help me keep fit and strong whilst pregnant, and possibly even help with the birthing process.


It did not help the birthing process. Apparently, my 'practice' had not quite reached the point where I could effectively breathe through open heart surgery.

I've continued with the yoga despite the intimidation factor of being one of the few people not to touch their noses to the floor during a forward fold. I used to think it was the baby bump hindering my forward fold. No, apparently I'm the tin man of yoga.

Sadly, birthing a whopping great 8lb 10oz baby has not made my yoga any easier, namely because for a long time I remained a little *loose* down there and found it quite hard not to fart. Basically, for many months after spitting out my little watermelon, trying to do a kegel exercise was like trying to wiggle my ears. There was simply nothing there. This has been a running joke between my stalwart yoga-partner RedFox and myself. So you can imagine our delight at overhearing this little gem:

Yogi: How are you ladies doing over here?

RedFox & Me: Ommmmm, ostentatious yoga breathing....

Yogi: And you, random yoga woman?

Random Yoga Woman, in reverent tones: Wonderful, I just experienced a big release.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Stiff Upper Lip

I'm pretty sure my yoga teacher has had a nervous breakdown. There's an odd immutability to his smile, a smile that never wavers, never gets bigger or smaller depending on circumstance. An air stewardess smile. He has a manner that cries out 'cheerful', 'life is fabulous', and eyes that are just a little too bright, a little too sparkly.

Or maybe that's just what happiness and inner peace look like and I'm just to English too realize.

I had a maths teacher with the same kind of look when I was in the sixth form, and he had had a nervous breakdown. His was the same plastic smile, the haunted eyes that said 'I've been there and what I saw will never leave me'.

I'm not saying I'm about to have a complete mental collapse (not right now, I've just made a cup of tea), but I'm becoming more aware of the masks people put up, and the hundred different metaphors we use for it. Serene as a swan on the top, paddling like a mother-fucker down below, stiff upper lip, I'm alright Jack, putting a brave face on things. I've just had a letter from my Nanna admitting to a long wintery depression and that coupled with our nuclear-mushroom cloud of a mortgage and the economy in general have made me to want to put the mask down and come clean.

I've been longing to write that post, the one about how we so nearly didn't make it with the condo conversion project we're in the middle of. I so desperately want to be on the other side right now, the 'phew, things looked really bleak there for a moment, thank the Lord everything turned out just fine' side. Right now I spend 20% of my time being absurdly excited about the future, about the opportunities this project will afford us, about how lucky we are to have been pointed in the right direction by a mentor who told us absolutely no to buying a condo 3 years ago (thankyou, thankyou, thankyou). I spend 60% of my time keeping my fingers crossed, slapping a fake smile on my face, wishing for the best, worrying for the worst, and trying to just preoccupy myself with the small joys of life. I spend the remaining 20% of the time absolutely paralyzed by fear. As you can imagine, that's making for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

I can still see a future in which we complete this project, and sail on thankful that we're one of the few people to have been lucky and well-advised enough to weather this recession and come out on top. I still really think that'll happen. Even when I read the Economist. I still think I'll be writing that 'wow, things looked a little thin there for a while but I can't believe our good fortune' post. As a very wise friend said, 'it's always darkest before the dawn'. To that I feel like adding, you just have to have faith that there will be a dawn.

It is absolutely not the done thing to admit defeat over here. I know it's perceived as very British not to moan, to keep a stiff upper lip etc, but it is quintessentially American to be up shit creek and still maintain the appearance of a completely successful and optimized lifestyle. If you can afford a nice car you should be driving a nice car, if you can make your smile brighter and whiter you should do it. It is completely unfathomable to the American psyche to not try and strive for the best and to appear like you're on the up and up. I suppose this post is me saying, this is real, this is honest and for the record I was really scared. I know things could be a hundred times worse. I only have to look as far as my friends to realize what a lot of class it takes to keep smiling while the world repeatedly screws you over. This is not intended to be a pity post. I do realize that in the grand scheme of things my life is a cake-walk. In all honesty my most pressing fear right now is that Anna will wake up before I've had chance to finish writing this. I suppose I'm just trying to admit the fear of the unknown, that it's hard to keep smiling when you're facing so much uncertainty.

I knew I was starting to lose it when we had a contractor (a builder) over to give us a bid for the renovations, and I literally had to stop myself asking 'how do you feel about this project, what's your gut feeling, are we going to make it?'. I'm sure he would have looked at me and said 'somebody get this chick outta here'.

This post doesn't have a tidy ending, because right now there doesn't appear to be an ending. Although I did just ask the Magic 8 Ball if we were going to make it and it said:

"My sources say no"

Farging bastages.