Monday, March 29, 2010

Be All That You Can Be

One thing you need to know about Americans is that they don't do things by halves. They will always go that extra mile, and usually by car.

If I had to give America a motto it would be 'Be All That You Can Be, Or Die Trying'. I can imagine America saying "thanks Ali, and here's your motto 'shut up'".

Got a gift that needs wrapping? In England we'll just about remember to scratch off the price tag. Over here they'll wrap it, cover it ribbons and bows, put it in a gift bag with tissue paper, and then attach a card and smaller present tied on (with ribbons) to the gift bag.

Call me cynical, but nothing embodies this mantra more than holidays. I've already beaten the 'land of the free*' *except for free time horse to death on this blog, but having just been through Valentines, followed by St. Patricks, and now Easter it seems there is a collective delusion that if we celebrate a holiday it'll actually feel like we had some time off work - instead of just adding more shit to do.

I'll apologize in advance for the negative tone of this post, but it's 5am and I have a mental hurricane of a LOTTD (list of things to do) that is exploding out of my ears and preventing sleep.

Fortunately Anna's school doesn't take a hard line on festivities. We made Valentines, but they were optional. If optional means watch your child receive a bunch of paper hearts and candy and ask where her valentines for her friends are Mummy. St. Patrick's Day came and went with us dressing Anna in a tasteful pair of green knickers (take that Ireland!!!!) and her coming home having celebrated 'Save Patrick Day' by making 'Leper Corn' traps in the school garden. Really, America, leprechaun traps? Several of her friends at school arrived having made these at home (more stuff to do people!) and I will admit they have charm - you make a small box and decorate it with things an Irish leprechaun might like, pennies, shiny things, (Guinness, semtex?), then you leave it somewhere in the hopes that in the morning you'll have caught a genuine California leprechaun. Or that dastardly imp will have nicked your silver and you'll be left thinking better luck next time. It's cute and Anna was very industrious making traps all over the place. I expect the local spiders and slugs had a field day.

In England, Easter involves guilting every known relative in to giving you a large hollow chocolate egg filled with more chocolate. Over here there is a lot more to it. You dye eggs, you craft baskets, you hunt eggs, and then you kill them! No, not really, then you open them and say, Hurrah! Candy! I know it's a lot of faff, but it is a lot of fun. I would have loved a childhood that involved Easter egg hunts. I have a feeling my brother and I would have killed each other over even just three or four hidden eggs. If only my parents had known.

One of the first hunts I went to over here was at my friend C's house. Anna was tiny, and being the uber-competitive Mum that I am I was incredibly frustrated at how she would stroll up to each egg, exclaim at it's beauty, then painstakingly slowly open it to reveal - candy! Which she would then s-l-o-w-l-y open and consume while older children collected baskets of eggs and cold hard cash (my friend C is who you need to know on the Easter Egg hunt front btw).

America's next holiday is far more my style. Cinco de Mayo. Someone pour me a margarita please, I need to practice.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Teaching Your Child To Boil Eggs

Me: ......already dreading the answer....."Err, Anna what's that slimy stuff all over your dress?"

Anna: "Well, Mom, I was finding myself an egg to eat for lunch but none of the ones I opened were white inside".

Me: "How many did you open?"

Anna: "A lot, why?"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Self Soothing For The Inept

When Anna was little she needed to have a good fistful of my hair in order to sleep.

I used to lie there thinking how bad must I have been in a previous life to have ended up at such a pass. Of course, you could call in to question our parenting which had allowed the situation to develop in such a way.

In the middle of the night, to seek comfort, she would grope and scrabble her tiny toddler hand at the nape of my neck. Making sure she had only the finest and most painful of hairs, she would then wrap her sticky fingers around them and pull.

I would long for a child with an attachment to a teddy bear, a blanket, another human being....anything that would free me of the nighttime torture. We even considered using a wig as a placebo. That's when you know you're past the point of sanity;

'Err, what the fuck's that matted hairy object in your child's hand'
'Oh, it's her comfort toupee. You know, like a blankie, but so, so much weirder'.


Even now if she's poorly or overtired she will cry 'I need your hair'. I am worried she will end up a hair fetishist, or even worse, attracted to men like Fabio.

I never in a million years imagined things could get worse.

Enter Lucy. You would have thought we would have taught her to self-soothe. Perhaps learned a little parenting discipline. But no, my girls are genetically programmed to seek physical solace from others. This does not bode well for their teenage years.

Lucy shows no interest whatsoever in my hair. She likes flesh. Sensitive flesh. My underarm looks like I have a poorly concealed heroin habit. She pinches, she uses her tiny light fingernails to form a perfect razor-edged vice then she gives you a good hard squeeze. If she's not doing that, she's burrowing her fingers as far up your nose as possible, pinching your under-eye skin, neck, or nipple. Why do I tolerate it? Perhaps path of least resistance parenting will make a fool out of us all. Only five minutes of this behaviour and she drops off guaranteed. It may be 4 minutes and 59 seconds too long, but it's foolproof. The only saving grace is that she doesn't limit this behavior to me. She is quite happy to cuddle up to any victim and go through the same pre-nap, pre-sleep abuse. My friend who takes care of her during the week is equally thrilled with her habit - I think her exact words were:


My goal is to make you feel like a better parent - and I've succeeded haven't I?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Flowers

“I feel Springish” announced Anna on the way to preschool this morning. She was wearing a flowery sundress, flip-flops and copious amounts of sunscreen. White blonde hair pulled back in to a ponytail, lip gloss over 50% of her face and a healthy glow from the last few days of sunshine. Every inch the little Californian.

In comparison the mood in the front seat was decidedly wintry as I have failed to win both the HGTV Dream Home (there goes my entire financial plan for the year) and a lottery place at the Wine Country Half Marathon – there goes my newly found waist, because it will be very hard to motivate my arse out of bed in the mornings if I don’t have to run 13 miles in May.

Having said all that, Anna is right. Spring has sprung in Southern California. We’ve had an unusually wet and cold winter. Imagine me making air quotations when I write both of those words as ‘wet’ and ‘cold’ are both highly subjective and would garner us a good kicking from anyone living on the Eastern Seaboard this winter.

Overnight we are back to high 70s, glorious sunshine and a verdancy you rarely see in this area of the world. The hills are lush with vegetation, even the burn areas from last year's fire are beautifully greened over. The air is literally heavy with jasmine and eucalyptus (LK has the streaming eyes and nose of the allergy-ridden to prove it).

I decided a family outing was in order. We packed the family in to the car and made for the hills, destination Figueroa Mountain, home to carpets of wildflowers; orange poppies, purple lupins, fiddlenecks, Johnny jump-ups and blue dicks. I'm not making those up .

I envisioned hours of Anna pirouetting on the mountainsides a la Julie Andrews , with me in the
background yelling ‘don’t pick them, just look, don’t touch, don’t pick them, someone stop Lucy eating them, this is a fucking nightmare..….’.

It didn’t quite pan out that way. It was beautiful, there were flowers, just not hillsides full of them. Anna kept repeating ‘this is NOT Figueroa Mountain’. A real ‘wildflower mountain’ does not live up to the Dora image of ‘flower mountain’ I can tell you. There was a lot of subversive muttering from the back, so LK said "you know what? I’m thinking the flower cows got there before us and ate them all, so, if we just drive really fast and getahead of them then bingo, flower central’.

There was a pause while the information was digested.

"Dada, I don’t think there is such a thing as a flower cow." She sighed. "I think people just forgot to water them".

Here are the few that we did see:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let Us Prey

As your kids get older you brace yourself for the larger questions in life. We've already had adventures with sex, sexuality and reproduction. Obviously Lucy appearing 'out of Mom's butt' was one area of intense discussion. Then there was the time that she made a grab for LK's distinctly male anatomy as he exited the shower. 'Dada's not comfortable with that!' was his hasty reply.

I'm with Atticus Finch on the issue of kids questions. Be truthful, and succinct. They know when you're covering something up. Especially if it's a penis.

It turns out though that you can still dodge some pretty big bullets if you're lucky enough and your kid is on the naive side of 5.

LK and I were watching 007 the other night and Anna came downstairs for a glass of water.

"What's this? Is this a Dada movie? Can I watch it?"
"No, it's not for kids. It's James Bond"
"James Barn? About animals?"
"Err, not really"
"Why can't I watch it"
"It's got scenes we don't want you to see"
"Like what, like fighting?"
"Oh, I get it like 'it's mine, no mine, mine, no mine!!'

Well, you tell me a better explanation of a James Bond plot.

We skirted an even bigger minefield with the following gem in the car as we were driving home from the park.

Anna "Mom, what does it mean to pray?"
Me: Crap! Be calm....errmm,
LK: Turns whilst driving, smiles and raises his eyebrows as if to say 'have at it hoss'
Anna: "And why don't we do it?"
Me: "Well" my mind was a swirling mass of 'belief systems' and 'faith' and 'personal choice' and then...
Anna: "Why do only dinosaurs do it?"
Me: "-------"
Me: WTF? "What?"
Anna: "My book says dinosaurs prey on smaller dinosaurs. What does that mean?"

Collective sigh of relief.......

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Education

One of the only films I’d seen at this year’s Oscars was An Education – well, that and the entire Best Animated Film category – such is my life right now.

Despite being a virtual recluse I still like to watch the Oscars. I’ve never got over the novelty of being able to watch them in real-time as they take place just down the road. If you consider 'down the road' to be 100 miles on the 101 freeway and 3 hours in bumper to bumper traffic. Practically right next door.

Jeff Bridges is a SB local and I got to meet him a few times when I started my fantastic downhill slide in to career oblivion by temping at a production company in town. He is an absolute diamond, and will even stop to talk to the help, so I was thrilled when he was up for a chance on an Oscar. Plus my friend Chilly always throws a brilliant Oscar party complete with champagne, nibbles and most importantly – no children. Wonderful.

I almost didn’t see An Education, and that would have been a huge mistake. It was brilliant and I loved every minute of it - not just because my friend had once again smuggled two bottles of wine in to the cinema. Towards the end she snuck back to her seat after nipping off to the loo and said in a comically loud whisper 'I've just stolen another poster' and then flashed her coat like a 1950s dirty old man.

I’d read a brief description of the plot a few weeks before finally seeing it and had been thoroughly turned off by the ‘na├»ve schoolgirl meets older man’ story. Just before Christmas Anna and I made one hundred million paper chains (it was raining) and for some reason whilst cutting strips, gluing and wondering when LK would get the chuff back home (me) we managed to watch both My Fair Lady and Gigi back to back. Now I’m not a big musical aficionado but I love both of these films. Watch them one after another though and you get this disturbing idea that a young girl’s sole destiny is to be rescued by a much older and richer man when she’s practically still in school. As I sat there with my 4 year old daughter I wondered if I'd be quite so thrilled for her to hook up with Henry Higgins or Gaston Lachaile a mere twelve years later. Perhaps all these Disney movies I'm watching with their girl-meets-prince-and-marries-him-twenty-minutes-later plots are getting to me.

An Education is different. It's smart, beautifully written, hilarious in parts and they all live happily ever after. Sort of.

I can't wait to see what movie I will see in 2010.....