Friday, April 23, 2010

Career Week

When I picked Anna up at school yesterday they told me she'd had a splinter about a third of an inch long stuck in her hand. It took her teacher over 20 minutes to dig it out using tweezers and then a needle. He said he was pale and clammy by the end of the procedure. Anna on the other hand was fascinated by the whole thing. Apparently she would guide him by saying 'that hurts Jason' but she was so engrossed by the anatomy of the surgery that she was detached from the pain. Or so they said. 'She's remarkable' they added, 'we've never had a kid who's more likely to become a doctor'.

Yeah, or a psychopath. I thought.

In all seriousness though, I still remember the terror of my Mum and Dad digging out a splinter, the smell of 'surgical spirit' and fear mixing in the air. Anna has inherited her lack of squeamishness from my Mum. Maybe from LK's side too, I don't know, the only thing I've seen them tested with is a 10lb diaper change. Anna is a born scientist. Who likes to wear pink. A chic geek.

I retold the story to LK when he got home, including the part about medical school. 'Sounds like she's going to college in England!' was his reply. 'Or we need to start saving', 'yeah, with our ante-money'. Anna chimed in 'I don't want to be a doctor, I want to be a dentist or a veterinarian'. Thanks Anna, much cheaper.

As an aside, a brief what the fuck (WTF) America? Abbreviations are to Americans as queues as to the British. They can't get enough of them. Why then do they insist on saying 'veterinarian'. I mean honestly, I'm exhausted from just typing it. They say 'pk' for penalty kick, 'c-section' for cesarian section and 'ra' for rheumatoid arthritis, yet they can't say vet? Do you really think a vet-er-i-nar-i-an and a veteran will somehow be confused? Bizarre. The same holds true for re-frig-e-ra-tor. I lose my appetite by the time I've said it. For a country that loves it's acronyms both of these words seem unfeasibly long.

Back to Anna. 'I want to be a dentist. But only on Mondays'.

Apparently this is to be her schedule:

Monday: Dentist/Vet

Tuesday: Detective

Wednesday: A hunter with my Dad. He can do the running. ?????

Thursday: Bug detective & scientist

Friday: Flower shop owner

Saturday: The world's top person knowing things about birds.

Sunday: Family day! With horses. And an archaeologist like Dora. Do I have enough days?

No wonder we're having a hard time finding the right school! I know nobody grows up wanting to be a systems analyst or an insurance claims adjuster, but I have to admit I'm pretty impressed and proud of this list.

You go girl, we'll do the best we can.

Love Mum x

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does Size Matter?

I know I’ve been on a bit of an education bent recently and I apologize. I’m sure a lot of you couldn’t care less (well, except for Rebecca and Nimble, many thanks for your kind words). Besides, all that kids do in Kindergarten is eat playdough and play doctor anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Well, not to flog a dead horse or anything, but, I’m more than a little concerned with the education level of our employees who all grew up in California. Recently. Either that, or I need to seriously re-evaluate my hiring policies.

Like, OMG! Today I was asked how to take a third off a bill of $300. I have the hardest time getting people to calculate 120% of the Medicare rate, with a calculator. Don’t get me started on spelling (she writes while scrutinizing her spellcheck for hypocritical errors). Today I corrected the spelling of: should I wright this off, patient has payn in his leggs, and I applyed this to his deductable. These are not typos.

I sound like I’m a hundred years old.

If you grow up with spellcheck are you pre-disposed to not concentrate on spelling? I tend to ignore it (as you may have noticed) as spellcheck takes my Britishisms as a personal affront. If you spend your life using predictive text are you oblivious to correct spelling? Should anyone really care anymore – is it going to be redundant in a matter of years anyway? I have a feeling that we're transitioning to a world of doers, rather than editors, where the details are overlooked. That irritates me, but only because I'm so anal that I would have been a sensation before computers, personal organizers and the like. Now I'm resigned to being a reactionary manager seething at the fact I asked an employee to consolidate our files - stored by year - and she started in the middle....

A lot of people will say the problem is the lack of funding in education. Increasing class sizes and the like. To which my Mum and Dad had a good response. It's their class photo at the top of this post. I say 'their' class, because they are both in this picture, they were in the same classes together until age 11. I won't say which ones they are because if you know me, or them, I'll leave you to guess. They are classic boomers and they had 46 in their kindergarten class.

As my Mum said 'we had a huge primary school class and we turned out alright'.

Or should that be 'allwrite'?

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I am in an abusive relationship.

We attempted to transfer Anna out of the truly shitty school district we pay nearly $20,000 a year in property taxes for, and have failed. Everyone told us we should fake it, lie about where we lived like everyone else did - but we decided not to. We took the high road. I feel like the good girl at the prom who wouldn't put out and then watched her boyfriend go off with someone else.

That's what it feels like, as if Santa Barbara is the cute boy in school that everyone thinks the world of, 'oh you're so lucky to live there', 'it's gorgeous', yet behind closed doors Santa Barbara is mean and vindictive, telling you that you don't have enough money, you don't belong, you'll never be good enough.

That's right, I'm having a little pity party over here. Sorry, I sound like a petulant schoolgirl, and I will get over it, I'm just cross and disappointed, and very, very jaded.

We had been told that as our area school is so very poor (it's listed as a 'failing school' and in this State, you can only imagine how bad that is), that we are granted an automatic transfer and are bumped up the transfer list to boot. We were then told that the school we wanted her to go to is full for next year, and that they would hold a lottery for any spots that become available. Anna was in the third batch of kids to be pulled out of the lottery, behind kids with parents teaching at the school (1), kids with siblings at the school (10) and kids transferring from a failing school (17). With the luck of the English Anna came 28th out of 28. It's almost laughable really. Unless they open up an entirely new kindergarten class, or there is a mass defection, then she will not get in.

That was Friday, and I'm already feeling better. I have moved on. There is another option, a smaller school, further away with kids that she knows, a huge garden, a K-1 class for those kids who are (like Anna) already reading quite strongly. It's across the freeway from where Lucy will go to preschool next year (for ease of drop-off, and quite frankly, to make me less nervous about MORE natural disasters separating me from my children). Anna likes the rainbow gate and the rooms full of books.

I feel like the decision has been made for me. Maybe Santa Barbara is showing me some tough love.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Baby Talk

Lucy just turned 15 months old and she is starting to talk. Lush, jammy consonants spoken with heartaching deliberation. She's been saying 'dat!' for months, Dada, and Anne, uttered with the flattest Cockney 'a' of all time. My little Eliza Doolittle. That is the basic baby repertoire, one-consonant descriptors for the people in her life. As is customary, Dada was uttered months before Mama. It's easier to say. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Now she asks for Mama! and it is rewarding on a cellular level.

Recently she has started branching out. Her first distinct word was 'boon' for balloon, repeated over and over at the supermarket as they danced above her head at the checkout. Then she added 'fssssshhhhhh', a sound like a slow puncture, to describe the fish tank at the dentists. And so it begins. So begins that period of time when you swear they have a repertoire of 30 words but to the untrained ear they all sound like 'duck'. With Anna we wrote them all down on the calendar on the day each new word arrived. I remember November being the 'explosion' month, at least a couple of new words a day. That would have made her a couple of months older than Lucy is now so Lucy is right on track.

Even before she could talk we had taught her to communicate. Sign language worked brilliantly with Anna so at about 4 months we started with Lucy. Just a few basic commands to make life easier. Every time we gave her a bottle we opened and closed our fists to indicate 'milk', before we gave her additional spoonfuls of yogurt we did the sign for 'more', then there is a sign for 'tired' and of course the ever-helpful 'all done' sign. I tried taking a picture of these, but it's hard to get Lucy to sign 'milk' when she's not hungry, and woe betide anyone who attempts to take her picture when she is signing a genuine need for milk because you will end up with this:

Poor thing, I'm trying to point and click and she's pumping her fist as if to say 'FUCK! MILK!' why are you torturing me?!

And that's the funny thing about sign language, signs can evolve and take on new meanings, or inadvertently be attached to the wrong thing. Lucy's sign for milk is done when she wants a bottle, or when she wants anything. In her mind she's not saying 'milk' she's looking at the proffered bottle and saying 'hell yes!', which is how she reacts when you're holding some chocolate and she signs 'milk' as if to say 'dude! hand it over - I want that' and when you laugh (cruel parent that you are) at her desperate attempts to communicate need she will start squeezing both fists at the same time as if to say 'are you not listening? what's wrong with you people. Fuck, I'm surrounded by morons.'

Sign language has been brilliant and will continue to be a big help in the transition to real words. The other day Lucy switched from saying 'Anne' to the delightfully juicy Anne Na. Two fat, luscious syllables, she was so pleased with herself. Anna came racing in, 'Mom! Loop said Anna! Me! Listen!'

"Anne-Na" (grin)
"See! Good girl Lucy!"
"Lucy say Anna!"
"See? She's saying my name"
"Mom she won't stop"
"Anne-Na!" (proud smile)
"Mom make her stop"
"ANNE-NA!" (huge smile)
"Mom make her go away"

Oh it's going to be so much fun. Anna already talks as it she's on a one-woman mission to use up all the oxygen in a room, and to be fair I'm no slouch. Lance is muttering about needing a man-cave.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In At The Deep End

How did you learn to swim? Swimming classes? Individual swimming coach? Thrown into a disused quarry? I can't remember how and when I learned. I remember Saturday mornings at the 'baths' and doing my 100m swimming badge, my silver lifesaver in pyjamas. I remember armbands but not them being taken away. I'm sure it was a traumatic experience for both me and my parents.

I am not a fish in the water, more like a tin of tuna. It took me three triathlons before I would even consider doing anything but the breaststroke. Unfortunately Anna has taken after me in this respect.

We have free access to a gorgeous, mostly empty outdoor pool (Anna thinks England is hil-arious because they have swimming pools in houses....). We go there almost every week and Anna is finally learning to swim. I know there are plenty of 4 year-olds out there who don't know their butterfly from their dolphin crawl but with so much exposure to the water you would have thought....

Except it was the exposure to the water that was always the problem. She hates water in her face. If she gets splashed in the bath she will scream 'I need the big towel!!'. Apparently some people have a more sensitive 'drowning reflex' than others, and Anna seems to have inherited mine. Lucy on the other hand is part eel and at a lowly 6 weeks old LK was whispering 'are you going to be my surfer?' as she sat in the sink - reveling in the water and not caring in the slightest if her face was wet.

Interestingly, Anna loves being in the pool - on the proviso that her arm bands are heavily inflated and she is 60% out of the water at all times. If you've ever seen my Mum execute the 'ladies dry-hair butterfly' at the local swimming baths you will know that this is a genetic trait. We had a pool party for her 4th birthday, and some of the kids could swim and some still had floaties. It's not an issue of her being 'behind', I just long for the days when I can lie by the pool with a beer and a good book while the girls splash happily and independently in front of me. For that elusive goal of some 'me time' (I'm writing this at 3am) we had to take action.

We had heard that it's hard for parents to teach their kids to swim and that was certainly the case for us. We tried treats and rewards, slow deflation of her arm bands (this left her partially submerged and worried, like an anxious hippo), good old encouragement, and threats that her sister would learn before she would. Nothing worked. After over 4 years we had managed a couple of seconds with her face in the water in exchange for a barbie. At that rate she would have us bankrupt before she learned the crawl.

She is cautious by nature and it is very hard to get her to do something she's scared of. She hates; crowds, loud noises, water in her face, waves, large men, performing in public, new get the picture. We hired a pro. Before the lesson we outlined our hopes and concerns. "Well, how is she in the bath?" asked the teacher "I need the big towel!" we replied. "The shower?", "bottom water only - no shower head Mumma".

"I see" said Sarah.

Anna had her second lesson yesterday and she is already swimming several strokes of the doggy paddle underwater. Completely submerged except for her flower-clad bottom. You could have knocked me over with a feather - except I was too busy trying to stop Lucy from hurtling fully-clothed in to the deep end - that child is fearless. How can they be so different?

Anna even begged for more time. Goggles have certainly helped (thanks Lorna!!) but the key has been her instant bond with her teacher and the fact that the excitement over learning to swim and her desire to please are greater than her fear. She can do breaststroke kicks (frog kicks), the crawl (scooping ice cream) and mini-dives (humpty-dumpty).

Someone order me a pool-side cocktail, I think this is going to be a good summer.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


One of the strangest things about being an expat is going back and forth between feeling like you have two homes, or feeling like you belong nowhere. Two sides of the same coin.

I spend my life in the States 'being English', it's my defining characteristic over here - well that and the mother-of-two-under-five pallor. When I go 'home' though, everyone talks to me as if I'm an expat, an outsider. This happens to everyone who leaves their home, whether it be a home town, country, or continent.

Two things have happened recently that have made me feel like I'm not quite as English as I pretend to be. Firstly, we're going back to England in a month (yay!) and this coincides with a general election. I immediately thought about having the opportunity to vote for the first time in 15 years (I am not an American citizen). I take the right to vote very seriously. Then it hit me - what right do I really have to vote in a country where I haven't been resident in almost 15 years? I have more to say about the politics of the US these days. Healthcare reform, education cuts, these things will directly impact my day to day existence. I could vote by party lines in the UK, but even those have probably changed dramatically since I've been gone. At what point do I admit that I've lost touch?

Then there's my need for contraception. We want to have more kids. We can't afford to have more kids. We can't afford the two we have quite frankly. I need a long term contraceptive solution that is not permanent (not the snip) just in case we win the lottery, but I can no longer tolerate hormonal solutions - that is an entirely different blog post. The copper IUD seems the only obvious solution, except that my genius American health insurance doesn't cover it. It's over $800 out of pocket here thanks to private healthcare gauging, and it's free on the NHS. I called my doctor in England this morning hoping to get it sorted out while I'm over there so I could save the equivalent of a plane ticket. I was surprised at how American I sounded on the phone. I had to make a concerted effort to speak English. I got the feeling they thought I was milking the system asking for healthcare when I no longer live there and no longer pay taxes. They were right. I'm still entitled to free healthcare but do I feel like I can justify it? Am I still owed it by birthright? After all I've 'chosen' to live in a country that withholds long term contraception because it won't afford my insurance company a monthly copay. More fool me.

I'm conflicted. I've decided to pay for my IUD over here, or at least investigate payment options or a different health plan. Damn you Blue Shield! I don't think I'll vote in the UK unless I can spend some time researching the issues, and reading the BBC magazine online in the mornings doesn't count. I'm still not ready to call America my permanent home but it seems that I'm starting to realize that I'm not a full British citizen any more either.

At what point do you let go?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter

I woke up this Easter morning to a screaming 1 year old and the kind of hangover that only a girls night in a bar full of sugary cocktails can produce. Lucy wailed her sympathies in to my right ear. She has four teeth coming in at the same time. As someone who experiences fast labours I can sympathize - her pain is brutal, yet efficient. I never get to go out these days. LK took one look at my pale green complexion and raccoon eyes and said 'poor you, you finally got off your leash and you ran right in to traffic'.

Our kitchen counter was celebrating the Lord's day with a perfect coffee stain crucifixion. Someone was obviously trying to tell me something; it was either, go to church and celebrate that Jesus is risen, or, have a strong cup of coffee and sort yourself out. I chose the latter.

Lucy's pitiful screams had woken up her sister so I didn't get to race upstairs and place her chocolate bunny by the side of her bed. Instead I propped it up outside her door and did a little 'I think I just saw a bunny racing down the stairs' routine when she emerged from her room.

She wanted to know what the bunny looked like. My dessicated brain described something akin to Peter Rabbit; small, brown, furry etc. Anna furrowed her brow. 'Dada said when he saw him last year he was large and white, with white fur'. She didn't seem suspicious, just confused. It was too much for my poor hungover grey cells. I muttered something about him wearing a brown jacket and moving too fast to be sure. LK later gave me a verbal beatdown about not knowing what the Easter Bunny looked like. To which I replied - nobody knows what he looks like, he's a figment of the collective imagination. 'Like Santa Claus?' he replied? Touché.

Still, Anna refused to be thrown by the brown rabbit/white bunny controversy and a good time was had by all foraging for eggs in a friend's garden. We nursed Irish coffees like good parents and laughed at Lucy trying to hold an Easter basket whilst tripping on gopher holes.

Good times. Happy Easter all.