Thursday, November 27, 2008

happy turkey, peacock, warthog and grizzly bear day

Yes, the geekyfamily visited the zoo this Thanksgiving.

before regailing you with the tale of our trip, I must pause to think of everything I am thankful for. The list is long, but in the interest of brevity I'll stick to the biggies:

My family. To have two such wonderful children, Geekygirl so lovely, so bright and full of ideas and life, Geekybaby, so happy, and such a blessing to arrive through an easy pregnancy and joyful delivery, despite my advancing age, completing our family so perfectly. it is only on reflection that I appreciate how lucky I was to meet such a fine man, and to squeeze in our two incredible kids against the tick of the biological clock. I'm so thankful for Geekydaddy, the best husband and father any family could have. Though my dad thinks he does too much housework, I know I am fortunate to live every day with that rare creature, a man who is also a feminist.

Which brings me to my extended family. I'm thankful for my dear Mum and Dad, that they are able and willing to get on a plane and fly half way across the world to see us, and techno savvy enough to embrace skype, so we can see each other across the atlantic. And I'm thankful for my sister and brother, and their lovely spouses and families. I only wish that San Francisco could be located just a tad closer to the UK. That or maybe those NASA folk could hurry up and invent teleporting.

Our trip to the zoo reminded me to be thankful for the amazing and incredible variety of life on this planet (Warthogs are very weird looking animals), for the opportunity I was given, many years ago now, to live in this wonderfully diverse city, and for the great and true friends that I have made here.

As for our trip to the zoo, well I think we may have started a new tradition. There were two high points to an all round superb day. The first was that we arrived early enough to see the grizzly bear feeding. A crowd of small and large folk gathered around the glass window dividing us from the swimming pool in the grizzly habitat. When the zookeepers came they released live fat brown trout into the water, and we got to watch a National Geographic special, as the two bears, huge, golden, and well, grizzly, gallumphed through the water, one of them finally pinning his trout with a determined paw right by the glass. Nimbly transferring the flopping fish to his mouth, he proceeded to bite off its head, and crunch the whole thing down in a mess of blood, saliva and irridescant scales, inches from Geekygirl and I, who had a prime spot by the glass. Geekygirl was wide eyed, but surprisngly un-phased by this display of Nature in action.

As we left she told me "the bears have a restaurant in a swimming pool"!

The second high point of the day was our restaurant lunch at the zoo. Not in a swimming pool, but right by the flamingo pond, the 'leaping lemur cafe' is the only place to eat if you are ever at San Francisco Zoo. Geekygirl considers it the finest restaurant in town, since it serves lovely french fries and chocolate milk. Today it also put on a nice Turkey dinner, which, since Thanksgiving fare from my pescaterian kitchen is the "traditional roasted salmon" rather delighted geekydaddy, and was an unexpected bonus to an already wonderful day.

To top off the day, on our way home from the zoo, we picked up our darling geekydog from the vet. She was bright eyed and pleased to see us, and is now resting, shaved and be-coned, at home with us. Now all we have to do is relax and finish our wine, and look forward to three more whole work free days of kids and friends. And maybe a little shopping.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

all I want for Christmas is a new dog knee

So, it seems that our annual donation to our Vet's mortgage fund has come due once again around the holidays. let me back up here and tell you that last year, on a beautiful crisp sunny day between Christmas and new year, geekydog was running along the beach when she fell, yelped, and hobbled over to us on three legs. She had blown out her cruciate ligament. Several thousand dollars and a long rehabilitation later she seemed in great shape. Geekygirl still remembers the incident, one of her first full sentences was "geekdog hurt leg running too much".

We had been warned that that if one knee goes, the other is probably on its way out too, and I had noticed her limping a little on her "good" back leg. Sure enough, this weekend I let her off leash for a quick romp, and once again witnessed fall, yelp, followed by three legged hobble. Geekgirl keeps asking "what happened to Geekydog?" and says "take her to the vet right now".

She saw the vet today, who confirmed that she has ruptured the other knee, and that instead of going to Tahoe tomorrow for romping in the woods our poor dog will be going under the kinife. And we will be foregoing expensive Christmas gifts instead giving each other dog orthopedic surgery for Christmas this year.

Its not just the expense of this which is depressing though, it is the trauma of the surgery for our poor dog. She does not like the vet, and I still remember how hurt and changed she was after the last surgery, eyes turned feral with fear, muzzled at first, since any hand hear her injury provoked a snap. I'm just hoping for a fast recovery, since this is complicated even more by the fact we are going to South Africa for Christmas and are planning on boarding the animals.

So much for our cheap, low maintenance dog from the pound!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

cute sayings

One of the things I love about watching the kids grow is hearing new language coming out of their little mouths. Geekybaby has mastered his da da da's and ga ga ga's, and I swear he said 'kitty' the other day. Baby talk is cute, of course, but what I'm really excited about is all the little turns of phrase that Geekygirl is coming up with. Sometimes she just sounds so grown up for not even three. Her latest word is "actually", and this is how I first heard it:

One of her dolls "Lydia" has a little blue and yellow striped skirt that Geekygirl calls her 'underwear'. Grandma has just knitted a lovely yellow sweater for this doll, so I said "Oh, the sweater matches the stripes in Lydia's underwear.

Geekygirl replied "That is not her underwear, actually, Mummy (with great emphasis on this new word). It's her skirt". I guess that told me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

stay at home mum day

Geekybaby is not well. He was feverish on Sunday, and still feverish Monday morning. The doctor thinks its probably just a virus, so nothing to worry about. But this is the first time he has been sick, so of course I am a little concerned. Geekybaby is such a cheerful little soul most of the time that it seems even more sad to see him sick. As the second child, he has never gotten as much attention as his older sister did at his age. He seems to have decided that the way to our hearts is through his considerable charms, since rather than being a loud and demanding baby he is a smiler and giggler, a little ray of sunshine. But today he is having trouble letting his sunny side shine (though he is trying, bless him). But I am enjoying being able to cuddle him all day!

Having a sick baby day like this gives me a taste of a different kind of life. Just for today I'm a stay at home mum of one, instead of a working mother of two. We've built some towers of blocks, and played the xylophone, and while he napped I've sorted a pile of laundry that has been needing attention for days, swept a shi tzu sized ball of dog hair out from under the bed, and cleared my cluttered dresser of old costume jewellery that has not been worn in years. I've saved few of the safer pieces for geekygirl's dress up drawer. We walked the dog, geekybaby snug in his ergo carrier, and Geekydog and I enjoying the crisp wintery air (well wintery for San Francisco, we needed our thick sweaters on). It has been a really nice day! Though of course being a stay at home mum of one baby is a breeze compared to having both kids!

Much nonsense is talked about 'the mommy wars', stay at home vs working. The family friendly options that many of my European friends enjoy are difficult to come by here so the choice is starker, and the divide deeper. (For example many of my friends in the UK have a situations where one or both partners, professionals with well paid jobs, work part time, and this is not considered career death).

I'm glad that our situation has worked out so that Geekydaddy and I can continue our careers, and be parents too. Its busy, its expensive, there is never enough time and there is always laundry spilling out of the closet, but it is right for our family. I used to be one of those women who would say 'I could never stay at home with the kids, I'd go insane'. But now that I have the kids I realize that if circumstances demanded it, if a child became ill or had special needs, I would, and I would enjoy it and do it well. You never know what the future holds. Of course maybe this is because I am already insane.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Adventures in hardware

We and our contractor are scrambling to get our basement guest suite remodel finished in time for my parents arrival this Thursday. As I speak the bathroom tile is being installed. We're hoping to get even the towel rails and other sundries up before the first honored guests of the new room arrive, but had not actually found the time to pick these out.

Before kids, we remodeled our main bathroom, and were mesmerized the sheer choice of towel hanging options. We put considerable thought into selecting them. Oh how times change. This Saturday was "Mission towel rails", and we selected the Home Depot Expo store in Emeryville as a likely place for one stop shopping for our needs. The morning had begun well; geekydaddy and geekygirl had fetched bagels and lattes for our breakfast. An outing to a coffee shop guarantees a chocolate milk for Geekygirl, so she was quite lively but manageable as we left the house.

Forgetting that most of the world does not get up at 7.00am on Saturdays, we got across the bay in record time, and pulled into the Home Depot parking lot before the store had even opened. Geekybaby was sleeping, but we didn't really want to sit in the car for 20 minutes. So we looped around to Peets Coffee for another coffee. And of course, another chocolate milk and a slice of banana bread to share, just to get those sugar levels nice and high.

Back to home depot, we found the store open, and made a beeline for the bathroom section. The store was quiet, but as Geekygirl span through the aisles wanting to climb into all the bathtubs, I began to regret that second chocolate milk. Alternately corralling geekygirl into the areas of the store where she could cause the least damage, and gazing like deer in headlights at the walls of rails, little glass shelves and toilet paper holders in myriad finishes Geekydaddy and I made some selections. Finding an assistant we started to jot down what we needed, then a chance remark revealed that we had been mistakenly looking at the stuff that needed to be advance ordered, and not in the 'take home right now because we need it installed yesterday' section.

Finally redirected to the right section, Geekydaddy and I must have forgotten who was in charge of our sugar crazed toddler (though I think it was him), because we turned to see her right at the top of one of those movable stairways used to reach stock from high shelves, looking down at the store from about 10 feet in the air.

I caught glances form the parents of the well behaved children, and managed to speak gently without revealing the panic I felt seeing her up there. She did come down as soon as she was asked. We were standing right in front of some perfectly acceptable towel rails, so I grabbed those off the rack, and we headed out of the store. She fell alseep in the car, of course!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's OK to be different

The geeky family are sad and disappointed that Californians voted on Tuesday to ban gay marriage again. Yesterday I happened to be reading a sweet bedtime story, a book by Berkeley author Todd Parr called "it's OK to be different". I wish every child and parent in California had this book. No, its not about princes marrying other princes, it isn't controversial in any way, though its message is about accepting yourself and accepting diversity. It just tells kids, with colorful illustrations, that "its OK to wear glasses", "Its OK to have a wheelchair", "It's OK to have a big nose". The final page states "Its OK to be different. You are special and important just for being who you are".

On Tuesday, California voters told a group of people that they were not important, just because of being who they were.

For readers not up to date with the history of gay marriage in California, here is a brief summary of how we got to here. Marriage in the US, like in many countries, is a civil contract in which your chosen partner becomes your legal next of kin, and thus grants certain important rights. The right to visit your partner in hospital and to make medical decisions for each other, to inherit, and to be covered under a partners health insurance policy are assured by marriage. Religious marriage is a separate thing. Wherever you marry in a church, synagogue, or mosque; by lake tahoe, in a casino, or while skydiving, you must first obtain your marriage license from your county clerk's office. In 2000, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. In February 2004 the brave, decidedly heterosexual, and really quite cute Mayor of San Francisco decided that this was discriminatory, and allowed the SF county clerk's office to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. This lasted a few months, and 4000 marriages, until it was ruled to be against the state constitution. In May 2008, a case addressing the rights of a gay couple to marry was brought to the supreme court of California, and the justices decided that to deny these civil marriage rights to a group of people base on sexual orientation was discriminatory. This ruling allowed county clerk's offices across the state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Since May, more than 18,000 gay couples have been legally married in California.

In reaction to this, opponents of same sex marriage pushed a proposition on to the ballot this November (In California legislation as well as candidates for office can be put up to a vote), to amend the state consitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus reversing the right of same sex couples to marry. This legislation passed, by a narrow margin.

Personally, I just don't understand the opposition to equal marriage rights.

Don't believe in gay marriage? Well don't get one.

Gay marriage 'threatens traditional marriage?'. Of those 18,000 gay married couples (or are they married? Their status is in limbo now), I doubt many of them woke up that May morning in a traditional marriage, and said to their opposite sex husband or wife "You know honey, now that gay marriage is legal, I'm going to leave you and marry my buddy, Joe/best mate Susan".

If the only reason you chose' traditional marriage' over' gay marriage' was that the latter is not legalized, well you've got problems that legislation can't solve!

What opponents of gay marriage don't seem to realise is that gay people get married, they always have, they get married in their churches and by their Rabbis, or in front of their friends and familes. What the court ruling did was to finally allow these marriages, which have always existed, to be recognized by law in the same way that heterosexual partnerships are.

I suspect that much of the opposition comes from two basic misconceptions :

One, that someone can choose to be gay. That it is a lifestyle choice, something kids do to annoy their parents like getting tattoos or riding motorbikes. That if our kids see gay couples just as accepted as straight couples they are going to choose to become gay. This makes no sense. Did you choose your sexual orientation? Or is it just a fundamental part of who you are? And if our kids are gay, (and some of them are), don't we want them to grow up in a world where they see happy gay couples in accepted relationships? Where they may still feel different, but at least not alone?

Two, that being gay is a moral failing. This one is harder to address, some religions prohibit homosexual behavior, and many Americans have strong religious beliefs. But religions evolve as understanding of human nature evolves. It used to be a sin in Christianity to lend money at interest, and just fine to enslave people. Many people reconcile their homosexuality with their religion, many religious leaders are themselves gay. And besides, religion and state are separated in this country.

Proposition 8 wasn't about religion, or the nature of homosexuality. Though the advertisments in favour of it must have convinced people that it was. It was simply about keeping a civil right for one group of people, and taking it away from another.

The silver lining in this cloud is that at least this time the legislation passed by a much narrower margin than in 2000. Lets hope it doesn't take another eight years for Californians to recognize that its OK to have a different kind of marriage, and that we are all special and important, and entitled to equal rights under the law.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a brighter future

I moved to this country in 1996, quite ignorant of the US political system. I watched, perplexed, through "Monicagate", frustrated as this great democracy decided the 2000 election though recounts and partisan court decisions, afraid as the twin towers fell and bombs started to fall across the middle east, and finally, angry and appalled when Americans voted for Bush/Cheney again in 2004.

For the past eight years, the America I see and walk in every day has not been represented by its leaders. Today I see a leader who is the face of the future generation of Americans. When I think about the Americans of the future I can't think of a better representation than our daycare center. It has always reminded me of the Christmas cards we used to buy to support Oxfam, with a picture of smiling children of all nations holding hands in a circle. Our children are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and every mixture of race. Their parents are straight and gay, single and married, blue collar and white collar, new immigrants and generational Americans. Our children don't see race, they just see their friends.

I believe that the election of Barak Obama just changed the world for our children. They will grow up seeing that a black person from ordinary beginnings can grow up to be president. They will grow up believing that they can do anything, because now we parents can believe that too, and this will pervade our collective conciousness as a nation and a world.

Geekydaddy and I often talk about returning to the UK, mainly for personal reasons; to be closer to our families, to raise our children in a system more familiar to us. But I realize today that the part of me that wants to return to Britain was also drawn by the thought of raising and educating my children in a more tolerant, kinder, fairer society. Today I believe that society could be this country. Today I want my children to grow up here, and for their earliest memories to be of growing up with President Barak Obama.

Monday, November 3, 2008

another pet?

With two cats and a dog at home, I don't think we really need more pets. But Geekygirl has decided that a rapidly deflating halloween balloon is her imaginary dog, "Giddy". Giddy is two years old, and "her got a new leash for her birthday". Giddy celebrated with a green cake made from peas and beans, with two candles on it.

A house full of lovingly chosen toys, and she spends hours playing with a balloon. I think that is pretty cool.