Saturday, January 29, 2011

Silent Sunday: la Mission

The Mexican wrestling mask store.

Silent Sunday
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone because my daughter has commandeered my laptop


Recently the kids have starting asking me one question over and over again. Whenever they are confronted with an animal in a story book they ask me "Is it real, or imaginary?"

At seemingly random moments throughout the day I hear

"Mummy, are armadillos real or 'magin'ry?"

"Mummy are dragons real or 'magin'ry?"

Ditto for unicorns, meercats, tarantulas, vampires, red eyed tree frogs, narwhals and all manner of fantastic beasts that they have encountered in books and films. Over Christmas they were constantly probing me about whether reindeer were real or not. I was able to answer this one honestly, relieved they never asked me directly about the status of one particular reindeer and the driver of his sleigh.

It is quite a reasonable question, when you think about it. We do take trips to the zoo, but ultimately many of the animals that populate their books are exotic beasts that they may never actually see in the flesh. Geekyboy was quite convinced that the armadillo was a made up animal. It took some argument on my part that though they are quite peculiar looking things, they do in fact exist in the world. Contrarily, unicorns, so like horses but with that fine single horn, seem quite consistent with the realm of the real.

Even as adults, I realized, there are many things in the natural world that we know to be real but have never actually seem ourselves apart from on nature documentaries. Those bizarre deep sea fish with the huge jaws spring to mind, the giant quid and the coleacanth, the pangolin and the blind mole rat. Then there are those persistant mysteries; the yeti or bigfoot, and the loch ness monster. Perhaps the realm of the imaginary and the real overlap more than we think. Then of course there are those creatures that once existed but are now long extinct. Dinosaurs feature heavily in our literary repertoire and they defy definition. Real, yes, but now long extinct, and the depictions of them even in scientific texts owe much to the imaginations of palaeontologists.

To be on the safe side, we have now added a third category to our classification system; "real, 'magin'ry, and 'stinct". I think I'm ready for the next barrage of questions!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

snow leopard mother

In that time before we had our children, but had decided to have some, I would watch the little kids hurtling down the ski slopes and dream of the days our own offspring would effortlessly imbibe the ability to ski. I realize now that I drew the conclusion that all three year olds could learn to ski from a skewed data set. I wasn't looking at all the kids sitting in the lodge with their nintendos, or the ones howling in the lift line, just at the tiny, fearless superstars.

Geekygirl is struggling with skiing. She had a disastrous lesson last year, too many kids, too close to nap time, she didn't want me to leave, and it was just too much all around for a just turned 4 year old. She gave up after a few minutes, took off her skis and begged me never to send her to ski school again. She finds it very difficult to get her feet into the essential "snowplow" position, so though she has good balance, and enjoys sliding down the hill, she can't stop herself and instead relies on the harness we guide her with. Given that the poor kid has a mother who didn't learn to ride a bike or to swim until she was about nine, and who still can't dive into a swimming pool it's hardly surprising that she doesn't have the best mind over muscle control, I suppose. We are not all destined to be athletes.

We tried ski school again a couple of weeks back with a cohort of friends and their kids. She managed about forty minutes of the three hours we paid for this time, which was an improvement. She managed a 'snowplow' under the guidance of the teacher. I observed the kids for a while, trying but failing to avoid comparing Geekygirl to my friends little girl, the same age, who can already ski quite competently. It isn't a pleasant feeling, the realization that you are envious of the abilities of someone else's child.

Geekygirl seemed happy and engaged though more cautious than the other kids. I didn't think she would notice, so I slunk away to get a bit of skiing in myself. One run later I got a call. Geekygirl had removed her skis and was most emphatically done with the class.

"mummy, I noticed that you left without telling me. That was sneaky" she told me when I quizzed her about the class later in the evening.

It was, rather, I have to admit.

We have been wondering what to do next. We very much want the kids to enjoy skiing as it is such a big part of our lives, but we are realizing that we can't force them to like it. The infamous "tiger mom" article got me thinking. About my needs versus Geekygirl's. About the value of overcoming difficulties. Though I was just as horrified by the article as the majority of the commenting public, a little of her philosophy resonated with me. This was the concept that many worthwhile pursuits are hard to learn, and easy to quit and that it takes a parent to push a little, to get over that initial hump so that the child can ultimately get that wonderful validating feeling of achievement .

Geekygirl was very proud that she managed to snowplow, and that she made it through at least some of the ski class.

We've signed her up for another session tomorrow. I've promised to let her know if I plan on leaving, no sneaking away this time. I'm cautiously optimistic that even if there are tears when we leave her in ski school, she will learn eventually, she will love it and she will thank us for persevering. We're trying a little bit of "snow leopard" parenting. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It's time for my annual escape; ski conference time. This year the Keystone symposia for diabetes is actually in Keystone itself, a lovely resort in Colorado. I started writing this post from united flight 144, and am finishing it up in my cosy studio beside a frozen lake. I eagerly anticipate this meeting, not just for the science and the skiing but for the five days of respite from the emotional and physial demands of motherhood that it affords me.

There is no true respite of course. It isn't possible, or even desirable to recreate a pre-parenthood self simply by getting 5 days of adult company and a room of ones own. I feel adrift when I go away, torn between enjoying being able to please only myself and missing home. I admire the new children's play corner at the airport, remembering its location for future reference, I smile at other peoples little ones on the plane and I spend far too much time agonizing over the gifts I will buy for my children. What item will perfectly convey how much I missed all the intangible little things about them, can assuage my guilt over leaving? I buy too many things, return some, second guess myself and become a dithering idiot over a set of playmobil people or a magnetic game. The items do have significance though, geekygirl remembers still which item came back from each trip. I still remember some of the souvenirs my dad brought back from his conference trips long ago.

We talk a lot about how much we love our kids, but not as much about how much they love us. Sometimes it scares me how very important I am to them. That lovely quotation "To the world you might be one person, but to one person you are the world" carries a weight of responsibility. Whenever I get on a plane alone a tiny, unbearable thought nags me. "What if I don't come back?" Of course my rational side realizes that mothers can't wrap themselves in cotton wool and never leave the house for fear they die and leave their small children motherless, but I'm not the devil may care person I was before; there is a reason I'll be skiing with a helmet on.

Geekyboy at almost three really understands this time that I'm going away. Last night he wanted me to hold him, snuggled in his towel and sing "Old McDonald" in front of our picture of the song, something I used to do nightly when he was less of a hefty armful, but that we haven't done for ages. Six verses and still he wanted more. The tantrum when I put him down was less about the songs and more his way of telling me that he doesn't want me to go, I think. I sometimes try to guess what the kids are feeling and give them the words to describe it. I asked him if he was worried about Mummy's trip and the saddest little face in the world nodded emphatically and said "Mummy, don't go, don't go".

Geekygirl is a passionate child, almost operatic in her emotional swings. Lately she likes to hold my face close to hers, hold my gaze with her blazing green eyes and say "look at me for ever, only me, and don't ever look at anything else". She's used to my traveling now, and seemed to be coping with my impending departure wel, excited about the rituals of a sticker chart to track the days I'm gone, the TV dinner with its side of microwaved chocolate pudding, and the present I'll bring when I return. She knew that I would be leaving early this morning, my taxi was ordered for 5.45am. Usually a sound sleeper, she woke when I crept up. I think she was on alert, much as I, also a habitual deep sleeper, awoke a couple of times last night from fitful dreams of being lost in conference resorts and running into out of context friends, anxious that I not sleep through the alarm. I had a few minutes before the taxi arrived so we sat together and cuddled for a while. She burst into such howls of despair when I had to go, the last thing I heard as I clicked the door closed. Selfishly, I had been hoping to slip out unnoticed.

The kids have their new addiction to Mary Poppins (which will yield a good two hours of peace for my hero in parenting partnership, Geekydaddy), a week of planned meals and well stocked cupboards and closets full of clean and acceptable clothes. I'll be back on Monday. They will all be fine. Right?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


A post for the Gallery

The prompt was "body parts".

These probably mean I should put more sunscreen on Geekygirl. But I love them!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The best laid meal plans

I'm going into 2011 with just one simple resolution. To plan the family meals every week.

We have two evening mealtimes in the geekyhousehold. I know that having the whole family round the table is supposedly important for family bonding, developing conversation skills and keeping your children out of prison, but when one person in the family has a 60 mile commute and gets home at 7.30pm that just doesn't seem to work. I also secretly quite enjoy the relaxing, conversational dinner Geekydaddy and I enjoy if the kids have gone to peaceably to bed. We eat all together on the weekend, a ritual that has its good parts, but is still not exactly leisurely

It falls upon me to plan and prepare the children's evening repast every day. In the car on the way home from preschool the kids start to discuss argue over what to have for dinner. If I'm lucky my memory of what is in the fridge or freezer is accurate and I give them a couple of viable options. By the time we get home we usually have a stalemate situation and I will be forced to choose one child's request over the other, thus assuring that the loser will at best refuse to eat whatever I prepare, or at worst hurl it on the floor (thank goodness for the ever hungry dog).

The only thing they both regularly agree upon is boxed Mac and Cheese, of the 'Annies organic' variety, though even then a fierce battle can ensue over whether to have "Arthur" shaped pasta in orange cheese sauce or his compatriot "DW" in white cheese alfredo. Sadly the differing shapes of the pasta and the colour of the sauces is what passes for a varied diet most weeks. (This isn't a sponsored post, but if anyone from "Annies" is reading, a years supply of your boxed pasta, rabbit shaped crackers and gummy bunnies would be most welcome).

Exhausted from the effort of deciding what to feed the kids, then making it and persuading them to eat it, I am then faced with thinking of something for Geekydaddy and I. This often coincides with his phone call from the drive home, and more frequently than I would like we both fail to summon up any ideas for dinner and I divert him to pick up take out. The lovely fresh produce he bought so optimistically at the weekend languishes in the fridge thanks to our exhaustion and lack of imagination.

It didn't used to be this way. I'm a pretty decent cook, and so is Geekydaddy. I got an 'A' in my O level food and nutrition class, thanks to my biology teacher, Mr. Singleton, who very generously snuck in and ate the evidence of a small measuring error that resulted in a double quantity of orange mousse. I realized over the holiday that it wasn't the act of cooking that was daunting me, but the opening of the fridge, staring at a mound of food and wondering what on earth to make with it.

This has not been helped by the demise of our oven. When we remodeled our kitchen back in 2004 we replaced the ancient 1950's gas stove, a stove which upon reflection had never given us a days trouble,  with a modern and quite expensive Bosch double oven. This piece of overpriced crap broke down for the first time in 2006, just before Thanksgiving and just after its warranty had expired. We had it fixed (though not until well after thanksgiving), and it lasted until this summer, when the thermostat failed again. The problem is that the hinges on the doors are not strong enough to withstand daily opening and closing. Apparently, despite its hefty price tag, this is a purely decorative appliance that isn't suitable for every day use.  The door no longer closes properly, heat leaks out and the oven struggles to maintain temperature until it simply refuses to heat up. Though to fool you, its display tells you that it has reached temperature, it isn't until you poke at your cold casserole that you realize that the temperature dial is lying.

We are so mad at the damn thing that we can't bring ourselves to actually deal with the situation and cough up the cash for a new oven. Instead we resurrected Geekydaddy's old countertop toaster oven, a twenty year old relic from his single days, for anything that needs to be baked.

I started the meal plan resolution this week, the menus decided in consultation with the rest of the family, and so far (two days in!) it has been a resounding success. I came home from work knowing exactly what I needed to do, and set about steaming rice and frying tortilas with gusto. Geekyboy, upon seeing the quesadillas I was frying in the pan, burst into his usual wails that he wanted Mac n Cheese, which he had yesterday. I picked him up and pointed to the meal chart I have stuck up on the wall. "Look, you had Mac n Cheese yesterday. Today is quesadillas with peas, and tomorrow is sausages, spaghetti O's and carrots. We will have Mac n Cheese again on Friday."

"Oh" he said. He seemed impressed and disarmed by my decisiveness. "I like quesadillas."

He ate them up too, with two helpings of peas. I was quite stunned.

Next week I might even try to create some meals for the kids that don't involve cheese!

Suggestions welcome.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Snow, Sand and Bounce Houses: Reflections on a year

Every year I make a photo book family album. Given that we spend most of our leisure time up in Tahoe, this years offering showed beaming children posed in the snow, frolicking in the sand and water, then back to snow again. The new camera that I got last year for Christmas has given me the chance to stretch my photographic skills, and I was really quite delighted with how the book turned out. Browsing through it you would be forgiven for thinking that our year consisted entirely of joyful snow play, sunny beaches, mountain hikes and a surprising number of bounce house parties.

The continuous mode on our digital cameras allows us to select only the perfect moments and discard the rest. For every cute picture of a child on a sled there were probably three or four thirty minute tantrums getting the snow suits on. For every gleeful splashing beach picture, an afternoon punctuated by children throwing sand in each others eyes.

The sheer effort of getting out of the house to create these magical moments is missing from the finished glossy product. The blood curdling screams of protest at putting on sunscreen, the almost perfect days marred by a forgotten glove, diaper, snack or change of clothes, the miles hiked with a howling child in a backpack that situates that child's mouth far too close to a parents ears. those moments don't make it into the album. Only I know that a split second before or after that perfect shot, the seemingly angelic child was hurling rocks or smearing snot on my jeans.

Writing this, I was reminded of the graph shown by Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman in their TED talk about parenting. As you can see, being the parents of a young child coincides with some of the lowest overall reported periods of happiness in a persons life. The flip side of this is that the peaks and lows are more extreme. My photo album only shows the peaks. Those peaks are real and beautiful, and since the children seem to remember the high points more than the lows, it is my challenge as a mum to find that zen, and live in those moments.

2010 has been a good year with many of those high points. The children are growing and learning. They are strong and healthy. We have work and health and love, and are very fortunate.

It is interesting to have the blog to go back to and reflect upon how our lives are slowly moving along.

Geekygirl, though still emotionally demanding, is so much more mature now at almost five. We haven't had a night like this for a very long time. She and I took a trip to visit my family in England, just the two of us, and had a wonderful experience. Geekyboy is a little boy now, not the baby. His toddler years have had a few of the expected challenges, but he is emerging into a sweet and funny little boy. The children's room reflects that we are now the parents of big kids, not babies.

This year I managed to get the kids to the dentist for the first time, thus alleviating a huge burden of motherly guilt that had been following me around. We made some new friends. I got a new job.  The terminal exhaustion of the baby and toddler years now subsiding into a more manageable motherly malaise left me with just enough energy or insanity to take on a new challenge, career wise. Just when I really needed to be impressing my new bosses, and didn't need to be taking a lot of time off, we got nits . We had visits from both sets of Grandparents, and we got the whole family dressed up for halloween . It was also the year that I and one of my dearest friends turned forty.

I took blogging to another level, and met up with some cyber friends, fellow Brits in the USA; (iota, Nicola, expatmum, nappyvalleymum, and Califlorna) in Chicago on a chilly winter weekend filled with stories and warm spirited chatter

2011 is going to be a big year for us. Geekygirl will go to Kindergarten. The whole Geekyfamily is going to visit family and friends in England and Denmark in July. I'm going to get my first mammogram, and perhaps not coincidentally, my first tattoo. And that's just what is planned. Who knows what else will be thrown at us this year? We're bracing ourselves for another wild ride.

Life is like sledding. You only think you're in control.

Lake Tahoe from Alpine Meadows

A silent Sunday post
Silent Sunday