Sunday, January 6, 2013

Branching out

Since moving to our new environment we have paradoxically identified and clung to a few new routines. This has included a very limited scope of places to dine out with the kids. I'm in the burbs now, and bereft of the wonderful 'child friendly yet delicious for adults with a decent wine list to boot' restaurant smorgasbord of my old SF neighborhood.

We initially ventured only to the nearest mall, actually walkable, where the kids have fallen in love with the pizzeria, and the diner. Though adequate when we need a night off from cooking, I am tiring of these options. The kids eat only grilled cheese sandwiches (Geekyboy), chicken strips and fries (Geekygirl) or mac n cheese or pizza (both). I drank the diner through their entire (horrific) wine collection - red first, then white and struck out on the vegetarian section of their menu options until I was eating grilled cheese (with avocado) sandwiches myself. they fortunately seen to have closed for the winter. Which left us stuck with the (perfectly nice) pizza joint as our only dine out option.

This weekend I set the kids up in advance for trying something new. I have learned with my two that spontaneously saying "lets try this place for lunch" sets off a flight or fight response in them. They are terrified of being confronted with new food. So I promised them their favorite pizza place on Friday, on the condition we would brave "Sammy's" a pizza/pasta/salady place which looks decent (by my new suburban standards!) at the other, fancier, drivier mall, one weekend day.

It was a huge success! Geekyboy despite the availability of a grilled cheese sandwich (if the menu comes with crayons you can almost guarantee it will offer this staple!), instead chose angel hair pasta with olive oil and Parmesan. Having steeled himself for a new cuisine experience he seemed determined to try it. He was resigned to not liking it, I could tell. The contrast in his face and mood the second he forked the deliciously cheesey pasta into his mouth, and realized it was yummy was profound and rather adorable. Geekygirl chose mini burgers, a new thing for her and ate them with relish. Preprepared to cope with newness, they embraced and enjoyed it.

It was hardly gourmet cuisine, though my ono tacos were very good, but I consider it a triumph and am delighted to have a new option for eating on nights I am too exhausted to cook.

Sometimes, though I am delighted when I figure out how best to handle my kids, I wonder why they have to be so complicated!

Monday, December 24, 2012

So this is Christmas

There are years, and this is one, when you are just not really ready for it to come around again. But when you have a house full of excited, precious and yes, really very good children, you just have to pull it off properly.

The last door on the advent calendar is open. A snowman. "I knew it would be a snowman, mummy", Geekygirl told me at 6am this morning, completely confident that I would want to be woken to hear the news of what was behind the last little cardboard door.

"you see there wasn't a snowman yet, and there was bound to be one, so the last door had to be a snowman." She seemed satisfied that order had been established in the universe.

The cookies are baked (thanks Betty Crocker for your mix, and Vons for your neon food coloring and gold sprinkles. New years resolution to drive the extra 10 minutes to the organic store is firmly in place, but for now we will enjoy our radioactive sparkly treats). The Christmas cake is also baked, and that actually was an effort in organic cooking. The assembly of the ingredients alone involved dragging the kids around half the markets in san diego, and the collateral purchasing damage of the trip included skating reindeer tree ornaments, a tray of holiday cupcakes, wooden nutcracker characters, and two giant Mylar holiday balloons.

Half of the cake has been safely dispatched to England in lieu of our presence around the Christmas table, and it did turn out quite nicely, I have to say, thanks to mum's advice to soak the dried cherries I had to buy to replace the glacé. A frustration of American living is the inability to find proper ingredients for Christmas cake.

There are 9 (who taught these kids to count?!) carrots to be eaten - or possibly returned to the fridge- along with both a pink sparkly snowman cookie, a slice of the cake, and an innocuous glass of american milk rather than the traditional sherry, sitting by the quite enormous and fabulously eclectically decorated douglas fir, the biggest we could fit in the new house

Stockings are hung. And we have assured the kids that yes, Santa knows we are now living in San Diego.

Over the past two days we have watched both "the polar express" and "Santa paws", both of which reduced me to tears but got us all firmly believing in Christmas, and have settled upon Piers Brosnan as Bond in 'tomorrow never dies' for our Christmas eve movie.

Just as we were finishing up stories, geekygirl lost a tooth, too. So tonight will be pretty magical down here in San Diego.

Merry Christmas to anyone still reading!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Life's a beach

Not everyone loves the beach. We all do in theory and in pictures. What is more soothing, what gives a more powerful sense of longing, a sense that if only you could just be there the world would make sense, than a photograph of a pristine beach? In reality the beach is unpredictable, there might be miles of smelly seaweed, rough water, a jellyfish bloom. It is very sandy in reality, and that sand scrapes between your feet and your sandals as your walk home,  and more importantly those of your sensitive, whiny kids, meaning that they end up walking barefoot on the sidewalk and you endure glances from passers by who look at the barefooted children and assume lackadaisical parenting choices or extreme poverty. The sand gets in your car and your carpets, lugged home on rock collections and poorly shaken towels.

I don't mind though. I rather like that my house is covered in a thin layer of fine silver pacific beach and that occasionally I feel it gritting between my teeth. That my car has an aura of being perpetually on holiday, with damp towels in the trunk, sand on the carpets and shells in the cupholders, makes me smile as I drive errands and go work. I commute past the beach every day, even though it takes five minutes longer than the freeway option.

I've been here in San Diego for three months now. I still haven't sorted out any weekend enrichment activities for the kids. They need gymnastics classes and swimming lessons. I dream of piano and dance classes. But have yet to get further than a few stolen moments of googling such opportunities during my work day. Instead, when the weekend rolls around, we invariably just pack up some towels, some snacks, put on our favourite swimsuits and head down to the nearest shore. Guilt at my parental laziness aside, I would challenge anyone to argue that this isn't enriching for everyone.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Del Mar Days

It seems fitting that today, as I scrubbed off the remains of my Maui pedicure, I noticed a trace of black creeping up the nail on the toe I stubbed while climbing the rock pools with Geekyboy. I'm painting my own toenails, for the first time in a long time. Half arsed home pedicure a badge of my self imposed single parenthood, now that I don't have the ability to just pop out and get my nails done on the weekend.

I knew that it would be hard, taking on essentially full responsibility for the children. I just hadn't realized which bits of it would be the toughest. The practicality, the keeping the house tidy and the kids organized hasn't been too bad. I have a new homebodiness about our little place, I'm quite proud of how I've put together the rather shabby little rental house here in Del Mar. I may have used an excess of teal in the decor (who doesn't love teal, there are so many pretty shades and it's so San Diego with its essence of ocean?!), but the organization systems I restarted our lives with, involving multiples of labeled sterilite containers, gives cleaning up such a satisfying feeling of returning order to the universe that I do it quite often with something close to pleasure.

The emotional part of lone parenting is the hard part. Geekygirl especially is testing my limits. I know, intellectually, that she is anxious and worried. She isn't a kid who does well with change. She is able to tell me this sometimes, but more often she slips imperceptibly from regular defiance into a raging tantrum more appropriate for a three year old, and I struggle to bring her back to the world without being kicked or bitten. In the past two weeks I have physically carried her into school and left her screaming in the principal's office (because the only pair of leggings deemed acceptable for school were not dry - I miss school uniform!), and at bedtime have had to have her in time outs where she sat and screamed "mommy you are killing me" so loudly I expected the police to show up at the door.

Weekends are long. Today the mood started out badly; the roku player wasn't working so I didn't get my extra hour in bed while the kids watched "Pinky Dinky doo". It looked up as they joyfully tucked into the promised weekend breakfast of chocolate chip waffles with chocolate syrup (though the diabetes researcher in me cringes at how far I have fallen), and it hummed along happily as we tackled the promised activity of the day, painting ceramics at one of those "paint your own stuff" places in the mall, but then it crumbled dramatically when none of the restaurants we tried served anything acceptable for lunch and I refused to take the kids to the swimming pool (we went the day before). I carried my howling 45lb six year old across the parking lot in 80 degree heat as she bit down on my shoulder like a miniature vampire.

In full fury still when we returned home, she proceeded to tear her bedroom apart, upending every carefully labelled bin of stuff all over the bedroom floor.

Then we put it all back into place together, as she calmed down, and eventually came to me with a proper apology. Well almost a proper apology. It was followed by a request to go out for dinner "I'll even try something new, mummy" she promised. I wasn't sure whether it was the best parenting decision to agree to this after the appalling behaviour of most of the day, but I was tired of crappy food. Decisions like this are now mine alone to mess up, so I drove the kids to fancy downtown Del Mar, to a nice Italian place with an ocean view, where we had a lovely meal. The kids were buzzing after the gelato so we quite spontaneously decided to walk down to the beach. We found a free concert going on, a scene of families dancing and picnicking along to classic rock against a backdrop of surfers and beach volleyball.

Moments like this evening, of watching the sun slip into the ocean, watching the children glow in the warm evening light, feeling the salty breeze sift the warm air and the sand between my toes, I can imagine that we can be happy here. I can feel, for the first time, even fortunate to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

hello goodbye i love you

I think that is what "Aloha" means.

Not content, apparently, with moving to the beachy San Diego lifestyle, the Geekyfamily are vacationing in Maui this week too. I feel like a beach junkie. The move down to San Diego was pretty tough, but I'm proud of how we handled it. We're settled-ish now. Finding a new normal and getting into a SoCal groove. I've almost got out of the habit of carrying sweaters everywhere.

Long before our world was thrown into disarray, we had spontaneously booked a family holiday to Maui. Our first proper "summer holiday" in fact, rather than a whirlwind relative visiting tour (no offense intended to lovely relatives who may be reading and whose hospitality we have much enjoyed in the past!). We debated the wisdom of going, new job for me, new expenses, more disruption. Perhaps it would be more stressful than relaxing, we wondered.

You can see from the picture that the wondering stopped as soon as we got here. I'm dreadful at just being in the world. My mind is always racing ahead or pondering back. The islands are perfect for slowing time and disconnecting from the outside stuff and reconnecting with the elements and with what's inside.

I wish I could just be in the world the way children are when at the beach. That I could run back and forth from the waves to the shore for hours, filled with purest glee, like Geekyboy can. That I could spend all morning bobbing like a cork in the ocean then all afternoon paddling around the pool until my fingers were prunier than prunes, like Geekygirl can. I did all of this today, I was almost there. But I had this blog post percolating in a corner of my mind most of the time.

I was marveling at the perfection of the day. Beaches are always wonderful, children always have fun, even when the water is chilly, the sand has scratchy pebbles, and piles of fly infested seaweed assault their nostrils, but the beaches here in Maui are beaches from dreams. The water is the clearest, sparkling, dappling blue, with flashes of silver fishies under the gently breaking waves. The beach slopes gently, no sudden drop offs that leave you suddenly out of your depth. It is bracketed with rock pools perfect for exploring. The sand is not only silky smooth underfoot, it also forms solid, satisfying castles. The weather is perfect. Warm, but not stifling, with just enough breeze and humidity to  mingle the scents of plumeria blossoms and ocean spray into an aroma uniquely Hawaii.

Thoughts flashed by as I tried to just be in the world. Chasing the children along the shallow shorebreak. "Wish I had time for a pedicure, my toenails look shabby. Why do we women have to spend so much time on ridiculous grooming? When did unmanicured toenails become embarrassing? Wish I hadn't spent so many years worrying about how I look in a bathing suit. Every year I'll look worse than the year before, so I'm going to be happy with how I appear right now. The 70 year old me will look back fondly on this 41 year old body. Forty one. I'm forty one. Midlife, give or take a year or two, I expect. If I'm lucky. How do I want to live the rest of my years?"

I once read that as parents we have become obsessed with setting our kids up for a good future, with figuring out what they should learn (Mandarin or Cantonese? Yoga or Tai Chi, Modern Dance or graphic art?), when what we can really give to them that matters is something more elusive. A happy childhood. I'm one of the lucky ones in that I really did have that myself. The beaches of my early childhood may have been those of the north east and the south west of England, beautiful, but at the time littered with crisp packets and fag ends, and so bracing that we built sand castles in our winter coats, but still they formed the foundation of happy memories.

As I watched my little pale skinned kids slowly bronzing through their factor 50, delighting in the pure sensations of sand and water, I felt satisfied that this week we really are providing them with those happy memories, burned by ultraviolet into their synapses. Like the new freckles that have sprung from the activation of the pigmention genes in their skin, something tangible about this experience will remain with them even as time marches on.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I often feel trepidation when I see an article, like the much commented upon piece in last week's Atlantic magazine, suggesting that women can't have it all. Don't buy into it, I tell myself. Just work harder, be better organized, eat healthier, do more yoga, you can be a supermom and a rising star in the office too. But as I read through this article (its a long one but worth reading through) I felt stabs of recognition. She points out that being a full time working mum is probably too hard for most people to do. She compares us to people who work full time and also run marathons, but points out the other people don't look at us with the awe they reserve for marathon runners.

I'm not as successful yet as the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, but I do put in long hours on someone else's schedule. My weekends combine laundry, errands, grocery shopping and household tasks with wholesome fun family activities, as weekdays are tied to the office. Like the author, I have a supportive husband, particularly when it comes to taking over when I have business travel, but like I her I have come to realize that this is necessary but not sufficient. The lion's share of the sundry but critical tasks; finding summer camps, laundry, weekend classes, buying clothes, laundry, getting hair cut, making dentists appointments, laundry, keeping the social calender, buying birthday gifts, and did I say laundry?, all default to me.

The article gratified and validated me, in a way. By reading it I recognized that I am actually pretty awesome. The fact that I have more than just kept my head above water for the past six years, that I've had success at work, that the kids are strong and happy and doing well, and that I have even contributed a little to the community through the PTA and the preschool parent steering group and I have fought my figure back to its pre-baby dimensions, give or take a droop here and there, puts me in a fairly elite group of women. The fact that I am disappointed in myself that I haven't yet had time to train for a marathon or take up triathalon makes me see that perhaps I expect a little too much of myself.

It also made me feel very tired. The kids are 4 and 6. I am still working relentlessly. I plan on doing this for many more years, since I love what I do, but I'm only just starting to realize that as the children get older they actually require more, not less of me.

In preparation for this move to San Diego I have a little hiatus from the nine to five (more like eight to six) of office life. I have no actual office to go to at the moment, and though I have to keep up with email and call into the occasional meeting my main 'job' is to get us situated in our new location. Suddenly having a bit more time on my hands is disorienting. I now recognize that I've been on a treadmill for years. A smooth, steady predictable one, thanks to expertly executed routines, but one going at an unforgiving pace. Any unexpected hitches would surely have sent me flying off the back and grappling for the supports, but there haven't been too many. Now it has slowed down temporarily and I'm breathing a little easier and looking around a little more.

I've taken Geekygirl to a movie, Geekyboy to the petting zoo and myself to the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit at the De Young. I have taken bags of old clothes to goodwill. I have brushed the dog almost every day. I still seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing laundry.

We are starting a new life in San Diego, and I'm going to try and set the treadmill moving a little more slowly. I'm going to take afternoons off to go to the movies with the kids. I'm going to use my vacation days. I'm going to hire a nanny/household helper so that I don't have to do laundry all weekend. I'm only forty one. I have long career stretching ahead, there will be a lot I can achieve in the next fifteen to twenty years, but at the moment I have two amazing little kids, and we will be living in one of the most child friendly and beautiful spots in the world. Season passes for legoland and sea world, here we come! And just perhaps a triathalon training program too.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Entropy is the measure of the number of ways a system can be arranged. A system with high entropy is one with disorder, and all systems trend towards states of high entropy. I find it reassuring to know that the natural state of the universe is chaos. It's not just my poor housekeeping.

I was thinking of entropy as I embarked this weekend upon the mammoth task of sorting out the children's toys bins. Now, I have a natty IKEA arrangement of plastic bin shelving, optimistically labeled "dolls", "vehicles", "animals" etc but in reality, whenever I clear the floor of toys, I sweep everything into random bins, so what we actually have is a state of extreme disorder. Tubs filled of pet shop animals, stuffed animals, squinkies, superheros, bits of lego, brio, playmobil, matchbox cars, dolls clothes, my little pony grooming tools, polly pocket ice cream sundaes, mardi gras beads, hair clips, plastic food, maps from the zoo, playing cards and home made valentines. To my shame I even found a melted and reformed packet of chocolate buttons lurking in one of them the other day.

Since "entropy is proportional to the natural logarithm of the number of possible microscopic configurations of the individual atoms and molecules of the system" (thanks wikipedia), I was even pondering if it might be possibly to mathematically describe the state of the children's bedroom, and identify the probability of a child being able to find (for example) the tail light of a lego safari jeep in the morass of plastic.

I know some people who manage to keep every kit in its original state, never losing even a single puzzle piece or a playmobil persons hair. A friend of mine who falls into this category even sells this cool product which can indeed do wonders for organization if you actually put your toys in it, and put one thing away before playing with another. I suspect though that anyone who has more than one child, and who, when the children are quiet and occupying themselves prefers to get on with some adult activities like blogging or lying on the couch drinking wine, often returns to a previously organized room to find that the kids have decided that all the puzzle pieces, barbie shoes and lego cubes are food for the imaginary raccoons that live in the linen closet, and have mixed all these items together in a pillowcase.

This weekend I tipped everything the kids own into a giant pile. The pile resembled those bundles of plastic flotsam floating depressingly in the ocean. I was quite horrified at how much plastic crap we own. I spent several hours categorizing everything, tossing quite a lot of things in the trash, and restoring order to chaos. Entire kits were made whole again. I even found the tail light of the lego jeep.

I realized as I sorted that our stuffed animal collection is quite out of control. The main culprit has been my frequent business travel. I got into the habit of picking up a gift every time I went away, since my trips were fairly infrequent. In recent months though, I have been going down to our San Diego office twice a month or more, and the collection of plush aquatic and zoo animals from the SAN airport shop has grown exponentially. I've alluded previously to big changes afoot in the geekyhousehold, and this reorganization is a prelude to this change. The increasingly frequent trips to San Diego were a foreshadowing. My company has closed its bay area office, and made me an offer to move to San Diego. This weekend's clean up was performed in preparation for a big move.

 Two career families are often faced with hard choices. Statistically, women more often choose to forgo opportunities that require relocation in favor of keeping families together, and this likely contributes to the stark attrition of women in the upper echelons of organizations, as mobility can be key to success. Faced with this decision myself, I can understand the dilemma.

But for many reasons, and not because I don't want to be another depressing statistic, in a few short weeks the kids and I are moving south. Since Geekydaddy's job is in the bay area he is staying up here for the time being, and will join us only on weekends. I still can't quite actually believe that I am going to leave my beloved San Francisco. I can only hope that we are not moving towards chaos and that I can continue to keep my head above water in our new environment. Wish me luck!