Monday, December 27, 2010

Intertwined Tales.

I first read "Tales of the City" by Armistead Maupin when I was living in Birmingham (UK, not Alabama). The series of novels was avidly passed around our group of graduate students, initiated by the one gay man amongst us, a man who just happened to be called Michael, like Michael Tolliver, a hero of the novels, who remarks in one of them that half of the gay men in the world seem to be named Michael. The stories, with their mixture of madcap adventure, bizarre coincidences, and poignant dialogue all set against a San Francisco that fairly glittered out of the pages, were a breath of fresh air to us, slaving over our lab benches in the dreary Midlands winter.

Three years later, when I was myself boarding a plane to San Francisco with my worldly possessions packed into two suitcases I had those books etched into my mind. I had them in my suitcase too, come to think of it. It hadn't escaped my literary imagination that I was twenty five years old, the same age as Mary Ann Singleton, one of the stories central characters was when she took a two week vacation to the city and decided, on a whim to stay. As it turned out I went to San Francisco on a two year visiting academic visa and fifteen years later I am still here. I lasted longer than Mary Ann, come to think of it.

People tell me I was brave for taking a job in a city, indeed a country where I didn't know a single soul, setting out there alone to embrace whatever befell me. I brush it off, remarking that there are five flights back to London every day, I wasn't exactly on a one way ticket to nowhere. There was more to my confidence though. I knew, somehow, that San Francisco would suit me. My only experience of the city was through those books, but the characters resonated so strongly with me, their experiences seemed so authentic, that I felt that I already knew how the city would feel. I was right too. This was 1996, not 1976, but the essential essence of San Francisco, as I'd imbibed it in Maupin's books, was still there waiting for me.

That essence was not just the blue skies, dense fog, the tumultuous hills, or the mix of glass towers, pink stucco and shingles. It was the people.  San Francisco is best known, of course for the way it embraces gays and lesbians, but that is just the most obvious manifestation of a deeper attitude. There is something in the water here that lets you be who you are, and accept other people for who they are. We are long haired computer geeks, corpulent belly dancers, lesbian plumbers, bisexual teachers, gay accountants, childless cat lovers, rehabilitated alcoholics devoted to pitbull rescue, single mums by sperm donor, foster parents to disadvantaged kids. We're ordinary English girls who love science, literature, skin tight clothes, red wine, and blogging. We're comfortable in our own skins, and we don't expect everyone else to fit any particular mold.

I found my home in a six unit building in Duboce triangle. We were a bunch of twenty somethings, from all over the USA, with me as the token European. We were white, black, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, lesbian, or at various levels of working out exactly what and who we were attracted to. We looked like a GAP commercial. This was no doubt enhanced by the fact that several of the gang worked for GAP corporation at the time, and were generous with their corporate discount. We threw great parties. We went to all the coolest bars. We gathered in each other's living rooms around giant take out pizzas or moo shoo vegetables to to watch Seinfeld, Friends, Melrose Place, Buffy and Party of Five. We went on terrible dates. We got horribly drunk and helped each other home. Belatedly. sometime around the turn of the century, we grew up and moved apart, much like the characters in the books.

Maupin released a new book in the series this winter. Coincidentally, the first books are being made into a musical, to be premiered this summer, where else, here in San Francisco. I just booked tickets for Geekydaddy and I and several of our dear San Francisco circa 1998 friends; our 'logical family', as Mr. Maupin would say, and I can't wait to see it, my favorite stories embellished by my favorite art form, musical theatre, what could be better?!

Geekydaddy bought the book, "Mary Ann in Autumn" for me this Christmas and I am waiting for the perfect uninteruptable moment to crack it open. In anticipation, I have just re read the entire series for what must be the hundredth time.  I was reminded again that the now so familiar and beloved streets and locations described in the tales were once just a fairytale to me, San Francisco being as far from Birmingham as the lost city of Atlantis.

Is their anything better than reading that first page of a much anticipated novel? Now that I've got this post off my chest, I think I am ready to dive in.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Year of the Great School Hunt

As the year draws to an end I am hit with the realization that next year we will send our firstborn off to "real school". At the forefront of my mind every waking moment these days is one burning question. Where will we send Geekygirl to Kindergarten next fall?

There are more than seventy elementary schools in San Francisco and anyone can apply to any of them, irrespective of where they live.  Some schools are vastly more popular than others. Predictably, these have a student body that score highly on the state standardized tests, and a PTA that raises several hundred thousands of dollars a year to cushion the impact of budget cuts and pay for class size reduction and enrichment programs. At the other end of the scale there are schools that have been taken over by the state  in order to rectify failing performance on the standardized tests. There are lots of schools that fall in between,  and on the whole schools in the city seem to have been steadily improving over the past five years, from an admittedly rather low starting point. Even so, many San Francisco parents find their liberal sensitivities running up against the realities of the public school system and flee to the highly competitive and horrifically expensive private sector, or flee the city entirely.

Apparently "San Francisco Unified School District is the top performing large urban school district in the state of California and one of the top performing urban districts in the country", which is rather like being, as was an old co-worker of mine, the best 400m runner in the Philippines, but still, it is somewhat reassuring given all the negative messages we get about the state of California's education system.
The student body of San Francisco is very ethnically and economically diverse. Approximately 25% Hispanic, 30% Chinese, 10% African American and 20% white, with the remainder representing people from South East Asia, India, Japan and the South Pacific. In common with many other large urban areas,  we have a high percentage of kids qualify for a free school lunch. The very high scoring schools, of which there are about eight, get hundreds, even a thousand applications for the thirty or forty slots they have for incoming kindergartners. Some schools get almost no applications, the families who live near to the school simply show up when school starts without bothering to apply.

Until this year the San Francisco Unified School district had perhaps one of the most complex admissions procedures ever devised. Families listed seven of the more than seventy elementary schools on their application form, a form that required answering detailed questions about the educational background of the parents, languages spoken at home and whether they were on any form of public assistance, among other things. In the event that a particular school had more applicants than places a complex algorithm called the "Diversity Index", based on the answers to these questions, was applied by computer. Or possibly a bunch of school administrators got drunk and threw darts into the applications. If you want your head to start spinning read a little of the document below.

Though well intentioned, the two main problems with the system were that most of the low income people it was intended to help didn't even fill out the forms, and that many middle class people who had a lovely school right beside their house but didn't have a hope of getting into it got very annoyed. To put it bluntly, in any society some people have more choice than others, and many San Francisco families would simply "play the lottery", applying only to two or three of the "top" public schools, then send their children to private school if they were not one of the lucky "winners".

An unintended result of the system was that schools became separated from the communities they were located within. Middle class families left the city in droves and since families with the option to choose private school or to move away simply refused to attend the schools they were assigned to by the diversity algorithm, the schools still remained polarized between the high achieving middle class dominated and the low achieving low income dominated. It worked only in one direction. Motivated poor families could get their kids into high performing schools, but the system couldn't force other people to accept an assignment to a poor performing school.

Recently, though, the tide has started to change. Groups of parents banded together and decided to send their kids to their nearby yet under performing schools, with remarkable results. These parents were motivated by research that suggests that children of engaged and educated parents do well in any school setting, and that the "API' score, the California standardized test, tells one more about the socio-economic make up of the student body than the quality of the teaching.  Indeed when I plotted API against % of kids on a  free school lunch for the schools we are looking at I noticed a near perfect correlation between these two sets of data.

Without any change in teaching strategy, or in the teaching staff, the test scores of these schools started to rise along with the increase in the percentage of middle class kids, and the culture of parental involvement with schooling that they brought with them. Some schools became victims of their own success, they become so popular that they too became increasingly difficult to get into. These success stories have inspired more and more grassroots efforts though, and our schools are getting better for it.

For the class entering in 2011 they have completely revamped the placement system, and given each school an attendance area, but we still have a 'parent choice.' Now we can apply to as many schools as we want, but the tiebreaker is decided without the diversity index algorithm. First prioity will go to siblings of current students, second to families living in areas of the city that had the lowest test scores on last years standardized test, and third to those who live in the schools designated attendance area. Families will be assigned to their attendance area school, or if that is full, to the nearest school with open places, if they do not get into any of the schools they apply for.

Applications are due February 15th.  I have generated a monstrous spreadsheet with information about at least 15 schools in 24 columns. We have toured nine  (eight public/state and one private), my boss becoming ever more incredulous as I take yet another morning off work. By tour nine I fibbed, saying I had a dentist appointment. I probably should have removed the sticker bearing my name and "Grattan School Tour" from my jacket on returning to the office had I expected the lie to fly though.  A group of fellow parents and I have formed a casual collective to share school reviews, discuss options, and more often than not, drink and panic. If it hadn't already been done, I might have started a blog about it!

Is anyone else going into the new year with this level of school related stress, or is this unique to San Franciscans? Remind me again why I love this city......

Silent Sunday: Waiting

Silent Sunday

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the sugar plum fairy

The Nutcracker Ballet is an American Christmas tradition, one that was started by the San Francisco Ballet in 1944. In a combined fit of "getting into the holiday spirit"  and "we must take advantage of living in the city" I bought tickets when they first went on sale back in October. With the production looming, I checked the website for the time and location, not only discovered that the production is staged at the very lovely "War Memorial Opera House" and not at the Ballet itself, which saved me a panic attack on arriving at the wrong location, but I also noted the statement "Any child, who can quietly sit in their own seat and happily observe a two-hour performance without questions or talking, is welcome at San Francisco Ballet. To ensure an enjoyable and relaxed experience for everyone, SF Ballet recommends that children be at least 5 years-old to attend Nutcracker"

Since Geekygirl and Geekyboy are almost five and almost three, respectively I felt a knot of anxiety forming. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. I took the kids to the playground with a friend to run off some energy on the morning of the performance, but my anxiety was only heightened when my friend informed me that her little girl, also only 4, had been coached by her grandparents to tell the ballet ushers that she was five, since they were under the impression that under fives would be banished from the theatre.

We set off anyway with our underage companions. The children, prepped for several nights now with a lovely story book describing the plot of the ballet, and having enjoyed several evenings of dancing round the living room to the music, looked adorable and were full of anticipation. Geekydaddy and I also dressed for the occasion, and it felt so lovely to be all gussied up, in the glossy crowd of excited children and parents. There were plenty of under fives, so we didn't need to teach the children to fib. Of course, as seems to be the case in almost any major city, the fanciest theaters are steps away from the sketchiest neighbourhoods. We were faced with  puddles of human urine in the alley where we parked the car, and smiled shamefacedly at homeless people as we walked up the guilded steps. Ah San Francisco, city of contrasts.

The performance was magical. I'm glad we had read the storybook, mind you, as I'm not a ballet buff myself, so it helped me to understand what was going on. Geekygirl, ever the authority once she has even a scrap of knowledge on a subject, kindly, confidently and maybe a tad too loudly, explained to me what was happening. Geekyboy, kneeling on his plush seat was enraptured by the music and the dancing. However every five minutes he loudly whispered to me "Mummy. Is that the sugar plum fairy? Mummy. When is the sugar plum fairy coming?". Mindful of the age advice, I tried to keep him quiet out of consideration for the childless folk in the row in front, but when the lights came up for the interval they remarked on how sweet he was and how they used to bring their own, long grown up, kids to see this ballet. People can be so kind.

Here's a clip from the show (I didn't film it)

Still, during the second half Geekyboy wanted to dance along with the performers in the aisles, which I felt was pushing the tolerance of the more mature audience members so Geekydaddy extracted him. Geekydaddy wasn't all that impressed by it. He was reminded of the spoof scene in the movie "top secret", where the female dancer balances on the unfeasably large 'package' of the male in very tight tights! Geekygirl remained entranced though, and watched the entire performance through to its beautiful finale.

Now, every evening when we get home from preschool, Geekyboy wants to be the sugar plum fairy. Here he is in his sisters fairy dress, isn't he precious? I've taken a video too, to preserve these moments for posterity and to show to him when he's a linebacker on the football team. Or the lead in the all male version of swan lake.

Monday, December 20, 2010

my city, my heart.

I took this picture while walking my dog early one morning. When I look out at the city my heart always pounds just a little harder than usual.  Can you fall in love with a city? Is it just the beauty of the place, or is it more? The mindset of those of us who live here? A way of being that just happens to be part of this perfect jumble of architecture and nature?

I love this city. I fell in love in this city. I fell in love with a man who loves this city as much as I do.
My heart will always belong in San Francisco.

A post for the gallery. The theme was "Love"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Silent Sunday: Cupcakes

A photo for Silent Sunday at MochaBeanieMamma

Silent Sunday

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last Christmas

This is a post for Josie's writing workshop at Sleep is For the Weak. I chose prompt 4. Become the ghost of Christmas past – share a story from a childhood Christmas.

My Christmases past all seem to distill themselves into 1984. The year that Band Aid went to Christmas number one, Last Christmas by Wham came second, and I was fourteen. Maybe it is because these songs endured so well that I am so often transported back to that time during the Christmas season.

I had started a new school that year, and I bought my new friends a wall calender of the Band Aid group as a present. I had rushed to Woolworths to buy the single the minute it was pressed, and actually have a very early edition of it that lacks the group photo on the back. I watched the video again today to enhance the nostalgia, and instead of the warm fuzzy feeling I expected, instead I noted for the first time how few women were involved. If such an effort happened today it would surely have far more female artists. I was struck by how times have changed, and how long ago 1984 really was. On the other hand if it was made today many fewer of the men would be wearing full make up. Whatever happened to the concept of eyeliner for men becoming mainstream?

I forget now exactly when my sister and I were deemed old enough to attend midnight mass on Christmas eve, but I'm guessing that by 1984 we did. I was never a particularly religious kid, but I loved singing. My sister and I would get lightheaded trying to sing "Gloria in excelsis deo" without taking a breath, or attempting the soprano harmonies for the "sing choirs of Angels" verse of "oh come all ye faithful". Furthur into the decade we would hit the pubs before mass, no doubt enhancing our vocal skills.

Though old enough to have a little sip of baileys after mass in 1984, I was still young enough to hang up my stocking. When I say stocking I mean an actual sock. No custom made velvet sock shaped bags entered our home, Father Christmas stuffed gifts (always starting  with a satsuma orange deep in the toe) into a woolly 'over the knee sock'. Do you remember those impractical items? For some reason we were not allowed to wear tights with out school uniforms, so we wore long socks held up with an elastic band around the thigh, the chilled and blotchy upper portion of which was displayed between one's hitched up school skirt and the top of the sock. I hear parents today dispairing of their teen daughters clothing, but really parents, do you remember how we used to dress in the early 1980s? New clothes featured heavily in our Christmas gifts from our teen years onwards. I remember a soft jumbo corduroy pencil skirt in black that I wore with a fushia printed black jumper, and a pair of winkle picker toed black suede stilletos. Lovely!

My mum and dad still live in the home where we grew up, but since living in America these past fifteen (really, how can it be fifteen)? years I have been home for the season precisely once. It is a time of year when I wish that I could just pop back for the day. I would show my kids the remaining tree ornaments that have survived from my youth, the ones we would carefully unwrap with excitement year after year, arguing over who got to put the long, delicate pink one on the tree, while we played a mixed Christmas tape, recorded from the top 40. I'm wondering now if my mum's carefully made starfall decorations, the ones with threads of foil stars handing from a cane circle that hung from the light fixtures in colours that perfectly matched the purple, turquoise, silver, red and gold carpets we had back in the 1980s, are still around in any form. Bringing out these ornaments was the mark of the beginning of the season, they gave the house such a festive feel and we always felt so sad when the house was returned to its ordinary unsparkly form on January 6th.

Mum and dad's home contains the ghosts of so many wonderful Christmases past. One day I will take the whole family home to share my childhood memories with them. On Christmas morning (after breakfast of course) we will let Grandad lead the way into the closed living room. He will carefully open the door while the children gather behind. They will be so excited, trying to peak, just slightly worried that Father Christmas may have forgotten them this year, and just when they can barely contain their anticipation he will throw open the door and shout "he's been"!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a moment to breathe

Today we got a day off work. Well, our department had a holiday outing in the late morning, so after a couple of hours in the office we headed over to "the palace of the legion of honor', an art museum in the city to look at the "japanesque" exhibit, featuring works on loan from the d'Orsay in Paris. What a treat, to wander around a gallery admiring intricate woodprints form centuries ago.

After a civilized lunch the rest of the day was our own. I decided to pop over to the little British Grocery store that lurks behind Safeway, next to the city pound. The basement of a small house, it is one room that stocks everything the expat Brit needs, from baked beans to marmite to double deckers, hobnobs, lucozade and robinson's barley water. Of course at Christmas it also has mince pies, pud and birds custard. We have a potluck party at the office on Thursday, so I thought I'd treat them to some Mr Kiplings mince pies, my oven being broken, I have a perfect excuse not to attempt to bake any myself.

I then went to the post office to mail my gifts to family in England. The queue was winding out of the door into the somehow festively drizzly street, but since I was, remarkably, in no hurry, I quite enjoyed my wait. There was a camaraderie in the disparate crowd, united by the need to send gifts to loves ones far away. I saw packages addressed to Brazil, to Paris, to Beijing. Maybe I was under the influence of my recently dowloaded Glee Christmas album, but as I stood there I pictured people all over the world opening gifts, knowing someone here in San Francisco was thinking of them, was prepared to stand in the rain for half an hour to make sure that gift made it to its destination.

Christmas can take a working mum to breaking point. When life is a carefully balanced house of cards the extra demands of the season can feel overwhelming. Even a supposedly pleasant thing like a holiday party invitation becomes simply more items on the to do list; book babysitter, buy tights with industrial supportty top so that party dress fits, get hair done....

I'm almost there though. I've reached the point where I can listen to my holiday music in the car without it bringing on feelings of panic. The cards have almost all been posted, the gifts almost all purchased. Just the daycare party and the work white elephant potluck to go, and maybe I can even relax.

How about you. Are you ready?

I'll leave you with my new favourite Christmas song of the moment; Mercedes from Glee singing "Angels we have heard on high".

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

picture perfect

A few weeks back, on a wonderful trip out to Chicago I was chatting with fellow bloggers Nappy Valley Mum, Iota, Nicola, ExpatMum and Califlorna about Christmas cards, and a question came up. "do you make one of those 'American' photo cards of your family, and if so, what do your British friends think of it? Is it considered horribly naff?" I confess that I do make such a holiday card. I posted about last years here. It had not, until that moment of conversation, ever occurred to me that this was an American phenomenon, or that it might be considered tacky and narcissistic.

I personally love to receive such cards, or a school photo enclosed in a card, or a even a round robin letter (especially those unintentionally amusing ones!).  Kids grow so fast and we live so far away from friends and family. Thinking back over the years, I realized that I was an early adopter of the concept. Long before there were multitudes of online photo companies offering competing card designs, and before we even had kids, I turned a photo of Geekydog in the snow into a holiday note card using the then brand new "Snapfish" web store.

This year we had a November snowstorm up in Tahoe. Perfect for getting cute seasonal pictures of the children for the annual card, I thought. I was thwarted however by Geekyboys distaste for being outside in it. Thirty minutes of snow play later I had a reel of lovely shots of Geekygirl, and this single sorry picture of geekyboy!

The following weekend, with a little puruasion and some sledding, he adjusted to the snow and I managed to get a couple of decent shots. Then, that same evening, overtired and amped up, Geekyboy slipped in the bathroom and blacked his eye on the side of the tub. Once I realized that he was OK, just very bruised up, my first thought was "Thank goodness I got one decent picture for the card before he looked like a battered child"

Here is a preview of the card I made this year, with the help of the 'tinyprints' website. I put quite a bit of time into selecting the photos and choosing the card, and I have to say I'm quite pleased with the result.

Do you make cards like this? I'd love to do an informal survey!

PS, this is not a sponsored post but I do know someone who works for tinyprints, and I was very happy with their product.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fowl Feast

I love Thanksgiving. For us it is the low stress holiday. A four day weekend with no presents to buy, and nobody to please but ourselves. We're a first generation American family, so Thanksgiving is just for us.

Over the years it has been marked by feasts with friends, or vacation trips, including a memorable visit to Orlando. There, instead of testing out the well trodden attractions, we went instead to the "Crashorama", a demolition derby, the highlight of which was the 'figure eight school bus race'. You can use your imagination to envision how thrilling that was (no children were involved, I hasten to add). Once, back when I was a single hardworking postdoctoral researcher, I even spent the day in the lab and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

But now that we have our own little family we celebrate together, in our own idiosyncratic way. I don't eat meat, so we usually roast a fish. I don't like cinnamon, so we don't eat pumpkin pie. We invariably go up to the mountains and have a nice relaxing day topped with a slightly more special than usual meal.

This year though, we experienced cultural peer pressure for the very first time. Geekygirl is learning about Thanksgiving at preschool. The children are sharing with each other the way each of their families celebrates the holidays. Considering how many other first generation American families there are at preschool I was surprised at the universality of the "Turkey and pumpkin pie fest" that all the other children described. I bought the kids some pumpkin pie at the school bake sale and they absolutely loved its creamy cinnamony goodness. After years of skimming the surface of the holiday, I could feel its cultural gravity dragging us in.

"Why don't we eat turkey at Thanksgiving?" Geekygirl asked. She was unimpressed by my explanation, and by the promise of delicious roast halibut and said "How about we have chicken drumsticks for Thanksgiving?" On reflection this seemed like quite a good idea, and I'm all for encouraging Geekygirl to think for herself, so I promised that chicken drumsticks would be added to the menu.

The anticipation of the chicken drumsticks filled our conversations on the way home from school for subsequent days. "I'm going to hold the bone and gnaw the meat", Geekygirl told me. She has quite an obsession with carnivorous animals and this seems to have carried over into her cuisine choices. During one of these conversation I realized that Geekygirl had never actually eaten a chicken drumstick. Chicken nuggets, chicken sausages and chicken stew are part of my repertoire, but I could not recall ever before having given her a chicken's leg.

"What made you suggest that we made chicken drumsticks?" I asked her during one drive home. "The shopping game" she replied. And then the penny dropped. We love to play "Orchard Games" shopping cart game, and one item on the list is a roasted chicken. When we play we always mime eating or using the various items on the lists, and Geekydaddy would wrest an imaginary drumstick from the picture of the chicken and eat it lasciviously. Geekygirl loves to mimic him, and I guess he was so convincing in his acting that she wants to try one!

We braved the stores on Wednesday night before trekking up to the mountains, adopting the "divide and conquer" approach; geekydaddy did the bulk of the shopping at Trader Joe's, the kids and I picked up specialty items at Whole Foods. As well as a fine slab of halibut, we got a packet of chicken drumsticks. I also decided to bake not one, but two pies, my very first pumpkin pie and a cinnamon free apple.

We have an early winter here in Tahoe, feet of snow already, so after a pre dinner outing to the sledding hill we returned to a house warmed with the smell of baking bird, overlayed with pumpkin and, yes even my bete noir, cinnamon. It smelled wonderful.

Despite carefully marinating the drumsticks in an orange/olive oil glaze, and going online to remind myself how to cook chicken, I fully expected that when presented with an actual meat and bone drumstick Geekygirl would turn up her nose at it. Far from it. She dug into that bird with lipsmacking gusto, as did her brother. They made short work of both the pies too.

I'm finding that it is the children that ultimately drag you fully into your adopted country's culture. Today I'm thankful for our family, our lovely homes, and for the fantastic opportunities and friendships I have found in this great country. Happy Turkey (or Chicken Drumstick) day!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow White and Dog Black

A Gallery post, for theme "Black and white "

This isn't actualy  a black and white picture, but it felt like the perfect shot for this weeks theme.

The sheer quantity of snow that falls in a Sierra storm has to be seen to be believed. This one dumped a good six feet over a twenty four hour period. Winter is officially here, and Geekydog is in heaven.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Before and After

A belated post for the lovely Gallery

This is how the kids room looked before and after a trip to Ikea last Spring.

When we transitioned Geekygirl  into the side-less crib/toddler bed in the top picture, just before her brother arrived, we did it gently. She had a full month or so of choosing between her familiar crib and the new bed. We, or at least I, was very anxious that she not feel replaced by the new arrival.

She outgrew that little bed she was was four. Geekyboy was two by then, and he had been climbing the crib rails and rattling it from its screws, so we decided it was time to graduate both into proper beds. I love these pictures but they touch my heartstrings. It still seems like just yesterday that we assembled that crib, bought with money generously collected by my coworkers, in anticipation of Geekygirl's arrival. I remember so powerfully just how tiny she and her brother seemed when we first laid them in its soft expanse.

Poor second child that he is, Geekyboy did not get a gentle transition to the world of the big boy bed. His crib was dismantled and the new bed installed within hours of returning from the store. We did try to explain the coming change to him, but I think it came as quite a shock. I will forever remember the look of horror on his little face when he walked into his room as Geekydaddy was in the midst of disassembling , and cried out "My bed. Daddy broke my bed".

Being the stoic little person that he is, he slept soundly thereafter in his new bed, but I still wonder if he was somehow traumatized by the abrupt removal of the only sleeping space he had ever known. To this day he points to the dismantled crib, which since it underwent three or four recalls in the four years we owned it isn't suitable to be handed down to anyone, and is stored in the garage, and says "That's my old bed. Daddy broke it".

Sunday, November 14, 2010

two kids walking

I decided this weekend that I have been pushing the kids around in the double stroller for too long. The age gap between them, twenty four months, meant that I needed a double stroller when Geekyboy was little. Geekygirl's reluctance to walk anywhere, combined with my inclination to acquiesce to her requests, and the rather child unfriendly topography of our neighbourhood has ensured that I have continued to push them everywhere, even though they are now not little at all. I had reached the point of driving to places within walking distance, because I was physically incapable of pushing the 70 combined pounds of child for any length of time. Those hills might be tough on a littler person's legs but they are tougher on a mothers gluteus maximus.

So when we decided to take advantage of an unseasonably warm November day and head to the playground I put my foot down. No stroller. We chose the closest and least vertically challenging playground option and got there without complaint, Geekygirl a skipping, sprinting sprite, waiting impatiently at the intersections for her steadily tromping little brother.

Getting home again was more challenging. The kids have become accustomed to riding home after their playground exertions.  Relaxing in the McClaren chariot, eating crackers and drinking milk while their exhausted mother strains to push them home.

They set off in good spirits, climbing little walls and chattering away. We were almost home, and I could see poor Geekyboy was very tired, his eyes glazing over as he stolidly placed one little Croc'ed foot in front of the other. Geekygirl was still full of energy, and as we reached the final stretch, a steep downhill incline, she decided to run. She loves to run pell mell down the hills. I'm always in two minds as to whether to stop her, or let her enjoy it. It must feel a bit like flying to run into gravity like that. Back in my running days and before my knees hit middle age I used to quite enjoy it myself. I'm always in awe of her grace and bravery as she hurtles along, and I figure that the best way to learn one's limits is to push them.

Today she met them, she stumbled and fell. A split second later a howl bellowed out. When I ran to her picked her up, ensuring no serious damage, and intending to carry her the rest of the way, Geekyboy just sat down. I think seeing his sister being carried was just too much for him to bear after he had trudged for so long without complaint. It was one of those sudden moments in motherhood, when a lovely time turns in a split second into a stand off. A missed step over an uneven paving slab and suddenly the world goes wrong. I was left standing with two howling unmovable kids, within sight of our front door.

We got home, of course. Both children pulled themselves together remarkably well, and I remained calm too.  I still think "operation walk on your own two legs" can be called a success. Anyone want a rather heavily used third hand McClaren twin traveller? Fingers crossed our double stroller days are done.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

techorati test (ignore!)


Tales from the Academy

The Academy of Sciences, that is.

Usually on days when daycare closes for holidays or staff training Geekydaddy and I cobble together a day of piecemeal hours at the office balanced with hours at home with the children, who watch too much television while the parent at home attempts to call into meetings and fights with VPN internet access to the office servers. Today, Veterans day, I decided to claim real vacation, and planned a nice day out. A day devoted just to the children. I left the big camera at home, since I have a tendency to boink the kids on the head with it by accident, so please excuse the quality of the iphone snaps illustrating this post.

We got to the museum right as it opened. We dove straight downstairs to the aquarium, usually very crowded but almost people free so early on, and delighted in prime time viewing of the reef.

We came across exhibits I hadn't found before, of water insects.  The sight of the giant diving beetle sucking the liquefied innards out of paralyzed living goldfish, though quite fascinating, was unexpected, and did test my powers of description. I'm in the habit of slowly and loudly reading from the signs to explain things to the kids but my worlds trailed off as I realized that this was quite macabre for a toddlers ears!

We looked at the "living roof". I don't think I was the only person who kept expecting a Teletubby to appear.

This museum also has the classic "stuffed animal" exhibits, a legacy of any museum of Natural History of stature, but so at odds with the message of conservation and respect for nature we raise our children with today. The exhibit at the Academy, Africa themed, is very well done, the animals as sleek and glossy as the day they were shot died gracefully of old age, but it combines the preserved with the living, which makes for a rather odd feel to the room. There are some cases with live lizards and other reptiles, juxtaposed with stuffed lions and antelope. The crown of the exhibit is a colony of living South African penguins frolicking in a rocky pool contained behind floor to ceiling glass. Geekygirl ran from case to case shouting too loudly "Mummy, look, another dead animal! A dead Zebra! A dead Cheetah! Is this one dead, Mummy? This regarding the Jaguar posed in his tree overlooking the concourse, pictured below.

Keeping track of the kids in an increasingly busy museum started to get challenging so we listened to a children's author, Susan Stockdale, read from her books in a corner of the museum. Geekyboy's loud voice was the one raising eyebrows this time as he shouted out (accurately I must add) "Emperor Penguin", Coyote", recognizing the animals in her illustrations. I"d like to claim his exotic animal vocabulary comes from the kids National Geographic magazine we subscribe to, but I suspect it has more to with oversaturation with "Go Diego Go".

Reaching breakdown point we hit the cafeteria. The food offered is very nice, but poorly organized for a one adult, two barely obedient children kind of situation. If you want tacos, ribs and spring rolls you have to stand in three separate lines. At this point Geekyboy was lying on the floor under a whale skeleton, fighting off his sister's attempts to bring him back into the food line, and I wished I had packed sandwiches.  I grabbed a plate of ribs ("I want to eat ribs and pretend I'm a lion eating a dead antelope" Geekygirl had told me. Not destined to be a vegetarian like her mum, clearly"), some roast potatoes and a pizza. Well, I had thought I had a good grip on the pizza but it flew from its plate and hit me splat in the chest before slime-ing cheesily to the ground by my feet. I apologized as it was cleaned up, dragged the kids to a table and made do with potatoes and chocolate milk for my own lunch.

We overcame the obstacles of toilets with automatic flushes and loud hand driers. I had cleverly put Geekyboy in one of those super absorbent night time pull ups for the outing so avoided having to diaper change on the run. I didn't lose the parking ticket, and the children both chose the same cheap toy, a bag of plastic ocean creatures, in the gift store thus avoiding fights with me and with each other.

Safely home they are now sitting and classifying their plastic sea animals. "Does it have fins? yes? Does it have a blowhole? Then its a whale!"

All in all a very satisfying day. We teetered on that knife edge between fun and chaos most of the time, but I seem to have got much better at coping with small children in large places without my pulse racing. I'm proud that I barely even flinched when that pizza hit me in the chest.

I'm looking forward to a nice restful day at the office tomorrow though!

Monday, November 1, 2010

snapshots of Halloween

A little girl had an idea for a family costume theme

A busy mother stole time from work to trawl ebay and Amazon for costumes, and anxiously tracked their arrival, wondering if she should have paid for express delivery. Relief at their timely arrival  outweighed the sheepishness she felt having to explain to the office purchasing department why she was overtaxing their delivery person.

A tired mother awakened her long dormant seamstress skills to adjust costumes to the exacting specifications of a very particular four year old.

A forty year old scientist and mother ended up having to create one costume for her work's team theme, and another for her family's. She started to get quite stressed about Halloween, which felt rather ridiculous.

A little girl woke screaming on Friday with a sore, sore throat. A little Aladdin participated in the preschool Halloween parade without his Jasmine.

A dad was concerned that the blue "genie" face make up, express shipped from Amazon, would not wash off and that it might leave him eerily blue tinged for a critical meeting the following day. A wife painted herself as a test of its permanency to help him resolve the dilemma of being a good sport dad vs. being a responsible business owner. 

October 30th arrived, cold and wet. The little girl coughed and coughed. A mum faced the fact that all of the preparation for this years much anticipated family Halloween might be in vain. She pondered on exactly who was anticipating it so keenly, given how disappointed she felt.

October 31st dawns, clear and bright. The little girl is still coughing a little, but seems bright and healthy. She puts on her costume with blatant delight. Her mum is relieved that all the adjustments are deemed acceptable, and is resigned to the fact that her daughter insists on wearing a pink cheerleader shirt underneath it instead of a perfectly matching teal turtleneck. She's happy that her daughter at least accepts the suggestion that she wear tights under the flimsy harem pants. Mum puts on her second costume of the season (Raja, Jasmine's pet tiger), and then paints dad's face blue, confident now that the paint will wash off. The little boy protests donning his Aladdin outfit despite the bribe of a 'tootsie pop'. Mum feels like a selfish parent, should a two year old really be manhandled into his costume just so that the family looks good together?

Costumed children bounce.

Aladdin embraces his princely persona, reminding the Mum that a two year old's opinions are transient, despite their force. Neighbourhood parents delight in the intoxicating combination of good wine and bounce houses, and despite their best efforts not too, keep finding themselves in conversations about which Kindergartens to apply to next year. 

The Genie uses his phenomenal cosmic powers to hold a glass of wine while simultaneously replacing Aladdin's shoes

A little girl, after bouncing for hours, and after being very brave in the face of oddly dressed adults and children, gets frightened by the full face masks and creepy houses once it gets dark and wants to go home after just a few trick or treats.

The family climbs home, and the city glitters them a backdrop of Halloween colours, (which just happen to be the Giants colours too!)

Happy Halloween! And yay, Giants!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hawaii four O

Last weekend I turned forty. I'm sure I'm not the first to observe that time compresses as we get older, but I'm certainly feeling that way on this milestone birthday. Where on earth did the last ten years go? The years from earliest memories through my teens and into my twenties seemed to stretch, long days, slow years. My memories of them still rich and vivid. Perhaps that is why those years are so formative. Maybe time is actually percieved differently through the different ages of our lives.The last ten of mine, though equally as event packed as the rest, seem to have flashed by.

When I was twenty, in the 1990's, the 1970's seemed eons ago, truly a different era. Now in the 2010's, the 1990's seem like just yesterday. I still think of music and movies from that time as 'current'. Children are often completely oblivious to times that they did not experience, kids asking their parents if they had cars or televisions in 'the olden days when you grew up'. My 1980's childhood, with its VCR's, boom boxes, walkmans and BBC basic computers is as much a museum piece now as my fathers childhood during the second world war. Everything folds into the past. Maybe that is why we are driven to have children, to pull us through time.

Forty feels good though. Those short ten years ago, I spent my thirtieth birthday in Hawaii with Geekydaddy, half hoping that he would propose. (He ultimately proposed on my 32nd birthday). We couldn't afford a trip to Hawaii this time, so we brought it to our house instead, with a Hawaiian themed party for our friends and their kids. I rented a bounce house, hoping it could act as a de facto babysitter while the adults chatted.  It arrived nice and early so our kids bounced while we prepped for the event, I strategy I may employ for future parties.

When we planned a Hawaiian party we didn't expect Hawaiian style rain. Our back garden was in full bloom (the joy of California in October), and we had planned for an outdoor party, but the heavens opened and the party moved inside. Only a few brave children braved the bouncer. Thanks to a lovely bouquet from my dear friend FollowthatDog, and some whimsical hibiscus flower party lights, the interior was blooming too, and we didn't let the rain dim the mood. Combined with the halloween decor of green gilded spiders, the flowers gave an interesting 'tropical but terrifying' theme. My friends Stan and Fachon bought real flower lei's., too There is something special about a lei. It brought me just a bit of that relaxed island feeling, even on a wet San Francisco afternoon.

I had such a lovely day surround by friends and children. The Mai Tai's Geekydaddy created were deliciously authentic (did you know that Mai Tai was invented in Trader Vics in Oakland, just across the bay, in 1944, and is an almond syrup based drink? Neither did I until we did our research!) and  the catered food was both beautiful and delicious (Geekydog agreed, she snaffled a plate of pork sandwiches left a little to close to the edge of the table!).

I even got to sleep off the Mai Tai's the next day while Geekydaddy cleared up the debris.

I'll leave you with this photo. On Facebook I captioned it " Necklace; birthday gift from my parents, Lei; gift from Stan and Fachon, T shirt; $7.00 from Marshalls, Forty year old cleavage; priceless". Here's to another forty plus years!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Drawing horses

It is amazing that I managed to get my O and A levels, really. I spent a good portion of my schooldays sketching ponies. They galloped, trotted and cantered across my essays, my homework diary. All my compositions had an equine theme. I even recall working a horse into an essay about bridges, and carefully putting a couple in the garden of the buildings I had to plan in architectural drawing class.

I was lucky enough to have access to ponies of my own. My sister and I befriended an old gentlemen in our village. His own living grandchildren were in Australia, and the daughter who had remained close by lost her only child to Cystic fibrosis when he was just five Pictures of this smiling golden curled child graced every surface in Harold's bungalow.

My sister and I were his surrogate grandchildren. Our own grandfathers died before we were born, too, so this was a mutually benificial relationship. We fetched his groceries, picked his apples and turned them into pies (well my mum helped with that). Rather on sufferance every night on the way home from school we sat and looked through his old photo albums and listened to his stories,watching the clock so that we'd be home in time for neighbours, and in return he gave us his ponies to ride. We probably should have spent more time listening to him. Born in 1901 and of the generation too young to fight the first world war but too old for the second, he lived through so much change in his lifetime, embracing it all.

i haven't ridden for years now, but amazingly the horse bug seems to have arisen in my daughter. She gallops and whinnies around the house on her imaginary pony, "princess rainbow." She gravitates toward horsey toys. We took her for her first a pony ride, and she didn't want to dismount.

Then I found this. Her first horse drawing.

In quiet moments I imagine a different kind of life. Maybe we should move to the country so we can get her a pony. And perhaps, just maybe, i would brush off my johdpurs and find a nice gentle old horse for myself.

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the in flight movie

I was reading the New York Times this morning over my pancakes, and came across an article that piqued my interest. Toddlers are becoming addicted to iphones.  I was actually reading the article on my iphone, and was struck by the irony. Though not as profoundly as the time I was walking along the street reading an article about the dangers of walking and reading one's iphone at the same time, and walked into a lamp post.

This question seems to be coming up over and over again. How much technology is too much for our children? We are entering uncharted territory with every fascinating new device, each so user friendly and intuitive that even a two year old embraces them.

I confess to amusing my own kids with my marvelous little phone. I am quite proud of my "in flight movie" set up for our long car rides up to Tahoe, involving the phone, episodes of 'the back yardigans', a bluetooth set up to beam the sound through the stereo, and a length of ribbon secured behind the phone case then tied to the headrest. I ration the movie time only because I want the phone back to catch up on my blog reading.

I'm a big believer in 'moderation in all things', my dad's motto for life, and feel that as long as the parent is controlling access to the devices they can be a good distraction tool, for sure, and may possibly even be valuable for learning. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

life, squared

This is a post for the working mum blog carnival hosted by Holly at "its a mummy's life".

I had this post all thought out. I wanted to convey how I feel that being a working mum, a mother who also has a rewarding career, should be the aspiration of all women. But every evening I have been just too bloody knackered to actually write it. I'm not sure what that says about my ideal world for women. With Holly's deadline looming, I'm tapping this out while simultaneously watching 'Law and Order SVU'. That I find myself multitasking even in my extremely limited leisure time speaks for itself, I suppose.

People often say "My life became complete after I had my children". I have never felt that way. No offense to my amazing kids, but you see my life was quite complete before I had my children. The children brought a completely different dimension to it. One that I didn't even know existed before. Now I have a whole extra complete life, on top of the one I already had. I think of it as life, squared.

I'm a scientist. Science is a vocational type of career; a mindset and a way of being. It is how I have always defined myself, the first thing that comes to mind, before 'woman', 'Brit' 'liberal' or 'wife'. Now I define myself as a mother, too, of course, but I am ever grateful that I did not have to choose between these two identities. I can be both mother and scientist and straddle these two worlds. It may not be elegant but it works.

We working mums are lucky, I think, in that we never had to feel the disorientation that comes with leaving one life, that of the workplace, and moving over to the world of child raising and home making. Becoming a mother never left me wondering who I was. It has always been quite clear that I am the same person as I was before, living in the same world, just with so very much more to do. Since becoming a mother my brain has been challenged in more ways than I though possible. I'm not a rocket scientist kind of scientist, but I do have a job that stretches my neurons on a regular basis, and still I was not prepared for the mental gymnastics required of a working mum.

spare school clothes to wash, new papers about high cholesterol to read, preschool beach day to remember, holiday fundraisers, backordered reagents to track down, performance reviews to write, parent committee to attend, elementary school tours, conferences to book, brilliant scientific leaps of understanding to make, dentists appointments to book, forget and rebook, music classes to research, groceries to buy, sticker charts and prizes to create, assays to run, data to analyze, experimental strategies to plan, birthday parties to go to and to organize, nails to clip before they scratch another classmate and draw blood, nits to treat, powerpoint presentations to make, contract research oganizations to manage, field trips to attend, parent teacher meetings......

My mind is a maelstrom of information. I have a reasonable system of lists and files that ensures that I succeed in staying on top of about 80% of it, but I am always looking for that perfect system that will bring me to professional and personal perfection. I just hope that when I'm with the kids I'm giving them 100%. We do have a lot of fun together in our mornings, evenings and weekends, and we are lucky to have a wonderful preschool that I swear provides them more consistency, security and emotional and intellectual growth than I would be able to provide if I was with them full time. I've also been fortunate enough to participate in some pretty amazing scientific research in the five years since I became a mum, work that may end up really helping people. The last five years, my years of working motherhood, have stretched me further than I thought possible, but have also been incredibly rewarding, both personally and professionally.

I worry though, that I bring the stresses of work home. Geekyboy brought home a project from preschool, a 'feelings book' where they had scribbled on a picture of different feelings and the teachers had written a quote from them about each emotion. It had a page that said "Mummy feels happy for closing her eyes".

The life of a working mum is wonderful, varied and challenging. It is very busy. For me it can best be summed up best in words that are not my own. I paraphrase Jessica Piers (mother and lawyer) in the excellent "Mothers on the fast track"  "To be successful at family and career you have to come to grips with the fact that you are not going be perfect at doing anything. I am not the best mother and I am not the best lawyer at my firm either, but my life is my whole life".

Despite the challenges, I would still counsel anyone unsure about whether working motherhood is the life for them to go for it. I can't imagine any other kind of life.

My life is my whole life.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Girls

A post for the gallery

Better late than never, I have been pondering all week on what it means to be a girl

My post for the boys showed geekydaddy and his little son, so I found a picture of me and my little girl for this week.

I had always wanted a little girl. My first two pregnancies ended in miscarriage, but for those weeks beforehand, I fantasized about a baby girl called Geekygirl. Well obviously not actually called Geekygirl, but with her real name, a name I chose for my daughter before I even chose a husband.

My sister and my best friend back in the UK both had girls first (and second and third), and I longed for a little girl of my own. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe because growing up as a girl is something I know how to do. I longed for a fierce and feisty girl, determined and opinionated and passionate. That is exactly what we got, and I soon learned that these qualities, so wonderful in an adult woman, make for a rather challenging little girl!

I'm excited about her future. What a world it is now for girls. Many people worry about the pinky princessification permeating the world of our female children.  Peggy Orenstein, an author who writes thought provoking books and articles about issues affecting women addresses this in her upcoming new book, "Cinderella ate my daughter". I'm looking forward to reading it. I'm not too worried though. The choices facing our girls are so dazzling,  and I don't just mean the variety of sequined hello kitty shirts in Target, that I think the explosions of freedoms for women are worth the downsides. 

I reserve the right to change my mind if geekygirl chooses to be a pole dancer rather than an an astronaut though.

We recently watched the movie "an education". In it a bright young girl struggles between a future at Oxford university, or being the plaything of a dodgy but glamorous older man. In one scene she challenges her headteacher, the wonderful Emma Thompson, to tell her what the world can offer an educated woman, since all she sees around her are spinster teachers. The movie was set in the mid 1970's, very recently to my mind. The girl in the movie would have been about ten years older than I am, but in terms of opportunity for women it seems so very long ago,

My new workplace, a biotech company, has more than fifty percent women on the scientific staff. I sit in meetings where there are twelve women to two men. Amazing, smart, driven, brilliant women (and men too). It is humbling and thrilling to be around them. Many of them love shoes and clothes as much as they love genes and proteins, so I'm cautiously confident that despite dressing up as princesses and loving pink, our daughters will be able to decipher the mixed messages in our society, and forge their own career paths in ever greater numbers.

On balance I think that right now is a great time to be a girl.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Spot the real squirrel. I'll give you a clue, it is not the one, and I quote geekyboy here, 'holding his own tiny nuts"

In the post Genome world they probably don't teach "classification" in biology classes. The process of defining which class, genus and species a living organism belongs to, classical classification involved a complex key, a long branching list of 'yes or no' questions that narrowed down the identify of the fish or fowl in question.

Does it have a backbone? If yes, then does it have fur? If no, then does it have scales? And on and on, down to the most minute anatomical details. It wasn't one of the most interesting exercises in biology class, I have to say, and now that we have rapid DNA sequencing and algorithms to tell us exactly how related everything is to everything else it is redundant.

It is a powerful part of our human brain, though. Even very young children can tell us that chihuahuas, mastiffs and huskies are dogs, despite their disparate appearances. There is something fundamentally 'dog' that the brain subconciously perceives and classifies.

I was reminded of the concept this morning. My children have developed a new obsession with the odd but distinctive looking "littlest pet shop" animals and their stupidly minuscule accessories. As I stirred from sleep this is what I overheard.

"Geekyboy, that is not a littlest pet shop animal. Does it have a ginormous wobbly head? No? Then it isn't a littlest petshop animal."

Maybe we can develop a key for classification of toys as guide for parents. If so, it should start with the question "does it come with a ridiculous number of tiny plastic parts, keeping track of which defeats even the most fastidious housekeeper? (well I assume. I am not known for fastidiousness).

What is the latest toy obsession in your house?

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

there's no place like home

Or reason to stay in San Francisco number one. It is just so damn beautiful.

If I close my eyes and click my heels together three times, I know where I want to land.

The last weekend in September is almost guaranteed to be gorgeous. It is the weekend of the Folsom Street fair; a uniquely San Francisco celebration of leather, latex and all things freaky. A giant dance party where burly sculpted men, and some women too, clad in nothing but the tightest leather trousers, or even less dance all day underneath the adoring September sun.  Year after year, the weather is perfect. You can't help but think that if there is a god, he surely shines on San Francisco and all who live here.

On a day like this, if one isn't in the market for a new whip or a leather corset, the beach is the other perfect destination. Our normally brisk coastline becomes a riviera for a day.  We spotted plenty of fetish fair attendees as we wound our way across town to our destination, Crissy Field. Once a military airstrip, it is now one of the loveliest spots in one of the loveliest cities in the world, and best of all dogs are still allowed to run free, indeed sometimes run amok, among the picnicking families, so we could have a true family outing, dog and all.

It is picture perfect. The natural beauty of the bay is offset so perfectly by the man-made wonder of the Golden Gate Bridge. I don't know of anywhere else where architecure and environment meld so satisfactorily.  Children and dogs of all shapes sizes and colours run free in the sand and waves. Our children and I ran and jumped and squealed and pretended to surf the tiny breakers. Geekydog gamboled like the pup she once was. I've lived here forever and I still feel as if I'm living in a movie on a day like today. 

Back home, the still air carried the thud of the dance music from the street fair into our little patch of yard. That our wholesome day of fresh air, sand and sea was bookended by sights of firm buttocks in leather jockstraps on the way out and wafts of dance party the evening afterward only served to perfect it as a quintessential San Francisco Sunday.

I hung up my leather mini skirt some time ago. In fact I gave it to Goodwill, so perhaps it is out there today, on a younger version of myself, slightly sticky with sweat and spilled vodka cranberry. Maybe its owner is reaching her hands to the heavens, dancing her heart out, surrounded by friends and gorgeous half naked strangers. I hope she gets as lucky as I did.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

night of the living hair

The saga of the cooties is not over.

On Thursday we got another call from the school. A nit was found. They are very strict at preschool, finding even a single nit means the child must be picked up and taken home right away. Now, one of the problems with science as a career for a working parent is that experiments are not the kind of work you can take home. They are time sensitive, and quite often they take several days. In this case I'd set up an assay the day before and needed to complete it. It would have been very difficult to take the day off. Fortunately Geekydaddy had no meetings, so he picked up the infested one and took her home.

Reluctant to do another chemical treatment, I decided to try the 'nit suffocation method' with Cetaphil, suggested by my doctor. Experiment complete, I got home early armed with bottles of the stuff. Its a facial cream cleanser, and you spread it through the hair and blow dry it on. It took about four hours to comb it through everyone's hair, but I have to say I can see how effective it is. The lotion loosens any nits and the creaminess makes it easy to comb them out. I found a total of 4 nits and what may have been one baby louse on my daughter, and one suspected nit on my son. The blow drying took forever. I let the kids watch TV with a lollipop to suck on, and turned the volume up really loud. I had a sudden flashback to when I shared a flat with a friend who set her hair in pretty curls every week, sitting for an hour or more under a salon style dryer with "Friends" turned up to ear blasting volume.

By the end of all the combing and blow drying I was wondering why I chose a husband who has shoulder length curly locks and was appreciating for the first time what hard physical work hairdressing must be.
We looked quite the sight when I was done. My daughter asked, "why is my hair big?", patting the dull bouffant it had become. I looked like Bonnie Tyler, if Bonnie Tyler had not showered for a couple of weeks. Bonnie goes to Burning Man, or Glastonbury, maybe.

We sent the kids to school the next day with the Cetaphil still in their hair. I was convinced that all that effort must have paid off.

I had just sat down at my desk when we got another call. A single dead nit found in Geekygirls hair. I should have washed and combed it again that morning, I suppose. For the first time I felt the preschool rules were overkill. There was no way there was a live bug on her hair. I kept my cool, because of course the preschool are just zealously trying to protect everyone else. Only Geekygirl and one other kid, the originator of the lice breakout, have been affected, which is good. Though it doesn't make me feel all that good to have one of the two lousy kids! The director said that if I could fax a letter from our doctor stating she was safe to be in school then she could stay for the day.

Ordinarily I would be quite happy to pick up the kids on a sunny Friday and just take the day off, but being in a new job, and having a lot more lab based work on my plate, I am worried about appearing unreliable. I reached out to the doctors office, who had recommended the Cetaphil in the first place and had and told me the kids would be OK to go back to school. The pediatrician took the time to call me back, and then faxed preschool the required letter. Such a relief to have a doctor sympathetic to a working mum.

We have hot washed all bedclothes, vacuumed the car seats and furniture, and will keep up with daily nit combing. I sincerely hope that we can get through next week without a call from the school.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

my smilers

A post for the gallery

With both of my children I watched anxiously for that first smile. That first sign of cognition, of humanity, almost. I was a self inflicted information saturated mother from day one, and I had read that failing to smile by eight weeks is associated with increased likelihood of autism. I watched my babies grimace and gurn,  cooing at them and encouraging them, telling myself that I was sure I detected evidence of communication in a crinkle of eye and turn of lip.

The smiles grew more certain every day, and still, a beaming smile from one of them lifts my spirits. Though more often these days I am met with an impish grin that signifies some kind of trouble.

Here are the very first smiles I captured on camera. These were the photographs that graced my desk when I returned to work after maternity leave, and indeed stayed there as more and more photos were added, until a newcomer sighting my desk assumed I had about eight children.

I thought this was a great opportunity to give these first smiles a home here on the blog.



Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've always rather liked that American term. I know, it isn't a cute word, I think it actually refers to body lice, but still, one child telling another "ew, boys have cooties" has  a nicer sound to it than saying "boys have fleas", as we used to. Geekygirl doesn't seem to think that boys have any kind of bugs though. No,  we have discovered that our four year old like to kiss the boys. Her teacher told me that she has been planting big smackers on the lips of her friends. When I asked her about this she told me "I kissed Will, because he is my best buddy, but he didn't like it, so I kissed Rowan. Rowan liked it."

I see trouble ahead.

I had worse news from school on Friday. Actual cooties, in the form of headlice. This was our first experience as parents of this plague though I had a few infestations as a kid myself. A stinky shampoo, much combing and an awful lot of laundry later, I think we are de-pestilenced. I can only hope that she didn't pass on the cooties to the objects of her affection.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

opposite boy

Two and a half year olds. I think I blanked out just how frustrating they can be, but here we are again.

We are deep in toddler tantrum hell at the geeky house. It started a while ago. 
Back then I still thought geekyboy would be a milder child than his firey sister, but now I have changed my mind and fear we are facing an exhausting couple of years. My sweet little baby boy has officially vanished and 'opposite boy' has replaced him.

Given choices (which plate, which crayon?) he chooses to throw them at me. He seems to be operating not on the philosophy of 'believing six impossible things before breakfast" like the white queen, but on earning six time outs before breakfast.

I have been camouflaging my face with my touche eclat every morning this week, since look as if I caught the wrong end of a shank in a prison fight after a run in with his fingernails on the way to the naughty chair.

I know, intellectually, that he is just doing his toddler job of rattling the bars, making sure of the rules and testing us to confirm that his universe is a solid and predictable one. I was hoping that at least one of our kids would turn out to be the placid, rule following type though, and that is not what I see. The future looks challenging. In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn't have married a man who was expelled from Kindergarten if I wanted sweet compliant children.

A bright spot is that much of Geekyboy's oppositional behaviour is conveyed with the spoken word.

"Are you done?" I will say at dinnertime. "No. I FINISHED" he replies.

"Hold the handrail" I suggest as he negotiates the stairs. "No, Its the BANNISTER" he corrects.

I say "street", he wants it to be "Path", I say "sandals", he insists "No, those my Crocs". I point out a dolphin, he tells me it's a porpoise.

At least his attitude is improving his vocabulary, as he needs to know at least two words for everything.

He still makes my heart melt. When I whisper endearments such as "you are my precious boy"  he replies "NO. I your SWEETHEART".

I think my adorable little baby boy is still in there, somewhere. What do you think?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Guest posting at babybunching

I wrote this guest post a while ago and forgot to link it.

Would love to hear the details of your daily routine.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Paint your own pull up

I had a moment of mummy genius on Friday. I had picked up a new packet of "night time underwear", the marketed term for big pull up diapers for bigger kids, for Geekygirl. Yes, I know, we should probably be working on getting her dry at night since she is four and a half now, but I have to confess I am being rather laissez faire about it. Now that both kids sleep solidly through the night I am loathe to start changing soggy sheets at two am. Judging by the shelf full of big kid pull ups, I'm not the only parent who feels this way.

These particular pull ups were walgreens own brand. I typically buy from Target, but since that retailer started supporting far right political candidates I have been force to seek alternative vendors for my household goods. It is most inconvenient, Target was my shopping Mecca, and I miss it's fluorescent embrace. Walgreens is adequate, but doesn't have quite the variety and volume of it's swankier cousin.

At bedtime I opened up the new pack of pull ups, wondering out loud what kind of pictures they would have on them. No pictures at all, it turned out. I was almost as surprised and disappointed as my daughter was, I must admit. They looked rather clinical. Like adult diapers. Not that I've ever seen an adult diaper, but I imagine that they are not whimsically decorated with pastel flora and fauna. Perhaps plain is better, perhaps a child her age should be mildly ashamed of such attire, but I wasn't in the mood for such justification when faced with a grumpy child whom I was quite anxious to get into bed.

Then I had my stroke of genius. I remembered how a friend of mine whose toddler was dog obsessed had to draw a dog on the kid's diaper every night in order to persuade her to wear it.

I pulled out a set of markers. "I think you are supposed to decorate these ones yourself!" I exclaimed. Geekygirl was sold on the idea, and though it may add a few minutes to the bedtime routine it does at least foster creativity, if not facilitate night time potty training.

Someone should take this idea and run with it, a pack of plain pull ups sold with a set of markers. I bet it would be a hit.

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A book that changed me

A post for the writing workshop at Sleep is for the weak.

Just before Josie, Sian and Eva announced that they were going to Bangladesh in order to share with their readers the plight of children there I had been reading "Half the Sky". A book by Sheryl Wu Dunn and her NY Times journalist husband, Nick Kristoff, it shows us that most women in the world face huge injustice and inequality. It challenges us to act to liberate women everywhere,  and suggests that only when women are truly free can the world progress to be a humane place for everyone.

It is not an easy book to read, but it is a very important one. As a feminist in a modern country I get into debates about whether women should work full time, about the right to give birth without unnecessary interventions, about maternity benefits or  the need for professional mentorship. This book made me realize that my problems are luxuries. I wasn't abandoned at birth because I was female. I don't have to worry that my husband will sell my daughter to a rich old man, my earnings belong to me and not to the senior male in family. I was not horrifically injured when I gave birth to my children. I can choose the size of my family, be it large or small, and I don't have a 1 in 7 chance of dying in childbirth like a woman in Afghanistan, Guinea, Sierra Leone or Somalia. My voice counts. This is not true for most women in the world. The meaning of feminism has changed for me since reading this book. It means trying in any small way I can to give every woman and girl the chance to determine her own destiny.

I decided to join a microloan organization that was mentioned in the book, Kiva. This is a way to lend money directly to individuals. Most of the applicants are women, who need small amounts of capital to start or support a business. What better way to help another woman become self sufficient than by using some of the money I am so fortunate to earn thanks to the excellent education and great opportunities I have had to support a woman owned business in a poorer part of the world?

I've always been a fan of Nick Kristoff's work. My newspaper often goes straight from the blue plastic back into the recycling bin, busy lives leave little reading time, but I always read his column. He goes to places no one else does and brings back stories that break your heart. He challenges his reader to relate to people whose lives are unimaginably different to our own, and he succeeds. He expouses getting out of your comfort zone, going to see the world and to help people. I feel just a little bit connected to him now too. You see I follow him on twitter, and I suddenly thought "Nick Kristoff would support Blogadesh" and I asked him to retweet a blogadesh link.  He did! (Thanks Mr Kristoff.)

In those 140 characters, I felt the power of social media. I don't have many followers, but he has 953,292. Maybe the internet can change the world for the better.