Tag Archives: culture

Sweet Nectar of Life

Oh, it took me some time.  And as someone who could take or leave hot drinks, I’ve probably had hundreds and hundreds of offers before I finally succumbed.  I couldn’t quite understand how a cup of tea could be the prescription that soothed all sorts of emotional and physical ailments.   I know Americans love their coffee, but the love that the Brits have for their tea doesn’t compare.  Coffee doesn’t FIX things.  Not like tea.

Balancing out or complementing things like a hearty meal, a good sob, a nasty cold, a chilly day, a stressful day, a relaxing day, the best day ever, a household fire, sitting by the fire, childbirth, and unimaginable grief.

But after 9 years, I think I’m finally starting to get it.

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Of Jetlag and Late Night Conversations

We have been away.  Just your last minute, run of the mill quick getaway.  To America.  It took us 2 travel days and we were there 6 full days.  It was to meet these two:SONY DSC

but more on that to come.

Long-haul travelling at 24 weeks pregnant is not to be scoffed at, but it’s hard to call the look anything other than scoffing as I passed fellow jet-setters in the airport with my emerging bump and toddler in tow.  People stared.  Especially middle-aged women type people.  Sure they could have been admiring the miniature-sized Thomas backpack I had stylishly slung over my shoulder, but I think it was the bump.  And I was never sure if it was a look of concern or of judgement.

I often underestimate how your body really does demand more of you when you’re pregnant (especially my back, legs and digestive tract).  When travelling in the past, I normally adjust to new timezones quickly, but this time, at 24 weeks pregnant, 12.30pm would roll around and I’d feel like I was dying.  On my feet.  Dead.  Sleep or die.  SLEEP or DIE.  I could not shake the tiredness.

And after adjusting to that 5 hour time difference – oh – like ONE DAY before left, we are now 2 days on from our arrival home and our bodies are struggling to swing back to British Summer Time.  This means the Duchess is raring to go at 1am and I am back at work tomorrow.  And oh.my.gosh I am actually going to die.  At work.

Last night when the awake-ness struck, I thought I’d try to get her to softly sing songs to lull her back to sleep.

Me: Do you want to sing a song?

TD: Yes please, Mummy.

Me: What would you like to sing?

TD: 5 Currant Buns.

Me: …………

I think that is a British song.  Do you sing it with Granny?  Mummy doesn’t know it.  How about another one?

TD: (Indecipherable…I think it was something about bananas.)

Me: Hmmm.  Don’t know that one either.

TD: Wheels on the Bus?  Mummy, you KNOW that one.  You know that one!

Me: Hey, thanks for being patronising.  I do know it.  And I am going to sing the poo out of it.  That bus will be taken to places it’s never dreamed.  The WORLD will be talking about that bus.

Call it American competitiveness, but that’s when the plan back-fired because in the haze of jetlag, I was about to show her that Mummy may not know 5 Currant Buns or a good banana song, but she could take that bus to a higher plain.

Take it From Me….

There are some lessons you’ve got to learn the hard way.

Or at least you’ve got to learn them the hard way when you’re in another culture where you just don’t know any better.

It was a warm June day.  I was at a conference.  There were hotdogs.

It was hardly a 5 course meal but a) I’m easy to please and b) I’m an American (upon reflection, perhaps those two things are synonymous.)

It was a British hotdog so it didn’t come with all of the trimmings.  And I say that with contempt and a visible sneer.  It was no cheese coney (I’m an Ohio girl) – there wasn’t even any ketchup in sight – but there were buns and lo! what’s that glimmering yelllow condiment I spot out of the corner of my eye?  Mustard!  That would certainly do.

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I slathered my hotdog with the yellow substance, drooling with anticipation at the processed meat feast that lay before me.

I found my table and lifted the hotdog to my mouth.  And my eyes started watering.

…….

I pulled the hotdog away trying to make sense of it.

But my stomach could no longer wait.  In a state of hunger-induced rage, I lifted my hotdog again.  As I did, my sinuses fully opened revealing Pandora’s Box.  In retrospect, that should have been a warning sign.

It was too late.  I had taken a bite.

My tastebuds reacted like an unsuspecting patient receiving a colonoscopy from a blind man…”What terrible crime have I committed against humanity to deserve this?!”

It was English Mustard and that, my friends, was the day my tastebuds all disintegrated.

Colman’s English Mustard never to be mistaken for American Mustard again.

Buggy Battleground

I’m warning you now – I may be about to have an unfair rant.  A rant about British people.   British people and their manners.

That’s why I’m giving you the chance to stop reading now.

Right here.  Especially if you’re British or adverse to sweeping cultural generalizations because in my mind, this does not happen in America.  In my mind, the people of America clear paths, sprinkle rose petals on the ground and softly sing lullabies when a momma with a baby is coming through.

Clearly this is going to be a rational post.

Well…considered yourself fairly warned.  You made the call.  I do not want to be likened to Prince Philip in the comments section.

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I am not an entitled Mummy.  I do not walk into town to throw my maternal weight around (which you will find in my baby-lifting arm and shoved in the bottom of my changing bag).  I don’t wave my toddler around your face to try and jump a queue or expect everyone to stop and open doors for me (although that does help – thank you.)

Because my daughter is 1, she goes in her buggy when we are walking through town.   When shopping for her buggy, personally inconveniencing you didn’t fall in the top 5 of my pushchair criteria.  It was #9.

But British people, when you see me in a restaurant or public area trying to squeeze past you, I am not TRYING to hit your table.  I am not intentionally getting the wheels of the buggy caught on your chair and in the hangers spilling from your Primark bag.

See.

I smiled at you.

I politely said, “So sorry.  Pardon me.”

And I am met with no eye contact, no attempts to be helpful and at most, an ever so slight scoot of a chair.

It’s a small ask.  I would just like the tiniest acknowledgement the “path” I’m trying to navigate is like trying to drive a small person in a tank through a garden gate.  So, if you could stand up, push your chair in and be inconvenienced for 3 seconds to help a struggling mother out, I’d really appreciate it.

Please and thank you and start being nicer to me or I swear I will drive this buggy straight into your shins.

Remembering 20

January has been a weird month for me.  Ever since returning from our trip to America, I have been wandering in this unexpected desert of dissatisfaction.  My ambitions have wandered.  I have gone from wanting to stay in my job to wanting to be a stay at home parent to wanting to open a burger bar.  (I blame you for that, Britain.  Sort your burgers out!)  My thoughts have wandered.  I have found myself losing hours of my time flicking through site after site on the tablet, knowing that I’m searching for something, but not really knowing what it is that I want to find.  I have been hoping, whatever it is,  that I would find it on Not on the High Street.

I could feel it all happening.  I knew the cause of my tiresome circuit through this decision-less desert.  I was simply dissatisfied, but I continued to do the same things day on day through the month of January.  I felt it affecting me.  I felt it affecting how I was parenting.  I couldn’t muster up the motivation to do more.  I would just let her get on with playing as my thumb would repeatedly slide across a screen – searching.

And then last week The Duchess turned 20 months.  That doesn’t even sound like a real thing, does it?   20 months.  Lost somewhere between a baby and a girl.

I decided that I should probably start to look into the local pre-schools.  In some areas of the UK, it can take up to 18 months before a place becomes available for your child.  And so this morning, as she was picking at the remnants of her breakfast, I leaned across the table and asked excitedly, “Do you want to go see a school today?”  She didn’t raise her eyes as she flicked the toast on her plate, “Yup.”  I grinned.  “You don’t know what school is.”

I carried her up to the painted yellow door of the tired looking building because carrying is what you do when they are still little enough.   Despite the neglected exterior, the large room was brightly coloured with children scattered on the floor, sitting in a reading nook and on themed tables, engaged in various activities.

“Hi, I’m Jane.  We spoke on the phone.”  She was the supervisor of the pre-school.  She was a slim, middle-aged lady who took the time to chat with me beyond just the standard explanation of how the school runs.  I liked her.  She invited us to stay and let The Duchess play.

As she started to make her way around the busy room, I looked back at a group of children on the floor.  About 10.  Adults were around, but not needed in that corner at the moment and 10 children were there by themselves.  Without their mummies.  Without their daddies.    Playing in a room, in a village and getting on with life.  Because that’s how school works.  My child will move from being solely ours each day to being one in a class of many.

She is 20 months and I was reminded of how special this privilege of parenting a toddler is. This time is precious.  It is so, so precious.

And right then, I made a decision to be more present.  Because in 18 months this time will change.  She will start school and that will be the next huge step towards independence – a step that is away from me.

So this is what I’m going to do.  3 things.  Only 3.  But I am going to do the poo out of them.

1. Put the technology down.   I don’t want her to feel that she has to compete with a piece of plastic for my attention.  She is my daughter.  I also don’t want to teach her that this is what relationships are like when she is someday old enough to have technology of her own.  Who knows what kind of crazy hologram, space contraption will be on the market by then.  She is watching me and I am teaching her how to treat other people.

2.  Doing stuff together.  I’ve just started a book (read: a whole 3 pages in) where he opens by observing, in a restaurant of non-engaged people,  a mother and daughter completely lost in each other’s company during a simple game of cards.  Doing stuff together builds relationships.  I will not buy a ticket for the crazy train and assume that I have to create a pinboard of elaborate activities in order for it to be worthwhile.  The kid likes it if we walk into town and scream “bus” whenever one passes.  Doing stuff is easy.  There is no excuse.

3. Look closely.  I am going to look closely at the way she crinkles her nose when she is pleased with herself.  I am going to focus my eyes as she lifts her hand to wrap her chubby fingers into mine.  I am going to study the tendrils of hair that fall and tickle the bottom of her neck.  I am going to relish and remember 20 months.  And 21 months.  And 22….. Image

Lost Summers and False Hope

It’s October.  Oh Lord, help me.  Let me just say that again so it sinks down deep into your diaphragm and resonates through your chesticles.  OC-TO-BER. And even after 8 years of living here, I have to learn and re-learn a lesson that October seems to usher into the front of my forgetful mind.  You are a fool to hope for summer in England.  A fool.  A naive, idealistic, mis-informed fool.  This year I was waiting for October.  We had such a rainy summer and I was clinging tightly to the hope that this year could be like last.  Because last year at this time we had a late surge of summer.  I was still on maternity leave and The Duchess and I would laze around the house until lunchtime.  We would pack up a picnic and meet The Native in the park and sit in the sunshine.  Those couple of weeks early in October made the prior months tolerable….kind of.

But this year?  I give you the 5-day forecast:

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There is so much rain AccuWeather has had to come up with new and exciting ways of explaining it so that it looks like there is actual variety in British weather.

It is October and all signs point to that slow descent into the winter months.  I normally love autumn and its thick jumpers, hot drinks, and seasonal traditions.  I don’t love autumn when I have been doing 2 of those 3 things over the summer.  I can feel the winter darkness of 5pm taking over my soul and the bronze-skinned woman who once made an annual appearance is shrivelling and dying somewhere deep inside of me.

I need sun.  I need it.  Oh my word, do I need it.

So I’ve come up with working list of the things I’m going to trial if I can’t be guaranteed exposure to those golden rays for the next 5-6 months (read: EVER AGAIN) –

  • Play Bob Marley’s album “Legend” on loop for the next 6 months
  • Use coconut scented sun cream as my facial moisturizer.
  • Wear my bikini under my thermals
  • Take off my thermals, put on my sleep mask, crank up the thermostat to 90F, and “lay out” in my lounge.  (Friends, who shall remain anonymous, have attempted this before).
  • Sit with my toes in the sand of The Duchess’s Sand and Water play table.
  • Bathtub wave pool, which involves joining The Duchess for her evening bath when she’s flailing around the tub like an overexcited sea otter.
  • Hibernate Forever or…..
  • Die.   Can you trial dying?

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    Repeat after me: I am not wearing a sleep mask in my lounge in a bikini, I am on a Hawaiian beach. I AM on a Hawaiian beach.

They Did It Their Way

Today was a day off.  I sat at the table with The Duchess as we lazed over our breakfast.  We were meeting a friend in town later, but we had made our way through our morning rituals and had time to kill.  My mind went straight to BBC1.   I’d pop it on for a few minutes before we head out the door.

And then I remembered.  I felt a little wave of disappointment wash over me.   The Olympics really are over.

For years I’ve joked about how the Brits were dreading hosting the Olympics.  For years I listened to the typically cynical side of those around me say, “We’ll probably really embarrass ourselves.”   I’d laugh because, well, that was what I’d expect a British response to be.

That fated Friday over two weeks ago arrived.  The Native and I sat in the moments before The Opening Ceremony feeling excited and nervous about what was in store.  Would the world really watch and scratch their heads?  Would the representation of the British embarrass us?   As someone who grew up in America, there were a few small references during the event that were somewhat lost on me, but what was apparent was that even when the world was watching The British would not pretend they were something they were not.   The focus wouldn’t be pandering to the world in order to appease the stereotype of what it is to be a part of these isles.  Instead the focus would be on its real history and the things that make it great – its beauty,  its literary history, its contribution to the modern world,  its healthcare system, its causes, its people.

Whether the world understood or not, The Brits didn’t care because it was true. What they saw reminded them to be proud of being British.  Openly proud.

And something that I have rarely seen happen in my eight years took place.  The curtain of cynicism fell for those two weeks and they threw themselves, unashamedly, into the emotion and the spirit of the Olympics.  They wept tears of joy with the likes of Katherine Grainger and Sir Chris Hoy and tears of sorrow for Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter.  They would turn out in number to support the athletes from across the globe, often erupting in deafening shouts of support.  They dropped their responsibilities to make their way across the country  just to get a peek on what was taking place, just to be a part of something special.

Something happened to the British in those 16 days.  It was an optimism I’ve never seen here.  And like those gold medallists, who were high on emotion when the medal was placed around their neck, we cannot hold on to this celebratory feeling we have experienced, but we can be changed by it.  So many politicians, media outlets, and people are talking about how the Olympic legacy can continue.  It is easy to get lost in the whirlwind of an inspiring event, it is much more difficult to establish a legacy that affects a culture’s way of thinking.

As a foreigner who has grown to feel so much a part of this country, may I make a humble suggestion?

Let the pride you felt for and inspiration you felt in your country lead you to let go of your scepticism every now and then.   It is not about becoming another country. It’s about finding your own way to  live out the pride you have for your own.

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And with that said – I am proud that the British are so set on making the Paralympics just as successful.  They are expecting tickets to sell out for the first time ever for the Paralympics and you can understand why.  Check out this advert.  Talk about inspiring.

Chills.