Thursday, March 18, 2010

(Despite All The Evidence To The Contrary...snigger) I Am Never Going To Be A TV Chef

Tonight’s dinner was, again, a disaster.  Salmon, hash browns and peas.  Doesn’t sound that complicated does it?  Only a numpty would explode the salmon into tiny flakes over every surface of the microwave, incinerate the hash browns and complete this culinary masterpiece with peas of a mushy consistency, yet which still have the audacity to retain frozen cores.
What has happened to me?  I used to be quite a good cook.  I could rustle up a decent three course offering without too much sweat, to (modestly) rave reviews, and never once inadvertenly poisoned guests who dined with me.  I couldn’t claim to be my generation’s answer to Fanny Craddock but I was a dab hand in the kitchen and quietly confident when catering for all manor of my friend’s discerning palates.
This is no longer the case.
There are two contributing factors to my culinary demise.  
One is the move to America.  
When we first moved here we invited various new acquaintances to dinner in an effort to get to know people and I slaved over a hot stove for a few hours in an effort to produce concoctions that Americans would rave over.  You would think that with the gargantuan proportions typically served in restaurants, our guests would have appetities to match.  Well, I thought so.  But it was never the case.  
The piece de resistance for all my dinner parties was always...pudding.  In my experience, irrespective of how many courses are served prior to dessert, and how much alcohol has been consumed during the meal, most English people can always find room for pudding.  “Oh go on then” they would acquiese.  “I shouldn’t...but that homemade lemon tart/chocolate bread and butter pudding/tiramasu looks far too good to go to waste.  Just serve me a little bit.”  And, as quick as you like, the first portion would be polished off without hitting the sides and there would typically be demands for an encore.
Not so with the Americans.
This was a little galling.  
We were under a lot of pressure not to do the ‘American thing’ and pile on the pounds.  So having a vast quantity of rich, highly calorific temptations in the fridge, begging to be devoired whenever we ventured within a 10ft radius of its stainless steel prison, was not going to help us avoid becoming the ridicule of our pals back home.
Ultimately, we ended up going out to dinner to socialise, like most of our American friends.  As a result I now have a professional ranking in eating good food.  However, somewhere along the way I have definitely slipped way down the rankings in the ability to produce something verging on edible myself.
The second contributing factor is, of course, having children.
You may have mistaken me for Chicago’s answer to Annabel Karmel in the early days.  Most nights were a blur of steaming every variety of vegetable known to man and pureeing them to perfection.  The freezer was stocked with hundreds of multi-coloured ice cubes of frozen cordon bleu toddler nutrition.  I added herbs and spices to educate my little darlings’ blossoming taste buds.  Nothing was too much trouble when catering for my children’s earliest eating experiences.
Yet despite all this painstaking grafting in the kitchen, my ungrateful offspring duly gravitated to a preference for bland meals, demanding absolutely nothing with sauce and heaven forbid different items of food actually intermingle and - gasp, horror - touch one another.  My journey into the world of the chicken nugget and fish finger had begun.
This year is going to be different, I thought.  Nutrition is going to be back on the menu.  They will eat an adult meal, so help me God.
So I bought a slow cooker.  This was surely the answer to my prayers.
I had been eyeing them from a distance for a while.  My aversion to making a purchase wasn’t due to a dislike for all things casseroley, but purely because for the past year I have made every effort not to purchase anything with an electrical cord.  It seemed such a waste of money to buy something that I would only be able to make use of for a short period of time, before having to resell it for peanuts or give it away when I moved back to the UK.
A conversation with a friend finally nailed it.  “Oh you must get one”, she enthused.  “It’s a piece of cake to use!  And the kids love it.  Really.”
Oh really?
I forgot to factor into this particular recommendation that I am not producing meals for her children to eat though, am I?  And the ‘piece of cake’ should have acted like an early warning flare too.  Cooking I might once have had a flair for...but my cakes were always shit.
Anyway, on a whim I bought the slow cooker.  And a few weeks later I took it out of its box.  And a few weeks after that I washed it carefully in warm soapy water, as per the instructions.  And a couple of weeks after that I bunged a few organic ingredients in it, turned it on ‘low’ and left the house quite curious as to what was going to greet me when I returned home.
That’s the best description for it.  I have since created several varieties, colours and textures of sludge - with just a few minutes of preparation each time.  There has been chicken flavoured sludge and beef flavoured sludge.  And once, in a moment of recklessness, even curry flavoured sludge.  But mostly it is, undeniably very healthy and organic, sludge.
I’m not sure where I am going wrong.  I guess maybe now is the time to follow an actual recipe, rather than maintain the hit and miss what-the-hell-do-I-have-defrosted-and-are-there-any-vegetables-in-the-fridge-without-brown-edges-and-looking-a-little-less-than-limp approach?
Hence the necessary return to the dessimated salmon, charcoaled potatoes and frozen petit pois.
What do you think?  Are there any slow cooker freaks out there able to point me in the right direction?  
And if anyone regularly cooks for a friend or family member without a full set of reliable teeth...I have a freezer full of vaguely palatable sludge that you are more than welcome to take off my hands.  Or I could come and cook up a batch of salmon flakes.  It’s no bother.  Really.  

Monday, March 15, 2010

Oh Be Gone Gloom - I Don't Have Time To Be Sad

Odd how, every now and then, the shadow of sadness settles in my body, nestling around my heart like a hand in a glove, pervading my thoughts and stealing my mojo.
It’s been a great couple of weeks.  Life is moving on.  I have been feeling more buoyant than Zebedy and have been revelling in my ‘seize the day’ attitude.  I can handle anything!  C’mon Life, bring it on!
So why exactly did Ms Gloomy decide this would be perfect timing to pay me a visit?  And if I ignore her, will she take the hint and sod off back where she came from?
It’s not as if I didn’t have a great weekend, because I did.  I met up with a friend from London, bought clothes I can’t really afford (but which look FANTASTIC and were On Sale), drunk wine in daylight hours.  Ex even offered to have the boys for a few hours, so I could have my girly jaunt without having to pay a babysitter.  What’s not to love about this situation?  Things couldn’t be more civilised.
Maybe that’s the problem.  Sometimes I don’t want to be civilised.  Sometimes I just want to be MAD.  Sometimes I just want to wring Ex’s bloody neck, despite our amicability.  Maybe I need to invest in a bloody punch bag, not yet another pair of skinny jeans.  After all, my unresolved anger and disappointment is not going to be solved by throwing it at someone else's feet (even his), irrespective of the fleeting sense of satisfaction it might provide.  I can feel a therapy session coming on, no doubt about that.
After my frivolous afternoon with the girls I head over to Ex’s to pick up the boys, but he is unexpectedly serving them dinner.  “You can come up”, he offers.  The boys greet me at the door and then I am immediately assaulted by a small ball of fur, the size of your average rolled up sock.  New Girlfriend’s dog.  A small yappy type thing with less meat on its bones than your average sparrow.  “Hello Charlie”, I say, as I bend down to introduce myself.  I have heard a lot about this ‘dog’ (I use this term in the loosest possible sense...I am a dog lover but I’m not really sure, judging by the size of it, that this dog really qualifies).  The dog just yaps.  Incessantly.  It follows me around the room, barely two inches from my heels, voicing its extreme displeasure that I have entered his territory.  
I make an effort to be friendly but Charlie is having none of it.  I get the distinct impression that Charlie recognises me.  He has no doubt been shown my picture and been given the instruction ‘Yap To Kill’.  And, ever the faithful friend to his absent owner, he is intent on fulfilling his duty.  
The dog continues to yap, yap, bloody yap and I give up trying to be friendly and just ignore it.  The boys eat their dinner regardless and Ex tap, tap, taps on his Blackberry, hardly deigning to acknowledge my presence.  Oh this is nice.  Maybe I should have just waited outside in the car.  As Ex begins to tap out his 5th consequetive text I realise he is probably ‘talking’ to his New Girlfriend.  I wonder if he is sending her texts laughing about how her pitiful excuse for a dog hates me.  I should have just pulled out my Blackberry and mimicked his behaviour, but he was totally engrossed in his phone and I’m not sure he would have noticed.  Which is a fairly pathetic reaction to his dismissive rudeness.  Why is it that his inability to relax when I am around still gets to me?  I should be used to it by now - after all, it’s been the hallmark of our relationship for the past 3 years.  
The boys don’t seem to notice any tension - don’t seem to realise that their parents are in ‘parallel play’ mode.  They bounce happily backwards and forwards between us until it is time to leave.  As they are putting their coats on I can’t help but notice the closet is full of New Girlfriend’s boots, coats, running shoes.  I shut the image of their togetherness out of my mind, just as I attempted to ignore the book on the dining room table How To Start Your Life Anew With A Gluten And Dairy Free Diet!  Yet more evidence that my dog-hating, milk drinking, bread loving husband no longer lives here.
By 7.30pm the boys are sleeping soundly, as usual, and I am slumped in front of the television, as usual.  This is my life.  I have gotten used to the night-time solitude but every now and then I just feel so very sad that it has come to this.  It’s not a drowning, overwhelming type of unhappiness, more a gentle sigh of loneliness.  My life is full.  I am loved.  Yet still I am lonely.  My heart aches a little.  My eyes smart with a few tears.  Rather than resist it, I decide to go with the flow, the sound of the yappy type dog still ringing in my ears.  This sadness isn’t all of me.  But it is still a part of me.  Sometimes.  

Yet I long for the day when this is no longer the case.  When Ms Gloomy gets an early onset of dementia, loses my address and doesn't bother to call at all.  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Selective Memory Syndrome

My boys are showing definite signs of having very selective memories - and this is not a good thing.  Why?  Because all they seem to remember are the bad bits of their day.  Let me be more specific - when mummy used her shouty voice.
Take yesterday for example.
The boys bound into my room at 6am and hustle me from the warm cocoon of the duvet.  Do I complain?  No, I do not.  I greet them with smiles, hugs and kisses and shuffle downstairs to create the culinary masterpiece that is their breakfast (whilst simultaneously making coffee / throwing items of food haphazardly into lunch boxes / feeding the cats / throwing half the contents of the fridge into the slow cooker for dinner / loading laundry).  Whilst scurrying around the kitchen like Jamie Oliver on speed I take the time to practice Captain Underpant’s spellings with him and listen attentively to Johnny Drama’s rendition of a song he has learnt in French.  I am being so efficient I even have time to cuddle them on the sofa for one cartoon, before indulging in a quick game of hide and seek before getting them dressed.
The morning is picture perfect.  I curb my tongue whenever there is dilly-dallying or altercations and the pre-school hours run as smooth as clockwork.
Once in the car we sing along, very loudly, to songs about brothers being naughty (their favourites) and when we reach the school the boys hop out of their car seats and we have a 2 minute impromptu ‘disco dance’ session to The Black Eyed Peas, before they trot into their classes.
By this point I am exhausted and can’t quite believe it is only the start of the day.
All too soon pick-up time rolls around and I am back at school.  Rather than bundling them immediately in the car we hang out in the playground and I make the effort to play Tag, rather than sit and natter with my mummy friends, to squeals of delight and appreciation.
Back at home the boys keep me company in the kitchen - Captain Underpants is perched on a counter top doing his homework, Johnny Drama dances like a loon with me to various songs we find on YouTube.  Then the boys find some left-over balloons from a party we attended and I blow them up and let them loose, which the boys find hysterical.  We repeat this game until I have no more breath left and am feeling decidedly light-headed.
All in all, 2 hours pass quickly, filled with laughter, and with Mummy on her best Red Coat behaviour.  
This is what I would class as a Very Good Day.
Until dinner time hits.
We sit at the table to eat together and the boys are fidgety and picky and are still in mucking about mode.  All I want is for them to sit down and eat the meal which I have lovingly prepared.  All they want is to be up and down like yo-yo’s, bringing a random selection of toys to the table to bicker over and alternating urgent trips to the bathroom.  I can feel my patience beginning to fray slightly at the edges.  
Will you just sit down NOW and eat your dinner properly.” I instruct them solemnly.
It falls on deaf ears.
Captain Underpants decides he needs to go to the bathroom one more time, this time he needs a poo.  Lovely.  I grit my teeth.  Johnny Drama makes the decision that Captain Underpants requires an audience - which Captain Underpants vehemently denies, shouting, “I NEED MY PRIVACY!” at the top of his lungs.  Johnny Drama, being the cloth-eared variety sort of child, gamely ignores him and continues to taunt his brother at the bathroom door.
That’s it.  My patience snaps like well worn knicker elastic.  
My voice reverberates like a cruise ship foghorn around the house.  Johnny Drama senses the imminent danger of my wrath and slinks relunctantly to the stairs, tears welling in his eyes yet with a defiant pout on his lips.  Captain Underpants finishes his ablutions unaided, wipes his bottom, flushes the toilet and washes his hands (all without the usual prompting) and sidles back to his chair.
Suddenly the house is so quiet you could hear a pin drop - both boys wait for my next reaction, wondering if the storm is over or about to reach Tsunami proportions.
I pause, thinking to myself, ‘ that was a bit over the top’.  Johnny Drama is obviously in agreement - “mummy, that loud shouting is just not okay.  It’s bad to be nasty.  Bad.  And I don’t like you any more because you’re always shouting and it hurts my feelings.
I switch out my invisible Red Coat for the well-worn UN Negotiation cloak, gather the remnants of my patience and resolve the dinner crisis with calm words and make up hugs and kisses.  The evening progresses smoothly and with renewed laughter, as though this minor episode of ranting, this little blip on our otherwise perfect day, never happened.
Within an hour or so the boys are snuggled in bed and my thoughts are distracted by the bottle of red soon to be opened, calling me longingly from the kitchen.  
Thank you for a lovely day sweetheart”, I murmer to Johnny Drama, covering him in butterfly kisses as he snuggles up with Fluffy, his bunny.  “It wasn’t a lovely day mummy”, he tells me seriously.  “You shouted.  You’re very shouty.  And shouting’s not nice.  It was a horrible shouty day.
What?  I was in the boys’ company for nearly 7 hours...and for 6 hours and 53 minutes I may well have been auditioning for the role of Mary Fucking Poppins.  But all he has remembered is the 2 or 3 minutes, tops, where I lost my rag.
There’s no justice in this whatsoever.
I am sure this little hiccup in our day will be stored, with elephant-like zeal, for years to come.  Whereas all the laughter and silliness and love that really does encompass most of our time together is insignificant in comparison.  This just seems so unfair.  Why is it so easy to remember all the bad things - the times we have been slighted or have argued?  And yet the good times are easily dismissed, tarnished forever by quick knee-jerk negative reactions that forge themselves into the memory banks, like a bad stain.
And if this is the it worth bothering to participate in the Mary Poppins-like behaviour at all?  
I don’t want to be remembered solely for the moments where I was not at my best.  But what can I do about it - apart from striving to be a paragon of virtue (because we all know that’s never going to happen)?  
Is there a cure for a child’s selective memory syndrome - and do they sell it on offer at Target, alongside the miracle stain remover laundry pens?  Or am I doomed to be forever remembered as a shouting, raving lunatic who single-handedly ruined their childhood, despite all my daily efforts to the contrary?
And if the answer is a resounding Yes then I guess, at this point, I’d prefer to remain in blissful ignorance.  Wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sleep Perchance to Dream

The first post I wrote on this blog was about my boys’ endearing habit of waking prior to the crack of dawn, as though it was their personal responsiblity to get the chorus started.
I can make light of the situation but, in all seriousness, it has been the most torturous experience of motherhood for me and one that I have never been able to adapt to or handle well.
The main perpertrator of this crime is Captain Underpants, who has been programmed to wake at an unGodly hour since he arrived home from hospital at 4 weeks old.  He considers it his duty to have the whole household ready to tackle the day typically at an hour with a 5 as the first digit.  And he takes his duty very seriously and rarely lets the side down by taking the day off.
Johnny Drama, meanwhile, was a textbook baby who woke daily at 7am come rain or shine...until the boys started sharing a room 17 months ago.  Within a matter of days, he was also up before a single sparrow was even considering a fart.  Nightmare.
During the past 17 months I have tried every trick in the book to get them to sleep a little later.  Nothing worked.  The constant threat has been, “If you can’t follow the rules of the house and stay in bed quietly until 6am at the very earliest, then I will put you both in separate bedrooms”.  The threat never worked obviously, but it always provoked lots of tears and protests along the lines of, “please no mummy - we promise to try harder - we promise to be good - we want to stay in the same room.....PPPLLLLEEAASSSE!”  And despite my ex’s advice to the contrary, I always conceeded.
Until last weekend.
Their behaviour was no different than any other weekend, but all of a sudden I had Had Enough.  There were no negotiations and no last minute reprieves.  Within an hour of getting up I had moved Johnny Drama’s bed into the small bedroom, which had up until that moment been designated as the playroom.  I switched around toys, bedside tables, lamps and books, then went downstairs for a much needed coffee and we got on with our day.
I was expecting, at the very least, a formal protest but, much to my surprise, there wasn't one.  The sole reason I had been putting off this separation was my ongoing angst at the backlash it would surely provoke.  The potential renewal of several sleepless nights while they adjusted to sleeping on their own once more.  
But guess what?  It NEVER happened.  After procrastinating this move for months, because I had anticipated it being the cause of yet more emotional scarring, both boys adapted instantly and within 48 hours were begging to remain in their own rooms.
One of the upsides of putting them to bed in separate rooms is that I now get to spend at least 15 minutes one-on-one time with them at the end of the day, while we read stories, snuggle and chat.  I had forgotten how precious this time was.  The boys are relishing this exclusive attention and are going to sleep, well, like a dream actually.
What’s more, from day one Johnny Drama started waking up between 6.30-7am again and even Captain Underpants appears to be sleeping longer.  I say ‘appears’ because Captain Underpants has stealth-like qualities and could be up earlier.  But the beauty of it is, if he is, then I don’t hear him.  And neither does his brother.  Truly a win-win situation for all concerned.  Who knew it was going to be this easy?  
Not me.  
Even when I was in the midst of moving the rooms around I had no confidence that it would alter anything.  In fact, I would have placed bets I was about to create a plethora of new night waking habits which would have me reinstating the shared bedroom in no time at all.
Which goes to prove that I had wasted a fairly significant amount of my time worrying unnecessarily about their potential reaction to change which, ultimately, proved to be entirely unfounded.
Hmmm.  There could be a lesson for me here.  If only I could see what it is...

Right now, I am too busy enjoying my 'lie-ins'.  Oh the bliss of not being woken up until an hour with a 6 as the first digit.  Heaven.  My goodness, I just had a thought...if this carries on I may even need to buy an alarm clock. Happy Days!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everything Falling Into Place Just As It Should

If I needed further evidence that the universe works in unusual ways (which I personally don't, but hey when it is working spectacularly in my favour a reminder is always appreciated) then this would be it.

My beloved Subversive Mum, who so kindly abandoned me just before Christmas to head back to England, called a couple of weeks ago.  Now this isn't by itself a jaw-dropping revelation, but her news is. She is relocating to New York.  In August.  Did I want to rent her 3-bed flat per chance?

Now this isn't just any old flat.  For a start, it is her flat, with essence of her madness creative genius and ill-defined greatness imbued in all its rooms and features.  But possibly more important (at least logistically), the flat is ideally located in a prime location in North London, just a 5 minute walk from the primary school I would really like the boys to go to.  PLUS, it offers me the great advantage of being able to secure a residential address in advance to start to process school applications.  AND I won't have to pony up any cash until I have it, which is likely to be nearer the time of the move.

"Oh there's another thing", she says.  "Would you like to have use of our car as well?  I can put you on the insurance so you have something to run around in at weekends, if you like?"

I really couldn't have a better solution drop into my lap, seemingly out of nowhere.  This is so serendipitous that mere fluke or coincidence doesn't really capture the incredible lifeline I have been thrown.


This means of course that Subversive Mum will not be there.

The ability to inhale the general fragrance of her freshly departed self, as well as having our dead skin cells intermingle on the carpet (until the Dyson makes its final meal of her), does have a certain appeal.  But I would much prefer to be inhaling her caffeine/alcohol imbued breath as we are exchanging cuss-words and discussing things of a most inappropriate nature, whilst successfully avoiding all the important things that we really should be getting on with.  That was the plan.  That was what I had been looking forward to.

So the news is the Dogs Bollocks.  It's amazing and fantastic and the sheer opportunity of it takes my breath away.  It offers the perfect solution to all of the things I have been losing sleep over and also reinforces, for me at least, that a move home this summer is exactly the right thing to do.

But it's also just...bollocks because this fortuitous event has a price and, as far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty high one.  Oh Universe - couldn't you have persuaded her next door neighbour to emigrate and rent me her flat instead?  Would that have been beyond your capabilities?

Of course, this is life unravelling just as it should.  Subversive Mum is nervous about her move too - odd to think we are replicating experiences at the same time and at least we can support each other through it.  "Maybe this is why we met and became such great friends in the first place.  Maybe this was part of the bigger picture all along and we just didn't know it." SM muses.

I think she is right and I know I am being selfish wanting to have her flat, but with her still in it (and not just the life size, autographed cardboard cut-out that she's promised).  Oh well.  At least there is Skype.  And texting.  And telephone tag (which we seem to be doing a lot of lately...hey!  S'up bitch?  Call me!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Captain Four Eyes

My little Captain Underpants has many super hero powers.  Unfortunately it appears that 20:20 vision isn't one of them

There have been many clues.  His preferred method of watching television is to stand with his nose practically touching the screen.  Despite repeated calls of, "Captain Underpants - move away from the television.  NOW!" and "You make a good door, not a window" he always drifts back to a 6 inch radius.  Then there is the fact that his catching and ball hitting skills remain, well, a little bit hit and miss.  I noticed this but preferred to convince myself that he was just a little cack-handed, like his mother.

I have been meaning to take him to get his eyes tested for, well, I'll be honest, it's years rather than months. But somehow never quite got around to it.  However, when we were on half term break I asked him to read me a huge poster on the el train, depicting Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He read the headline without pause.  "What about the rest?", I asked?  He looked at me as though I was asking him to walk on water.  "I can't read the rest - the words are all far too small" he told me.  I sat looking at the poster, reading the words as clear as day.  Uh-oh, I thought.  Better make that appointment.

Within 24 hours we are at the opticians and both boys are booked for their first ever eye test.  Captain Underpants shows his brother how it is done and goes first.  During the first test the optician looks at me with a sympathetic smile.  "He's definitely going to need glasses", she confirms.  He goes through the gamut of tests without fuss and with a maturity beyond his 6 years.  The optician is almost apologetic as she switches out lense upon lense to create his prescription.  At the end of it all he can successfully focus on the second line from the bottom - a huge improvement from only being able to make out the three letters at the top of the screen at the beginning of the appointment.

Johnny Drama is next.  Unlike his brother, he has perfect eye sight.  The news devastates him.  The diagnosis of 'no glasses necessary - his eyes are fine' sets him off in histrionics.  "I NEED GLASSES!  I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING!  I NEED THEM, NOT CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS!  MY EYES ARE RUBBISH...YOU'RE RUBBISH.  I DO NEED THEM.  I DO!  I DO!'

I am caught in the dilemma of trying to convince Johnny Drama the fact that he doesn't need glasses is a really Good Thing, whilst trying to assure Captain Underpants that wearing glasses is also a Good Thing.  As usual, my ability to handle a delicate situation of this nature is less than stellar.  Captain Underpants rises to the occasion and rescues me.  Luckily for me he seems quite excited about being told he needs to wear glasses but acts sympathetically to his over wrought and typically dramatic sibling.  Between the rants and accompanying stomping about he reassures Johnny Drama, "it's great that your eyes work without glasses JD, mine don't work as well as yours and need a little help, that's all".

JD isn't buying either of our efforts at consoling his heartbreak over not walking out of the appointment with a pair of specs of his very own.  As far as he is concerned, it is all a big conspiracy to ensure that he misses out and doesn't have the same opportunity as his brother to stand out in a crowd.  He throws himself around the reception area, taking out stands of frames and swiping at piles of magazines, to demonstrate that we all have it wrong and that he really is blind as a bat.

Over the noise the optician tries to explain that Captain Underpants is long-sighted but has a significant astigmatism which means his eyes can't focus properly on anything.  It's possible that his prematurity at birth was the cause.  He must wear his glasses all the time and, with luck, the astigmatism will correct itself over time.

We choose a pair of frames and I am pleasantly surprised at how great they look on him.  The optician continues to extend me sympathetic glances.  "Are you okay mum?" she asks.  I am just feeling guilty that I hadn't made the effort to arrange an eye test a year earlier.  I had hoped he wouldn't need glasses, but I am not surprised at the outcome.  And I am relieved that Captain Underpants is taking it all in his stride.  At least he is not in denial and stating categorically that he will refuse to wear them.  He almost seems excited about the fact.

Until the next day, when I pick up his glasses.

He wears them for 30 seconds tops.  "Can I take them off now?" he asks, as he hands them back to me.

Oh dear.  Seems like that novelty wore off very quickly.  I feel for him.  I wouldn't want to wear my glasses every day either.  I do it for a day, in a show of solidarity, but end up reverting back to my contact lenses.  And now every day is an act of negotiation.  I have talked to other mums, whose children wear glasses, and I know it will just take time for him to adjust.

But how long is that, exactly?

Tell me - do your children wear glasses?  How long did it take them to adapt?

And could they possibly look as adorable as Captain Underpants in their specs?  He might not be able to see it (in fact, it is very likely that he actually isn't able to see it - his vision may still be a little blurred even with the glasses for a couple of weeks yet until his eyes learn to focus properly) - but he looks really handsome with his new facial accessory.  I'm surprised by how much they suit him.  What was I expecting?  That my gorgeous big eyed boy would suddenly morph into Mr Magoo or the Milky Bar Kid?


He is my Captain Underpants - my gorgeous, courageous, pint sized super hero.  And it gives me a little solace to know that, when he is doing his utmost to out thwart his brother in a Bakugan battle, or affix the tiniest, fiddliest piece of lego to his latest starship, he will at the very least be able to see what he's doing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Will The Real Nicola Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up...

When I first started writing this blog just over a year ago, I didn't really have any clear objective or focus.  I wasn't intending to create a specific impression of who I really am and bare my soul.  In fact I didn't really spend much time considering how my words and actions would be interpreted or how I would come across to a bunch of complete strangers.  It was just good to employ my brain in putting a bunch of words together, rather than just a bunch of building blocks or a Thomas track (at which I had become scarily adept).

My first posts all had a specific story to tell and I tried to make them as funny as possible, because the posts I had loved to read, in the year or so that I had loitered on the fringes of the blogging world, had a humorous edge.  There were also posts which resonated a lot more deeply and which prompted me to write about some of my deepest heartbreaks, fears and failures - as a parent as well as a person.

I didn't initially think about having an audience.  I told my closest friends in the UK about the blog because I wanted to entertain them and update them on what was happening in my life in Chicago after the separation, without repeating myself in umpteen emails that I never made the time to write.  It was also a convenient opportunity to share with them some of the thoughts and feelings that I had never really articulated before.  It was gratifying to attract followers though, I must admit.  And now it is hard to say whether or not having an audience started to affect my writing - both the content and the style.  Did I intentionally create mythical comedy or chaos when the reality was far more humdrum?  Over-emphasis the drama to evoke more sympathy?  Start to write purely for maximum impact and entertainment?  Turn up the anger, the sadness, the helplessness, the mockery?

Maybe.  Sometimes.  A little.

I guess I am not the type of blogger who writes daily, attempting to capture every conversation, every action, every possible nuance of my thoughts and feelings.  I write soundbites from my life right now because I am too damned lazy to capture it all and it would no doubt bore people bothering to read it to tears.  I have also spent a lot of time focusing on my insecurities and doubts recently because I am going through a period of intense change and it feels good to record some of my initial reactions to the changing circumstances around me.  I never intended my blog to become an online journal of sorts but right now it is helping me to share some of shifts that are happening in my life.  And the great advantage of blogging about snippets of these events is that, by reviewing the written word, I am sometimes able to make sense of it all.  Adjust my thoughts.  Change my behaviour.   Stop focusing on MY version of reality and start to see it from other people's point of view.  As I've said before - cheapest therapy I've ever had.

I never anticipated that it would provoke such a personal attack and prompt someone to write an anonymous post dedicated to slamming my character and my parenting.  That someone would read a post and not appreciate that it is only half the picture, if that.  And it reminded me how powerful words are and how open they are to misinterpretation - and that the absence of 100% of the details can create a totally different impression of a person or a situation.  After reviewing my previous post, I conceded I wasn't sure I liked the tone on reflection either.  There were so many things I could have expanded on, but chose not to simply because it was more impactful as a piece of writing to exaggerate the heart tugging drama of one particular 20 minute segment of my day.

So am I going to think more carefully about what I write, and how I write about it, to avoid another internet bitch slap?

Erm...nope.  Probably not.  Because that would make blogging too damn stressful and I don't want to over think it to that degree.  I have a tendency to over think too many areas of my life as it is.

However, maybe I will start to share 'the other side of the coin'.  Instead of just the reactive angst and posts full of self-doubt and recrimination...maybe a little more of what I feel pretty much most of the time.  Like a love of life for example, with all its complexities.  And happiness.  And certainty.  And all that self-help malarky like trying to live in the moment and not divert my attention worrying about stuff that might never happen.  You know.  The sort of stuff that might cause you to retch into the nearest Orla Keily handbag if I'm not careful.

One of the areas of my life that I have never really shared in the blog, for example, is how my life has been dramatically impacted by studying Kabbalah.  I have mentioned it in passing here and there (when trying to create the illusion of moving in celebrity circles: Ooh, I was at Shabbat with Madonna!  Made a fool of myself at an event with Balthazeer Getty today!  Ha! Ha!)  But in reality becoming a student of this spiritual philosophy 2 years ago has changed my life in such a profound and meaningful way that I am not sure I can ever do it justice by attempting to capture it in words.  When I first mentioned Kabbalah to some of my friends in the UK, the news was predominantly greeted with a big eye roll and the good-natured dismissive "God, you need to get home...first therapy and now Kabbalah.  You're too American for words".

I would never describe myself as a religious person - in my 20s I was an absolute atheist and in my 30s, if push came to shove, I would have said I was agnostic.  I would also never really have described myself as spiritual.  I studied yoga for a while, but mainly for workout purposes, and could never make myself sit still long enough to meditate, although I quite liked the idea of it and believed in its benefits.  But at my lowest ebb, when things had been on a downward turn in my life for a couple of years and I still couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel, when antidepressants hadn't helped and therapy gave me an emotional outlet and rational explanation but no real solution to the problems I was facing, I found an unexpected avenue that has turned my life around.

It all started with a conversation with my sister.  Read this book, she said.  The book in question was Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsh.  "But I don't believe in God", I responded and refused.  For several months.  Finally, after many conversations about my situation most of them typically ending with "Just read the Goddam book will you!" I read the book.  And my perspective on my life shifted almost overnight.  Suddenly things began to make sense.  Inexplicably my life just didn't seem as bleak any more.  I read and reread the book and started to expand my reading to include Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle.  I changed the way I was thinking about my life, which changed the way I was feeling about my life and ultimately changed the way I was acting in my life.

Then I found Kabbalah (which, by the way, is not a religion or a mystical cult - despite how the media portrays it) and I am using the things I am learning to continue to change.

Turns out I'm actually quite spiritual after all.  Who'd have thunk it?  Not me a few years ago, that's for sure.

Now this isn't about to become a lecture on Kabbalah, because there are plenty of books out there which can explain this 'spiritual technology' and on the web you can always go here: to find out more.  I also find it difficult to explain what my spiritual beliefs mean to me without, at best,  using terminology that could sound a little trite and, at worst, sounding a little more cuckoo than I usually do.

But I will say this.  I am happier.  Even joyful...despite all the drama I relay on this blog.  I have a deep appreciation of my life and all the people in it.  Even the ones that push my buttons on a regular basis and may provoke a rant or two.  In fact, especially those people, because they are the ones that are giving me the chance to react differently - to keep quiet where I may have once exploded with rage, to be open where I may have once shut down, to be loving where I may have once been dismissive, to be patient where I may have once been rash, to be generous and open-minded where I may have once been judgmental.

And I have also learned that the voice that used to dominate my head pretty much all of the time is not working in my best interest.  In fact it is my biggest opponent to leading a happy and fulfilled life.  It is the voice of judgement and jealousy, envy and self-doubt, hate and bitterness, expectation and denial, laziness and blame.  I still have this voice - and some of the stuff I articulate on this blog stems directly from this negative, angry source of self-pity.  But it doesn't exert its influence over me for very long.  And I certainly don't give it credit any more for being me.

And neither is this blog.