Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gonna Par-dee Like It's Ma (6 Year Old's) Buffday

So it was my birthday.  For once, this auspicious occasion is one I would have quite happily ignored.  Except when you have a 4 and 6 year old in the house, with a penchant for cake, balloons, parties and more cake, it turns out that sticking one's head in the sand regarding the ugly truth of the passage of time, is not an option.

Most of the time I am a complete birthday freak.  Or is that just cake freak?  Whatever.  Any excuse for a celebration is typically my motto.  Particularly if that celebration revolves around yours truly.  This year was a first, because I actually had no interest in it whatsoever.  If I could have slept the whole day through and missed it altogether, I would have in a heart beat.  But as I said, according to Captain Underpants and Johnny Drama, that definitely was not an option.  As soon as the calendar hit April I was pestered daily with requests for details on who, exactly, was going to come to the party and, more urgently, what type of cake was going to be served?  So in order to pacify the boys I invited a few friends over, with their kids, for a spot of birthday tea.  And cake, of course.  Heaven help me if I had forgotten the cake.

One unexpected surprise, as the Big Day approached, was that my dear friend from London was actually going to be in Chicago (due to the fact that she was stranded and unable to return home because of that pesky volcano business).  This made the whole idea of the birthday slightly more tolerable.

The night before my birthday (which was on a Saturday) was surprisingly pleasant.  My beloved babysitter (who is a fully paid up member of my default family) came over with cake, neighbours popped by, I unscrewed some cheap plonk and the adults took refuge in the kitchen whilst the children rampaged through the rest of the house, scattering boxes of toys in their wake.  Whilst happily chatting away in the kitchen, I received a text from Ex (who was attending a week long conference in DisneyWorld, of all places).  "What do you think about the boys coming down to join me here next weekend?"

This simple text completely took the wind out of my sails.  Disney?  Without me?  NO!  Taking the boys to Disney has been a dream of mine for the past few years.  My dream.  Not his.  And no doubt New Girlfriend would be joining them - slotting neatly into the space that should be mine, Goddammit.

I stewed over the text for hours and then all through the night.  This is so unfair, I fumed.  I didn't want to deny my boys a trip to Disney and I knew that Ex was simply taking advantage of his privileged work situation.  All the other wives and kids would be there - why should his boys miss out?  But then again, why should I?  Could I bear it if they went for the first time without me?  And what did it really say about me as a person and a parent if I wasn't able to put the boys interests first?

Yet again, I wrestled with violent, angry thoughts all night long.  My sleep was further interrupted by Johnny Drama coming into my room at 12.59am and then again at 3.47am, needing to be put back to bed.  By the time morning rolled around I was exhausted and even more furious about the whole situation.  Happy Fucking Birthday, I muttered to myself, as I struggled out of bed at 6am to meet the boy's demands for snacks and my body's demand for an urgent caffeine fix.  This part of single parenting I am really not a huge fan of.  The 'having to do it all' even on my birthday, without assistance.  It's bad enough on the best of days, but on your birthday it's just pants.

My bad mood intensified when I opened the cards from the boys - no special hand-made cards for me this year.  Just a couple of hastily bought identical pieces of crap from Hallmark with their names scribbled inside.  There weren't even badges for Chrissake.  This lack of thought and affection really brought it home to me how little Ex cared and how much he had moved on.  Inside one of the cards was $60.  There were no other presents for the boys to help me open.  I guess it was better than nothing but I still felt distinctly insignificant.  "Wow - $60!  You can buy a lot of Lego with that mum!" exclaimed Captain Underpants.  And he was right - it could buy 'me' a shit load of Lego but wasn't going to go very far in providing my dream splurge at Anthropology, was it?  A T shirt perhaps?  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  I struggled to feel grateful that Ex had made any effort at all.

The morning progressed as most Saturdays do, the boys acting up due to a bad nights sleep and mum acting worse due to that and more besides.  We went out to buy boxes of expensive cupcakes for the afternoon 'party' and I returned to the house with fresh eyes, furious at the mess that greeted me.  I had an hour to prepare food before people started arriving and the house looked like a bomb had hit it.  This is NOT how birthdays are supposed to be, I fumed internally, whilst scrabbling around on the floor picking up minuscule pieces of abandoned Lego.  I was so locked in my black thoughts that it didn't occur to me to check for clear air space when I stood up to deposit the handfuls of Lego back in the box.


The top of my head connected, unexpectedly and with considerable force, with a piece of overhanging granite and in a millisecond I was back on the floor surrounded once again by scattered Lego.  Oh this is flipping marvellous - now I have to add a fractured skull to the mix.  Remind me, why did I bother to get out of bed at all this morning?  I lay on the floor with my throbbing head in my hands and burst into tears.  It felt as if I had really hurt myself and I struggled to get my breath.  Whilst attempting to work out if I was still in the land of the living, the little voice in my head continued to nag me.  Er, hello?  We don't have time for any drama...or urgent trips to the ER...there's still Lego to be put away.  And have you seen the state of your kitchen lately?  Stop dicking around on the floor and Get A Bloody Move On.

The boys gathered round with concerned looks on their faces, trying to wipe my tears, obviously frightened.  My friend, who was playing an active role in the clean up campaign, rushed to the freezer for the trusted bag of frozen peas.  A few minutes passed and I was able to gingerly get to my feet, at which point I laid eyes upon the unmitigated chaos masquerading as my kitchen and decided that remaining on my knees was really the most sensible option.

I finally got back to the task in hand, rubbing gently at the huge egg-like lump which had formed on the top of my skull with a Lightening McQueen ice pack.  I got changed into my 'party' clothes (jeans, obviously) but on top of it all I was having a 'fat day', which as you can imagine, did nothing to improve my mood.

Ultimately, I was dressed, the house was relatively tidy (although by no means clean), a modest fayre was prepared and guests started to arrive.  My head was still incredibly tender so I self-medicated with a huge glass of vodka/tonic and all of a sudden, as if by magic, my birthday started to improve.  If only I had thought to start the day with alcohol instead of coffee...a note to self for next year, perhaps.

The rest of the day was just lovely.  Couldn't have been better.  The children ran amok outside, dangling each other off the deck, placing garden chairs atop the kiddy wagon then racing perilously towards the flight of stairs and then graffitying the back of my house with chalk to create this beautiful birthday mural.

Green Eyed Man turned up with a silly birthday tiara for me to wear and proceeded to mingle confidently with all my friends.  All the adults got a little bit tipsy and the kids all sang Happy Birthday before I blew out a few candles stuck in a cupcake.  It was so very, very nice.

And the icing on the cake?

When I returned to the house after waving everyone goodbye, GEM and the boys were outside playing football together as if they had known each other for ages, rather than meeting for the first time only 2 hours prior.

I rubbed the sore spot on my head, as I stood at the back door watching them, and smiled.

And decided, that of course my gorgeous boys should join their dad in Disney if that was what he wanted.  They deserved it more than anyone I knew.  Even me.  Or should that be, especially me?  Oh, whatever.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Things Should Be Falling Into Place By Now...But They're Not

I thought I had lost my blogging mojo for a while there.  It wasn't an issue with the lack of potential content...quite the opposite.  So much to write about, so much I wish I had the energy to record and share.  So much going on that I can barely keep up with it all, much less find the time to edit it all into a wry anecdote.

Not only that but I appear to have lost my sense of humour.  I have a vague memory of being able to see the funny side of life during our recent Easter trip to the UK...but since returning to Chicago I have been Ms Glum of Glumville.  This combination of being homesick and feeling isolated does not make me the happiest camper.  It's not really that I have hated returning to Chicago, it's more the return to my situation.  The prospect of facing up to the divorce finally.  

Ex is now backtracking over the decision for me to move back to England with the boys in the summer (big surprise), so that is once again a big hurdle to face, while the sands of time continue to race through the hourglass.  Just the thought of pushing forward makes me feel exhausted, as if I am being forced to trudge my way through thigh deep (slow cooker) sludge.  Progress seems to be inexorably slow.  I have all the cumbersome baggage of the tortoise to weigh me down, when I typically prefer to race my way through life like the free-spirited hare.


We all know who was the winner of that race in the end.

So maybe going against my nature and sticking with the painstakingly slow and dull plod through this emotional, financial and legal minefield will yield results in the end.

I took the boys back to the UK over Easter for a short, action-packed 11 day trip.  I visited Subversive Mum's flat, took a tour of the school I would like the boys to attend, hung out with my MIL and her other half, persuaded my own mother to purchase vast quantities of the M&S chocolate and confectionary section for me to consume, celebrated my dad's wife's 60th birthday with a fantastic family party, caught up with cousins I haven't seen for years and watched with intense satisfaction as our children played happily for hour and hours and hours.

The trip was a welcome break and it was incredible to be surrounded by the love and support of my family, but it was still stressful all the same.  I finally had to face what a mountain I am going to have to climb simply to return home.  And how essential it is that Ex and I work as a team to effectively make it happen, which is a little depressing because on reflection teamwork has never been a cornerstone of our marriage.

While I was busy researching living / education options for his sons, Ex was enjoying a week long break in Berlin, visiting one of our oldest friends, with his New Girlfriend.  He hadn't shared with me that she was going with him, so it came as a bit of a shock to come face-to-face with her on Skype during one of the boy's video calls with daddy.  All shiny hair, sparkly eyes, youthful unblemished skin and large toothy smile flaunting a mouthful of brilliant white perfect teeth.  The all American girl on the next stop of her whirlwind European tour.  I didn't expect to feel so fazed, so intensely jealous, so sick to my stomach.  The idea of her I can handle with acceptance and understanding.  The reality of her is a little harder to take for some reason.  It wasn't the most sensitive move by my Ex to pull her in front of the camera to talk to the boys, knowing full well I was part of the call.  What can I say...I'm pretty sure it's just a not-really-thinking man thing, rather than an attempt to rub my nose right in it.  Didn't stop it smarting for a few days though.

Mind you, it also didn't stop me encouraging the boys to choose her an Easter egg to take home, along with Daddy's.  I know, I know.  The new patron saint of amicable separation, that's me.  Might as well start as I mean to carry on.  It's not as if ignoring the fact that she is now in their lives is going to make her disappear, so I am trying to find a way to accommodate her presence with a generosity that seems beyond me at times.  Oh well.  Practice what you preach and all that.  I'm sure there will be a Blue Peter badge ready and waiting for me at some point.  Or maybe just some peace and a reduction in the jealousy factor, which would be far more satisfying.

I'm not sure what I expected to achieve in this trip but, as it turned out, it was just as well my expectations were low, because I managed to achieve very little.

It's not going to be feasible to rent Subversive Mum's flat because I really need to make a contractual and financial commitment now (which translates to: Ex needs to get his finger out, sign on the dotted line and pony up some cash), which isn't going to happen just yet.  I was hoping my dad would agree to be my guarantor, but he has pretty much nixed that idea with the sound argument that Ex or Ex's company/family really need to be the one's securing my short term financial future.  This makes complete sense but still leaves me with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.  This feeling of continued dependency on my Ex makes me feel more than a little vulnerable - I thoroughly resent the fact that he is effectively in control of my future and has the final Nay/Yay on my decisions.  Can I really trust that he will act in MY best interests in this situation?  He is a man of morals and I would go as far to say that he will try to act's just that his version of honorable might be on a whole other planet to mine.  Only time will tell.

I also tried to open a bank account, because I no longer have an account in the UK after First Direct had the audacity to close ours three years ago.  The fresh faced manager in the local branch of my dad's bank (where he has banked for a gazzillion years or more) was confident this would be water off a duck's back.  "Do you have a British Passport?" he enquired.  "Oh - that should be no problem at all then."  These proved to be famous last words.

Of course, what followed was a farcical illustration of the state of computerised banking management.  The manager diligently entered pages of personal details into his trusted computer and then appeared to be retyping several copies of War and Peace as he tapped, tapped, tapped away on the keyboard.  Big silent pause while the computer digested and assessed my eligibility....until finally, "Computer Says No".  He re-entered the information again, pausing only to add my inner leg measurement, with an enthusiastic tap, tap, tap.  "Computer Says No".   He tried again, adding my shoe size and the fact that I still eat Heinz beans and Marmite on a regular basis, but yet again the computer assessed me as a dubious prospect in banking terms.  Thank God I am a fan of Little Britain, or I might have experienced a complete sense of humour meltdown and delicately inserted the keyboard through the computer screen.  Instead I inwardly rolled my eyes and mused nostalgically for the days when bank managers were trusted with an element of authority and decision making - rather than Big Brother making all the decisions for them.  I only wanted an opportunity to deposit money in the UK after all.  But you can't argue with "Computer Says No" apparently these days.  

I attempted to cheer myself up with a quick trip to Next, only to encounter a shop filled to the brim with the largest selection of tat that I have had the misfortune to peruse for some time.  Oh dear.  Somewhere along the line I seem to have been irretrievably influenced by the casual elegance of Banana Republic and the inherent bohemian quality of Anthropology.  This does not bode well for a move home.  Even Monsoon has lost its allure.  

It wasn't all bad though.  The boys absolutely thrived on being around family and didn't want to leave.

"When can we move to England mummy?" was a question repeated time and time again.

Hmmm.  Good question lads.  The mediator meetings start next week.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Not Your Average Book Club...

Just over a year ago a friend invited me to join her book club.  And what a book club it is.  Of course I had no idea what I had let myself in for when I agreed to join.  I like to read books.  I like to talk about books I have read (preferably with other people who have read more than the back cover blurb whilst standing in WHSmith waiting for a train).  So it was a no-brainer decision.  “I’m in!” I said, enthusiastically.  “What book are you reading?”
Turns out there wasn’t a book for the first meeting, because it was the Annual Book Club Christmas Party.  Well, this whole book club thing is even easier than I thought (I thought).  It’s just talking.  And alcohol.  There’s not even any reading required.  I’m definitely in.
My introduction to this particular book club was an eye-opener, that’s for sure.  It wasn’t just the fact that all the women attending were impossibly gorgeous and glamourous mothers, well travelled, funny and smart.  It wasn’t even the fact that the ‘party’ was a full-blown dinner party with food of cordon bleu exquisiteness.  It wasn’t the fact that within 45 minutes of arriving I was as drunk as a skunk (boy, these women might be skinny but they can certainly teach me a thing or two about knocking back wine).  No.  My overriding memory of the first meeting was the table napkins.  
Not what you were expecting?  
Well, it turns out that the item rolled up at each dinner setting was not actually an industrial sized napkin, but a vintage magazine porn.  See what I mean?  Not exactly what I was expecting either.
The hostess had placed a 1970s copy of Playboy, Hustler, Knave, Bigboobalicious (I made that one up, but you get my drift) by every seat...well, you can imagine that it led to quite a discussion about our reading material that evening.  (By the way, I will take the opportunity to say this...if there are any women reading out there who have ‘body issues’ you need to get hold of a copy of vintage porn.  There are normal looking women in it - of all shapes and sizes.  There are tiny boobs and wonky boobs, droopy boobs and huge boobs resembling sacks of puppies (no silicone perfection in sight). There is more than enough muff to stuff a king-sized duvet with.  Your average deli would surely not contain this selection of meat flaps.  And the cellulite!  Oh, the cellulite!)
I finally stumbled into a cab at 1am in the morning, in a drunken state of euphoria, clutching my ‘party favour’ in a death-like grip.  Roll on next book club.
The next book club was even more eventful.  This time we had actually been charged with reading a book (although it appears one of the rules of belonging to this particular book club is that reading is entirely optional - there is one ‘founding’ member of the club who hasn’t read a single book yet).  Again, everyone dressed to impress and an elaborate dinner is served.  There is non-stop talking (although discussions about the book get easily siderailed by much more salacious gossip and real-life drama).  This time the vintage porn is replaced by...real life examples of plastic surgery.  Not exactly pornagraphic...but not what I would expect to encounter beyond the changing room at the gym (if I’m lucky).
I am discussing something intellectual *cough* with one of the ladies, when I sense the rest of the room go eerily quiet.  I turn around to see what is going on and end up with my eye balls mere inches from the most perfect set of breasts I have ever seen in the flesh.  Sensing my immediate shock the breasts are instantly covered up, with a swift apology for offending my prudish British reserve.  “Oh my God, don’t be daft”, I counter, “they’re stupendous!  Can I see them again?  And did I just miss someone mentioning a tummy tuck scar?”
Turns out the breasts make a regular guest appearance at book club (although my breasts, being of the 1970s porn variety, stay firmly under wraps).  
My, this book club just keeps getting better and better I think.
Ultimately, it was my turn to host book club.  I was keen to choose a book, but the thought of hosting the evening brought me out in a cold sweat.  I don’t do entertaining as a rule and only had 3 wine glasses and six dinner plates to my name.   How does wine taste when served in a sippy cup?  I pondered.  Maybe that would be...kitsch?  I wasn’t looking to up the ante, by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be nice to be in the general vicinity of the ante...and present an image of being a reasonable hostess and not a total pleb.
In the end I bought new plates and wine glasses and slaved over a carefully crafted menu.  My book choice was The Other Hand by Chris Cleaves, a book I had read a few months previously.  (I hadn’t anticipated liking the book much but found I just couldn’t put it down.  Afterwards, I just wanted everyone I knew to read it, so I could talk to them about it.  Here was my perfect opportunity.)  
Of course I needn’t have worried about the evening, because it was a rip-roaring success.  This had nothing to do with the food (which, despite all my hours of preparing, was a complete disaster.  Note: never use parchment to line baking trays for fillo salmon...unless the intention is for your guests to be picking pieces of charred paper out of their teeth all night long.)  It also wasn’t related to the book (although most had bothered to read it and it sparked quite a lively discussion).  
No - it all came down to the party piece...
...a drunken group pole dancing lesson.  (Did I forget to mention somewhere along the line that I have a pole installed in my house?  Purely for its fitness benefits of course.)
Told you this isn’t your average book club.  
Over the course of a year my friendship with these incredible women has gone from strength to strength.  As well as sharing our love of reading (Ha!  Deeply ironic statement) we have shared two pregnancies and two births (boy and a girl - already betrothed of course), two separations, one divorce, one International move and the birthdays of all our children.  There are few stones left unturned within this tight knit group and no subject is ever regarded as too inappropriate to be discussed (honest appraisal of Anal Sex anyone?)  From my initial reaction to these intimidating women (‘Blimey, I think I am a bit out of my league here’) I have found many unexpected things in common (including a slight nervousness about having things shoved up my jacksy).  
The least of which is a love of the written word.
Tonight’s book up for discussion is Gang Leader for A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh.  I am sure it will make for stimulating conversation...before the talk reverts back to kids, relationships and, well, your guess is as good as mine.