Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What all the Yummy Mummies are wearing

Cashmere baby doll hoodie: $40 at Old Navy
White cami: $10 at Gap Body
Skinny jeans: OK, these are messing up my shtick here because I bought them in the UK. They're Gap and therefore American, but I paid (far too many) pounds for them. Let's move on...
Super cute black shoes: $59 at DSW
UK-style look on a US-style budget: priceless (or at least a hell of a lot less pricey)

(Please don't burst my bubble by mentioning the several grand we spent on airfare so that I could save a few bucks on clothing...)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

If I clicked those ruby red slippers, where would they take me?

Home is my father, awaiting us in the airport with a faux chauffeur sign.
Home is enjoying a second cup of coffee in my flannel pajamas because someone else has already claimed the shower.
Home is my mother's binder full of menus and meal plans for a week's worth of house guests.
Home is revisionist history and the brother I share it with.
Home is Charades games and the annual lore of games in years past.
Home is a private joke, slipped into a backpack so that I would not see it until I was gone.

Home is ice cream cakes for birthdays, the more crunchies the better.
Home is a big lovable boxer with a far-too-large tongue.
Home is driving through familiar streets, singing along to familiar songs.
Home is the smell of the NYC subway and the lights of Times Square.
Home is Fujiyama Mama sushi and Target and DSW and a house which is mine, but not mine right now.
Home is our family -- by birth and by choice.

Home is clipped accents and orderly queues.
Home is my bed, my shower, my stuff.
Home is the place where my hair comes out right for the first time in days.
Home is the rhythm of school day routines.
Home is the friends who spot my children at the classroom door and surround them with giddy, joyful hugs.
Home is friends who welcome me, too, with an on-the-spot coffee date, an invite for lunch.
Home is the gossip and news that I've missed.
Home is endless laundry (at least 2 hours left on this load alone).

There is no doubt about it; I am at home on two continents now. There is a comfort and a satisfaction and a heady sense of accomplishment that comes with that knowledge. And yet, at the same time I am learning that my seemingly covetous dual sense of place comes with its own painful price. For I can never feel like I've come home without also feeling the loss of a home left behind.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I suppose the pilgrims must have been rather English, too

The security guard smiled at my children as he checked our passports against our boarding passes. "Are you leaving home or going home?" he asked. We all looked at him and then each other. There was some head scratching and some hemming and hawing. None of us could quite formulate a response. Clearly this was a larger question for any of us than he'd anticipated, and I'm pretty sure the consternation with which we'd all responded to his casual question made the guy sorry he'd bothered to make polite conversation. We were still mulling over our answers as he waved us along.

Our second trip back to the U.S. since we moved to London was motivated by a need for pumpkin pie and family togetherness. We purposely didn't even tell friends we would be in the country this time around, choosing instead to spend a quiet Thanksgiving in the company of our family. (If you're just now finding out we're in town as you read this entry, please don't think we're just snubbing you... we're snubbing everyone!) I think that was the right choice; without a hectic visiting schedule, we've all been able to relax easily and just enjoy being here. American life feels familiar. It feels lovely. But it does not, truth be told, feel entirely normal.

I'm delighting over American prices and products, but I'm finding it hard to make change in dollars and I'm not such a fan of driving from strip mall to strip mall to make my purchases. I find little changed here and that's comforting, yet for some reason I keep finding myself talking about "this country" as if it is an entirely foreign entity. And just as I am tethered to my computer in London in order to feel connected to friends and family in the States, so do I keep logging on here to laugh at a complicated thread of emails from a group of my friends back in London who have been trying to agree on a date for a girls' night out.

Meanwhile, I've watched Evan delight at the sight of a 'Merican flag just like the one he has in London and Julia beeline for the American Girl section of the local library, both of which seemed like good signs that they had retained at least a bit of American identity. And yet when Julia commented (and Evan agreed) that America was a good place to visit because people speak English here, it became very obvious that this is a vacation destination for them rather than a homecoming. Our perspective, our priorities and our frame of reference have all shifted... subtly, perhaps, but not in a way I can ignore or deny, either. We may be very American in London, but here in New York, I daresay we're more than a little bit British.

Two days after our trip through Heathrow, I'm sure our small family has long since slipped the mind of the kind security guard who chatted with us on our way out of London. But I've been thinking about him and his question this whole time, unable to escape the feeling that there's far more at stake to my answer than just social niceties. Were we leaving home? Going home? It took me a while, but I think I finally know the answer. We were doing both.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I'm not sure I trust myself to give this one a title

Our downstairs neighbor Daniel turned 2 yesterday and we popped in for cake after dinner to help him celebrate. Ever the foolish adult who insists on trying to relate to uninterested children, I couldn't resist telling his older sister Arielle, "you know, I have a younger brother named Daniel, too."

I suspect I've probably made this particular attempt at bonding with Arielle before because she didn't look in the least surprised at this revelation. She gamely played along, though. "Is he 2 also?" she asked me.

"No," Julia jumped in before I could reply. "He's a grownup. And," she added, shooting a withering you really should know these things about your own brother look in my direction, "his real name is Uncle Dan."

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Sound of Music

I can't remember how old I was, nor can I remember who took me to see the production. All of those details fell aside when the curtain lifted on the King and I; nothing else mattered once Yul Brynner took control of that stage. I have no earthly idea what I was wearing, but I could still probably reconstruct many of the ornate costumes from memory. It beats me what we talked about as we waited for the show to begin, but I can still recite most of the song lyrics verbatim. The circumstances surrounding my presence at that performance slipped my mind years ago. But that joyful spine tingling emotion of watching it has never left me.

I've been to plenty of notable theatrical performances since that auspicious start, both in New York and here in London. I've loved some of the things I've seen and been indifferent to others. But I hadn't felt that spine tingling chill in a theatre again until this past weekend.

This time, the joy was in experiencing the familiar and beloved rather than discovering of the magical and unknown. The plot was one I knew by heart, the songs some of the first that I ever loved. The storyline brought back memories of a time when annual television airings were true events. The music brought back memories of a time when I had the self confidence and desire (but alas, not the talent) to step into the spotlight myself. The staging was superb, the cast outstanding and the performance on its own enough to inspire some chills, I suspect. But to top all of that off, my daughter sat rapt beside me quietly humming along, her eyes as wide with wonder as my own had been many years ago at my first big Broadway show. And the combination of my pleasure in what was happening on stage and my delight at what was happening beside me inspired nothing less than a serious case of the chills.

"Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could," Maria and the Captain sang on the vast stage before us. "So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good." I knew exactly what they meant.

Friday, November 09, 2007

There actually is a method to my madness

After 14 months of fighting a losing battle with the stainless steel appliances in my London kitchen, I am delighted to have finally found a cleaning product which keeps fingerprints and streaks at bay. This product -- which I recently discovered at the most high end of our three local grocery stores -- is imported, and like all imported products, it comes at a premium. I have no issue with this in theory; I understand the whole cost of importation issue, not to mention the added appeal factor which enables retailers to up the price of fancy schmancy foreign goods. I'd already tried all of the locally manufactured products which are designed to clean stainless steel and none of them worked, so if the higher price tag on this product is what I have to pay to get something that actually works, so be it.

Sort of.

Except somehow, it really kind of burns me on to pay such a steep markup on this particular product.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Oh, me of little faith

I casually mentioned the colouring craziness that has plagued our household to one of Evan's teachers right before we left for Barcelona and while she was obviously quite aware of his... er... attention to detail, she was surprised to hear quite how frustrated and upset he gets at home if he strays even slightly outside the lines. I didn't really expect much to come of the conversation, but felt better for having at least broached the topic. Perhaps his teachers would at least downplay the praise they generally heap on his colouring efforts, I thought hopefully after we'd had the conversation.

I didn't give those wonderful women nearly enough credit. Within days, they had Evan convinced that while it's nice to colour in the lines, it's equally fantastic to find creative ways to fill the spaces on colouring sheets. A shirt could be red, they pointed out, but it also could be plaid or rainbow or covered with little tiny hearts. Suddenly, instead of meticulously accurate renditions of lifelike objects, they've got him filling his sheets with striped balloons and polkadotted hats and all sorts of other whimsical creations.

Couldn't you just kiss these teachers for their brilliance? The new plan is working for everyone. Evan's teachers are happy because work which used to take him hours to complete is now getting finished on the same timeline as his classmates' projects. I am happy because Evan is getting a chance to put a creative spin on monotonous classwork and he's taking a step away from the perfectionist tendencies which have driven him so crazy as of late. And Evan is happy because he's got a brand new way to enjoy his beloved colouring sheets.

The differences between English and American school systems be damned. The other kind of difference -- the kind that skillful teachers can make in the life of a child -- is the only one which truly counts.