Reentry: Part One

If I had a nickel for every time I thought about writing this post I would have, well, a hell of a lot of nickels. But reentry is too complicated for one post. It will have to be done in installments. You know what? That is okay. I have done installments before and sometimes it is good to break things up and even to revisit them. In non chronological order. Meanwhile the British spellcheck is reeling. Tough shit, I say. For I have come back home to the US of A where we spell installment with two “l”s. Enrollment too. Suck it, Brit spell check.

On June 28 2015 we closed the door of the terraced Edwardian house that was our home for four years (my daughters would correct me that it was actually three years, eleven months and a day, or something like that). We headed to Heathrow with one-way tickets in hand and a fair number of roller bags containing, among other things, digestive biscuits, my favorite everyday tea, a bottle of oak-aged Polish vodka and several bottles of wine acquired from various ports of call, each wrapped in an old sweatshirt or similar for extra padding. I am happy to report that all of the above arrived relatively unscathed, aside from some breakage of the first few digestive biscuits in the roll, at which I feigned outrage because I happened to open them in front of my new English friend.

No matter how prepared you think you are for a departure like this, for some reason it always seems rushed, unfinished, abrupt. That could be because I am perpetually attempting to do more than is physically possible for one person or because I am never quite as organized as I mean to be. (As an aside — even though I am unable to squeeze in everything I mean to do, on those rare occasions when I find myself with some time I am often paralyzed by the inability to do anything. Explain that to me. Perhaps I need to consult a shrink. But I digress.)

The difficulty of such a departure may also be the nature of the beast. Transporting a family from point A to point B, particularly when those points are on different continents, is kind of a big deal. Cue the people who, well-meaning or not, have asked me whether I have “renovated” our new house already. Really? Give me a break. I’d like to renovate your face. Maybe I will the next time I have some free time. Although we both know what I’ll be doing. Staring into space…

Since our arrival, I have been faced with another question: how has the reentry been? Have we “adjusted?” And I don’t really know how to tackle these questions. Because I am not at all confident that I have really adjusted. And how the reentry has been warrants much more than a simple “good,” “hard” or “fine.”

In some ways it has been easy. We live in a town we already lived in for seven years prior to our stint in London. We live in a familiar house, having purchased the home my husband grew up in. (I know, cray-cray, right?) We are much closer to family. And we have returned to very close friends. All of that is major. So, aside from the fact that many of my nearest and dearest are now not an international flight away, a lot of little things are easy too. I know where the grocery store is (and bonus — Wellesley is no longer a dry town — how lame was that — so the Roche Brothers (local grocery chain) even stocks wine and beer and shit. Hurrah!). And I know where to get the car washed and fill up with gas. I know where the public library is even though I never go there anymore and whom to call at DPW if the street lamp is out and stuff like that. But what does any of that really mean?

Sometimes I think that I have avoided adjusting altogether. Not intentionally, as in deliberately turning my head and and refusing to confront it, but more like I’m subconsciously occupying a parallel existence. Do you remember when I wrote about partitioning one’s internal hard drive? See It is sort of like rebooting and holding down the “USA” button and just existing on that side of my brain. I know the London part is still in there but it just isn’t in session right now. It’s asleep. I ask myself, is this some sort of trick — some way of avoiding the real issue and the real transition? Or is this just the way I function? Maybe I have two selves. USA Emily and non-USA Emily. But you know I have thought about it and that doesn’t quite capture what we liked to refer to in law school as “the totality of the circumstances.” Sorry. I couldn’t help it.

I think I know what it is, in fact. It is the same with any other thing I have been through and it is not the way every individual approaches life, but it appears to be my way. I exist in and am focused on the present. But more than that, I am forward-looking. And forward-moving. I am here now so that’s where my head is. Here now and thinking ahead to tomorrow. The other part of me is not gone. It just isn’t active. It’s back there. When I go back to London for a visit, it will wake up. I think.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the two “partitions” are so divided that it is like severing the two hemispheres and one side has no idea that the other side even exists. There is a marriage there, or a relationship, anyhow. There is communication and inevitably, comparison.

It occurs to me that most humans probably function this way. It makes sense that we are most focused on the present and that things in our pasts fade into the background. I realize this is a gross generalization and that many of us continue to revisit the past and be affected by it. It raises an interesting question though. Which type are you? And is the answer age-dependent? Do we focus on the past more as we age because we realize that the future is more finite? I dunno. I am getting too philosophical now.

But the whole thing got my head spinning about adjusting and how it is a “process.” Maybe my idea about the partitioned hard drive isn’t right at all. Perhaps, instead, the adjustment is taking place so quietly that it is almost imperceptible to me.

Like boiling a frog.

Did you know that if you put a frog into cool water and slowly bring the temperature up the frog will not perceive the change and it will in fact not jump out? Until it boils. Actually this may just be an anecdote. I have no evidence and am not planning to try it because eww and poor froggy if it works. But still. Maybe that’s what I am doing. Maybe I am adjusting, minute by minute, without even knowing it. And one day I will wake up and be… fully cooked.

I think I could be onto something. Because I forgot to mention that although the location of Roche Brothers may be forever ingrained in my muscle memory, the first couple of times I set foot in there I had to leave after five or ten minutes because I was overwhelmed by aisles and aisles of merch, supersized grocery carts and stony-faced, aggressive suburban ladies dressed in Lulu Lemon and The North Face. I kind of missed the tiny local grocery in Belsize Park, the unexpected European and Middle Eastern treasures lurking around every corner, things that you can’t easily get here or can’t get at all. Carrying a couple of bags to the store and buying only what I could carry home on foot. I even missed the weirdos I always ran into: the woman who decided to pay for her groceries with one pence pieces and the smelly old man who always blurted out something inappropriate… and Helena Bonham Carter.

But here I barely think of them anymore because I have moved on. They have faded into the background. Not forgotten but not in the forefront of my mind.

I guess the answer is that I continue to “adjust.” And that it has been easy, hard, good and bad, expected and unexpected, pleasurable and painful. Just like the rest of life. The partitioned hard drive doesn’t quite capture it. And neither does boiling a frog. Because it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and occupying a different part of your brain. And at times it is pretty damn perceptible and not at all like turning up the temperature in minute increments at a snail’s pace.

So where does that leave us? Partially cooked, I would say. And still looking for answers. Stay tuned for installment deux.

Photo on 28-08-2015 at 22.13


Cuckoo… do you remember my post many moons ago about the bats? Well if you don’t or if you are reading this blog for the first time check out Like Father Like Son. Why, you might ask, and justifiably so, is this relevant? I’ll tell you. Because I fucking bought my in-laws’ house — that’s right — the bat house. Except that for the past five years there haven’t been any bats, because finally a miracle happened and some genius from the local pest control company figured out where the bats were coming in and plugged up the holes. Or so we thought.

I wondered just how confident my in-laws were about this development. I was not surprised but simultaneously not comforted by the discovery, upon moving in this past June, that a tennis racket still hung on the back of the bedroom door on a hook, “just in case.” If you don’t know what I am talking about then stop, do NOT pass go, and immediately read the post I referred you to in the first paragraph!!!

There’s nothing like bat tennis, let me tell you. Ridiculous, I proclaimed, and promptly removed said tennis racket and relegated it to the basement. We certainly won’t be needing that, I thought (and may have even said it out loud). A couple of weeks after moving in an invoice arrived from that local pest control company for the special “bat” service, which was an extra annual fee. I called my father-in-law. Do we really need this, I inquired? He convinced me to keep it “just in case” for one more year. What the hell, I figured, and sent in the check.

Fast forward to three nights ago. I was home alone with my father who was staying over so that I could drive him into Boston for cataract surgery the next morning. I came down the morning of the surgery at about 5 o’clock to make a coffee and saw what appeared to be fresh animal droppings on the counter. Shit, I thought (literally). A mouse.

And then it occurred to me that although it might be a mouse, it could, in fact, be… yes, you guessed it, a bat. Dang.

I texted my FIL. He responded with a barrage of inquiries concerning the size, texture and general nature of the excrement. The gist was that guano (a/k/a bat shit) looked very similar to mouse shit (a/k/a mouse shit) and that it might be that we had a bat. That they had returned. That we were foiled. That the five bat-free years were simply a fluke. Fuck.

I contemplated a (potentially rabid) bat flying around on the third floor with my 86-year-old dad. I contemplated it swooping down and heading for his newly operated eye. Not great. I thought about retrieving the tennis racquet from the basement. It was so old it didn’t even have an oversized head. Just a Dunlap or Wilson circa 1978. Jesus.

Given the task at hand, however, (cataract surgery), I pushed these thoughts aside, cleaned up the rodent poop with spray (Mrs. Meyer’s, of course) and a paper towel, threw it in the trash, and drove my dad to the eye place for surgery. Meanwhile en route I phone the local pest control place and asked them to come over at some point that day to investigate the “situation.”

Fast forward again to post op and the afternoon. Dad was asleep on the sofa or in there watching Serena Williams play (real — not bat — tennis). Meanwhile, my FIL called and demanded that I save the droppings. “It’s very important!” He stressed. Ok. I said, and fished through the trash until I uncovered the paper towel and a couple of the minute turds I had wiped up earlier. I put the things in a plastic baggie and proceeded to wait.

My FIL had explained how to look for the bat, which would be sleeping, seeing as it was daytime and bats are nocturnal and shit. “It will be very small, like a chocolate.” He informed me of the usual places to look (the main directive being UP HIGH) and I set about scouring the house for something resembling a salted caramel stuck in a window or hanging upside down from a light fixture or curled up in some draperies. To no avail.

The pest control expert showed up around 1:30. I exhaled, thrust the plastic baggie at him and said, Well, is it a bat or a mouse? You could hear my pulse. Time seemed to stand still.

“It’s definitely a mouse,” he said. PHEW. I mean, PHEW, I thought. And then I thought it was pretty sad that I was so excited about having non flying rodents in the house and that I probably need to get out more. But still, a mouse is better than a bat. Believe me.

The pest dude poked around the house and plugged up a hole, replaced bait and found a (mouse) body under the basement stairs. I was assured that all would be fine and that I should call if there were any further mouse activity. I breathed a sigh of relief, and stopped worrying about it.

That evening, my FIL called and said that “just in case,” I should fill up the sink with water because sometimes the bats would fly into the sink and if it were a bat I might find it there in the morning. I declined to do this, given the confidence of the pest control expert that we were dealing with a mouse. “I am so not doing that,” I snapped. And didn’t.

And I am happy to report that the next day there was no evidence of further activity.

But this morning I came down and was in for a rude awakening. I began regular coffee-making procedures and then I ran my hand over the counter at issue just to check. And there it was. A fresh dropping. I then looked all around and found a number of similar droppings on the floor in front of the counter.

I wouldn’t say that I was horrified, but I was somewhat nonplussed, at this discovery. Again, I cleaned the counter and swept up the floor, carefully preserving the evidence in a zip bag. I made coffee, drank it, and climbed the stairs to report the incident to my husband. I wondered if the pest place was open on a Saturday, and prepared to call them. Then I returned to the kitchen and held the bag up to the light to determine if bats might, after all, be at play.

And that’s when I discovered that the droppings this morning were cylindrical in nature, more tubular in appearance and less like grains of rice with pinched ends.

This could only mean one thing. I bit my lip. These droppings, were, in fact, not mouse droppings at all. They were… wait for it: chocolate sprinkles, a/k/a “Jimmies,” which the children had spilled on the floor (and one on the counter) while making their ice cream sundaes with the babysitter the night before. Just think of me as a regular Sherlock Holmes, although perhaps a bit slower on the uptake. All that time in London really paid off, eh?

I smiled. I mean it really doesn’t get any better than discovering that what you thought was shit is in fact, Valrhona chocolate sprinkles, does it people?








An Unorthodox Weekend

Now don’t get all excited. This isn’t going to be pornographic, unless maybe you consider the Liverpudlian fashion choices a few paragraphs down (though I’m thinking less “Boogie Nights” more “Night at The Roxbury” (if you don’t know what that is it’s a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit making fun of B&T types going out for a night on the town. Oh and if you don’t know what either Saturday Night Live or B&T is then you really will need some help won’t you?). Anyhow, let me just tell you about the family trip to Liverpool and Oxford. I may have to do it in two (or more) instalments (there goes the British spell check on me — instalment with one “l” — never did get used to that). Because the two places are rather non sequiturs. Big time.

So why the heckety-heck did we haul ass to Liverpool one Saturday morning on a three-hour train ride with our daughters, aged 8 and 10, you might ask? Well, because about two years ago the then six-year-old watched a football (soccer people) match on the telly and Liverpool FC happened to be playing. They crushed Tottenham 5-nil and the rest is history. She became a football — and more specifically — a Liverpool (LFC) fan overnight. Suddenly, this child, who spent her early days in a fuchsia, polka-dot ballgown and tiara, was obsessed with and immersed in all things football. So much so, in fact, that my husband, who for years decried soccer “a stupid sport” unwittingly became a huge fan. Fan enough of the sport that he watches random matches just to see how they will turn out. More on the ambivalence he feels about admitting he is a soccer fan and the fact that changing his mind about such and admitting having done so totally rocked his world anon…

So, this is how we found ourselves, large roller suitcase in hand, about to board a (very crowded with Liverpool fans) Virgin train to Liverpool. Because there is never a dull moment, at the eleventh hour I realised we had no specific seat reservations on the train so when the platform was announced I catapulted myself and my ten-year-old into the first unreserved car (I’d been told by the snippy woman at the counter that the two unreserved cars were “F” and “U” which caused me some concern…) and scored four adjacent seats. After our heroic sprint to secure desirable seating, they announced the train had arrived so late that no one would be in their assigned seats anyway. Typical.

Our seats were behind some mixed age LFC fans who had come prepared for their journey with a dozen or more supersized cans of Fosters which they had lined up on the table. A side note: you cannot bring beer (or indeed any alcohol) into the stands at the football stadium itself so you have to pre-party. Thus the heavy train drinking and drinking at the concession stands prior to and up to about half time during the match. Yup. If one desires to get “propah annihilated” — please don’t pronounce the “t” — one must plan ahead. Of course, this is England so they don’t make it too hard for you. When later I walked through about a zillion train cars to get to the cafe car I was greeted by rows and rows of self-serve refrigerators stocked with snacks, beer, wine and revolting alcoholic drinks in cans such as Smirnoff Ice. The clincher was a nice sign over the till (cash register) that read, simply but oh so eloquently, and in cursive (because that’s classier): “Booze Glorious Booze.” You cannot make this shit up, people. I felt rather abstemious and a tad out of place as I slunk back up the aisle with my still water and my tunafish sandwich.

Back-up a minute. I neglected to mention that after we settled into our seats, I geared up for a competitive game of Uno with Charlotte, at which point a man came onto the train with a small roller. As he passed the rowdy bunch with the Fosters, he apparently struck one man’s leg with his suitcase whereupon the aggrieved fellow bellowed, “‘old on, aht’s me fuckin’ leg!” I thought it might get ugly, but it seemed to work out after said individual freed his fuckin’ leg from the roller bag and the other fellow went on the fuck down the aisle. This was not the last time he and his mates dropped the f-bomb. Good thing my kids weren’t a couple years younger or it might have been somewhat disconcerting for them. As it was we all sort of looked at each other and giggled, with an eyebrow raise and a shrug.

The remainder of the train ride was uneventful and upon arriving we stepped out of the station and walked the five minutes to the Liverpool Marriott. Along the way I took in the city. There was a weird radio tower thingy that looked like an air traffic control tower. Apparently it used to house a rotating restaurant in the 70s (or at least that is what I’m told but I hope it’s true cuz I bet it was totally excellent). And there was a very attractive old civic building with columns and lovely manicured green space, a statue of Lord Nelson (for minute I thought I was in Trafalgar Square), an oxidised statue of a dude with really good posture on a horse and, in the distance, a theatre advertising the musical “Dirty Dancing.” All that and the most complicated intersections and cross walks ever making it sort of hard to take the hypotenuse from Lime Street Station to the hotel. But we made it. Phew.

After being checked in by a trainee during which I nearly weed in my pants because he was so inept and it took him an eternity to do ANYTHING (and plus one of my kids spilled water all over the floor because she was trying to punch or kick — I can’t recall — the other child) we left our bags and made for the door to take the local bus to Anfield, Liverpool’s home stadium. A moment before leaving, the entire QPR (Queen’s Park Rangers) football team came down the stairs right in front of us. My eight-year-old was speechless. And Bill and I weren’t quick enough to suggest taking photographs with some of the players, so they boarded their fancy coach and headed to the stadium, leaving my little soccer hooligan starstruck and even more excited in anticipation of the LFC v. QPR match.

We took a bus to the stadium and I chatted with a local dude and his son to scope out options for getting back to the centre of town following the match. “Don’t even bother, love,” he said, or something like that, “there will be 45,000 people leaving at once so you might as well walk. Just leave the stadium, turn right and follow everyone.” Later, we did that, in the cold drizzle, and it was a fucking forty-five minute walk. Oops. At least we got some exercise and — shockingly — no one really complained. But damn.

So we got to the stadium and had a light dinner of hot dogs, chicken burgers and for Izzy, a meat pie (she’s fond of savoury pies). I was tempted to wash my meal down with a lousy beer just to be festive but decided against it. We entered the stadium and climbed to our nose bleed seats (at which point I asked Bill how much he had actually paid for the tickets, gulp). But, the entire stadium was not that big and we still had a decent view of the pitch and could distinguish players much more so than we could at Wembley Stadium a few weeks prior (the latter holds twice as many people).

It was very moving when they played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which if you are not a football fan you won’t know is the LFC song. We sang along (sort of because we don’t really know all the words) and fans held up game day scarves, etc. Then the action started and to sum it up it was a terrific match. Liverpool won 2-1. And we saw Stevie G score his final goal at Anfield (he is now playing for the LA Galaxy). So we departed in a great mood after having taken a lot of ridiculous selfies in front of the pitch and photos of the scoreboard and what have you. And started that absurd trek back to the hotel, past some pubs and shops and people selling scarves, hats and other LFC memorabilia. Past some buildings that were mostly rubble. Not the most picturesque walk. But unforgettable.

After chilling in the hotel room for a stretch we dressed for dinner and headed out to Hanover Street Social, a “hip” local restaurant with decent reviews. We were shocked at how much better the prices were than in London. But that didn’t hold a candle to the shock we experienced when the locals started to file in, all done up, Scouser style. I honestly don’t quite know how to describe it. There was a lot of pouffy blonde hair and make-up, and major false eyelashes. There was a large-print floral strapless jumpsuit that might have been at home on the set of Dynasty, only the wearer was somewhat less glam (and ahem, less fit) than Joan Collins. There were a number of dresses that would have been at home at a cheesy prom about 30 years ago, and another bunch that looked like life size Barbie outfits. By the time we left we were all laughing pretty hard and then we ran into some even more excellent numbers on the street. There were a couple of hen parties, the participants of which were wearing dresses with various parts cut out or crop tops with copious amounts of flesh bursting forth. And of course, more big hair, bionic eyelashes and makeup.

But the pièce de résistance was when two dudes passed us wearing what I can only describe as denim sausage casings under billowing white shirts, untucked, of course, and made of some unknown synthetic with a slight sheen. I can’t really do it justice, I’m afraid. And that’s even before I mention the hair gel and cologne.

The fun didn’t stop there. At the train station the next morning we were passed by an attractive blonde woman with heavy (but flawless) make-up in a tight, acid-washed jean “suit” pulling a small roller bag. I blinked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Because her hair was in rollers. Not little ones. Big’uns. Huge. Big round rollers all over her head around which her meticulously highlighted blonde locks were spun. It made me stop in my tracks. Then three or four others similarly attired passed us, also with their hair in rollers. It dawned on me that this was a thing. Going out with rollers. But it was a foreign to me as going out with your fly unzipped or your skirt tucked into your panties. What the hell, I thought. (If you don’t believe me Google it.)

After we settled onto the train to Oxford a nice, attractive young couple with their adorable 2 and 5 year old daughters boarded and we struck up a conversation. The woman was from Liverpool and she commented on the hair and rollers deal. It is, in fact “a thing” for Scouser ladies. So important is beauty in this town that — she claimed — there are more beauty parlours per capita than in any other place in the world. Now I don’t know if this is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. These gals get all dolled up and then they go to their destination, only to remove the rollers at the very last minute for maximum hair drama. Doing such has become a status symbol “like, hey I’m going out on the town for a big night so look at me.” Another popular fad is apparently hitting the supermarket (Tesco) in pyjamas, which is frowned upon even by locals.

As I marvelled at some of the differences between London and this city only a few hours northwest of it, I said to myself, well, at least we met a nice normal couple on the train. At that very moment the nice young woman whipped out her boob and started to nurse her 2.5 year old child. Oh well. You can’t win them all.

Stay tuned for an instalment on Oxford at a later date.

Meanwhile check this out. It’s worth it. I promise. Explains the roller phenom and also A+ example of Scouser accent.

A New Kind of Greeting Card

My friend Mark just sent me the following link. Check it out — here is a designer who, inspired by her own experience, decided to design some greeting cards she thought would be appropriate for dealing with cancer. Not a bad idea. Maybe I should get in on this. Funnily enough, I can relate to each and every one of them based on things people said or didn’t say while I was going through treatment, even if I would design mine slightly differently.  :)


I just ate the first row of squares from the single origin Ecuadorian chocolate bar I purchased in Cambridge (Massachusetts) last week at L.A. Burdick and I have to say:  I am in awe. The satisfying clack when I snapped off a piece, letting that first, imperfect square roll around on my tongue and melt a little before finally allowing myself to masticate. That’s masticate, people. Get a dictionary. Ew. It means chew for crying out loud. I found the receipt this morning while cleaning the American money out of my wallet. Each bar was ten bucks. No wonder.

Anyhow, I digress. Because I actually have no intention of writing about chocolate. In fact I should not have done so because my husband, erstwhile ignorant to the charms of the two bars resting on my desk, will now be looking to get a piece of the action.

Rather, the topic of today’s post is something else that I find awe-inspiring. My ten-year-old daughter. This occurred to me Tuesday night while I was getting ready for bed. I thought about all of the things we had done during the day and more specifically, all of the things she had done. And it was pretty impressive, at least to me.

Last week, she missed an entire week of school because we had to haul ass to the States to visit schools in preparation for our eventual move back to the Boston area. The travel, the visits and the snowstorm, which somewhat interfered with our plans, meant that she was behind on homework when we returned to London last Saturday. Not surprising. Plus, there was the inevitable jet lag, that no matter what I do to counter it afflicts us all. I even went to bed at about 9:00pm every night in the US (I know, loser, right?), not only because I was tired as hell but also because I thought — ha! I will fake out the jet lag and not fully adjust to EST, thus making my return easier. Not so. Mother Nature had other plans. Just as she had other plans for Boston last Tuesday.

So, jet lag and staying up late to do homework Sunday and Monday meant one tired child. In fact, if I had not forced her to go to bed when I did, I am 100% convinced that she would still have been up at 2:00am on Monday, eyelids pried open à la Ulysses, trying to catch up for fear of the consequences of showing up unprepared. I know it is a good thing to be a conscientious student, I told her, but you are in fact TEN. No one will ever look at these grades again. And I can write a note. It is not your fault we had to go on this trip. So please please please go to bed. Eat the lotus and drift off blissfully. Succumb. Please. I wondered if she was worried about being unprepared for fear of letting me down. I hope not. Or was it fear of letting her teachers down? Or herself? Whatever the case, I thought, I need to remind this kid to be a kid sometimes. Lighten up, party, have a margarita and shit. Not really, but you get the gist.

Tuesday morning she managed to pull it together, somehow. After school, she came home and announced that she needed to do some sort of skit or presentation for Humanities, in which they are studying ancient Egypt (cool, right?), which involved dressing up in a costume, making a few props and serving food. Oh and by the way, she said, I need to prepare some food because I will be a servant, so we need to bake something. Today.

That, and she needed to finish up her final remaining school application (we had been slogging away on these things for what seems like ever, and they required what I consider to be a surprising amount of effort/time/focus from both parent and child). Oh and also catch up on her homework on which she was still behind. Oh and also do her newly assigned homework. And study for a test. And practice the piano. And the clarinet. And breathe. And put one foot in front of the other. It was already almost 4:00pm.

But she had been such a good sport about doing her applications over the past weeks (I have tried to spread it out so as not to overwhelm) and had been so great on our trip and at the school visits that I just could not say no. Ok, I caved, you can bake something. I convinced her, at least, to choose something simple. Enter Mary Berry’s (she is like the English Betty Crocker for those not in the know) fork biscuits, which are shortbread cookies requiring only butter, flour and sugar. I asked her if the ancient Egyptians ate shortbread, or, in fact, cookies of any kind. But undeterred, she said that it would do fine because they probably ate samosas or something snacky like that. So that is how she ended up baking two batches of cookies for her Humanities class, one plain with chocolate chips and one chocolate with butterscotch chips (I am pretty certain the Egyptians did not have butterscotch or indeed a Hieroglyphic for such).

And she did the whole thing by herself. I even let her put the tray in the preheated oven and take it out when I was in another part of the house. (For some of you this may be no big deal but I am sort of mental about letting my kids do stuff involving sharp knives or a hot stove unless I am physically present in the room. At what age does one stop worrying about supervising such activities? Let me know…)

Having safely removed the cookies from the oven, she popped upstairs and finished off the essay for that final application and started to attack her homework. At one point she appeared downstairs wearing a khaki, James Perse cotton dress of mine. She had apparently rifled through my closet for the perfect peasant outfit and found this to be suitable. And here when I bought it I had no idea that I was paying hundreds to dress like an ancient Egyptian peasant. I guess fashion really does come around every few thousand years. The next morning, armed with a tin of cookies, including a package of store-bought gluten free biscuits for a gluten intolerant classmate (totally her idea), wearing my “peasant dress” and toting a plastic axe (prop) off she went. And I thought to myself, damn, that is one capable kid.

Capable. That is what my mother-in-law said about her during our visit last week. And indeed it is true. She is capable. But there is so much time in the future to do all the stuff she is capable of and so little time left just to be a kid. When I try to think about what I was doing when I was ten I can’t really remember. I suppose that I was capable in my own way as well. But the details are fuzzy and life was very different. I remember being at school and the other children more than I remember what I did after leaving school, which I suppose isn’t surprising given that most of the day at that age is spent in school. That’s why it is good to write these things down. You can see what you were up to when you start to have premature senior moments, precipitated, no doubt, by the ADD that all of us now have due to overuse of technology.

All of this made me wonder about what it feels like to be ten. And whether that felt a lot different, developmentally, hundreds or even thousands of years ago. One of the pharaohs that Izzy is studying (Ramses II) was made an army captain at age ten. That seems crazy. I thought about it. Did the little dude still freak out and tantrum once and a while or just play with wooden swords and act like a child, or was he AFB (all-fucking-business) all the time? Did he ever tell his dad to shut up, or just start crying because he was too hungry or too tired, or did he just force himself to deal because that was what was expected?

I suppose that when the average life expectancy was fairly young and dying of old age was a rare occurrence, being very capable at ten might have been more the norm. Now, with people routinely living into their eighties and beyond, a ten-year-old needn’t be an army captain quite yet, or know how to drive, or run a small country. Yet so much is expected of our children today. The homework, the after school activities… The resume building seems to be starting younger and younger. And along with it, the anxiety and even physical manifestations of it.

I contemplated some of the application questions that my kid was asked to address: At your graduation from high school (that would be EIGHT years from now) what do you hope will be said about your accomplishments and your contribution to the community? If you could replace any activity you now do with something else, what would it be and why? And I ask you, does a ten-year-old need to be tackling these issues? One of my favorite questions was to design your perfect Saturday. Now that, at least, is something a ten-year-old can get her head around. Sigh.

We all want what is best for our children. We want them to be successful. But the most important thing is for them to be happy, isn’t it? To remember to be children. To be challenged and to reach but to have fun along the way. To figure out what they want to be, with many missteps, and perhaps changes of course. Not to push them into what we think they should be, possibly get them “there,” and then realise too late that we have contributed to making them miserable.

One thing I know for sure: once we have moved back to Boston, I will take the kids to Burdick’s for a cup of dark hot chocolate. We will try to snag a table among the deliberately shabbily dressed Cambridge academia, slightly stand-offish and smug, discussing oh-so-seriously their theses, the future of the world, or whatever, between sips of cappuccino and forkfuls of “Harvard Square,” which is a sort of elitist brownie confection. We will block out the drivel and focus inward, on laughs and the present moment and that inimitable cup of liquid gold. On being happy. On the short-lived deliciousness of being a kid.

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18 Hours

I am sitting at the kitchen counter. It is 3:20pm and I am waiting for my seven-year-old daughter to arrive on the “late” bus. She always takes the late bus on Wednesdays, which is early release day followed by a piano lesson. Any moment now she will ring the doorbell and possibly also flip up the metal flap of the mail slot, bend down so that her mouth is level with the slot and call out to announce herself.

I take a deep, satisfied breath and allow myself to slump a little in the bar stool. I have just devoured a leftover meatloaf sandwich (the meatloaf was leftover, not the whole sandwich) on toasted wholemeal bread with a generous smear of mayonnaise and some watercress, with cornichons (which the Breeteesh spellcheck changed to coronations — really?) and cherry tomatoes on the side. If there were Breeteesh speech correct I imagine it would be all offended now, and correct my pronunciation of toe-may-toes to toe-mah-toes with slightly softer “t’s.”

Up — there she is. Excuse me. Fast forward 20 minutes. Now she is seated across the counter from me, having brought in her lunch pack and washed her hands, which is the after-school routine. She is reading a book called “Crunch” which her friend Timothy lent her over the summer. She wants to know what “duh-rell-er” means. What? I say. Point to it. Oh, “derailleur.” You don’t come across that one every day. Anyhow…

I’m thinking about the last 18 hours. And wondering how things can change so quickly. How in that period of time, which does not seem very long at all, one can experience a fury of circumstances and emotions.

Last night after dinner I washed Charlotte’s hair. Actually, a more accurate recount of the evening might include the fact that she had refused to bathe two nights running, had succumbed to a quick bath which she gave herself (but no shampoo) two nights ago and was protesting again last night despite clear signs that she could not go one single day longer without a shampoo. She then had a tantrum and pretended to go on a hunger strike, refusing to come down for dinner “because I don’t like fish curry anyway” until we tried to convince her she might starve to death. “I don’t care if I starve.” She said. And I wasn’t concerned that she would or in fact that she was in any danger whatsoever.

Of course once she had sauntered down she cleaned her plate and said it was the best fish curry she’d ever had. And to think I bought that monkfish from some dude who was going door to door ringing bells and asking if anyone would “loik fresh fish” several months ago! He caught me at an opportune moment seeing as I had just returned from vacation and had neither help nor dinner plan. So I said yes in fact I would “loik” to buy fresh fish and then came the kicker — I had to buy 10 lbs of fish (not all monkfish tho cuz that woulda been weird). So I did and we are all still here today. You know, sometimes you just have to say “what the fuck…” Anyhow, I digress.

She got into her pyjamas and then I aimed the blow dryer at her while she slouched over the latest issue of “Match of the Day,” a magazine about soccer. She became soccer obsessed at some point — exactly when eludes me — in the past year. So she pours over these publications and the accompanying “Match Attax” trading cards ad infinitum. She even categorises the cards in clear plastic sleeves in a notebook, periodically pulling them out and reordering them according to her master — whatever that is — plan of the moment. So you get the gist. She was absorbed. She’s a woman who knows what she wants. And knows who she is. In fact, when asked to describe herself in one word by her second grade teachers, she reflected briefly and responded “Chartastic.”

Once her hair was reasonably dry and she had brushed her teeth and either actually flossed or claimed to have flossed, we settled down in her bed to read a chapter of “The Secret Garden” which we have been reading for a few weeks now. We are at the part where Colin, the little boy who has been told all his life he is disabled and going to die young, stands up from his push chair in the secret garden to prove to old Ben Weatherstaff that he is no invalid.

The bedtime routine is all very calm and cosy and warm, and at the close of the chapter I bookmark our place, lay the book on her desk, tuck her in, kiss her on the forehead and turn off the light. “I love you.” I say. And leave the room.

I trot downstairs — can one trot on stairs? Well I am using that verb. I seem to manage to trot while ascending and descending. And I begin to put away the leftover rice and monkfish curry when I hear what sounds like faint crying.

I trot back upstairs, calling to Charlotte, since I know that the other child, the 10-year-old, is in the living room practicing the clarinet. I reach Char’s door and open it. “What happened?” I ask. “I hit my head!” She cries. So I flip on the light and honestly I can tell you that I was not prepared because she wasn’t crying that loud. I had one of those text-book “don’t react this way in front of your child” reactions, mouth agape, exclamation taking the Lord’s name in vain, what have you. Because she is sitting in the bed and her right hand, sleeve and the entire right side of her forehead are smeared in blood.

Simultaneously, Isabel, who has followed me up the stairs (clarinet still in hand), appears at the door and has a similar reaction. Which of course escalates Charlotte’s crying. At this point Char starts yelling “I’m going to die,” which was actually, in retrospect, kind of funny because after we settled her down and cleaned her up it was clear that the bleeding was under control and that the gash was small, about 1.5 centimetres.

Having rediscovered my rational self, I assured her that she would not die and would be just fine but that we might have to go to the hospital to get the wound closed because it was rather “gashy” (that’s a medical term — did you know?).

I spent about ten minutes trying to decide whether we should haul ass to the Royal Free Hospital’s A&E department (this is the local NHS hospital for those not familiar), knowing that we would probably wait an eternity. But, once I ascertained that Bill was en route home from work, and after calling the GP, texting my plastic surgeon friend and having a good think about it, I decided to get things going and we prepared to leave. I told Bill, who was in a cab, to have the driver leave the meter running and we would jump in and go to the hospital when he got home. That didn’t leave much time, which is why Char was wearing a white, pink and purple bunny pyjama top smeared with blood, no underwear, red sweatpants with blue polka dots, my pink Mickey Mouse socks from H&M, Isabel’s old Uggs that are at least a size too small for her and a shabby green fleece. Oh and she was armed with Froggie, a favorite green stuffed animal that somewhat resembles the shabby green fleece though it is a different shade of green (which isn’t easy, I hear).

I was wearing a peach-coloured cotton sweater with large sequin lips on it (what?) and brown Lulu Lemon sweatpants. And I think I had on underwear, but can’t remember for sure.

We got in the cab and the driver said “Royal Free?” and when I responded in the affirmative Char hollered “I don’t want to go there — I’ll get Ebola!” “You won’t get Ebola,” I said. The driver backed me up on this. So it was kind of funny that the first thing we saw when we arrived was a huge sign that said EBOLA with signs and symptoms and pictures and information and shit. I have to hand it to Char though, because I know damn well she saw it and thought “what the hell” but she didn’t say anything. She doesn’t miss much, even with a minor head injury, so she must have decided to believe me or that her fate was sealed and resistance was futile.

They checked us in (I could use the term nonchalant but a more accurate descriptor might be “could not have given two shits” to describe the young man and woman behind the counter). I had not bandaged Char’s head after cleaning the wound because the bleeding had pretty well stopped so at this point I asked if a nurse could come put a bandage on hoping that would get things moving (hello, head injury!!!) but they just gestured for me to go into a waiting room and said that a nurse would be “right out” to triage us. I would say we waited at least half an hour to 45 minutes for anyone to come out, and this after I complained several times because the wound had started to bleed again and I wanted them to put something on it rather than just let her bleed from the head in the waiting room (duh).

I looked at the signs on the walls. One boasted a 95% cleaning rating. I didn’t get close enough to see 95% of what, exactly. But a downward look revealed what I might call DIRT on the floor along with a discarded plastic bag and stuff like that.

Once the nurse attended to us, which encounter consisted of the usual wound cleansing and the application of some steristrips and a bandage, it took another two hours or so to be seen by a doctor who, after he confirmed that Char didn’t have a concussion (which I could have told him since she was her typical, sarcastic, Chartastic self), cleaned the wound again, pressed the edges of the gash together and glued the sucker. I noticed that during this Charlotte didn’t flinch or complain a bit and indeed I was proud of her stoicism.

When we got outside into the bracing cold she even suggested that we walk home. Um, no, I think we will take a cab honey, I said. It was half past midnight. But again I admired her determination and sense of adventure. Heck, she was probably thinking, it isn’t that often I stay out this late so let’s make the most of the situation and scare up some action!

I put her to bed for the second time that night. Froggie made a detour into the laundry room just in case he had come across any ebola. Char told me to wake her at the regular time for school and that she would see how she felt and reevaluate. And then I turned in myself. But a terrible wind kept stirring up this plastic sheeting covering the scaffolding on a building across the street and it took me a while to succumb. Or maybe it was the excitement of the evening or that I had other things on my mind…

The next morning I woke her and she voted for sleeping in so Isabel and I had an uncharacteristic breakfast together sans little sister and Izzy went off. Char woke up at about 8:30 and after another breakfast we set out for school.

I had to go out anyway because I had had a virus (otherwise known as the common cold) which culminated in serious laryngitis. The inflammation of my vocal cords combined with my loquaciousness, a trip to New Orleans and three weeks of house guests and my penchant for yelling from the ground floor of our house to the top floor didn’t help so after three weeks it was still hoarse. When I informed my mother that I had been hoarse for that long she gave me that look. And told me I needed to get it checked. Do you know what I mean by that look? Yeah, that’s the one. The one that says. Oh shit you had cancer so it could be cancer. And then I told my husband that I hoped I didn’t have nodes on my vocal cords (which is short for nodules — a benign callous like thing that people can get), then he gave me that look. So I said to myself, oh for fuck’s sake I’ll go to the otolaryngologist and determine that I do not have laryngeal cancer. That’ll shut everyone up. And I made an appointment to see a guy on Harley Street.

So I drop Charlotte off at school and make my way to Harley Street. I’m called into this nice dude’s office and we have a chat about my history of breast cancer and thyroid disease (at which point I sort of always feel like a loser because I am only 42 for crying out loud) and I explain the reason for my visit. He talks about the various sinister things it could be, such as, yes, cancer, caused by the HPV virus (ew, right?) etc. and then he sprays some anaesthetic on the back of my throat which he says will prevent me from having a gag reflex when he sticks this long metal thing down there to look at my vocal cords. Tempted though I was, I resisted the urge to mutter some totally inappropriate joke about — you know what? I am not even gonna say it. I’m above that (not really, but the parents are prob reading this so ya know).

So he sticks the probe in there and tells me to intermittently breathe and make a high-pitched “eeeee” and then after about three minutes he yanks it out, tells me I’m perfectly fine and let’s me have a look on the screen at my pretty, healthy vocal cords.

So I leave, my step noticeably lighter. And decide to hightail it to that mecca of all places in which to celebrate LIFE, the Oxford Circus Top Shop. Sometimes when I am in a great mood (or am not but need to be in one) nothing else will do, especially if they have a live DJ. And it is always only a matter of time before I scarf down some fro yo or Lola’s cupcakes. I’m telling you, the weird fake fur stuff I bought there today will totally require a separate blog entry. But let’s just say I plan to take funky to new levels before my time in London is up. And no, one really cannot own too many pink fake furs.

While shopping it occurs to me that a matter of minutes beforehand I had wondered — not outright worried but wondered — if somehow I could possibly be unlucky enough to have cancer again somewhere else on my body. At the age of 42.

And how only hours before that I was putting my daughter to bed and had tucked her in all safe and sound but she managed to hurt herself in her own room. And the fleeting yet unforgettable moment of terror I experienced when I opened her door, flicked on her light, saw the blood and thought she might have a serious head injury.

To better contemplate the unexpected twists and turns in life, I order a frozen yogurt and slurp it down, while balancing a purse, a parka and an entire large shopper full of ridiculous fake fur items.

And several unoriginal thoughts occur to me at once:  (1) that life is full of the unexpected; (2) that you have to leave the house because you cannot control everything no matter what your (quite possibly false) perception of safety and security and how ritualistic or careful your routines are; and (3) that there is nothing worse than worrying about your child and the other ones you love, and that this is precisely why my mother and my husband gave me that look, and why it was the right thing to do to take it seriously and get myself checked out.

This was a long one and I commend you if you read through to the end. I didn’t call it 18 hours for nothing, eh? Well, to quote an oldie but goodie, good night, sleep tight and don’t let the corners of IKEA shelving units slam into your foreheads while you are reaching for a toy in the dark — or something like that.

Spotty fur











So it’s long been the case that when I have an idea for a blog post, I am too lazy to write it down, forget the idea completely and then never write about it. I know why. It’s because I am in a different place, mentally (well, physically too if I want to be accurate) than I was during my peak blog posting days on ole killingitblog.

I do not feel the same sense of urgency and don’t have the same adrenaline rush that I used to experience when an idea bubbled to the surface — bursting to come forth. Which isn’t surprising when you consider that during treatment I was engaged in battle and was determined, single-minded and focused (almost entirely) on one thing. This is something I have written about before.

A little time and distance change a person and change the way one thinks and reacts. The question is, am I even capable of producing a good blog post now that my focus isn’t so focused? Maybe not. That quick wit or ability to tell a good story that seemed to flow effortlessly from my fingertips might have gone the way of the dodo.

If I’m honest with myself (this is an expression the English use constantly — “if I’m honest” — which I find irritating but when in Rome, so…), I find that most of the things I want to write about now have nothing to do with the reason I started this blog in the first place. I want to write about design and fashion, for instance. And I think that I will once I get off my ass and start a different blog, considering that the title and tag (and the honey badger, of course) of this one mightn’t draw in the readership I’m hoping for.

So is there still a place for killingitblog? Or should I consider it killed? Done and dusted? Ready for the file? I think not. For two main reasons:

1) A relevant thought still crops up from time to time. And with time, distance and perspective, I see things through a different lens. There is value to be had in that, I think. And analysis to be done.

2) There are plenty of times when I wrote about something that really had nothing to do with cancer anyway. When I think about the heart of this blog I think about it more as a blog about life seen through the eyes of someone who happened to be dealing with cancer treatment than as about cancer per se.

And, things happen to me occasionally that make me realise that there is always another story to be told. Because although there is time and distance and perspective and dare I say a certain “wisdom,” about this topic, at least, one thing will remain the same and that is the fact that I had cancer and that experience will always be a part of who I am. Like it or not.

Cue the inadvertently insensitive comment.

The other evening I was out with some friends and one lady remarked, out of the blue: “oh you are SO lucky you don’t have to wear a bra.” I responded “really?” But she didn’t hear me, perhaps because she had just made the comment in passing and wasn’t really thinking about what she said.

Here is what I would have liked to say to her in response:

I am lucky in many things and for many reasons but I am not lucky that I got cancer and had to have both of my breasts removed.

My cosmetic result is “fine” and you wouldn’t ever know, probably, even in a bra, what I have been through, but sister, you don’t know what I would give to have my real tits back. Even if they got a little deflated with age, even if it meant I couldn’t fit into the bikini tops and sports bras that I have fairly recently acquired. Even if it really hurt when someone elbowed me there.

I can be lying in a bathtub in pretty hot water and if my boobs are sticking out (which they always are since they never move) and I touch them they are cold. They are NOT REAL BOOBS. They are glorified plastic bags filled with cohesive silicone gel and they are masquerading as tits.

I have very little sensation there because all that is left of my own tissue is the skin and even that doesn’t feel much because of all the surgery.

I do not feel comfortable changing in a women’s locker room, not that I have any issue with my own body, but because I just don’t want to deal with the looks I will get because it is obvious that I had breast cancer.

On the up side, they do look pretty good in clothes. I can jog and do jumping jacks without hitting myself in the face. And I can make them dance — even one at a time — since my pecks are on the outside and am blessed with good muscle isolation, which is a fun party trick and a good way to end an awkward conversation with someone. And I don’t suffer from, as my seven-year-old so aptly coined it, “chilly boobs” which is when your nipples get hard when the temperature drops.

I am not whining. I do not feel sorry for myself. These are all things that I can live with. I even think that it is funny, to some extent. But I would still prefer to have real, human flesh on that softest of female areas. Warm semicircles that flatten out when one is reclined on one’s back, or that can be pushed together and form a single line of cleavage in a corset (if one is into corset-wearing).

I don’t hold the comment against the nice lady. I even like her. It just revealed that lack of awareness that exists in so many of us. Or perhaps that failure to look before you leap.

This is not the last comment of this kind I will field. And that is okay. I can take it. I can laugh about it. I may even invite such things because I am so loquacious (that’s a fancy word for “never shut the fuck up”), because I do not consider the topic remotely taboo and have made a lot of jokes about it — so people feel they can say anything to me. (As an aside, a comment I totally would have appreciated would have been “how are your tits? Firm and high?” Now see that’s actually funny and would have made me smile. Though I wouldn’t recommend you try it out on someone else.

The thing is, there is nothing lucky about getting cancer. Even if with it have come some unexpected gifts. At the end of the day it is still cancer. And it still sucks. And no one wants to have it.

By the way, if you are reading this and you are the one who said this to me, I want you to know that the last time I saw you you had spinach between your two front teeth and I didn’t tell you.  Ha ha.

Photo on 11-10-2014 at 16.31