What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Today after spin class I lay on the gym floor and rolled out my IT band for what seemed like an eternity. As I tried (and failed) not to groan and pull faces, I imagined a creator deciding to put together a person resembling a human being but so tightly constructed as to defy human form, just for shits and giggles. That would be me. Bad grammar intentional.

This made me think about the limitations with which we live. The obstacles we face and how we face them. And for some inexplicable reason it reminded me of when I used to take horseback riding lessons in Connecticut during my middle school years.

The facility — I forget what town it was in — was pretty expansive with both a large indoor ring and outdoor spaces for dressage and hunter jumper courses. One day we were shown a competition course that involved riding through the woods alone for a decent stretch. It also required memorizing directions and turning the correct way at a fork in the woods to stay on path. And finally, emerging from the wooded trail and jumping some fences. There may have been some other shit in there but I don’t recall.

The day of the competition was upon us. I was assigned a horse named Petey, a Dapple Grey, slightly long in the tooth. He was not very tall, had a sweet temperament and was generally a pleasant horse to ride. At least in my experience.

He was also completely blind in one eye.

And now for a little side note.

Despite my passion for riding and horses — a love affair that lasted for many years — I nevertheless experienced anxiety before every lesson. Sometimes I felt flutters in my stomach and a rather unpleasant creeping feeling. I shared this with no one.

Furthermore, I was a directional moron and not very good at learning the way or knowing which way to turn when faced with options. Some might argue that I still am and that I am able to function at a somewhat acceptable level only due to GPS and smart phones. But I actually think I have improved. Anyhow, I digress…

The day of the competition arrived. Off we went, Petey and I. We cantered into the woods. Petey, with his impaired vision, stumbled over a tree root, which caused me to lose one of my stirrups. Somehow I managed to get my foot back into the stirrup mid-canter, but as soon as I had done so I realized that I had caught the reins under my leg — I had managed to put my foot through the loop of the reins and then back into the stirrup in my rather spastic scramble to correct the SNAFU. Do you like that alliteration? Yes I thought so.

Moving along…

A cold finger began to poke at my intestines as I realized that I did not have proper control over the reins and because the horse was still cantering I couldn’t easily remove my foot again and get them. And the fences were coming up after the woods portion. The horse would not be able to jump with the reins tucked under my leg.

To top it off, Petey was nonplussed by the stumbling incident and his blindness made him paranoid. He sensed that something was amiss with the reins and his rider and so he began to turn his head all the way to one side to try and see what was going on with the good eye. All the while still cantering. Through the woods.

You realize of course that horses’ eyes are on the sides of their heads so being half blind is a different animal, so to speak, from having an unseeing eye when the eyes are right next to one another on the front of your face and the other eye can compensate. You get it, right?

In my frantic attempt to fix the reins and stirrup I stiffened up and my seat was all over the place, my ass slapping the saddle inelegantly. What’s more, during this turmoil, I am pretty sure I turned the wrong way, taking the incorrect path to the jumping course which would cost me time and cause points to be deducted once the instructors/judges realized my error.

As we tangled mess of horse and rider hurtled out of the woods, I finally had to stop and fix the reins so that Petey could extend his head to jump the fences. I was a jumble of nerves and so was poor Petey, still craning his neck in a futile attempt to see what was going on on his blind side.

The entire time this was happening I was experiencing anger (at myself for having lost the stirrup for I would not have done so had my knees been properly snug around the horse), embarrassment (for my ineptitude at losing the stirrup and turning the wrong way and the resulting poor time) and general unhappiness and disappointment and shit like that.

Basically I felt like a loser. I was a loser. I am a loser, I thought. No, even worse, I said to myself: You are a loser. J’accuse.

I remember the feelings so well.

You know, it’s funny. In retrospect I find the incident amusing. Ridiculous, really. And I remember that at the time I was not even aware that Petey was blind in one eye. I asked one of the instructors at the end what the deal was with him turning his head around and freaking out and she said, casually, “oh he’s blind in one eye.”

What the fuck, lady? But you know, it was the 80s and people weren’t worried about full disclosure and shit.

Some days I kind of feel like I did on that day. Everything goes wrong. Not the way I planned it. I take wrong turns. I feel like a loser. Or act like one. Or both. Sometimes I call myself one. But that’s ok. That’s life, isn’t it?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

 

Random Thoughts

Do I need a theme? Something elegant, well thought out? Bright and witty? In order to write…?

Nope.

I’m just going to post some random shit.

That occurred to me when I was getting out of my car tonight after pulling it into my too small garage (or depending on your perspective, my too big car in my just right garage — perspective is everything).

Thought No. 1: My car has a really excellent sound system. It was a good decision. Sometimes when I put it away for the day I turn off the ignition and sit there for a few minutes listening to really loud music. Just me in the too small garage. Rocking out. Then reality hits and I realize I have to make dinner and deal with people and shit so I shinny between the barely open door and the garage wall (which involves being a size 4 or smaller in order to extract self without injury). It’s a pain in the ass but somehow amusing and ritualistic. I won’t miss it when I have a better garage yet I find it amusing. The little things the little things.

Thought No. 2: I tell my kids to make their beds every day before school. Most of the time or maybe half, they don’t do it. Most days I make my own bed. But sometimes I don’t do it either. I wondered the other day whether that makes me a hypocrite. I decided it just makes me human. Fuck it fuck it.

Thought No. 3: Locker rooms are weird. Generally. They get weirder when you are wielding a pair of reconstructed tits following a double mastectomy. Earlier this week I ran into a former neighbor who hadn’t seen me in ages and I don’t know if she “knows.” I was standing there in a towel for a while, smiling and making polite conversation and ultimately decided not to change in front of her because I didn’t want to deal. But I am starting to get less worried about that. Maybe I should just parade those puppies all over the locker room — could be an enlightening, eye-opening experience. The long and short of it is that I think I have come a long way, To wit: Once, following my reconstruction, I was showering at my gym in London and I realized that I had forgotten to bring my bra and panties into the stall so I could walk out semi-clad as was my custom. I had a tiny towel that was way too small to cover both T and A. So I weighed my alternatives and decided to cover the top half and walk out of the shower bare assed. Should I have hyphenated that? Decisions decisions. And of course. Perspective perspective.

Thought No. 4: A few weeks ago I was horsing around after maybe a couple glasses of wine and ran after my 9-year-old who was carrying some dark chocolates. When carpet changed to hard wood (I had on socks) I bit it hard and smashed onto my left elbow and hip. I eventually went to the orthopedist who informed me I might have broken my elbow but if I had they wouldn’t set it anyhow and to just wait it out and deal. The arm is better and doesn’t limit me much. I can work out, lift things, Do burpies, planks and push-ups, etc. However, I still can’t open a bottle of wine without putting it on the floor between my feet for leverage. Irony Irony.

Final Thought of the Night: In the summer I bought a nice ficus and a king palm and kept them on the screened in front porch where they seemed relatively content until one fateful day when I guess I overwatered them and they started to look poorly. Then when the weather changed I moved them into the living room and that really killed the fuck out of them. Oops. My husband informed me that I was not to purchase any subsequent indoor house plants following this incident. He did not know that that very day I had been scoping out an expensive fiddle leaf fig tree at Winston’s which is probably one of the fussier indoor plants to take care of. Ha ha.

G’night all.

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Marjorie, Problem Child, Goes to Rehab

So I haven’t written a damn thing in months. I started to write some depressing piece about how down I was feeling a few months ago called “Demons” but the feeling passed and then the moment passed and the few incoherent dribblings I managed to eek out will forever fester in the land of blog post drafts where they belong.

It is now May. The month of my birth. And swiftly approaching is my 44th birthday. 44. A nice round number. It feels like ages ago that my 40th was approaching. We had a party at an Italian restaurant in London. Bill, who suddenly took deathly ill the day of the party — he was literally green and nauseated — managed to drink a Coke, rally and give a heartfelt speech about how great I am. There are pictures of me embracing him following such speech and veering to one side (because I did not want to catch whatever the fuck was ailing him in my delicate condition).

Never in one million years would I have believed you had you told me in advance that I would be as bald as a cue ball for my fortieth. It was such. A weird. Thing.

Moving right along.

When last we met I was going on about how hot I was planning to be super hot this year following Marjorie’s scar revision. (Read my previous post if this is not ringing a bell). Forever the optimist, I kept thinking that “this time around” Marjorie might be okay. That she would come out of it and be better. But the reality is that I am just not sure about Marjorie.

She is not what I would call behaving 100%. You see, radiated skin does what the hell it wants to. It is never the same following the radiation, which affects, among other things, the blood supply, and tends to make things fibrotic (think tight and painful). So when the swelling from surgery subsided and the scar went from looking like Frankenstein’s monster’s forehead to a discolored horizontal line, I noticed the skin around the incision starting to harden up. And telltale signs of the tethering that we were trying to fix in the first place.

The turn of events went something like this: There I was minding my own business abstaining from upper body exercises for what seemed like an eternity and then I had a post-op check-up and got the all clear and then it snowed. Not a little.

So I took it upon myself to go out and shovel the hell out of my considerable driveway, which was the first upper body workout I had done in about 6 weeks. The day after that, I noticed that Marjorie was starting to hint at being up to her old tricks. It was like finding a lighter in your kid’s room after you caught them with cigarettes (or worse) and they swore they would never smoke again.

Shit, I thought. Marjorie is up to her old tricks again. I am assured that shovelling snow did not suddenly cause this behavior, but naturally I began blaming myself for this possible development and wondering why I didn’t just leave the snow and let everyone make fresh tracks in it.

The good news: Marjorie looks better than she did before. She does. I have not dusted off the chick fillets or resulted to spackle and I can wear stuff sans padding and be pretty happy with the result.

The bad news: there is definitely some misbehavior. Marjorie is not, in the esteemed words of Taylor Swift, out of the woods.

Solution: Marjorie goes to rehab.

That’s right, the bitch, in classic attention seeking fashion, is demanding all sorts of special treatment. This includes being massaged with expensive body cream from France and a special scar tweaking rub that I do about twice a day, time permitting, to try to loosen up that area. And we even see a specialist physiotherapist who deals only with problem children such as Marjorie. This is weird because every time you cross paths with someone coming or going from the PT’s office you know this person is a member of the same club and she knows you are too. It isn’t discussed. It is a silent understanding, hanging heavily in the air. All of us ladies and our Marjories.

We are not praying for perfection or even really hoping for normal. Rather we seek improvement; we are just trying to make these casualties of war “as good as they can be.”

This is where a bunch of people will chime in that we ladies are just lucky to be alive and that this is what’s important and we should be thankful for that because it could have been worse.

Here’s a bit of advice. Don’t you ever even THINK of saying that to me or someone like me. It’s dismissive and ridiculous. As if we, of all people, do not understand that having a sightly dented boob and some pain and tethering from scar tissue, or even NO BOOB, is preferable to being six feet under. Ask yourself why you would say such a thing? Is it to make the recipient of the comment feel better, really? Or is it a nice tidy end to an uncomfortable topic that you have decided is no longer worth discussing?

Hell to the NO.

Seeking improvement is a normal human behavior and part of the process of getting on with one’s life. So this should be encouraged (unless of course the person at issue becomes obsessed or unrealistic about what is possible at which point it might become unhealthy behavior).

But just let me try to make her a little better. I can settle for “good enough.”

At the end of the day, the irony is that Marjorie is getting by far more play than her predecessor ever would have on a daily basis, and she cannot even feel it.

What a waste.

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 http://killingitblog.com/american-summer/ 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

Batman

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 phoned 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?

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/comedy-news/video-liverpool-hair-rollers-expert-reveals-7595523

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.  🙂

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2015/05/06/empathy_cards_by_emily_mcdowell_are_greeting_cards_designed_for_cancer_patients.html

Supergirl

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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Breakdown at the Local Branch

It is Saturday. My husband is away traveling in the United States (San Francisco). The kids and I are living the London life. Unfortunately, that involves the occasional trip to our local branch of *%$@, festering turd of a bank that finds itself acceptable.

Have you been to a bank in America?  You get in line, go to the teller (that’s “counter service” here) and get your shit done, whatever that may be.  It’s pretty straightforward.  Generally. If you need something more complicated done, you see someone and sort it out. I have never had a big complicated problem. Never.

So why is it that every time I go to the local branch of our UK bank there is some problem?  I mean every time.  I am not exaggerating even though I am, admittedly, prone to hyperbole.

The first time I went there to pay our UK taxes and was sent elsewhere because my husband was not physically present and they needed him even though I am on the account too. Perhaps they were concerned that I was some crazed vindictive bitch who wanted to pay lots of money to her majesty’s revenue just for the fun of it, against my husband’s will. So they had better have him present.

The second time, I went to open a bank account for my seven-year-old daughter. So that we could put her modest 4 GBP/week allowance in there via direct deposit and start teaching her some financial responsibility. I had filled out the application, vetted such for what would be required, shown up with passport in hand, all pleased with myself for thwarting, in advance, any stupid English bullshit likely to ensue. But wait.

I got there and they said I “needed an appointment.” I had a mini hissy fit and then they finally talked to me and said that I could not open the account anyhow because my 7-year-old needed to be physically present in case I was trying to open an account for money laundering purposes by creating a fraudulent child.

Um, are you fucking kidding me?  I informed them that I had opened just such an account for my other minor child only months before without her physical presence. “Yes, the rules have changed, madame,” I was informed.

I then asked them if they thought it would be particularly fruitful in my criminal career if I were planning to launder a mere 4 GBP per week, at which the woman allowed herself at least a somewhat sympathetic look.

I mean SERIOUSLY.

Plus it would have been an awful lot of trouble for me to get a fake passport for said child. I demanded to open the account. “I am supposed to be a premier customer,” I said.  “You know us; you have all of our information. I have an account here. It isn’t like I just wandered in off the street with my fake kid’s passport.”

The woman finally agreed to help me. But I had to queue (of course).

Finally some lady beckoned me over.  We got pretty far into the process and then she asked for my kid’s visa, which of course is no longer in her passport but in the form of a super convenient separate biometrics card that I did not have on me because it did not occur to me that I would need THAT to open the damn account.

So there I was, foiled again, and ended up leaving without having opened the account.  I had to go back on Monday with the biometrics card to do it. At which time, of course, there was a computer “fault” and the woman had to call the help line, which didn’t appear to be a different number or procedure than had she not been internal to the bank. I sat there, dumbfounded, wondering whether Lord Nelson was at that very moment turning in his grave at the complete incompetence and breakdown that has ensued in this country since the English beat the French at the Battle of Trafalgar. And finally, finally, the damn paperwork was done and I walked — no, practically ran — out, hoping that the account would eventually be activated and that I would receive notice of such in the post.

So after a couple of weeks the damn thing did show up. Yippee doodle.

Today, said kid’s soccer match was canceled on account of rain, so I said “not to worry, dearie, we will head to the local bank branch and deposit some money for you.” Figured I would teach her a little about how it works.

I checked the hours and confirmed that the bank was indeed open until 2pm. So we counted coins (yes got a good math lesson in there to boot), put them in the correct plastic baggies which I had obtained in advance, and headed up there.

When I opened the door I knew right away that my luck with this branch was not about to change. The shades on both tellers’ windows were drawn, and there was a tired, lazy, sorry-looking bunch of people slumped in the handful of chairs against the wall, waiting to be “helped.”

I managed to get some lady’s attention and said “excuse me, but isn’t there any counter service? We have just come to deposit some cash and do a transfer for my daughter here.”

“Oh there is no counter service on Saturdays. You can’t deposit the cash today.”

I blinked, maybe a few times, and then I forget what I even said. But the response was that there had not been “counter service here for eight years, madame. Because it isn’t a working day.”

I bit my tongue when the desire to remark “well YOU are working today” rose up in my throat in a bilious gurgle. And then we walked out the door.

You know, I have lived here for over three years. And yes, I am not English, and still don’t “get” certain things. But damnation these people are ridiculous.

I can’t even fully do it justice by describing the episodes in this blog. I cannot. You would simply have to come experience it for yourselves.

And if you English readers are clucking and shaking your head and thinking “oh you just don’t understand about how things work here,” well I’ve got news for you, lads and lasses, you are RIGHT. I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all because THEY DON’T fucking work. It’s a miracle that anything ever ends up getting done here at all.

So we headed out to run other errands and have a nice lunch, plastic baggies of coins still in hand.

And to think I had that fake passport made all for nothing. Sheeyit.

Until we meet again

Here I am staring down at your onion with a 10-inch blade in my right hand. I’m going to cut into it but then I stop and think — maybe I shouldn’t. I consider not using it. Then it will be gone and I won’t have it to remember you by. But that doesn’t seem right, either. Better that it become part of this marinara than it dry out slowly, becoming too wizened to use and ending up in the rubbish. My choice in this matter will not affect the outcome, which is that you are on a plane heading to the United States, leaving your London life and me, and us, behind.

Last night when we said good-bye after a somewhat raucous family dinner atop the dog-eared astroturf-floored dining room of a Primrose Hill pub, where the lamb was cooked medium-well even though it was ordered medium-rare, but we didn’t care and ate it anyway, I was steady and cheerful. We were silly and the evening culminated in a strange assortment of “party tricks.” Who can wiggle their ears? Pick his nose with his tongue (I’m not mentioning names here), make her pecks dance like a male body builder, raise an eyebrow one at a time? But then today it hit me. You really are gone.

It hit Bill at the same time, What’s App’ing me from the high street when he passed some Ibérico jamón and it dawned on him that you were really leaving. So I stood here in the kitchen, making a simple dinner for the kids, blubbering before I had even cut the onion. It’s in the sauce now, bubbling away. I can see you choosing it, maybe from the little grocery store around the corner or the small food shoppe around the other corner, a lock of jet hair falling in front of your eyes as you stoop to pick it up.

And I will just miss you so much. Your enormous, kind, intelligent eyes, your doll-like forearms, the way you stand with your toes pointed slightly inward, hands in pockets, smiling. A subtle waft of Byredo Blanche perfuming the air.

Your charming omission of articles, of which I am reminded constantly because I am reading The Goldfinch and there are Russian characters who do the same thing.

Long walks during which I had to slow down so that you could keep up, chance meetings on our street or in the neighborhood during which you would always smile when you saw that it was I, walking toward you. Your bemused, nonjudgmental air as you observed that I was heading down the street on my way from the gym, headphones in, lip-sinking something frivolous and aimed at a much younger audience.

Patience and tolerance as I flopped unapologetically on your sectional, bald, un-made up, haggard and irritable, suffering from (or I should say inflicting) the latest ‘roid rage from the steroids I had to take after chemo. I would wait for the second week during which I always felt better and then dive into something spicy, delicious and nourishing that you had cooked, without a recipe, savoring every bite. Blissful relief from the bland week of baked chicken breasts and steamed broccoli that had preceded this delicacy.

Throwing out your two-year-old baking soda, shaking my head, as I helped you make a cake in the Cuisinart, of all things (which actually turned out pretty well!). Remembering your welcome intervention at Thanksgiving when I tried for the first time to make gravy.

Standing on the sidewalk as my older daughter bounded down the street, beaming in anticipation of a play date with your daughter. Fighting a wave of sadness as I realized it would be the last time I watched her do this.

Passing your house, knowing I might never again set foot in it. Knowing that its contents are all packaged up — either already gone or waiting to be taken. That the house is sanitized, devoid of your presence. Meaningless.

Allowing myself to feel this pain, I who am not very nostalgic, I who can adapt to anything. Fallible me. Wondering where you will land and when I will see you again.

It was a gift. These last years. Having you all on the same street where we live. Your family. Your dinners. Chris, his epic barbecues, his ruthless yet surreptitious topping up of wine glasses. His unnecessary yet much appreciated comments on our strength. Your whole family and their loveliness. Your beautiful children. Your son happily playing legos with our daughter almost three years his junior.

Oh, my friend. I miss you so. To think I will not be able to text and then magically cause you to appear minutes later. To think that you are thousands of miles away.

I long to hijack you, a girls’ weekend… a getaway. Something. Something that will make it be “till we meet again” and not “good-bye.” Anything but that.