Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Pause for Thought

School is over for the year and all of a sudden, so is my state of mind - right now, I am over this city. I am sick of the noise, the new rank 'summer sewer' smells, the oppressive heat, dashing for subways with two kids - guitars, backpacks, school projects in hand. This feeling has crept up on me like a surprise birthday party, the door has been thrown open and 'Surprise!', I am ready for summer travels.

The next few months will, hopefully, restore my energy and enthusiasm. I will once again be the life and soul of the Manhattan family party. So, I am going to take a few weeks pause from blogging. I will return, refreshed and inspired by a break from the crazy, wonderful life that is raising kids in Manhattan. I have some new plans afoot and look forward to sharing them all with you when I return.

Have a great summer, dear readers.

Torie B

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Getting a Fair Shot in the Big Apple

This week we have all had to go through our medicals for our Green Card applications. Uncle Sam likes to make sure that we are up to scratch on immunisations, are clear of TB and other nasty diseases they would rather we did not distribute to the natives. Between the four of us we have had 10 needles stuck into our arms, involving six visits to two different doctors. As I explained to the junior non-natives why they had to have yet another 'shot' into their pink, plump, perfect skin, my mind began to sum up the long journey we have made to get to this point, to review all the decisions we have made which lead us here, to ask myself "Is it worth it?".

The Green Card Doctor's surgery was a production line of hope and despair. The sterile waiting room was peppered with non-natives, all willing to wait, shoulder to shoulder for two hours for a doctor to stick needles in them. At one end there was a large screen showing old Charlie Chaplin movies. Silent, comedic entertainment that dragged out the odd chuckle from the young and old alike. As we struggled to keep our jumpy kids occupied, a doctor or nurse would come to the waiting room and call aloud the next victim up for the pin-cushion olympics. As I watched each person take their turn, I thought about their story and the decisions they had made to get to be sharing the same experience. Most people seemed tense, confused, struggling to speak or understand English. The process is confusing enough for a person with English as a first language, for an elderly Chinese couple, the whole experience looked to be just too much.

Later in the day, we took a ferry to Governor's Island to go for a bike ride. As I stood, holding my hair out of my eyes, the Statue of Liberty commanded the horizon before me. I looked at her raised hand and forward stance, feeling the sense of hope that she was intended to inspire. She has stood guard in New York Harbour for 124 years, welcomed the poor, the hungry, the displaced and the hopeful. I could imagine the looks on the faces of those who had arrived on ships after gruelling journeys as she came into view. Like me, they would see in her a new beginning and gain comfort from her solidity, her affirmation of liberty and opportunity. My eye trained down to her ladyship's neighbour, Ellis Island, where on the 1st of January 1892, a fifteen year old Irish girl called Annie Moore was the first immigrant to be processed there. Annie's immigration process would have lasted three to five hours, she would have had her famous 'six second' medical, before being allowed to start her new life in the US. I wonder how Annie felt about her medical. Did she like her life here? Did it live up to her expectations? Did she get a fair shot at the 'American Dream'?

Being an immigrant means that you have a certain set of qualities. You are prepared to take risks. You are able to change, adapt and grow. You have courage. You make sacrifices. Like Annie, we will gain a lot from our 'Green Card', but we have made some personal sacrifices to get it. On the way to school I listened to my two kids discuss what they would like to be when they grow up. After trying on lots of hats (artist, author, cab driver, musician, scientist, teacher) they both unanimously decided that the best job they could possibly get was to be President of the United States of America. When I explained to them that, even if they gave it their best shot, this was a job that was not open to them, "You have to be born in the US to able to become President", they looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and disappointment. They feel that this is their country now, for better or worse and as a result they have the same sense of entitlement and belonging as the native kids. But alas, unless there is a change of law, they will have to give another type of job a shot.

"How about Charlie Chaplin?", I said. "What? The weird looking guy with the big foot and funny moustache we saw when we got our shots?". I told them how the 'weird guy' was born in the East End of London and moved to the US aged 21. He didn't get to become President, but he did become one of the most iconic movie stars of all time. You know, if you give it a fair shot, you just never know what the land of opportunity will deliver.

yours, lobbying Congress to amend Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution

Torie B

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Miss New York 2010

Since arriving in Manhattan there is no doubt that I have been 'Miss New York'. [Note: 'Miss' is slightly too flattering, given it is my 11 year wedding anniversary today, but 'Mrs New York' doesn't have the same ring to it]. I have embraced everything this city has had to offer. Arriving with an open heart and an open mind, ready to make the best of what life had thrown up - a new start in this wonderful but complex city. And like any contestant in the real 'Miss New York' there has been lots of gushing, beaming and positively bursting at the seams with enthusiasm.

But like the glassy eyed beauty contestant, the bubbly discourse only tells half the story. Behind the coiffured facade lies something a little deeper. Miss New York has been missing a lot recently. You all know about the garden longings. But as I sit here on our wedding anniversary the other 'missings' can no longer be ignored. Today is also my brother's birthday and it is hard to be so far away. Granted we have both travelled the world and spent many birthdays apart, but this time it feels harder because I was the one who left and what is more he has his first child on the way, soon waiting to meet it's Auntie. I can't help it, I feel guilty.

Guilt is an emotion that mothers feel too much. I know the reasons why I feel it but it still follows me around like a beauty contestant's topless photo on the Internet. Why can't we just can't shake it off? I suppose it is because Mothers love to look out for everybody, be there to physically hold their hand. Throw them a party. Put the candles in the birthday cake. Some how a card and a phone call doesn't seem good enough.

Another example is my best friend. She lives in Barcelona and is expecting her first baby today. Yes, today is going to be a tough day. Since the evening that we were in her parent's house, aged 18, crying and hugging over her packed bags ready to move to university the next day, saying our goodbyes, I have never missed her this much. I just want to be there and hold her child. Have that connection with her or she that was taken for granted.

For people who move abroad, leaving behind parents and grandparents is also very hard. You are that much further away, they get older and the long flight becomes less pleasant. They see their grandchildren less than they used to, though when they do visit, they get to stay for longer. In a way that means that they get to just slot into the kids' daily routine, which is a special insight for Grandparents who live far away. Then there are very elderly grandparents, who just can't travel. When you move abroad, you think about all that precious time you are missing and the responsibility of caring for them that you should be sharing with your family members who stayed behind.

Sometimes calling, emailing or facebooking can get difficult. Maybe some people will resent the fact that you have managed to find happiness in your new life. People live busy lives, and it is not always easy even keeping up with friends who live nearby. The 'Guilt addicts' can use that to beat themselves up - " it's because I left, moved on, left them behind". The movers just have to hang on in there and hope that the good friends will continue to make an effort.

In this global, well-travelled world most people live away from their family and friends for a period of time. The reality is that with such freedom and mobility, no one can be with all the people that they love all of the time. It is just a part of modern life. Personal circumstances have made me very sensitive to missing people, so I understand why this experience resonates. It's why I am more of the 'Miss' than anything else in 'Miss New York 2010'.

yours, working at animal shelters and helping to solve world peace

Torie B

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Book Club: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

In the last year, since moving to Manhattan, a lot of things have changed in my life. One of those changes has been my book club. In St. Alban's, I had a real, live, wine drinking, gossip sharing, shoulder-to-cry-on book club. We would meet once a month, discuss the book (sometimes), listen to each others' problems (half of the time) and laugh (all of the time). Now, I have a new kind of book club - an online book club, attached to the wonderful, NYC Mom's blog that I am lucky to write for. Each month we read a selected book and post a blog about how the book as made us feel. Has it made us think about our lives in a new or different way? This month we are reviewing 'I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced' by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui.

Nujood Ali, the author and protagonist of this book, lays before the world, in this her true story, how she came to be seeking a divorce from a Yemeni court at the age of ten. It is an insight into the plight of some children in the Yemen, who are forced by their family to marry when they are still in the depths of their childhood. As harrowing as her story is, it is also very inspiring and empowering. Nujood fought against all of her upbringing and had the courage to demand a divorce, alone. As I began the book, I wondered how on earth such a cruel life could relate to my own life? But the further I got into it, Nujood's voice was so compelling, fearless and engaging that she forced me to consider the wider issues of the power of independent thought.

The scale of controlling people's behaviours, thoughts and freedom is a very large one. On one hand, you have the world that Nujood lives in. Extreme poverty, strong religious beliefs and a complete disregard for the sanctity of a child's mind. On the other, you have Manhattan. I have tried before in previous blogs to analyse what it is that makes New York so special. Looking at this unique city through Nujood's eye, I fall in love all over again with it's liberal principles. No matter what creed, colour, sex, point of view you come from, you have a place here. Independent thought is positively encouraged. Frankly, it is a prerequisite. Try turning up at the school gates without an opinion on the lead in the New York Times and you'll soon learn.

I was brought up in rural Northern Ireland. The phrase 'children should be seen and not heard', was a regular part of my childhood. I'm not claiming to be quite able to relate to Nujood, but I feel an empathy with her plight that perhaps my liberal, Manhattan children never will. One of the reasons we were able to leave behind their English prep school education was because we loved the progressive teaching at their new school. My kids are actively being taught to think for themselves on a daily basis. There is not enough room on this blog to talk about what an incredible change that has been for them, safe to say that it is making my job as a parent (sometimes you just need to do what you're bl**dy told!) much more difficult.

So, how did this child, Nujood aged 10, come to have this powerful ability to think beyond her poverty, her family's expectations, her society's pressures and beyond, even, her age? Sometimes, it isn't your post code, your zip code or your remote Yemeni village that decides your ability to think against the common grain. Child brides happen even in my new adopted country (ok, freak suicidal cults make headlines but are not exactly mainstream) and Yemeni women maybe think the niquab is better than ripping their faces with scalpels, in the way that some 'Western' women do in order to 'fit into' their society. Independent thought is not for sale, it can't be bought. But it can be taught, fostered and nurtured in all of us. You just have to say what you think and fight for it. Hmmmm, that sounds like blogging to me...

yours, thinking independently,

Torie B

Dishing the dirt: I was given this book by the publisher for free. They know that my independent thought protocol is so strong that their kind gift will not influence my view of the book. But, if you click thru and buy the book - it will help pay for my kids' 'free thinking' education. JOKE! It won't.

Interested in Nujood's Story? She was nominated, along with Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice as Glamour Magazine's Women of the Year in 2008.

Come tweet with us at #svmomsreads

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Green with Envy

The garden longing returns....

Our new urban world seems to want to torment us with garden thoughts, wishes and memories of our old garden in St.Albans. It was 91 degrees yesterday, too hot for a visit to the park. A perfect day for after school fun in our old back garden, dancing through sprinklers. I can picture my son run, dive and tease the rainbow of water, with an equal desire to miss the cold water and to dance in the middle of it's playful spray. He would run at full speed down the water slide, grinning from ear to ear. Without a care in the world and sometimes, without any modesty.....whipping off his uniform, down to his bare skin.

I throw open the big windows of our apartment to let the air in and stand and stare at the Hudson River. The view doesn't inspire me today.

I go to a photography exhibition at my friend's lower east side penthouse. The exhibition was inspiring, her deck with a garden (yes, ACTUAL grass) with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge and her swimming pool, with a view of the Empire State Building made me feel sick with envy.

I go to do the school pick up. My daughter comes out of school with her pride and joy, a little pot plant that she nurtured from a seed as part of her 'Plants and Nature' social studies curriculum. "Mummy, Mummy, I know all about growing plants, can we plant a miniature garden on our windowsill?". I picture all the bulbs, shrubs and trees that we all planted together as a family in our old garden. I hear her say to her teacher with pride, while she is staring intently the ant farm and worm compost in her classroom, "My Daddy used to kill all the slugs, ants and worms in our old garden, he didn't like them because they ate his plants. I would help him by hitting them on the head with big stones". I can see her, crouched down, her legs so little, her bottom was touching the path, whacking these poor little garden creatures with scary ferocity and focus.

So, we go to the hardware store, go home, throw open the window again and plant our windowsill garden. Every morning, after breakfast, she waters her garden and asks the eternal question, "When will they flower?". I look at the garden and will it into life.

Regular readers will know that it is about this time that I turn the negative into positive. So, here goes. I'll give it my best shot.

Whilst we are no longer masters of our own green oasis, we have become borrowers of others. In the autumn of last year we planted some bulbs in a public garden in our neighbourhood. It has become part of our routine to walk past it and pick out which brightly coloured friend belongs to us. It is nice to know that we have added something to the New York scenery. Then, a few weeks ago, we joined some friends to help 'green up' a park in Chelsea. We spent the afternoon digging, planting, spreading compost with friends and complete strangers. As we worked as a team, bonded and toiled, local residents and passers-by stopped to talk to us, thanked us for making their park nicer, took pictures and smiled at the sight of New Yorkers who give up their free time to make this city greener. My son still talks about 'his rose bush' in Chelsea, so whilst Clement Moore Park may belong to Chelsea, there is a little piece of it that belongs to us too.

Today I am packing to get ready for a trip to Maine to stay with friends at their country house over Memorial Weekend. I am overjoyed at the plans afoot for the kids. Exploring and building dens in their wood. Pottering on the river in their boat. Bar-b-ques and garden games. So, again, when life moves and creates a hole. Somehow, something comes along to fill it. Friends. And even better than that, friends with a garden!

yours, with dirt under the nails of her perfect Manhattan manicure

Torie B

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Den of Creativity

My kids are professional den builders. By that I mean they spend a great portion of their time constructing their own little schools, houses, hospitals and concert halls out of pillows, cushions, sheets and anything else they can find. About once a week our apartment is transformed (read trashed) into a living, sprawling, chaotic den that never seems to be finished. They rarely sit or do anything in the dens, the point seems to be to build (read turn tidy apartment upside down) and discuss (read argue) and create (read drive me crazy).

The most recent one occupied a frenzied three hours of their time and as I ear wigged outside the door of my son's bedroom (read standing dithering about whether or not to make them start to tidy it before bed), I heard my daughter ask him if he wanted to come over to her den to have some dinner and watch a movie. I skulked away with a smile on my face, treasuring having overheard a part of their play talk. Their den building is such an important part of their relationship and their development. After school, they rarely ask to watch TV, instead a pact is usually made in the lift on the way up to play dens together. I can see that the den playing allows them to try out new personalities, to try out new adult like behaviours and to role play. It is a massively positive thing. So, why, oh, why won't the Control Freak Voices in my head leave me to let them get on with it?

With every slam of the linen cupboard door, Clean Voice says, "You'll have to wash those sheets again'. With every request for sticky tape, Tidy voice says "You'll have to spend hours picking little bits of tape off the wooden floor". With every cushion that disappears off the sofa and down the corridor, Neat voice says "Put it back!!". The den this morning, just about pushed me over the edge. They had spent most of yesterday building it and I had pushed the bad voices to the back of my head and let them keep it over night. In the cold light of day, however, when I needed to get them out the door in a hurry, the chaos behind the door was almost giving me palpitations. I did not have the time to sort it (it would take at least an hour) and I had no time to nag them to sort it (which would take at least 2 hours, lots of threats, raised voices, wailing etc).

The reality is that I just cannot live in chaos. Back in the UK I would let them leave their dens in the garden, summer house or playroom. The luxury of space meant that I could close the door and let their den of creativity live to see another day. But here in Manhattan, I just can't. Every bit of space is accounted for, filled and there is no margin for error. The voices in my head have just got too loud. Before moving here I thought a perfect day of shopping would be heading to 5th Avenue, the reality is that it is the The Container Store that now has me practically weak at the knees. They bring out a new space saving device and I'm stampeding up 6th Ave.

So, something has to give. Either the kids get less creative or I tell the Control Freak Voices to pack their bags, there's no place for them here in Manhattan. My daughter knocks on the door and asks me if I want to come and see her new den. It's a writing den, a place where we can blog together, she says. As I pull back the sheet she has her laptop ready and a cushion for each of us. The Control Freak Voices flights are booked.

yours, from below a sheet

Torie B.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No...

A couple of weeks past, our school held a community talk on 'How to say no to your child'. These events are normally really informative, but I decided to give this one a miss. You know...don't you just say "No"? Sometimes I think our generation of parents spend too much time dancing around our kid's emotional well being. Sometimes we all just need black and white, we need someone to clearly draw the line and stand by it. Plus, I felt I had an idea of what the speaker was going to say. I know all the alternatives to "No" - distraction when they are toddlers, offering alternatives, reasoning and explaining when they are older. Yip, I've tried it all. On the days when I have woken up with my Mary Poppins head on, I've embraced positive parenting with a slightly manic look on my face, but by the time bedtime comes round, Mary Poppins has packed her bags and flown out the window.

There is no doubt that positive parenting works, but it is utterly exhausting. I have met some parents in New York who made a decision from before their kids were born to never use the word "No". Maybe this happens elsewhere, but it is the first time I have encountered it. I recognise that you have to be a very resourceful, creative and strong parent to do this but I wonder what happens when that child becomes an adult and has to cope with the big hitting "NOs!" in the real world. So, I have adopted a position somewhere in between the two styles and I really feel that it is this kind of inconsistent, schizophrenic parenting that makes me the mother I am.

The ability and frequency with which I utter the word "No" on a daily basis with my kids is verging on Olympic and living in NYC has produced a whole new set of "Nos". Here are some daily examples. Mum, can I have homemade chocolate pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast [on a school day]? No. Can I wear flip flops to school, x does? No. Can I wear makeup to school, y does? No. Can I throw my apple peel out of the window [on 21st floor]? No. Can I race the elevator by running down the fire exit stairs? No. Can I jump over the subway turnstile? No. Can I walk the rest of the way by myself to school? No. Can I have a ice cream double cone with M&M, oreo, rainbow sprinkles [at 8.15am]? No. Can I have a dunkin' donut? No. You get the picture. By the time I have picked them up and had the same conversation, but exactly in reverse on the way back from school, I realise that I have not given a positive response all day. If the community talk had been "How to say yes to your child", it would have been more up my street.

Wanting more, pushing and questioning the boundaries are exactly what kids should do, so I realise my kids are not alone in this behaviour. [PLEASE let them not be alone!?]. As a human race, the fact that we are always questioning, pushing, wanting and driving has enabled us to do amazing things...finding cures for diseases, inventing the world wide web, creating SpongeBob Square Pants. But I wonder when does it all gets too much? Where do you draw the line? Rather than being a cumulative cycle of growth and discovery, you start to get into negative territory.

My exasperation with my kids' demands was brought down to earth this week, when my husband correctly pointed out that the kids are only mirroring our behaviour. We have always been active, interested and engaged people in the community and world around us, but living in New York, that active mind set has developed into a near drug like habit. There are so many great things going on, all easily accessible that I feel like a child in a sweet shop. I want to do it all....I just can't say no. Take this week, I have packed every minute with an activity, accepted every invitation to go out and still managed to fit in a duathalon on Mother's Day. I then spend the next few days wondering why I am so tired, under the weather and frankly, a bit to jumpy on the "No!" front with the kids. I need to slow down, recognise that this is not a sprint. New York (hopefully!) will be my backyard for a long time so I need to take the slow plod approach I used on my duathalon instead.

New York is the ideal place for the energetic, the driven and the hungry but every once in a while you have to say "No", because in the end we all need to hear it once in a while.

Yours, trying to resist opening an email entitled 'Free, fun activities to do with your kids in NYC, NOW!'

Torie B

Thursday, May 6, 2010

An Irish State of Mind

The Alicia Keys song 'Empire State of Mind' is one of my favourite songs at the moment, I love her voice and can relate to a lot of her emotions about the 'concrete jungle where dreams are made, where there's nothing you can't do'. Since arriving here in August, being in an Empire State of Mind has been my modus operandi and I have thrived on it. This week, however, I have come to wonder whether, sometimes, you need to step outside of the Manhattan state of mind and broaden your horizons. This place seems to do some funny things to some people who have been here for too long.

Take one person whom I have met twice since we moved. The first time we met, she was introduced to me as being a 'socialite'. Really? A real live one? Okay, this will be interesting. As she gave me a three second scan with her eyes, she obviously clocked two things. First, I was of no use to her. Although I was 'social', I was also 'lite', far from a heavyweight in Manhattan social circles, so could not help her in her quest for cocktail party world domination. Second, I was younger than her. She pulled her face into a tight smile and said, "So, I guess there are lots of young mothers in Ireland?". With the arch of her eyebrow it was clear that she was picturing me and my fellow celtic mothers as teenage delinquents, who didn't understand birth control, had no ambition and stood around street corners in cheap denim, smoking Benson Hedges. My instinct was to pull her hair and make irreverent insinuations about her place of birth (What? That's what good Irish girls do!), but instead I said graciously, "Well, given that most of my friends are in Ireland as well as scattered all over the globe, some with kids, some without, I really have no idea what you are talking about". I put her down as someone who needs to step out of their Empire State of Mind and travel a bit more, maybe to Ireland?

This week however, our paths crossed again at another event. As she swept into the room, quickly deciding who would be her first schmoooze, she clocked me, blanked me and moved onto to her first rung up the social ladder. I found the scene amusing and carried on having a great night. About an hour later, I was standing chatting. Suddenly, the socialite appeared with a look on her face that looked like I was the answer to all her prayers, "Oh I just couldn't leave without saying hello to you". Ok, I thought, I know what's happening here, she wants an introduction to the person I was talking to. And lo and behold, she had barely completed her performed air kiss either side of my cheek before she had stuck out her hand. Introductions were done, she got what she wanted and then disappeared into the night. I was left feeling a bit used. This preoccupation with age and social status was not the positive Empire State of Mind that I share, nor have come to love.

The following day, I was brought back to earth with a bump, when my son and I stopped at an Irish themed cafe when we were out for a cycle along the Hudson. Our waiter, Kevin, sauntered over ten minutes after we had sat down (with no menu in hand) and grinned "How's it goin'?". Me, "Yeah, great thanks, umm can we see a menu". Kevin, "Jeysus, ye don't want to be orderin' any food from in there. Those chefs are mental". Me, "Er, OK, could we get some smoothies please?". Kevin, " Well, between you and me, they're five dollars and they're mingin'". I couldn't help but burst out laughing! Compared to the socialite who practically breathed insincerity, his honesty was refreshing. Kevin wasn't thinking about his tip, his Irish State of Mind was just saying it how it was. I wanted to take Kevin's greasy ginger hair in my hands and plant a big kiss on his ruddy cheeks. I didn't, obviously, otherwise he would have thought I was feckin' mental.

My Irish State of Mind also came in useful when we learned of the attempted bomb attack in Times Square. Having grown up in the 80's in Northern Ireland, you develop a thick skin to inherent danger. Living with the slim, but real, possibility that you could be a victim of a senseless terrorist attack makes the Irish/Empire State of Mind interchangeable, New Yorkers have got used to the same feeling since 9/11 that people in Ireland have been living with for decades. I brushed off the feeling of fear and got on with my weekend. In the early hours of Sunday morning, however, when a bomb echoing thunder storm shook our apartment building, I found myself leaping out of bed, putting my shoes on, ready to wake the kids and make an escape down the fire exit. My Irish State of Mind had automatically assumed the worst, put us in the middle of a terrorist attack and had me making a rescue plan. It took about 35 minutes for me to realise that it was just thunder.

And so, as I lay in bed trying to get back to sleep in the aftermath of my first experience of an Empire thunder storm, I realised two things. First, the Irish State of Mind - from Kevin's honesty to the first hand fear of terrorism, will never leave me. Second, the socialite's version of an Empire State of Mind is, thankfully, not shared by the good friends we have made here and, what's more, my love affair with New York still continues. In the words of Alicia Keys "even if it ain't all it seems, I gotta pocket full of dreams".

yours, in her own Empire State of Mind,

Torie B

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Confessions of a Banker's Wife

This week I have been following the 'Goldman Saga' with interest. Our building stands at a right angle between Goldman's brand new glossy skyscraper on the West Side Highway and Wall Street to the south. So, I feel physically connected to the ups and downs of the financial crisis, to the point where the physical proximity has become an emotional one. I almost feel like I could be the hinge in the 90 degree angle, that could snap at any point. But why such an ego centric and personal view of these issues?

The most obvious answer is that my husband works for a bank and it was also my first career. Although, both of us work/worked on the other side of the 'Chinese Wall', through which knowledge and information on these deals does (should!) not pass. [ Note: If this sounds like I am being defensive, I am]. In those early, heady, days Goldman was the pinnacle of a banker's career. If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere. Goldman had a reputation, an aura, like it was almost tinged in gold...on a pedestal. But, like, anything, what goes up must come down. When I read the SEC's case last Friday afternoon, the first words that came to mind were 'Those slimey expletives!'. Like the rest of the world, I felt a sense of revulsion and anger. How could anybody think they could get away with it? But in the next heartbeat, I feel a sense of fear rising up...What if other banks were doing the same thing? What if the SEC doesn't stop at Goldman and digs into the books of all the other banks? What if this is the last apple to topple the apple cart? The simple truth is that if the apple cart tips over, our life in Manhattan could be over. And, well, regular readers will know that is going to be upsetting for all of us. Unlike some CDO traders, who are probably still enjoying the benefits of their windfall, we came to Manhattan on a wing and a prayer. If it all goes south, there is no underwriter waiting to keep things as they are . Not to mention the fact that we would have to leave the country within 30 days, according to the terms of our visa. Pretty scary stuff.

So, taking the issue at arms length, I agree with President Obama. The system should be fair, it should be regulated, greed should be replaced by the core banking values of creating wealth and opportunities for industry and business. As the New York Times said, Wall Street was originally created to provide leverage for the building of railroads, factories, jobs. That is not to say there is no place for derivative trading. If people want to gamble, play the game of 'who holds the hot potato last, gets burnt', then fine. It isn't even a problem, in Goldman's case, that they were wearing heat protective gloves, in the form of insurance like swaps, during the game. It is sensible business practice to hedge your positions. We all take insurance out on our mortgages. It is the fact that they had invented a new game, a bit like 'Musical Chairs'. According to the SEC, they set up the chairs, got someone else to choose the music, and then as the game started they pulled away all the chairs at once, plonked their well fed backsides in the only remaining chair and left their clients sitting in the side of the room, with no party prize.

Watching the footage of the grilling of the Goldman Executives by the Senate Committee, I again felt this mixture of emotions. Boy, they looked uncomfortable! I kind of liked it. But then, I started to feel uncomfortable, these people have wives, kids, mothers, fathers, friends, if it was my husband/friends under such scrutiny, it would be very difficult. If what the SEC says is true, then these people have made grave errors of judgement and they should pay the price for that. But I can't help feeling empathetic for the fall out that may descend all those that surround and depend on them. How far they will have fallen off that golden pedestal.

Still, following my usual pattern, I have catastrophised (Goldman has been naughty [allegedly]=end of the world as I know it) and now I will rationlise. Firstly, my cynical side, says that the SEC's case is just a big stick that the Democrats are using to drum up support for their financial reform bill. Goldman is the chosen pupil, they will get their pants pulled down, their bottoms smacked and sent merrily back to class. The end. That might work, if the financial reform bill really does clean the system up. The world will be a much better place and banks will go back to do what they do best - keep the economy ticking along, while keeping their nose clean. Secondly, my proactive side, tells me to take out some insurance of our own. Protecting our life here (school!, friends!, joy!, inspiration!) will take two forms and we have taken two important steps this week: we have applied for our green card and I have applied for a job. With these two things, I feel that I am supporting my husband and taking the pressure off all his shoulders and giving my kids the thing they need the most - an underwritten guarantee that if the music stops there will still be a chair for each of them. It is only fair.

yours, choosing her own playlist

Torie B

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rein it in, Cowboy!

This past weekend we all flew to Houston, Texas for a very good friend's 40th birthday. For the kids and I, it was our first time in Texas and we had a ball. Admittedly, it was as much about the company than the place, but the one down side was that we came home with more baggage than we had bargained for. My kids now want to live in Texas. REALLY want to live there. As in, sobbing in the cab as we drove over the Brooklyn bridge into Manhattan "WHY?WHY?WHY Can't we live there Mum". "You are so mean! I hate New York!". I felt so much conflict, sitting in the back of that cab. I was excited to be back and still got the buzz as we swept along the east river with views of the Gotham skyline.....why weren't they?

So, I took a deep breath and asked "Why?". According to my eight and six year old, the fact that there is space (vast sprawling acres of it) and warm weather, the fact that our friend's house was not just big, it was palatial, the fact that they had a swimming pool, a fountain in the front garden, a cinema room, the fact that they had the dog that my kids are desperate for, was enough to tip them over the edge. Well, yes, I reasoned, of course those are things that you would like, who wouldn't? I dug deep into my 'things parents should say' knowledge bank and talked to them about turning envy into something positive. " You should feel glad that our friends are happy, healthy and thriving in Texas, pleased that we live so close that we can go and hang out for a weekend. Why don't you think about the things that you have in New York that make you happy, then you will be able to put these material things into perspective." I gave it my best shot.

You get to go to a unique, amazing, progressive, inspiring school in the West Village, these types of schools are not as accessible in other parts of the world. Answer: BUT THEY HAVE LIGHTS THAT TURN THE POOL DIFFERENT COLOURS! More sobbing.

You get to walk to dozens of parks within five minutes, you have music lessons with the same teacher as the Edge's kids (for crying out loud!), you walk to the most amazing supermarket with the best, healthy produce money can buy. You are learning to be street smart, confident, all while you are getting exercise. BUT THEY HAVE A CINEMA ROOM WITH REAL CINEMA SEATS! Helpless tears.

You are getting to learn about different cultures, languages, points of views, art, music, fashion all in the first hand not through the editing eyes of the media. BUT THEY HAVE A TRAMPOLINE, A CLIMBING FRAME AND A SLIDE INTO THE POOL! Accusatory silence.

I then swung between lecturing them on the dangers of putting their material desires above all else, to explaining the concept liberalism, to why George Bush was a bad president (sorry, Texans, I know he does not represent all of you, but I was desperate), to the how the theory of economics means that Manhattan apartments are small and expensive . Obviously, all good parenting guides had gone out the window at that stage. By the time the cab pulled up at our building, I was exhausted and the kids were confused and sulky. So, I went into hyper warp speed and had them bathed and in bed in twenty minutes so that I could throw myself into a hot bath and let the bouncing marbles in my head begin to settle.

As the hot water started to soothe my mind, I too tried to turn it into something positive. They have just had a chance to remember what it was like when they had more space, a garden...but no pool! It is a kind of grief. But more than that, they now see themselves as mobile citizens of the world. They do not see any barriers to uprooting and moving. "Why not move to Texas, we moved to New York?". I hope that they hang on to that view of the world and apply it to their adulthood. In fact, on the way to Texas on the airplane I had listened to them discuss where in the world they would want to live. Israel, Morocco, France and Fiji ran off their tongues as if they were only a cab ride away. That sense of adventure and worldliness is something that moving here has given them. Sure, kids get that in other places, but my two have had the crash course.

The next day as we arrived back in our building after school, there as a notice in the lobby with instructions on what residents should do if the doormen were to carry out their proposed strike (they reached a deal in the end). As we rode the lift up to the 21st floor, both kids looked at me in horror as I read the list of instructions to them. What we would have to do with the rubbish, how to operate the lift call button (umm push it?), how to access the building. " There will be no doorman tomorrow??", " No one to open the door?", "No one to wish us a great day at school", " No one to make our trash room as clean as a hospital ward?". I jumped on the opportunity with the speed and grace of a lioness 'HA! Who doesn't want to live in New York, now? You two are having a melt down because you might actually have to feel the weight of your own door!". It was a low, cheap shot, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

So, throughout, this week I have watched the kids gasp in awe at the sight of the TriBeCa film festival red carpet. I have listened to one of them discuss with their friends how they want to be an author/artist/inventor/scientist/poet. I have laughed with them as we witnessed paparazzi literally falling on their backside trying to get a picture of a celebrity. As I listened to them talk with passion about the unique experiences, field trips, science fairs, that they have experienced just this week alone at school, from which they have bound every day declaring "I have had the best day ever, not just in the world but in the whole UNIVERSE!', I know that wherever we lay our cowboy hats, that's our home. Even if they don't yet know it.

yours, with a 'yeeha!'

Torie B

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Community Care

A survey was published this week in New York Magazine that caused more conversations over cappuccinos than any other hot issue of the moment: Which is the best community to live in in New York City? The winner was Park Slope in Brooklyn, a leafy, bohemian neighbourhood that has access to great parks, schools and transport links to the city. TriBeCa, where we live, came in fourteenth.

‘TriBeCa came fourteenth? Park Slope is better?’ I mused. I found myself feeling a bit short changed and territorial over my little tribe in Manhattan. It was a bit like turning up at your child’s school prize day and they don’t get to walk onto the stage and get the applause. You smile magnanimously, but deep down you are flicking through the excuses in your head as to why they didn’t win. ‘They have to give it to another area to make it fair’. ‘It’s because TriBeCa is so good that all the people who live there and answered the survey said Park Slope, so that thousands of people wouldn’t find out our great secret and come and live here, pushing up our property costs and squeezing our square footage’. As I eavesdropped and joined in heated discussions on the survey with other New Yorkers on the subway, in coffee shops, at the school gate, I began to realize that for the first time in my life I truly care about my neighbourhood.

I have lived in lots of places, where I have been very happy – not least my own home community in Northern Ireland, but none where I have felt this level of ownership and belonging. Of course, I belonged in my hometown, but that is a given. When you pop out of your mother’s tummy your place of birth is almost stamped on your forehead. It’s culture, attitudes, accents and beliefs, all unique to itself, all gradually sink under your skin and meld you to it. This is the first time I have lived in a place that has got under my skin and has taken ownership of me when it had no obligation to do so. I began to wonder how it could possibly have done such a thing in such a short space of time. And, is it really genuine, or would a few hundred more square feet of real estate make me want to belong to another tribe, perhaps in Park Slope?

The answer is found in how we live our day-to-day lives. We have no car and walk everywhere. As a result, we have built our family life in a concentrated area. The local store owners know us on first name terms and greet the kids with high fives, many friends are within walking distance, our music school, our swimming pool, our bike shop, our water parks, play parks, favourite coffee shops, restaurants, bars are all within a five minute walk. By the simple function that we cannot drive, we have focused our attention on our immediate area. The result is a very deep familiarity with a relatively small area. As we follow our daily routine of walking to and from the subway, we pass the same faces, stop and pet the same dogs, discuss the weather with the same newspaper guy, smile at the anonymous and familiar families who pass us on their way to other schools. It all builds up to making us feel safe and secure. We have become active in our community, getting involved in helping local organizations to stay afloat in difficult times. It is a community that we care about, that we feel safe in and that we have invested too much in to move on, even if it came fourteenth in the survey.

Caring for this community has its challenges however. Every we time we look out of our window, or cross a street, the ghost shadows of the World Trade Centre hang right over us. The great gaping hole in the skyline where the towers used to be is a painful and visual reminder of the potential fragility of our safety. Perhaps, some of those people who did not choose TriBeCa in the survey, had lived in the area on 9/11. I can only imagine what a desolate and frightening place it would have been. In the last few months, we came very close to ‘hosting’ the trial of the alleged masterminds of 9/11, right across the street from our building. It looks like it is being moved elsewhere due to local protests, but had that circus arrived in town; my family would have been living in a militarized zone that would have been a target for every nut job terrorist out there. Would I have cared about that kind of community?

Another grim and stark reminder of the underworld of a city was brought to life when yet another person was found murdered/dead in their apartment. This guy was living in a building just around the corner. We have now stopped putting local news on in the morning as it is starting to upset the kids. I think they realize how close by this stuff is happening. In just one week we walked past a man who was lying in the middle of the pavement, unconscious while people stepped over him, we had to move subway platforms to avoid some guy vomiting, we had to stop some drunk from trying to get in a cab we were in by opening the door when we were at a traffic light, all before lunchtime. The reality is that our school, friends, doormen and let’s be honest, money, are absolutely essential is keeping the real, but fragile sense of community around us.

So, as I joust, joke and debate with residents of other New York neighborhoods as to how the survey reflects our chosen enclave, I have in the back of my mind that city life can be messy, regardless of which community you choose. But, you know what? I am too much of a city girl to care.

Yours, going TriBal in TriBeCa.

Torie B

Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring Fever

Spring has arrived with a bang in New York. Overnight the temperatures soared to 85 degrees, the trees showed-off their short lived and fragile blossoms, waxing appointments became harder to get than a one to one with Obama as the hemlines went up and everybody threw themselves outside, filling up every bit of green space available. It was thrilling to spend my days wondering around the Village, Soho and TriBeCa taking photos for a travel blog I am writing. It was heavenly to spend some time with a friend, drinking coffee and eating pancakes at a shaded sidewalk table. Yet again, I felt the city filling up my happiness cup and it was running over.

I noticed other things were running through my veins. As I wondered the streets, stopped in cafes and hung out in parks taking my pictures, I was enviously watching the dozens of new Mum's out with their newborns in the sunshine. My mind wandered to my own family and I began to wonder if there was room for one more. But wooooahh there, a big dose of 'new baby' may cure my broody spring fever but it is not the right medicine for any of us. Deep breath. It is just the new beginnings and freshness of spring that is kicking in those hormones. So, how about a little dose of 'puppy' to fill the gap. Great idea, but our landlord would have us out the door before the start of summer. Maybe next year. Then, maybe I need to nest? You know, decorate, spring clean, buy furniture. Just like a mama bird who turns her attention to her nest in spring, I could work the hormones out with a tin of 'Minty Magnolia'. No, not the right prescription, the time to do that is when we actually own the nest.

All this spring fever was beginning to rub off on the rest of my brood. After school the kids bolted out of the door of school, excited about an afternoon in the sun. Instinctively they will remember days after school in the UK, where they felt the sun on their skin, ran in the garden and had tea on a rug under a tree. The problem is the new nest we have built does not have a garden. So, off we headed to the local park. I had been there earlier in the day and it was a beautiful oasis in the middle of all the chaos. However, the bell had rung and school was out! As we waded through the gate, waist high in New York's youngest, the calm oasis was left behind for a full on, brain jangling, pit of mania. My two headed with determination to the climbing frame, trying their best to find their own bit of space and fun. After ten minutes or so, my son checked in with me and asked if it was OK if he went over to the corner of the park, where behind some foliage there was a few square inches of space. He just needed somewhere that was his. After a busy, stimulating day of school what they both need is their own garden where they can carve out their thoughts and favourite games. I recognise that, but we can't provide it.

Still, this isn't an incurable disease. Maybe the medicine that we used to use is no longer available but there are always alternatives. Luckily, Daddy came to the rescue. He is going to take my son to play golf on Sunday, where for five hours he will be able to find his feeling of freedom on the fairway. For my daughter and I, a visit to the cool, light walls of the Museum of Modern Art will restore our equilibrium. As we soak in Monet's Water Lilies and play in the Shape Lab on a quiet Sunday morning, our nest will be waiting for us to return, relaxed. All in all, it will be just what the doctor ordered.

yours, fighting the fever

Torie B

Friday, April 2, 2010

In the Land of the Free

Last week we headed to Orlando for Spring Break. As we started our journey (well, actually as we sat at La Guardia for 8 hours due to bad weather), I began to wonder how I would view my relationship with Manhattan after a longer period of absence. Would absence make the heart grow stronger or would I enjoy spreading my wings in the sun and space and be reluctant to head back?

For the first few days it was so lovely to finally feel the warmth of sun on our skin and we all slept like babies in complete (now alarming) silence. No sirens, no midnight roadworks, no wind howling round the side of our tall apartment building. Our bedroom which has an uninterrupted view of the Hudson, also got the full force of all the recent storms, uninterrupted, all night, night after night. It was also a surprise to watch my son (8) literally 'come of age' right in front of my eyes. In the relative safety of our resort he quickly began asking for more and more freedom. 'Mum, can I go and swim in the other pool on my own', 'Mum, can I go down to the arcade on my own', 'Mum, can I go to the store on my own'?. My instinct was still on Manhattan time and thought 'No! You will get hit by a cab/kidnapped/hassled by a homeless person/lost'. But, I quickly realised that we were in a safe (ish) place and that I should really give him the freedom that he so craves and that I just cannot give him in New York. And guess what, the more freedom he had the more responsible, happy and carefree he became. It was a joy to watch but I felt a tightening of my heart as I realised how short lived all this freedom would be. I just cannot imagine scenarios in Manhattan when I can give him the longer leash that his age so clearly needs. Cue lots of ruminations over why Manhattan is so great: I started a mental list of all the things that I love about living there and, ergo, why my kids should too. You know, why they are going to thank me aged 16 for not allowing them to go to school on their own (ever!)...

(1) Good food. I know, it's crap but that is what I missed for all of us. In New York you can eat really good, healthy food anywhere at any time. Orlando, well, Jamie Oliver needs to clone himself and work overtime.

(2) Soul Cycle. I know, again, it's crap you can spin anywhere but the energy and positivity that is generated there is so New York. Slowly beginning to smell a whiff of desperation here.

(3) Good coffee. The Orlando 'cup of Joe' first thing in the morning made me want to go back to bed. Oh, for crying out loud..

(4) Hmmmm, this list is really bad, surely I can come up with a better reason that justifies not giving my kids age appropriate freedom. Must try harder.

So, for the next few days I tried to improve my list to a more sophisticated and justifiable level but the harder I tried the worse it got. As I boarded the flight to head home I tapped into how I was feeling about heading back. Did I feel the same as I did heading back to St.Albans after previous holidays? Was I more excited? The answer was 'Yes', but it was marginal.

As we woke the following morning I began to research a day out in the City with the kids. The answer was simple: it was free, it was ten minutes from our front door and it was one of the best days out I have ever had with the kids. The Madison Square Park Conservancy is currently exhibiting Antony Gormley's (sculptor of the Angel of the North) '31 Naked Men' (note:that is not the official title, but it is what my kids call it), where he has placed 31 life size iron and fibreglass sculptures of his own naked body all around the park, on rooftops, on window ledges, even precariously perched on top of the Flat Iron building. Armed with a tick list to mark off each 'man' that they spotted and a camera, the kids spent the day freely roaming the city, freely talking to random strangers about the exhibit, they let their minds be free to ponder the artist's intentions and what the sculptures meant, they showed zero inhibitions in discussing the relative size of the artist's private parts compared to other real ones they had seen (sorry Daddy!), they too romped freely in the fantastic Madison Square Park play area and as they tucked into their Shake Shack lunch with utter abandonment, I remembered why I utterly love this city and why I want my kids to spend their childhood here.

So, as I think up ways in which I can let my kids spread their wings in this city without getting them clipped by a yellow cab, I am looking forward to our next day out. Which happens to be a big pillow fight in Union Square tomorrow to mark International Pillow Fight Day....hopefully without a naked man insight.

yours, plumping her pillow

Torie B

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bend it like Beckham

Poor David Beckham. So close to his goal of being the first Englishman to play in four World Cup finals he has torn his Achilles heel and is out of the squad. I have never really given a toss about 'Golden Balls'' career, but this week I felt his pain. It was at 9.45am on Monday that my knee injury finally won and I accepted the fact that I cannot run in the New York Half Marathon this weekend. Despite my repetitive knee twitching (see earlier 'I've got soul but I'm not a soldier' blog), acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, endless painful rolling, religious application of cortisone cream, daily stretching, cross training, agonising, medicating..never mind boring to death my poor husband with it, the flippin thing would not co-operate, it would not heal. So, at 9.45am, I finally stopped running, well, limping really and put my hands on my thighs, stared at the rain soaked concrete of the West Side highway in between my running shoes and cried. It felt like defeat.

My general attitude to everything in my life has been - if you put enough work in, if you really try, you will succeed. But hard experience is beginning to teach me that things are not always so linear. Sometimes, you need to curve it over the heads of the steely eyed defenders. It was the simple fact that I have tried so (too?) hard to fix myself, that I failed. Just like David Beckham, who has put everything on the line to get himself to the World Cup finals. Maybe sometimes, you can't just fix things by going straight at it, sometimes you need to bend it. So, I will spend the next few months trying to rest and work out the cause of my knee injury. I will then patiently coax my body back into accepting the fact that my brain wants it to hit the pavement, continuously for one hour or so. It will be a long, slow and probably painful process.

That said, there has been a golden lining to my running cloud. Having thrown the kitchen sink at my son's recent homesickness episode (see earlier 'Birthday Blues' blog), I tried a new approach with my daughter, who this week decided to jump on the 'Homesick Highway'. On Tuesday, when I dropped her off at school, I took a sneaky peak in her poetry book where she is currently writing a collection of poems. Her first poem was entitled 'I wish', I raced my eyes to the first line expecting to hear her usual plea for a puppy/mobile phone/five packets of bubblegum (why five, I have no idea). But, no, here is how it went: 'I wish I had a garden. I wish I had a slide. I wish I had a swing. I wish I had a summer house. I wish I could run around in the grass. I wish I could have a picnic with my friends in my garden'. Gulp. She was describing her old garden in St.Albans.

I was stumped. A garden is not something I can magic out of my hat in Manhattan. And, yes, I know she has gained a great many other things by coming here, but I still have that basic parental urge to give her what she yearns for, even if maybe it is not the best thing in the long run. But, this is a no can do. So, I decided to Bend it Like Beckham. I took out all the pictures I had of our old house, garden and friends. Over the last few days we have spent a lot of time together looking at pictures and talking about the things and people that we miss. We then talked about the things and people we like in New York. My theory is that by accepting the fact that some things are not the same, we will be able to build a stronger future here.

So, as I stand watching this ball hang in the air, I know I have already kicked it. It is too late. But, I watch, with hopeful eyes and a sore knee, hoping it will follow my intended conjecture and dip over the defenders heads and hit the back of the net.

yours from behind the half way line

Torie B

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I've got soul but I'm not a soldier

Since arriving in Manhattan seven months ago I have gone through somewhat of a physical and mental transformation. Some of this has been positive, self-determined and others, well, not so positive and imposed by others. The positives: I am learning piano; I am pushing my running and fitness and am the fittest I have ever been; I am pursuing my dream of being a writer by starting this blog. So far so good. But now for the negatives.

Manhattan is the world of 'anything is possible', where people strive and drive themselves to succeed. Like so many areas of modern culture this also applies to your physical appearance. There seems to be an attitude here that if something in your appearance isn't quite perfect you should want to fix it. It all started with the hair. My new hairdresser looked at my half wavy, half straight, fine, non-photo perfect locks and suggested a straightening treatment. I imagined myself with Jennifer Anniston hair and handed over the cash. The result of the 'hair upgrade' was a mustard, straw like substance that could no longer be truly called hair. Not a smart idea.

We then moved further down the body. My dentist took one look at my Irish teeth and recommended a 'dental upgrade', I listened to all that he could do (which would involve facial surgery...eeek!), looked at the beautiful picture of the new teeth that any American Idol contestant would be proud of. In the end I said, 'But I want to look Irish'. He looked at me with confusion.

Fast forward a few months, I booked myself in for a nice, relaxing facial. As I lay there enjoying the scalp massage, the therapist gently whispered in her buttery voice, 'How would you like some Derma abrasion today?'. 'What's that?', I asked. 'Oh, just a more effective way to exfoliate your skin'. Great! Ah, no, not great. But at least the red face complemented the mustard hair. Nice.

The next area ready for an upgrade were my knees. As a result of pretty heavy training I have managed to pick up a pretty standard knee injury but with a half marathon coming up I have been desperate for it to heal quickly. So, off I go on a whirl wind of acupuncture, Pilate's, sports doctors and physical therapist. As I lay on the therapist table and had two people stare at my knees in rapture as I twitched them up and down repeatedly, I finally began to have enough. I am 35, if I run, I will get sore knees. My hair is wavy. My skin is aging. It is all best left alone. I am up for a good bit of general maintenance but I have had enough of the complete overhaul.

However, the 'knee twitching' revelation was the precursor to the spinning epiphany that I had at the new spin mecca in Tribeca called 'Soul Cycle'. As I was just at the top of a big climb, my legs were screaming and I couldn't open my eyes because the sweat would sting them, the instructor's inspirational words came over the pumping music. 'You are not here because you obsess about your appearance. You don't starve yourself or go to the exclusive, narcissistic designer gym across the street. Women who do Soul Cycle do it to push themselves, to be their own type of athlete, to see what they are capable of. None of you want to be 'cookie cutter' women'. When the music kicked into the Killers 'All these things that I've done' for our downhill it all, finally, fell into place.

The only problem is, next week I am off to the obgyn......will have to go prepared to defend myself against the 'magic kingdom upgrade'!

yours, with soul

Torie B

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


The New York Times today declared that the recession in New York City will be much milder than expected. It puts the close escape, or at least the perceived flat line, down to the fact that Wall Street has managed to keep it's head above water and bankers are once again earning, employing and spending. It puts forward the 'widely accepted' idea that each job in Wall Street supports two others in and around the city. With my fortunes being so entwined with the success or failure of the banks' bailout, this should make me feel at ease. But instead, I felt a sense of unease. Maybe when Obama injected these banks with all those billions of dollars he was just like Kiefer Sutherland's character in Flatliners, keeping us all hooked on dicing with near death (or economic collapse) experiences. Are the bankers comparable to the indulgent and reckless medical students Nelson, Rachel and David?

Without doubt there are some thrill seekers out there, but I don't subscribe to the view that every banker is a mercenary ambulance chaser. Warren Buffet advice to his shareholders over the weekend was - 'Don't ask the barber for a haircut', which was a way of implying that all bankers will tell clients to do deals (which earn them high fees) even if it is not in the clients' best interest to do so. Ambulance chasers. Well, yes, if you are young, naive, fly by the seat of your pants Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street' one dimensional character, you will do that. But, real life bankers have to sit eyeball to eyeball across a table from their clients, time after time. They have to work very hard to earn their trust, build the relationship and offer advice when there are no prospects of any fees in sight. If they told their client to do something which was not, in all honesty, in the company's best interest, that relationship would be dead in the water. All that flying around, hard work and trust building would be gone. What the good bankers do is take is long term view, they doggedly follow the success and failures of their clients. Shadowing their balance sheet movements like it is their first born child.

It is also a disservice to industry leaders, implying that they will be duped by these gung-ho advisers. My experience was that usually these leaders will have already made up their minds as to whether or not they want to do something. They will have crafted their views with their advisers (sometimes on a casual basis), boards and in house corporate development people. They come to banks to do deals, to use their sales force and get a good price. In the bank I worked for we did it the 'old fashioned way'. Clients held us on retainers for our advice which meant that we gave it regardless of whether it brought in a one off big deal fee. There were times when clients wanted us the tell them to IPO for a gazzillion dollars and we didn't. We told them it was too early and the valuations they had crafted in-house were unrealistic. We missed the big fee, they went with our competitors who told them what they wanted to hear and, guess what, the IPO bombed. The senior banker I worked for had taken the long term view. There are lots of bankers out there who got to train under people like that.

But, so what if bankers have more moral fiber than Mr.Buffet wants to give them credit for? At the end of the day, New York City and Wall Street seems to have had an easier time than the rest of America and the world as a result of this recession and that still makes me feel uneasy. Eighteen months ago my family had braced itself for a life changing downturn, as it turned out we managed to have some luck and end up happy in Manhattan. I recognise that I am sitting here writing my fluffy blog, when others have not been so lucky. But, what do I actually do about it? There are some big things that I am working on but in the meantime I am not taking any day of this flat line for granted. I just hope that if I crash again, as much as I love Kiefer, it will be Kevin Bacon who brings me round.

yours dreaming of Kevin and a CPR machine

Torie B

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Birthday Blues

I have celebrated two birthdays this week, my own and my son's. Whilst we both have had great days, for some reason I am left feeling a little deflated. For my birthday I had high hopes of working out, shopping, a coffee and some dinner with hubbie. Instead, I was home alone with a sick child. I found myself scrabbling around to get my son picked up at school, two friends thankfully helped out, but I was left with a small feeling of isolation. What if they hadn't? What would I have done? Put a sick child with a high temperature in a smelly cab or subway car and dash uptown? At that point I would have killed for my old, clean, safe Volvo. Thankfully, things picked up and I went out for dinner with hubbie and friends the following night. But again, the fancy french restaurant came up short. The food was overworked and undercooked. My mind wondered to my old favourite restaurants in Hertfordshire which would have wiped the floor with this french fraud.

I had high hopes for my son's birthday. Having watched him flicker signs of homesickness across his face over the last few weeks, I decided a reincarnation of the 'Great British Birthday Tea' was in order. So, I dragged them uptown in a snowblizzard (literally a white out) to a british bolt-hole of comfort food called 'Tea and Sympathy'. I gave him free reign of the store and watched with glee as he gasped at the Smarties, Polo Mints, Hobnobs, Quavers, Hula Hoops and other such old familiar treats. I felt smug with success, 'Mission Anti-homesick' accomplished! Then we went next door to the cafe, for baked beans, bacon butties and tea. Yes, I thought, this is just what we need. For pudding, my son ordered 'Treacle pudding and custard', as they brought it to him, lit with a candle and the whole cafe sung 'Happy Birthday', I really began to believe that I had annihilated all our blues with one swipe of my credit card. As he blew out the candle, he looked at me and said sadly, 'Mum, this was my favourite pudding at my old school. We don't get pudding at my new school'. Damn...back to square one.

Still, not to be defeated, I took a two pronged attack. A double whammey skype session with some old friends and a playdate with some new friends. Over compensation, me? The skype session, left me bereft. It is not a surprise that eight year olds do not find the skype experience the same as building a den or playing hide and seek in the garden. It's just crap in comparison. The playdate was a lot of fun and our new friends loved trying out the british birthday tea. But as I pushed the cookie cutter into the cucumber sandwiches, I could feel this nagging emptiness, it was like I could actually feel and taste my old kitchen. I could hear the doorbell ring and see the kids our running in the garden. It felt like grief.

So, maybe this is the way birthdays are going to be and maybe this is the price I will pay. Or maybe, this is just part of the relocation process. Or maybe New York just isn't New anymore.

yours with tea and toast

Torie B

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Status Stalemate

Now that my urban rhythm has returned, I turn my attention to the task in hand - find a job. But hang on a minute, do I mean job? Or do I mean career? Or do I mean both? Neither? Or maybe simply monetising a hobby? Yet again, my friend 'Status Stalemate' has returned.

Since giving up my right to give the confident but perhaps slightly smug reply of 'investment banker' to the awkward question of 'What do you do?', I have floundered in a sea of inadequate replies:

'I'm a full time Mum'

'I'm a domestic engineer'

'I'm a mumtrepreneur'

'I work in non profit'


'I'm a writer'

'I'm a blogger'

'I'm a plumber'

None of these replies have ever floated out of my mouth with ownership and sincerity. Each of them have stuck in my windpipe, made me gag a bit and then jolted out into the air. They just felt and sounded wrong. The thing is they were all true to some extent (apart from the bit where I can fix your toilet) but I didn't and still do not feel I own any of these job titles because I am missing one vital piece of the puzzle- a salary.

So, why is the salary so important? A friend's husband once said to me that I didn't really want a job, that I should just get a nice hobby. Once I pulled the metaphorical seven iron out of the back of his skull, the concept of a precious paycheck with my name in the payee box became even more important to me. Besides the obvious economic necessity for survival in Manhattan, a salary represents a validation of skill and ability....'I am so good at something, someone wants to pay me for it'. It means that I am a fully functioning, contributing member of society. Without it, I feel indulged and cut off from a part of society.

Don't get me wrong, without a doubt the past eight years of bringing up my kids has been the most challenging, rewarding of my life. I have learned more about myself, my friends, family and life through being a full time parent. I also feel I will have a bond of trust and closeness with my children that you only achieve by being there, day in day out, on tap and on demand. I know this, but it is still not enough. I have some great friends (one with a phd) who are entirely complete being a stay at home parent and I envy them. They know who they are and where they want to be. Not the endless stop start journey of trying to get their career back, flapping around the job market like a landed kipper for them! They frequent home furnishing and garden centres with grace and serenity. I watch these types out of the corner of my eye, looking for signs of medication, maybe even a mild alcohol dependency...anything? But no, just contentment.

So, what makes women like us continue to bang our heads off the glass ceiling? Our generation were programmed from a young age to expect a career, to be our husbands equals, to work, strive and achieve. Have 2.1 clean, well dressed and co-ordinated children, preferably a mix of Boden and edgy high street gear. Work out to a point somewhere between Madonna and Bridget Jones. Nigella in the kitchen, Tiger's latest squeeze in the bedroom. Add on top of that the new culture of 'Mummy bashing', you can be damn sure that if your child shows a chink in his/her armour, you will be the one who put it there. These are the curses of our generation. I'm holding my hand up, I am up to my armpits in it.

I know women with garden centre loyalty cards are screaming at the screen - give yourself a break, make a cup of tea or maybe do some basket weaving or something. Wooooahh, hold on a minute! How does that sound...'Basket weaver'? Now that is really a job title I could live with. I think...

yours googling 'Weaving for Winners'

Torie B

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kissing and Making Up

So, Manhattan and I have had our first tiff and come out the other side. The fast slide into mutual frustration and annoyance, swooped back to joy and respect in a matter of twenty four hours. I find myself wondering, is this the beginning of a roller coaster relationship or just a jolt which moved the relationship to the next, more enduring level.

So, what prompted the making up? It was the little things. A great friend (new, of course, but definitely a keeper) held my hand and took me to her amazing colorist who fixed my mustard hair. Does friendship get any deeper than that? Another great friend (new, of course, blah blah) decided to nominate me for school council - which is a bit like Lady GaGa being nominated for a Nobel prize, it ain't going to happen - but she believes in me. Does friendship get any deeper than that?? Then, the kids had a snow day. As we woke up on the 21st floor, we watched the snowstorm swirl and whirl in between all the impenetrable concrete. We watched the local store owners hand shovel the pavements all the way through and after the storm. We headed out and joined in the snow fun, building snow men and sledding in Central Park. The city seemed to pause for some snow fun.

During the snow storm, there was also no panic buying at the supermarket, as would happen in the UK. The city continued as normal - seamless web was up and running, the delivery boys braved the snow on their bikes and brought us fresh, hot pizza. When my youngest got a fever, our favourite drugstore was a phone call away. They listened to her symptoms, recommended some natural and effective medicines and delivered them to our door within the hour. How cool is that??

All this ease and convenience felt wonderful at first. I could relax in my ivory (well, 1926 brick) tower and let the city come to me with the click of a mouse. But then I began to wonder, how did all this come around? Why do Manhattanites need to make it so easy for themselves to stay in? I then remembered my 'tea and toast' day and I wonder if it is a good thing all the time. After a few more bad days, I could see myself surviving on deliveries and not having to face my urban adversary. If the city is getting the better of you, you can just opt out. I imagine that in this pulsing, wonderful but athletically tuned city there are more Howard Hughes than anywhere else on earth. But, maybe I am letting my old catastrophising habit sneak up on me again, one tea and toast day does not a Howard Hughes make.

So, as I settle myself down into the smugness of a steady relationship, I know in the back of my mind that I am considering multi-dating. Multi-dating is the call sign of Manhattan singles, but will Manhattan mind of I decamp to Fire Island for the summer? Maybe it is too early to bring it up? I might try to sneak under a tunnel this weekend to check out the beach house competition. A girl can look, right?

yours faithfully (honest)

Torie B

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tea and Toast

When I was growing up, if I was sick, been dumped, been grounded, stressed about exams I would hibernate and drink lots cups of tea with endless buttery toast. Erm, that is toasted sliced white bread to all you non-Brits. Somehow the carbs, the caffeine, the sugar, the gross but yummy film of butter that would gradually appear on the top of the tea, would make me feel better. Today is a tea and toast day.

Yesterday was a disaster. I realise that Haiti is a real disaster, but this was the ultimate 'all the little things go wrong day'. From the moment I woke up, until my best friend turned up with a bottle of wine at 6pm, all the small things went wrong. A small selection: I lost my monthly metro card, my hairdresser turned my hair mustard (some 20 something looked at me like I was retarded when I tried to explain why this was not my chosen colour) and I forgot to wear knickers to my doctor appointment. Ah yes, cue the nice MALE dermatologist who politely asked me to undress to my underwear so that he could check my skin. Imagine his face as I tell him that I am not wearing any underwear (I had running leggings on, nothing goes under those suckers). Also, imagine his face as he scans up and sees the mustard hair. He gave me a paper sheet to cover my magic kingdom (as my Mother calls it), which was not quite wide enough. As he stood at the front (trying not to make eye contact with the mad woman), it was fine but then I had to shuffle the bit of paper around to the back as he walked round to examine my back. It was just as painful for him as it was for me.

So, I wondering today, do you need to be on top form to cope with this city. Yesterday, the small things that started to go wrong seemed to accumulate much more quickly than anywhere else on earth. The subway ran slower, the cab I got into was smellier, there were more crazy people in my subway car. Maybe all these things are in equal abundance everyday but on other days my joy at being here provided an armor too thick for it to penetrate. Is this the end of the honeymoon period? Perhaps it is the end of the crush and time to move into the long-term relationship with Manhattan - you know, a roll of the eyes here, a tut there. Maybe Manhattan and I will have days where we just need to yell at one another. Can't wait for the making up though...

Keepin her chin up
Torie B

Monday, February 1, 2010

Finding Neverland

What is it about New York that makes it such a vital, pulsing city? What is it that gives it's residents that look in their eye, 'Hey, I own this city!'.

A good friend of mine said recently that everyone who comes here is 'like Peter Pan'. People can be whoever they want when they come here. New York provides a blank canvas and a never ending possibility of..well, possibility. You just never know who or what night happen to you in a single day. One minute you could be sitting next to a rock superstar in a West Village cafe, the next you you pass a man walking with a cat sitting on his head. But stepping away from the guide book cliches, what is it that really gets under your skin and makes you love the city like your first crush?

Manhattan's key ingredient is it's people - an engaging, caring, fearless, hard-working, interesting, dynamic group. I have had so many encounters with complete strangers that puts all my faith back into humanity. With out a single exception, every time I grab a coffee, someone chats to me. Every time I have looked lost and confused in the subway system, someone has stopped to offer help. People are busy, their brows furrowed against the biting cold, but give them half a chance and they will help their fellow man. Spirit and compassion, it is palpable and inspiring. The other less politically correct ingredient is capitalism. New York beats to the drum of the dollar, but anyone can dance. Apart from gaining entry into some preppy cults in the UES, you just need some rhythm and desire to dance til you drop...and you're in. It's capitalist nature makes it a meritocracy. You get out what you put in.

What does that mean for me and people like me? Having been a full time Mom, out of full time work for seven years it means light at the end of a tunnel. It means that every time I stop and have a cup of coffee there is someone interesting to talk to. It means someone out there will see the inherent 'New Yorkness' in my possibility - engaging, caring,fearless, hard-working...they will, won't they? And if they don't...my love affair will have to go long-distance.


Torie B

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Manhattan:For better or worse

As I stepped off the flight at JFK in August 2009 and blinked my weary eyes at the New York sky, I could feel the onset of the love affair beginning. For the past 10 years I had been living in the south east of England (London to begin with and then, St.Albans...shudder) and had been passively strapped into a people carrier existence, silently watching the slow car crash of my life unfold. The things is, I had the right kind of car....kind, generous, supportive, handsome loving husband, two engaging, loving, intelligent kids..I just was on the wrong motorway (Interstate, as I am beginning to say) and heading to the wrong place. That motorway was the M Dull Suburbia. Since August 2009 until now, I feel the resuscitation of my life on a daily basis. Every time I put my foot on the sidewalk (pavement, yadayada) and suck in the energy in the air, my eyes distend, my lungs rasp and my body and mind breathe back into life - I'm alive!

Here's the problem, now I am here - how do I stay here? Issue number one - get green card. Issue number two - money. Living and surviving in Manhattan is all about the bucks, baby. The good news is, my husband (lets call him Robbie) is a banker. Ahem, the bad news is, Robbie is a banker. This is bad news for two reasons. First is, when we had kids, he worked such crazy hours and under so much pressure that we had to choose - my career or his. He earned more, his won. Thus, I have spent the past seven years (gulp, that is a long time when you write it) putting my career on the back burner. Working part time, working for free to stop myself going insane, writing business plans - you get the picture. So, my starting salary in my new life isn't going to make a huge dent in our outgoings. The second reason is we are in the era of 'banker bashing', so salaries and bonuses are down and there is no job security whatsoever. But, hey, people are in worse situations, so it is all hands to the pump....get a job. Over the next few months, I will chronicle one woman's fight for survival in Manhattan. Despite the fact that I have not had full time employment for seven years, I will be 'woman seeks well paid rewarding job, must be in Manhattan'. Tomorrow - my ode to Manhattan..shall I compare thee to a summer's day. Find out why the city has got under my skin. Bisous Torie B xx