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' love affair will have to go long-distance.


Torie B