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.

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