Monday, 4 June 2012

You say zucchini, I say courgette

You had to be pretty far away from any kind of media, phone device or Brits to have let the Jubilee Weekend pass you by. The torrent of facebook status' alone would have alerted you to various opinions on the occasion, the need for the occasion, hatred for the occasion, national pride in the occasion, debates around the whole existence of the British Monarchy and of course the weather. Despite living in a part of the world where summer tends to be 6-8months long and cold is now somewhere around 20degrees, I did feel incredibly sorry and sad that the festivities ended up taking place in torrential rain and freezing temperatures - something most people would claim to be pretty typical and others would say provided an opportunity to show the infamous stoicism of the British.
I wouldn't really class myself as monarchist OR a republican on a normal day. I know the Royal family costs the taxpayer a lot, but I in turn believe that they do a lot of diplomatic good, both home and abroad; that it's important for dignitaries across the world to be invited to events hosted by a senior Royal, that the triad of William, Catherine and Harry have brought a certain sex appeal to an otherwise staid tradition, that the children in hospitals, the old ladies running bakeries and all sorts of other "normal" people in between feel included and special thanks to a visit from this family.

But it's funny what moving abroad suddenly does for your patriotism. We are holding a Jubilee Party (albeit next weekend rather than the one just gone, as our guests of honour are doing a charity cycle ride and we just can't celebrate the Queen without our LA queens), complete with bunting, Union Flags, cups and paper plates adorned, I'll be baking up a storm and the only drinks on offer will be tea, Pimms and G&T's. A right old mixture of Americans and Brits have been invited - a loose fancy dress (come "British") has been taken up with gusto and all of a sudden I seem to be a monarchist!

Except for me, and for a fair few of the Brits I know here, this isn't about celebrating the Queen being queen for sixty years. It's about feeling part of something, somewhere, a unique event not many countries will have the opportunity to commemorate anymore. And in America, the country that has never had a Royal family, it feels poignant to stand up and say "I am British". A friend posted on my facebook wall a while ago "you seem determined to ignore the fact that you don't live in the UK anymore and are doing anything you can to pretend that you do??" The winking emoticon belying a comedic touch but I jumped on the defensive somewhat - because, yes, I do feel it's important to remain who I am, to talk about my country with my children and my friends, because frankly at the moment it feels like it's all I have. I am happily embracing many aspects of Californian life but I am and will always be (so long as I live abroad) an ex-pat. I am part Welsh part English, married to an Englishman born in Stirling, with a surname that describes a small but beautiful area north of Fort William. I moved around a lot as a child - we didn't settle in the UK until I was 8, and have consequently had itchy feet ever since. My earliest memories are living in Nigeria and I'm desperate to return to Malawi, where Paul and I lived and worked for a bit before we were married; I have even been humbled by a Malawian politician saying I now have Africa in my soul. I certainly didn't anticipate wanting to hold onto my Britishness as much as I have, but give me a break - it's only been 3.5months!

So the Jubilee celebrations, while kitsch and fun for some, a (somewhat inevitably and not without a whiff of bah-humbuggery) reason to be politically angry for others, have been emotional for me. The sight of my flag, the conglomeration of three of the countries that make up my little family and our United Kingdom, makes me proud - not least because I have a brother serving in a war waged by the politicians not the Royals, representing and fighting for my country, my people. I'm not interested in getting into a debate about whether we ought to still have a monarchy or not, but I am glad of the opportunity to explain to my children where they are from in a way I wouldn't have done if I'd been at home.

We will always say pavement instead of sidewalk, put pants in the their proper place (underneath our trousers) and eat courgettes rather than zucchini...actually, I take that last one back. We've definitely assimilated zucchini into our phonetics already, as I'm sure we have welcomed Americanisms in many other nuanced ways. But for one weekend, it was good to have random people congratulate us in the street when they heard our accents, purely because of where we were from. So maybe our Jubilee Celebration will be a Thoroughly British Piss Up With Cake instead.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Motherhood Guilt No.1

Maggie took her first bottle of formula last night; it's been a few weeks of steadily worse nights, feeding every 2-3 hours, late evening feed creeping forward earlier and earlier and in the last few days my supply has gone into overdrive due to the insane amounts of feeding she's doing - tethered, I am. A dairy cow reincarnated, pandering to the whims of a frankly massive baby who doesn't exactly need any more podge. But then that's the point of on-demand parenting, you're too lazy to get into routines so you let the little buggers lead you wherever they please.
weeeeeeeeeeean meeeeeee
So, we have started weaning. I must stress I mean the British version of weaning - getting her onto solid foods. The Americans have all looked shocked that I've "already" started taking her off the boob. Madam has decided she doesn't like mushed up baby food, only grown up food in big chunks that she can pulverise in her squishy little hands. And while she's getting the hang grandually of actually digesting some of this food, it's not going to fill her up anytime soon. The sleep deprivation is too much so she is now getting a bottle of formula at bedtime in the hope it'll fill up her tummy a bit better than I what I can produce after a full day running on empty.

This is, well, timely considering the cover of Time Magazine a few weeks ago. For anyone living in a hole (or not currently embroiled in the breast.v.bottle debate), a feature was made about extended breastfeeding where this was the opening gambit image:
Cue Guardian journalists hurriedly hashing out jumbled up articles, debate flaring across the pages of mumsnet and friends on facebook superimposing each other's faces on the woman above (that was quite funny, I enjoyed it).

Off the back of a certan Guardian journalist writing aforementioned mismatched article, my closest mum-friends and I discussed our views on breast .v. bottle. Which are essentially the same - none of us are pro one and anti the other. We all believe there just ought to be access to all the information on both choices for all women, then all women should be supported no matter what path they decide. Three of us have chosen to breastfeed and are all currently breastfeeding, one of whom is into what in the UK is counted as extended breastfeeding her 14month old. The fourth chose to formula feed both her children from birth.

I exclusively breast fed Ethan until he was about 5 months old, when I introduced a dreamfeed of formula for similar reason for introducing it to Maggie. I remember clear as day sobbing over him while he gulped it happily down, feeling wracked with guilt and feelings of failure. Last night I just begged it to work. But the feelings of failure still simmer underneath.

I found it relatively easy getting breastfeeding going and have seen other struggle and suffer in order to breastfeed, to triumph after months of excruciating pain or to despair at their perceived failure at one of the great pinacles of early motherhood. So how come, compared to all these women, I dared to be so self indulgent as to weep over choosing to give my son one bottle of formula a day? Thankfully I've realised how ridiculous this is and this time am just praying to the formula gods that eventually this will make Maggie sleep longer again.

In the UK, I was often congradulated at breastfeeding Ethan until he was 9months. We stopped because he just suddenly refused - we were down to just one feed a day by that point and one morning he just pushed me away. And that was that. In the UK extended breastfeeding is counted as beyond 6months - I was aiming for 6months and was glad I'd managed to go a bit beyond it.

In LA almost every mother I know with a child under 18months is still breastfeeding. I don't know if some of them are supplementing with formula, but even the British mums here are thinking nothing of whipping it out for their darlings reaching and going beyond their first birthday. The fact that I'm surprised by this surprises me! Me - the homebirthing, anti-routine, on-demand parenting, breastfeeding, home-cooked-food weaning, wannabe-hippy mother is almost shocked that most mums I know in California are, by British definition, extended breastfeeders.

I'm not sure if I'm just very easily influenced - hmm, no, I know I'm very easily influenced. That or I have a big red button in my brain that gets pushed by evil gremlins every time something appears that might make me feel guilty about my ineptness as a mother. But this time I'm trying to bypass it, I am using the opportunity of living in a community that doesn't think breastfeeding beyond 6months is weird but also appreciating that I have a more than viable alternative. If I honestly believe formula is a completely fine option for one of my closest friends, how hypocritical of me to feel ashamed at giving it to my own babies.

I enjoy breastfeeding, I believe in the health benefits for my babies and me, it is free and easy. But my choice to mix feed is just as valid as any other. And the person who needs to accept that most is me.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Settling In?

I got a lovely comment on my last blog post yesterday from another blogger (not someone I know in real life - amazing!) whose blog I've been avidly following and reading for quite a while - in fact the only blog I follow written by someone I've never met! AliBlahBlah, thanks very much - you provided me with the inspiration to start this weird transatlantic/kinda motherhood/waffle-a-lot blog and now the kick up the arse I needed to write something for the first time since April - APRIL!!! It's nearly sodding June!!

One excuse I have is beavering away creating the programme for my theatre company's latest show - Henry V...
On the assumption that the lovely AliBlahBlah is my only non-real life follower, I won't bore you with the details of Theatre Delicatessen - if you're a friend of mine on facebook you're probably doing the usual eye rolling at the number of status updates begging you to spread the viral marketing campaign word and buy tickets to the show. I've been spending the limited computer hours I get (inbetween the sleep training of a certain Little Loy who has decided every bedtime and naptime shall start with an hour or more of screaming tears) doing one of the few jobs that can be achieved from the other side of the world. The programme is done and looks beautiful, even if I do say so myself - but has left me feeling even further away as opposed to closer to the show, the company and my professional (often personal) family. But do buy tickets if you're in London - it's directed by Roland who is one of the most exquisite directors of my all contemporaries, and stars some Theatre Delicatessen stalwarts who are incredible actors it has been my greatest fortune to work with.

Theatre Delicatessen

The other reason for absence has been the visit of the parents to the new house - and bearing in mind my mum is probably the biggest reader of my blog, it seemed a bit counter productive to write about what we've been up to when she's been seeing it for herself.

We moved and welcomed the arrival of our stuff off the boat a few days before Mum and Dad got here, and in a way that was perfect - they were present right at the start of us really beginning our lives in LA (you can't help but feel in limbo land when living in a glorified hotel room wih only a few clothes and photos to resemble home), so they now feel very much a part of it.

We managed a glorious mix of running round seeing sights and sounds of LA - was amazing to get out of Santa Monica for a bit, I REALLY need to learn to drive - and just chilling out and living our lives here. It does feel more like we're living a life here - I'm still thinking ahead to when we go home but it helps that Paul and the Little Loys seem really settled. But a part of me doesn't want to feel utterly settled, I want to go home - maybe not right now but eventually. My first impressions have improved since that particular post but I still can't see me falling in love with city - this weird mixture of chillaxation, yoga and granola eating with the frenetic and frantic need to be doing everything all the time, rushing around in cars that fill up massive roads, everyone living in their fast paced little bubble.

So I continue to feel like there is one foot still planted in the UK, spiritually by the side of my colleagues and friends as they open the first show in our most ambitious space yet, but feeling like I no longer have the right to say "our" company, "our" space because I left everything that is mine. The foot in California is gratefully padded however by a growing close network of people we can now start to call friends. So maybe a balance is starting to be achieved. We plod along, just the same.