Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Diary of an Expat: Culture Shock

A few weeks ago, I was planning on posting a blog about a cultural difference I'd noticed between the US and the UK. It all got started when I was watching Breakfast on BBC (similar to The Today Show, for those of you in America, except with slightly more news content and slightly less Al Roker acting like a tool), and there was a piece on interracial adoption in the UK. The moral of the story was that there were many children in foster care across the UK, and many families wanting to adopt a child, but they couldn't be put together because parents can only adopt children of the same ethnic background. If you're interested, you can read some of the facts here (I couldn't find the original piece I saw on Breakfast)

Hearing this, I was absolutely shocked. I thought to myself (and even said to Joe) this would never happen in America! What really matters, I thought, is for children to have loving parents, no matter their ethnic background. I was all ready to post away, when I thought to myself, "I guess I don't really know if America has a similar policy in place." With just a quick check of Wikipedia (most trusted source in the world!), I learned that there actually IS a similar policy in America. I also learned that there were many people - of all races - fighting to stop interracial adoptions not because they think there is anything inherently wrong with parents of another race adopting a child, but because they think it makes it difficult for children to understand their own identity.

Monday, March 26, 2012

if a tree falls in the forest...

One of the weird effects of Kathy traveling (other than becoming strangely morbid and thinking about her death all the time) is that I often go for long stretches of time without speaking to another person.  Wednesday, for example, was one of those days. 

I got coffee, so I spoke to someone then, in a real way, since my friend owns the coffee shop.  After that, though, I silently rode the train to work, arrived, went into my office, sat down at my desk, "worked" (which is in quotes because I was slow so mostly I just surfed the web and wrote), went out and bought a salad, where I said "Harvest Cobb, no beets" and "Thank you." I went back to work, and sat in my silent office some more.  I spoke to a friend on the phone for about 15 minutes, then went to a yoga class, where I said, "I don't know, I haven't ever been here before" in response to the question, "Is it always this crowded?" and "Namaste" at the end of the class. Then I rode the train home in silence.

So.  From 8:30 in the morning until 8:30 in the evening, with the exception of one fifteen minute conversation, I said exactly 16 words.  I had the strangest sensation of the day not even happening.

Friday, March 23, 2012

the name

This is always a controversial topic, and so for a while I have avoided writing about it.  But as my wedding draws closer (less than 6 months!) it occupies increasing brain-space.  This is a topic that everyone has their own opinion about, and I think we can all agree that each woman's (person's?) decision is made for deeply personal reasons.  But.  That does not stop us from judging each other about it. 

I am talking, of course, about changing your name when you get married.

The first time I got married, I did not change my name.  At the time I thought it was because I had a firm sense of my identity, and that included my last name.  Now, I am thinking maybe it was, a bit, that I did not have a firm sense of my identity, and that hanging onto my name gave me some much-needed stability.  Or, maybe my decision not to change my name reflected some deep ambivalence about marriage, or that particular marriage, that I was not prepared to acknowledge explicitly at the time.  I don't know what the "real" reason is, I only know that changing my name was not even really an option for me.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

seriously, I could quit at any time

I recently got a new iPhone from work.  It's a 4S, which means it has a robot voice who answers me when I ask it questions (or when A asks it questions, although it has no opinion of what she should be when she grows up and it is not in love with her).  Surprisingly, my biggest concern when I got my new phone was not robots becoming animate and taking over the world, although I heard on the radio earlier this week that scientists suggest that is actually one of the more likely world-ending scenarios, if we are to believe the Mayans and such a thing is imminent. 

No, instead, I was slapped with a feeling of guilt when I opened the new iPhone box in my office last week.  "They probably wouldn't have given me this if they knew I could quit at any second," I shocked myself by thinking.

Now, first.  Yes, actually, they would give me the phone if they knew I could quit at any second.  That's why if I quit in less than six months, I have to pay for the stupid phone myself.  They would not have policies in place for this kind of thing if they didn't anticipate it happening, at least some of the time.  Anyone, with any job, could technically quit at any second (so long as you are an at-will employee, I suppose).

Second, why was I thinking I would quit at any second?  Didn't I just start this job?  I realized I felt a little tug of guilt with each benefit or perk I enrolled in at my new firm.  Not as though I didn't deserve them for working there, but instead because I didn't feel loyal enough to deserve them.  The funny thing is, it's not like I wanted to quit.  I didn't -- I don't.  It was as if I was afraid I would accidentally quit.  I felt like something would happen that was too similar to the old place, I would have some kind of post-traumatic stress type reaction, and before I knew it I would be handing over my badge, grabbing my potted plant, and heading for the door.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

death of a single girl

Kathy has been in London all this week.  I hate it when she's gone.  A weird thing that I think often, when she travels, is "If Kathy died, this grey, bleak, horribleness would be my life."  I can be a little morbid, I guess.  This trip, this feeling was particularly acute.  Maybe it is because I finished a really, really depressing book yesterday in which one character's onion farm fails and his wife leaves him, so he tries to kill himself but instead shoots himself in the shoulder and loses the arm, and another character drunkenly drives his car off a bridge at 8:30 in the morning after losing his business, having his house repossessed by the bank, and his lover (the wife of the onion farm guy) breaking up with him.

I don't think it's just the book, though.  As I was walking into work today, thinking about how it Kathy died, the grey, bleak, horribleness would be my life, I also thought, "Well, I didn't use to feel like this about her not being around.  I used to live semi-alone in that apartment in Hell's Kitchen, and be totally fine with being alone, or whatever.  I never used to get all sad and bored and lonely.  What's up with that?"  I feared I had become too dependent, or at least that I had lost a vital, independent part of myself. 

As an erstwhile fiercely independent thing, living in New York City, I used to find the solitude liberating.  But now, instead of feeling liberated, I just feel sort of lonely.  This made me incredibly sad.  I liked that independent young woman, living in Manhattan, struggling with her job, making it through.  Where did she go, and when did it happen? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

off the gravy train

When I was tucking the kids in one night last week, I kissed C's forehead and said goodnight.  He pulled his favorite stuffed animal (a mole, creatively named "Moley") from under the covers and said in Moley's voice, "What am I, chopped liver?"  So I kissed the disgusting stuffed mole that has been dragged through who knows what outside and around the house -- deciding that it was, at least, moderately less gross than actual chopped liver.

Friday, March 16, 2012

finding our feet - part II

Read part I here.

So Saturday morning, I woke up after a few weeks of acting "horribly," as Kathy put it, and we tried to figure it out.  We all got up to take A to her horseback riding lesson, and I brought my cookbooks with me.  While she had her lesson, B and C at bagels and I tried to find actual real meals that could be cooked in under 45 minutes.  Then the whole family piled back in the car and we went directly to the grocery store. 

We bought the stuff for the meals I'd planned, but we also bought stuff previously on my prohibited-list for budget-friendly grocery shopping.  We bought little containers of drinkable yogurt (which I personally think are gross).  We bought a massive bag of shredded cheese.  We bought Pop Tarts, and granola bars.  When we got home, I unpacked the groceries and Kathy started taking games off the shelves of our game closet and sorting out what was no longer age-appropriate for our kids. 

We went to Home Depot and got the stuff we needed to finish our closet in the basement so the toys could be moved down there, as well as the hose we needed to fix our grill (something chewed through the gas line) and the part we needed to fix the unflushable toilet.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

finding our feet - part I

Kathy and I went to Oregon early in this month to celebrate the domestic partnership of two dear friends.  It was a long weekend full of wine drinking, celebrating, and lying around drinking coffee re-hashing the events of the night before.  Basically, it was like college, only in college it was Jack Daniels Downhome Punch or Old Milwaukee instead of wine.  The weekend was fabulous.

What was slightly less fabulous was diving into the workweek on Tuesday with two suitcases full of dirty clothes, a dirty house, and no groceries.  How could I have forgotten this horrible fact of being a dual-income family?  Without your weekend, no chores get done!  You start the workweek about 10 hours behind, and then frantically paddle, trying to not only keep your head above water, but actually make forward progress so you can get back on track. 

Each morning was a mad rush, packed with convincing the kids that three-week old bread with American cheese on it was a delicious and nutritious lunch and that those jeans aren't that dirty; in fact, jeans are designed to be worn more than once without washing!  Each evening was a load of laundry, a cobbled-together dinner made of things purchased at Sam's Club and stuck in the freezer when I wasn't working, and sorting through stacks of mail and other papers, trying to make sure no utilities were shut off in the meantime.  And then I had a business day-trip on Friday, so I had to leave the house at 6 am.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

the return of insomnia

It's 5:42 am.  I've been up since 3:08.  For the first hour and two minutes, I tossed and turned.  Finally, I got up and started cleaning, because I didn't know what else to do with myself and the house was a wreck.  From 4:10 until 5:20, I unloaded the dishwasher, reloaded it and did all the dishes by hand that needed to be done, straightened up the living room, put some tools away in the basement, tidied up the office, threw away massive piles of accumulated mail, and cleaned the bathroom.  Then I sat down to pay bills, which I've been doing since 5:20.  Sometime around 5:15, A came down and went to the bathroom.

"What's going on?" she asked, bewildered, as she looked around the house, lights blazing in the middle of the night.

"I'm cleaning. There was no other time to do it."

This is true, and not true.  There was no other time to do it, but that's not why I was doing it.  I was doing it because I could not sleep, and the state of our house was driving me crazy, so there seemed an obvious solution.

(photo via here)