Saturday, March 26, 2011


In my observation, every family develops it's own individual language over time.  Little inside jokes and nicknames or silly words that come to replace proper language become commonplace in interactions among family members.  Families with very small children, I think, experience this in an even more intense fashion.  Particularly if you happen to have a child (or two) who speak in idiosyncrasies or with slight speech impediments.  Both of my girls had (have?) little speech issues that have altered their pronunciations.

When Drama was tiny, she had a passionate love affair with her pacifiers, which led to a (still present) issue with her palate and, in turn, her pronunciation.  More than a few people told me that I had to get rid of the pacifiers when she turned one.  I managed to get rid of the bottle when she was about 14 months old (no small feat, I tell you, seeing as the child had been so completely spoiled by her nanny in Chicago that she was "unable" to hold her own bottle or sippy cup).  The pacifiers were another matter.  You may recall that I am an admitted Sleep Whore.  I will do whatever I have to do to secure extra minutes of sleep.  And though Drama, relatively, is my Good Sleeper...I had nothing to compare her sleeping to and still wished she would sleep longer, even though she had a 6pm bedtime and a 7am wake-up (I know, I know!  I'm confessing to my idiocy here!)  I received as a baby shower gift these adorable little pacifiers (the Soothie kind that they give at some hospitals in the US), attached to a small beanie-baby type stuffed animal.  The brand name of this ingenious invention is Wubbanub, and I mention it here because they are amazing.  They are heavy enough that they rest on the baby's chest and don't pop out and roll into the corner of the crib or the carseat and by 10 weeks or so, Miss Drama could locate her paci and pop it back in her mouth.  Looking back, it allowed her to self-soothe from an early age...and is obviously a big reason why she slept so much better than her non-paci-using baby sister.  But that's another Oprah.  Anyway.  Miss Drama had 2 of these ingenious little guys, lovingly (if not creatively) called Duckie and Puppy.  They were, DUH, a red puppy and a yellow duckie.  I had a stockpile of no fewer than 4 extras at all times.  Trouble is, they are infant sized pacifiers.  And Drama used them to fall asleep until she was three and a half years old.  You might have noticed that my general over-riding parenting policy is "Do What Works".  And though I tried to get rid of Duckie & Puppy numerous times...I always caved and gave them back to her because (we had a long flight to the US coming, she's facing a hard transition, her baby sister is coming, I'm too tired to deal with her not sleeping, insert any other excuse here) I was too lazy to deal with it.  Eventually the Paci Fairy came to our house, took Duckie and Puppy to give to new babies who need pacifiers, and left Miss Drama a puzzle and a new stuffed animal to sleep with.  We had 2 rough nights and that was it.

So back to the speech thing.  Up until the interference of the Paci Fairy, Miss Drama had a rather pronounced overbite.  In fact, it was so big that she couldn't say "F" or "V".  She literally could not bring her bottom lip to her top teeth.  So, for a long time, though she had a huge vocabulary and spoke early and mostly clearly...she said things like "Don't make Sunny Saces at me!" and called her best friend "Aza" instead of "Ava".  So, in our house, we still say "dont' make sunny saces at me".  Because it's funny.  But I know it would mean nothing in any other environment.

Trouble used to have a pretty major issue with her s-blends.  She could speak pretty well but any word that began with "S" and another consonant, she'd just not say the "S" or she would replace it with another sound.  Skirt became "Kirt", Snack was "Nack", and inexplicably, Smell was "Pell".  Literally overnight she figured it out and started speaking clearly with proper s-blends last summer....but we still sometimes say "kirt" for skirt.  Again, because it's funny.

We also have the added hilarity of having lived in two countries where we don't speak the local language fluently, but we'll adopt some local phrases or words into our Family Vocabulary.  My kids still use the French Little Kid Vernacular for naps and loveys.  A Nap is a "Dodo" (short for Dormir, to sleep in French) and a lovey or favorite stuffed toy is a "Dou-Dou".  I have no idea where that came from but all French-speaking kids call their plush Dou Dou.  My mother in law always confuses "Dodo" and "Dou Dou"...and my kids truly don't understand why she is confused.  They also don't know the American phrase Doo Doo, so they don't get it when people think they are talking about poo.  But put  us on an airplane in the middle of the night and my kids will be crying that they can't fall asleep without their Dou Dou...and you'll see us get some really wacky looks from fellow passengers.  In addition, both girls are going to school in bi-lingual programs now.  Mandarin and English.  I don't claim in any way that either of them either speak nor understand Mandarin...but they have picked up some phrases.  Lately, Drama has taken "Ai Ya" as her go-to catchphrase when anything isn't going her way or she's troubled.  It's kind of the Chinese equivalent to "Are you kidding me?" or "Oh Come On!".  And she says it with the funniest Chinese intonation.

And like EVERY family, we all use favorite phrases from movies, TV shoes, or just plain making fun of silly things we've said to one another over the course of our lives.  Here is a list of my current favorite things that are part of the Circus/Broccoli Family Language:

  • "I just want you to Love Me, Jason": to be used at any time you want attention or want to call out somebody for being a big baby and needing attention.  Original Source: Made for TV version of The Bourne Identity starring Richard Chamberlain & Jaclyn Smith.  Line delivered by Jaclyn Smith's character in a moment that can only be described as overacted and hilarious.
  • "Oh, do you need some Voss water, too?": used to point out how spoiled and entitled our children are.  Original Source: Grown Ups staring Adam Sandler.  Referring to Adam Sandler's character's painfully spoiled children ordering Voss Water at a hole in the wall BBQ restaurant.
  • Any and All Homerisms from The Simpsons.  Too many to reference.  Starts with "D'oh" and runs the gamut to "You'll Only Incur More Wrath!"  If you don't watch The Simpsons, I cannot even begin to explain why this is funny.  But trust me, it's SOOO funny.  Our speech is also peppered with Mo-isms, Apu-isms and Bart-isms.
  • "I'm Fiwsty".  Trouble still can't say her "Th" and "R" sounds consistently.  We just think this is cute.  It is used to indicate thirst. 
  • We call the color yellow, Banana.  Trouble took to this at about 18 months old and I get it.  If an orange is the color Orange...then yeah.  Yellow is Banana.  
  • I tell the kids that I'm going to Eat them for Dinner.  I am not a cannibal, nor do I like biting.  But sometimes my kids are so cute that I honestly want to dip them in some sauce and eat them.  
  • This leads directly to my telling them that I'm going to Squeeze them like a Bunny or sometimes "Easy, Lenny".  Obviously, a reference to Of Mice and Men when Lenny loves the little bunny so much that he squeezes it to death.  The latter is a Friends reference to the book.  
  • Which leads me to Chandler-isms.  I LOVE the TV show Friends.  I have seen every episode multiple times.  I would watch it 3 times a day, and though the fashion is dated I still laugh out loud.  Chandler is hilarious...and I quote him regularly.  His delivery has changed my delivery.  I mean, could he BE any more sarcastic?
  • The Husband uses ESPN Sports Center catchphrases.  A Lot.  And now the kids use them and I'm pretty sure they both have no idea what they mean but they also dont' know they are quoting from a sports show.  "From Way Downtown, Bang".  Meaning you came a long way to make that point.
  • And my most favorite are the things that Trouble comes up with that make no sense but are just funny.  I think deriving from a combo of the Bunny thing and the I'm going to Eat you thing...when we tuck Trouble into bed these days, she tells us Good Night like this: "See you in the Gingerbread, See  you on Vacation, See you in the Bubble Gum.....Chomp!"  The last word is not spoken, it is almost snorted.  It's Circus Dad's version of "eating" the kids.  And I don't know what it means but she says it really fast and it makes me laugh every time.  Almost hard enough to forget that she's surely going to sing for another half an hour, and be awake in about 6 hours.
So, what Language does your family speak?  Do you mix Portuguese and French? Did your grandfather say grace a funny way and you still do it that way?  I think these awesome little things make each family individual and special.  And Crazy.  And I HEART crazy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Running for the Border

Yesterday, I went to China to go shopping.  I realize how completely insane that must sound to the average  American...but ask anyone who has ever lived in Hong Kong where to get the best bargains and you will unequivocally hear, Shenzhen.  Truth be told...I'm betting that 95% of what most Westerners are buying, wearing, listening to, watching and/or sitting on was manufactured in some form or fashion within about 20 miles of Shenzhen.  Until you experience Shenzhen firsthand you cannot begin to imagine it.

I was slow to discovering Shenzhen, having been in Hong Kong for a full 5 months before I made my first "run for the border"  (means something very different here that it used to back in High School when we raced over to Taco Bell for lunch...or even in College when we'd make road trips from *ahem* certain towns in California to another Country and another Border...with a different kind of exploration to discover).

The closest I can come to describing Shenzhen to the un-indoctrinated is this:  Imagine you are in a busy tourist town in Mexico where the street vendors are chasing you down and trying to sell you Chicklets or Silver jewelry.  Then, take that and imagine yourself inside a dingy mall somewhere in middle America that saw it's heyday sometime in the 1970s.  Empty storefronts and shopsigns attached with duct tape and even glittery gold letters instead of signs on the glass stall doors, peppered with occasional stores full of nice looking goods but taped up with Crime-Scene style tape reading "Closed for Selling Counterfeit Goods".   Strange fluorescent lighting coupled with gilded railings (as only the Chinese do), and skylights letting in the natural light (well, what passes for sunlight in a place where the air is positively taupe with pollution on the sunniest of summer days).  Add to that the olfactory sensation of cheap cigarette smoke, inexpensive textiles, strange exotic food smells and Leather.  Oh, and probably the metallic smell of construction and/or electric work.  Maybe also some dust from cement jackhammering.  And the smell of Money.  Instead of the street vendors shouting at you in Spanish, though, they will talk to you in a strange condescending manner, in broken English.  "Missy!  Missy!  You buy DVD, handbag?"  Don't make eye contact.  Don't look up.  Even if you have no idea where you are going or what you want, DO NOT ask any of the "helpful" little men riding up and down the escalators to help you find any kind of shop.  They are a network of families and friends that have it down to a science how to rip off the Stupid Gweilo (read: White Ghost, literal translation) and they have figured out how to make you *think* they are helping you out.  Until you go with somebody that speaks Chinese and you find out that your starting "bargain" price was 10 times higher than the Chinese Housewife standing next to you inquiring about the same handbag.  Feeling proud for getting an item for 10% of what they started with...I have learned that if the shop owner offers you a "freebie" or is smiling at you asking you to come still paid about 10 times too much.  You're only getting a deal if they are mad at you.  However, my "American" guilt allows me to feel good about getting things for far less than I would pay in the US regardless if I am still paying more than the Chinese lady next to me.  Don't even get me started on how 5 years in Switzerland affected my ability to gage what a reasonable price is (Point of reference: A Happy Meal in Lausanne cost me the equivalent of $10, a Grande Starbucks Latte was $9).

Shenzhen is a fun place to spend a day....or more.  It's exhausting to bargain and rifle through bad knockoffs and garbage and fight off really creepy/annoying sales people who chase you shouting "Missy, Missy!  ManiQue!  MASS-age"  After the 3rd hour of barely pubescent salesgirls asking if they can touch my hair, I'm desperate for a shower and nauseated from the combo of stale cigarette smoke and icky food smells.  But I'm resilient and I always go with an agenda. The agenda looks like this:

First Stop: hit the tailors (copy an item almost exactly for about 10% a non-designer price), complete with a long perusal of the Fabric Market.  Return to the tailor with three times what you went for, but once you saw that they had the adorable sheeting material for the American Girl/Daughter matching pajamas you are having made in FOUR colors, you realized you actually needed FOUR sets of them per child, not just one.   And at US$10 per set, why not?  Next Stop: the home decor shops to peruse the pillows/curtains and price the next home project.  A run to the art village is always a good choice, get a copy of something or some nice Asian style art or have your own collection re-framed for pennies on the dollar.  A perennial favorite are the handbag/wallet/clothing copiers (Everything from mid-level brands to Hermes copies that in some cases would probably fool the Copyright department of the companies in question).  I also generally swing by some Jewelry shops for presents and trinkets...but am happy to walk away if I'm not getting deals.  The later in the day, the more likely I am to bail on a negotiation.  I tend to skip the Electronics stores, Sporting Good shops, Sunglasses, Luggage, and massage rooms.

It's fascinating, in a train wreck/culture shock sort of way.  And I love that every time I go I see no fewer than 3 faces I recognize from either Drama's school or the little Ex-Pat enclave community we live in.  When I see a Facebook Status "Shenzhen tomorrow" I cannot help but ask if I can tag along...because despite the insanity I seem to always "need" something.  I've been twice in the past 2 weeks and I realized today that I really have to go back next week because Drama's birthday party won't be remotely okay if I don't have the painting aprons copied in the pattern to match her decor for the kids' gift bags  (Thanks Clemsongirl for making me feel completely inadequate in my party planning skills, BTW).  It's insane...but the general mentality is "Because I Can".  And like the Helper situation....I really feel like I KNOW I won't get to enjoy this for that long.  Eventually, I will be back to paying $9 for a Starbucks Latte and my shopping options will be H&M or Bon Genie with nothing in between.  So, don't hate me when I head out to Shenzhen too frequently.  And if you decide to come to Hong Kong, feel free to write to ask me for my list of preferred vendors.  I've got them all marked in the "Shopping in Shenzhen" book.  No Lie.

Monday, March 21, 2011


This past week I've been faced with too many reminders that I'm getting older.  Please don't take this as a slight if you happen to have been born before me.  I am not focused on the number of years I've had on this planet, per se.  And I'm not saying "I'm Old"....I'm actually totally fine with growing older, from a logical standpoint.  I actually like the current Incarnation of Me a whole lot better than previous releases.  I know that my years and experiences make me more tolerant, thoughtful, empathetic, and wise.  The downside, is, of course, that getting older and wiser internally means the outside tends to errrrm...Patina a bit as well.  And I just haven't quite figured out how I am going to deal with that.

I know I've touched on my alter egos and their struggles.  I've also given you my preliminary take on aging intervention in it's many forms.  You have also heard a bit about how my darling progeny work hard every day to make sure I stay humble.  Today, for the official record, Girl Scout seems to have planted her rather stout bum firmly on the trunk of poor little Barbie Girl and that seems to be keeping her breathless enough that she can't verbalize her criticisms or get too much into my head.  I'm grateful for the assist, because Life keeps reminding me that I am not getting any younger.  

I am in the process of planning Drama's seventh birthday party.  This is a project I love each year and I have to say I seem to be getting better at it with each effort (though the joint 4th birthday party with the Chocolate Fondue and Pinata in the garden overlooking Lake Geneva may be tough to top...Ever).  It occurs to me, though, that while I desperately wanted children....I don't think I thought a lot beyond infancy.  I really thought I was going to bring home a baby who would stay in those tiny little footie pajamas and Size 1 diapers forever.  Each major milestone she has reached has been kind of a shock for me.  This past year has been particularly bittersweet.  It is the first year of her life that I can honestly remember (vividly!!) what it was like to be her age.  I remember the smell of my first grade classroom, the names of all of my classmates in Mrs. Streevey's joint 1st-2nd grade class, and what it felt like to be made fun of because I threw up on Mr. Costello's sneakers in gym class.  The process of her Losing Teeth has made me strangely nostalgic.  I can honestly close my eyes and remember what it felt like to poke my tongue out from between the sharp baby teeth...and exactly the sensation of scraping my tongue across the brand-new ridges of the adult tooth when it came bursting through.  Mostly, though, I remember my 7th birthday party.  And I CANNOT believe that I have a child that is turning Seven.  Seven is no longer a little girl.  Thankfully, Drama still likes lots of "babyish" things.  She cops to them and claims that she doesn't care if they are cool.  I realize that this will change.  Probably soon.  And I'm not ready for her to tell me that she doesn't like Pink anymore, or that Princesses are lame.  I feel this strong sense that the days are speeding up faster and faster and there is nothing I can do about it.  I dont' mean that I'm not looking forward to watching her grow up.  I SO am.  She fascinates me with her heartbreaking mix of sensitivity and creativity.  But I will miss who she is today, as much as I miss who she was at one and two and on and on.  

Add to that emotional crisis that fact that it's getting Warm in Hong Kong.  No, warm weather doesn't make me weepy.  But, when it gets too hot for long sleeves and sweaters, its' time to break out the summer clothes.  Last week I did the big changeover.  The fall and winter items go into storage and the spring and summer things come out.  Easy Enough (particularly with the aid of my Helper...who was there with a labelmaker...not even kind of making fun of my anal retentiveness!).  This year, I had to pull out two different boxes for Trouble, because she'll need some of the Size 3 things from last year for now and the beginning of summer...but she will likely also need most of the Size 4 things, because it won't get cold here again until November or December.   Blah Blah Blah.  So, in the process of bringing out all of these boxes, Trouble got interested.  In fact, she put on a Fashion Show,  because although they were all Drama's clothes first, it's all New to Her.  She was in the playroom pulling out the size 4 treasures while I was going through the 3s and pulling out the winter items to determine what was worth boxing up for next year and making a giant pile of things to give away (Oh how I love giving away old treasures!!).  In marches my little blonde diva: twirling and posing in a sweet pink dress with butterfly appliques and a little flouncy skirt.  And my heart stopped.  It was The Dress that Drama was wearing the day she came to the hospital to meet her baby sister.  How did that happen???I've been able to manage the "boo-hoo" factor of Trouble getting older for the most part because I've been so excited for her to grow out of the baby phases.  No more baby food?  Awesome!  Diapers Gone?  Incredible!  Big girl bed?  Great-I don't have to get up at 5am to get her out of the crib to go potty (anytime she wants to start sleeping like a regular person would be Just Super, but that's clearly a dream).  But in that moment, I was struck by the fact that time is just FLYING by.  My baby is So not a baby.  In fact, she is a little Person.  She is as old (older, actually!!) than Drama was when she was born.  And to me, way back then, Drama was already quite mature and I expected her to behave a certain way.  Trouble still gets away with murder, and we all baby her...something we admit but can't seem to stop doing.  Knowing she is my last baby is fine with me...but I don't want to blink and have it be time for HER seventh birthday party.  Because at this feels like that is going to happen!

Why, I wonder, does seeing my kids get older make me feel such a bizarre mix of excitement and anxiety?  It's not that I don't love each phase that they are in.  I have a friend who told me once that she never yearns for the baby days at all, and loves each new grown-up phase better than the last.  GVL, you know I'm talking about you.  I wish I felt that way completely.  I do, of course, feel pride and excitement for my kids as they grow and achieve and learn.  I get embarrassingly sentimental at conferences and school performances when teachers say nice things about my kids.  The Husband told me I have to stop crying at conferences when the teacher is complementary.  I can't help it!  I'm SO proud!!  Seriously, I want them to grow up to be wonderful adult people, but I also want to put a concrete block on their heads and keep them little forever.  I also realize that when I had babies, I thought grade-school-aged children were SO OLD.  Like, somehow, I was obviously too young to have one of them.   I remember even looking at toddlers with a kind of pity.  Yet, here I am...with a gap-toothed big girl who can no longer fit into clothes from the little girl department and my baby is about to start big-kid school.  I'm not a "young mom" anymore.

Which brings me to the third piece of the "Face It, Lady, You're Middle-Aged" puzzle.  I wasn't technically EVER a young mom.  I was just shy of thirty when I had my first child.   For our generation, that's not old...but it's also not young.  This week a friend of mine from high school posted on her Facebook page that she is going to be a Grandma.  Um.  What??  If she's old enough to be a Grandma then so am I?  I am familiar with the concept of a Hot Granny.  We've got a Hot Granny in our that looks better than I do in a bikini.  No lie.  But, I'm still working out if I am eligible for MILF on earth can I contemplate being a GILF??  I'm just grateful that my girls are (at least) 10 years away from putting me in that position (at 20 years at the earliest that I'm willing to even ponder).  But somehow...this trifecta: my big girl turning seven, my baby not even kind of being a baby, and realizing that I am of an age that I could be somebody's grandma....has got me a little bit spun up today.   

My dad likes to say that getting older is better than the alternative.  And he's surely right.  But I want to figure out how to actually accept it without kicking and screaming.  Getting older is okay.  Obviously we can't stay young forever.  I've always said I'm going to grow old gracefully because I'm just going to pretend it isn't happening.  I didn't factor in the fact that things like my kids and/or Facebook would crumble that fantasy.  I think for the moment I'm just going to try to be thankful that my biggest source of angst is lost teeth and birthday parties.  And perhaps I should make an extra concerted effort to enjoy my babies exactly as they are today.  Every Day.  Even when I want to sell them to the Gypsies.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brain Soup

There are a zillion things buzzing around in my head this morning.  Making it rather difficult for me to hone in on one subject to discuss.  Yeah, even more difficult than my normal subject hopping, scattered dialogue....

In no particular order, these are the ingredients in my Brain Soup:
  • Bizarre weather/Natural disasters/Super moon
  • The Biggest Loser (Hong Kong Housewives Edition)
  • Gross-out illnesses that kids bring home from school
  • Surprise!  People exceeding expectations.
  • Superfoods (If Chocolate and Wine are good for come not Bacon?)
  • Online Shopping...and why it is infinitely more satisfying than the real thing
  • Birthday Party Planning (somebody is almost seven, lord help me)
  • Things I Need to Do to Prepare our home /myself for A Puppy
If I sit here long enough, the list will expand to a length that might actually suffice as a post in and of itself.  And while that would be somewhat cathartic (I mean, unloading my crowded, if dissheveled, brain is kind of like taking a shower), I don't think it would make for very interesting reading.  So, in the interest of keeping this manageable I'm going to expand upon just a couple of these.

First.  I have to give a shout out to Circus Dad, who went under the knife valiantly on Friday.  No, he did not get "Fixed".  Why does everybody assume that when you say "My husband had surgery today"?  He had surgery to repair his shoulder, and other than it taking a long time and his having to stay the night in the hospital for observation following the General Anesthetic, he came home in a good mood and relatively chipper.  I had completely prepared myself for a weekend of The Big Baby Show (which Circus Dad has Mastered, I might add).  Normally, if he gets so much as a sniffle or a case of the flu, the entire family needs to operate in silence and treat him like a Hospice Patient.  I had the girls prepared to have to wait on him and treat him gently and Remain Upstairs, Quietly.  But he did none of those things!!  He seems to have completely stayed on top of the pain, he's managing his own medications and exercise schedule and he's not even asking for anybody to bring him drinks/ice/rub his feet.  I actually don't know what to do he has so Exceeded My Expectations.  It makes me want to be really nice to him. What's that all about??  It so goes against my snarky nature.  The girls and I will be making him cookies when Family Movie Time is over (Tom & Jerry, The Movie...which I give zero stars, in case you were wondering).

Second.  Unrelated (or so you might think), and a complete non-sequitor.  Online Shopping.  It will not surprise anybody to hear that I love to shop.  I think most women do, at least to some degree.  I know a good number who say "I Hate Shopping" but given the right set of circumstances, the right environment and an unlimited budget and say I could turn any woman into a dyed in the wool shopaholic.  My Ex-Pat and Geographic Circumstances have led to me becoming an Expert Online Shopper.  Tell me what you are looking for and I can find it for you.  I can probably also figure out how you can get it delivered to your door.  Even if you live in a cave in Pakistan.  Now, the thing about Online Shopping is that you don't ever have to feel SalesGirl Pressure.  You can peruse the departments and designers that you might never feel comfortable walking into in real life.  For instance, I grew up in the Booming Metropolis of Denver, Colorado.  Until 1990, we didn't even have a Saks Fifth Avenue.  I think Nordstrom finally arrived sometime around 1999.  So, the High End stores of my childhood were The Denver (department store), Broadway Southwest (again, a department store) but mostly we hit Target and Mervyns.  In Denver, you can go shopping in jeans and a t-shirt and it's fine.  In fact, I've seen a number of people at Target in their Pajamas....but that's its own thing.  So, until you go inside a fancy department store you don't realize that SalesGirls actually give you the up and down look and snub you if you walk into a store and they deem you Unworthy.  I have never gone back to Neiman Marcus at the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver since about 1998 when I went in looking for a dress and was totally snubbed by the salesgirl.  Strangely, I've shopped in fancier stores in other cities and not had that experience...dressed equally grubby.  Nonetheless, it's not an experience I want to repeat.  I mean, seriously.  She was wearing a nametag and being paid by the hour.  What gave her the right to decide I wasn't worthy??  Looping back around.  If you go to Neiman Marcus (and the like) online, you can scour...explore delicious designer fabrics, shoes, handbags, designs and outrageous splurges.  One of my FAVORITE pastimes is to fill online shopping carts with dream ensembles.  At any time, if you click on my browser history and find a store website (Williams & Sonoma, Anthropologie, Saks, Piperlime, Sephora, Crewcuts...I am all over the boad) you will find a shopping cart full of treasures.  More often than not, I never buy anything in them.  But I walk away ruminating on how cute that pair of skinny jeans on were, or debating the must-have-factor of those Alexander McQueen Flats.  My ExPat Status meant, for years, that I could fill the carts and never do anything about it.  Recently, however, there is a new company ( my ExPat friends...bookmark it!) that acts like a clearing house for Big Stores with large online operations.  They gather up your order and then ship it internationally.  It costs slightly more, but you actually get what you want.   When The Gap Group of stores started shipping internationally I actually did a Happy Dance.  You'd think I wore a lot of Khaki.  Not So...but I think it's like anything.  If somebody tells you that you can't have it, you want it all the more.  I challenge you to try it.  Go to, click on Top10 Trends or Rachel Zoe's picks...and just add the things you like to your cart.  Don't buy them.  Just do it.  Then walk away.  You'll be thinking about whether those outrageously cute Chloe espadrilles could be justified if you wore then 3 times a week for 4 months.  And if you decide that they are still too overpriced, you can just leave them there forever.  Fun, right?  And you never had to show anybody your in-need-of-a-pedi toes or get a nasty look by the salesgirl.  And the kids have not been neglected by those 15 minutes of escapism for mommy.  You can thank me later.

And as the credits to this truly deplorable film begin to scroll, I leave you with this thought:  the Alexander McQueen flats ARE To-Die-For (I think I need to go check see if they've gone on sale)....and I need to make the cookies for The Husband.  I hope you've all been blessed with somebody Exceeding your Expectations this weekend, too.  Maybe someday I'll get to the other ingredients in the Soup.  Maybe.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Perpetual Pregnancy

I promised to do a post about all of the reasons I love NOT living in America.  But, I've had a hard time coming up with a list, per se.

As of this month, we've been ex-pats for 6 years.  Which means that I've spent more of my marriage living like *this* than I did living like a *normal* person.  Not that ex-pats aren't Normal.  But in my experience it takes a particular kind of person to be willing (eager?) to embark on the adventure of Living Outside of one's own culture.  Some of that requires the ability to disconnect and/or accept the (at least physical) separation from family and friends.  Another big piece of it is the fact that we are all shaped by our external environments. So, once you check-out of your Hometown or Home State or Home's really hard to go back and check back IN.  I don't mean to say we're not welcome back, but life goes on in the places we leave....and life goes on inside one's own nuclear family.  I know I've been changed permanently by having left Home.  And I honestly think I'm better for it.  There is a fabulous quote in the book The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, "For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy-- a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect." 

Since I am, at best, a writer of satire and purveyor of sarcastic wit...I don't have Ms. Lahiri's graceful way with words.  My interpretation of the above quote is that, essentially, once you Move Away you aren't ever truly at Home. Because you will never belong in a country and culture that is not your own...but you will not ever truly feel comfortable and at home in the place you previously inhabited.  Oh, yeah.  And pregnancy is a Freakshow.  Does anybody really want to star in a Freakshow (aside from Charlie Sheen, I mean)?

The way I've gotten around feeling completely isolated and lonely (bottles of wine notwithstanding) is to jump in with both feet into the expat community.  It's a bustling arena of People who don't fit in...anywhere.  Or maybe...we can fit in anywhere?  I have friends of nearly every race, culture, creed, religion and sexual orientation.  Each one of them has affected me and changed me.  Whether I walked away thinking "Wow, I love the way He thinks about politics" or "Man, that chick is NUTS"'s made me think about how I live and the choices I make and I think that being mindful of our choices and the movements we make each day makes us better people.  At least I'm thinking about being a better person.  It doesn't stop me from going bananas on the kids when they smear their greasy neon colored Fruit Roll-Up handprints on my sofa or walls.  And yeah.  I let them have Fruit Roll Ups...for the record, they fall into the "Treat" category and not the "Fruit and Veggie" category.  Judge me if you will.  I actually remember loving Fruit Bars and Fun Fruits myself as a kid...and as I've said before Food Is Joy and I choose not to live a joyless life.  I also hope my kids find joy in flavors and experiences...whatever that may mean.

Another funny thing I've realized recently is that Home isn't just Colorado anymore.  When The Husband and I made our first Move (Chicago!  Not exactly exotic but seeing as we were both born and raised in the Rockies and our parents both grew up was a big assertion of independence), we spent a lot of time Missing the big open blue sky over the Rockies.  We missed the streets and the dry air and Coors Light and watching The Broncos live on local TV (or even better at Mile High Stadium).  Then we moved to Switzerland and we learned that we missed things that were generically American (see Miss America), but also things that were specifically Chicagoan.  I STILL miss Chargrilled Chicago Dogs, and I only lived in The Second City (Oh!!  Second City!!) for 18 months!  I can't even count the hours spent doctoring recipes, scouring markets and grocery stores and trying out restaurants trying to find a "taste" of home in Switzerland.  Despite our proximity to Italy, it was impossible to find Italian Sausage in Switzerland,  so I learned to Make My Own.  I imported things like Peanut Butter, Bagels, Cheetos, and A1 sauce.  But despite all of my bellyachin' seems I also fell in love a little with Swiss life.  Now, in Hong Kong, I miss artisan quality bread, croissants and pain au chocolat.  I miss having delicious coffee at every tiny restaurant (or gas station for that matter) anywhere in the Country.  I miss clear skies and Lac Leman, and the view from St. Saphorin.  I miss the predictability of the Swiss.  Life in Switzerland is rife with rules and regulations.  But you Know that your neighbor will never mow their lawn on Sunday.  And you now that if you step into the crosswalk, the cars will stop for you.  And you know that your dog is welcome at the local 2-Michelin-star cafe.  And you know that when you've made a friend (local or Expat) the will remain that way.  Because making friends in that environment provides some kind of cement.  So far I am loving life in Hong Kong (I think a post about the top 10 best things about life in HK might be imminent), partially because everything you could possibly desire is available to you.  I wonder what I will miss most about HK when it's time to move on.  (Duh!  It will be the Helper!)

Seriously, though.  What I love most about not living in America is that I am exposed to different opinions, ideas, cultures, socio-economic diversity, and ideologies.  I realize that if you took a cross-section of the US you'd get that. But when you live in one place you tend to get one thing.  Or one flavor if you will.  And it turns out, while I'll always be a girl that goes back to Vanilla...every once in a while a scoop of Caramel Swirl or Pistachio is pretty amazing, too.  I'm incredibly excited to be going "Home" this summer...the Circus/Broccoli family has a lot of exciting things in the pipeline....and I've got a list of friends and family I need to catch up with that is beginning to frighten me.  But I'll work it out, with the help of my iCal and (thanks to my emulating one very amazing Clemsongirl) a clipboard with a monogrammed Sharpie.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


You always hear people say, "Kids are so honest" and "Kids say the cutest things".


Because my kids aren't entirely truthful.  In fact, they are downright gifted at bending and twisting the truth to suit their purposes.  And the things they say, while often funny, aren't always that cute.

I think it would be more accurate to say that kids say things that cut to the quick, and strip you of any idea you might be harboring of yourself having anything remotely approaching Fabulosity (don't know if this is a real word, but you know what I mean).  My kids are brutal.  And I choose to believe that the cutting commentary isn't honest.  It's either meant to be funny or mean.  Because if they are saying what they think...then I am not as Fabulous as I like to think.  And I've been wresting with/ceding points to Barbie Girl for too long to let go of my dreams of being Fabulous.

The following are only a few examples of the tender nuggets of "honesty" my kids have dropped in the past week:

  • Delivered by Drama, after I descended the stairs ready to go out for the evening: "Mama!  You look so nice!!  You can hardly even see your eye crinkles!!  You know, you should put on make-up like that Every Day."  Ouch.
  • As said by Trouble, in a big crowd of mommies walking their preschoolers to the elevator after ice skating class: "It's Okay, Mama!"  to which I reply, "What's okay?"  the cheeky little turd turns back to me with a devilish grin and says, "It's Okay about your Great Big Butt!"  and then she turned and ran down the ramp all the way to elevator laughing maniacally.  Don't think the entire crowd of miniature, pocket-sized Asian mommies who could seriously swap underpants with my 6 year old, weren't checking out my backside with great empathy and sad eyes.  
  • Once again, Trouble, proving why she has earned her moniker: "I don't know how towel got there"  Said towel was a fluffy white heavy Egyptian hand towel from my bathroom...soaked in pine cleaning solution (bright yellow) and lying in the middle of her playroom.  Hmmmm.  Change tactics.  "Hey, Trouble...did you clean your playroom by yourself?"  Happy grin of pride. "Yes, Mama!  Did I do a good job?"  I turn and walk into the utility room where I find 4 bottles of cleaning product on the floor, open.  A pile of my best bath linen pulled out of the laundry basket waiting for destruction.  Big Talk about dangers of chemicals and how I appreciate her "help", she cannot do that.  I confess to actually asking her if she wants to be a maid when she grows up.  Shocked eyes and then, a "NO!". I actually think she was playing Cinderella.  That's what I get for leaving her alone in the playroom to go upstairs and cover my "crinkly eyes".  
  • Drama, in all seriousness: "Mama, when I grow up, will my skin start to pull off and have dents in it, too?"  This is why you do not shower with your children after they are capable of speaking.  And I've recently adopted a Pants Policy.  I don't let my kids see me without pants.  My ego can't take it.
  • Reviewing our passport photos on Sunday.  Drama: "Wow mom.  That's when you were young and pretty."  I felt obligated to point out that the photo was taken JUST before I found out I was pregnant with her.  I've gotten progressively less Young and Pretty since.  Thanks, Girls.
I remember hearing when I was pregnant with Drama that you can tell if you are having a girl because the baby will "steal your beauty" and you look exhausted and terrible through your pregnancy.  True Dat (at least for me).  The tough thing is that I think they continue to steal it.  Or maybe it's just that being sleep deprived for nearly 7 years coupled with snarky, soul-sucking, Ego-decimating commentary has crushed me??

Yesterday I was having a coffee and conversation with a girlfriend and the subject of Aging Gracefully came up.  We debated and discussed all manner of plastic surgery, injectibles, obsessive exercise, diet, and friend dropped a bomb on me.  She said, "You know, we're pretty much at the crest right now.  We're probably never going to look better than we do right now".  So, basically...we have to decide what we're willing to accept and what we're going to try to fight.  But I recognize that all manner of interference with the aging process will have repercussions.  You can look young (Joan Rivers) but it means you also look kind of freaky and like a cat.  You can have body parts rearranged, lifted, sucked, pulled...but gravity is not going anywhere. So, it's a slippery slope.  You can start injectibles (and seriously, Jennifer Aniston looks about 25 and she smokes so don't tell me that's all Good Genes), but once you start how do you stop??  The wrinkles disappear and then they are back if you quit...and worse!  I don't have an answer.  My official opinion on record is that I think people should do what makes them happy and feel good about themselves.  If they can afford it, go for it.   Once again Stay Tuned.  At this rate, my kids should be the Advance Team for a plastic surgeon....and they've got me pondering any number of procedures.  Course The Husband would be horrified.  

For now, I'm getting my Fabulosity in the form of Shoes and Handbags.  But I'm wearing Pants and Make-up.  You Know It.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I realize that I've finished a few posts and left you hanging.

So, today I'll provide a general update on the following situations (though not necessarily in this order, and lord knows there will probably be a lot of side-trips, cause that's how I roll):  Sleep, Temper Tantrums, Nostalgia, Movie Obsessions, My Embarrassing Competitive Nature, That Nasty Barbie Girl, and the current status of my Eyelash Regrowth.

First: Sleep.  I should have given props when they were due, because apparently (even though she can't yet read) Trouble is making me pay for not having given them.  Almost immediately after my Boo Hoo Fest about Trouble's horrific habit of waking me at 5am...she gave me a reprieve.  I was kind of afraid to say it out loud...for fear that addressing it might make it disappear.  It seems I found a bribe she was willing to work for (A Groovy Girl), and she went a solid week without waking up anybody in the family.  No Lie.  But the day after she got the reward, there she was.  Face pressed up against mine...heavy breathing....scream whispering, "MAMA!  CAN YOU HELP ME PUT THE GROOVY MERMAID'S TAIL BACK ON?"  Lord Help Me.

I wish this were the worst of the issues at the moment.  Trouble seems to have developed a completely illogical but truly disturbing panic-attack cum psychological fear of Swimming Lessons.  There are two things you need to know about my opinion about Swimming Lessons.  One: Swimming (while fun) is not for fun.  It is a life skill and it is not optional.  And Two: The Circus/Broccoli Children WILL swim.  They must remain in Swimming Lessons until they are good enough that they could try out for the Swim Team.  I do not insist that they actually do so, only that their skills are sufficient that they could.  At that point, they are free to quit.  Drama LOVES swimming.  She did not start out this way.  But the Tiger Mom in me persisted and now she is both a great swimmer but she enjoys swimming.  She does not enjoy Swimming Lessons.  Tough Luck.  Trouble used to love swimming lessons.  Because they took place at our club and involved leisurely getting into the water with mama and clinging to me and/or showing off. But we reached a point where she was not going to progress because she refused to ever let go of me to prove that she was ready to move on.  She basically languished at the same level for 12 months...of rather pricey lessons.  That I wasn't really that keen on myself.  So.  We put her in the Swimming School that Drama goes to.  It is the feeder school for the competitive team that is associated with Drama's school, and quite good. The lessons for the little ones are fabulous.  I am amazed by the patience of the teachers.  Trouble went to her first two lessons with no complaints.  In fact, she laughed and smiled and had fun.  And then, suddenly (and I know this to be true because I go and watch said lessons), she just had a complete freak out and decided that she was Not Going To Swim.  She actually threw such a spectacular temper fit that she made herself vomit.  I can only be grateful that she did it on the edge of the pool.  The result was, of course, that she got to get OUT of the pool.  Trouble is no dummy.  For the past two weeks she has repeated this show.  Either sobbing or refusing to cooperate or doubling over and hyperventilating until she vomits.  So, yeah.  I'm the mom with the kid that barfs on the side of the pool every week.  Intentionally.  The swimming teacher agrees that we have to make her get back in because she's trying to manipulate us.  It's torture.  For all parties and I particularly feel for the parents of the other two kids that are in Trouble's class...because she is a true nightmare.  Where I'm going with this is: Trouble has herself SO worked up about Swimming Lessons that she has woken me (with tears, sobbing and no lack of dramatic wailing) with "I don't wanna go to swimming lessons" at or before 5am for the past two mornings.  It's like she has a detector for my weak point and she is trying to exploit it.  Wear Mama down to a bloody, sleepless nub and I won't have to Swim.  I can see the gears spinning in her tiny Machiavellian mind.  I tried to offer her a Groovy Girl Horse if she'll go this week.  What Have I Become???

Today I booked flights home for the kidlets and I for our "home leave" (read: visit to the Motherland).  Which made me realize there were a few things I'm hankering for that I didn't mention in my Yearning for America post.  I'm excited to have LONG telephone conversations with my friends who are now (or always were) Stateside..while on the same time (ish)...and not have to schedule it into my day.  I'm literally salivating over Chipotle and an Giant Icy Beverage.  Oh, wait.  I mentioned that.  Bonus points to anybody that meets me at the airport with a bag of Chipotle Goodness. I'm a Veggie Burrito girl-black beans-and loaded with all of the goodies.  I'm not gonna tell Barbie Girl beforehand and once I get it, my mouth will be stuffed too full of a Burrito the Size of my Head for her to comment.  Take That you wicked little thing!

I am thrilled to report that Trouble did not take to HSM.  She continues to be obsessed with High Five (thanks know what you've done to me and I will pay you back).  Frankly, it's better than the mind-numbing atrocity that is the Barbie movie franchise.  In case you were wondering, we own ALL of them.  Gack

In the past couple of weeks, I've refrained from taking anybody out on the hiking trail, the tennis court, or at any of my childrens' activities.  I do get a little bit competitive during Boot Camp, but it's supposed to be that way!  I plan to take a pass at Drama's Sport's Day.  It's just too tempting.  But I must confess to a freakish obsession with a ridiculous Facebook game called Zuma.  And I am all kinds of warrior pissed at my brother because he has somehow figured out how to get insanley high scores.  And that's just not okay.  Then again, I'm not tackling all in all, it's probably not so bad.

At the moment, I seem to be managing Barbie Girl's least I'm keeping her to a dull roar.  I snuck a beer AND 2 Girl Scout cookies on Sunday night and managed to weigh-in back in the normal range so I think she's ratcheted it down a notch or two.  At least until bathing suit season...which comes rather sooner in Hong Kong than it does in my native Colorado.  In the meantime, I'm trying to manage a balance.  And I'll let her get a pedicure this weekend.  I mean, I can only punish her so much.

I have been both humbled and totally excited by the response and feedback I've gotten to my blog.  So, Thanks to anybody and everybody who is taking time to read.  I do plan to keep it up...and am open to comments and suggestions.  This week I had no fewer than 5 people come up and ask to see my missing Eyelashes.  For the record, I didn't really lose them.  But it was close.  I think they call that artistic license?  Or, that was James Frey said after he got busted with a fake memoir?  Anyway.  I still have eyelashes.  I've got some fun things in the works for the stay tuned.  I'd also like to send out a Roll Call to my amazing talented friends who have Etsy stores or small companies that I might be able to support or give shout outs to on this blog.  I'm also pondering a little Giveaway Action.

So, there we are.  All updated.  Only it's rainy again her in Hong Kong and I'm left home with bills to manage and an office to maybe I'll just log into Facebook and play a game of Zuma....

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Listen up, Gentle Readers (ha!), it's confession time.  I feel compelled to come clean on a few fronts.

First of all, I have sinned against my husband.  Well, not in the Carnal Sense...but if you ask him, he will surely fill your ears with tales of all of my transgressions.

The first and most egregious of my unforgivable actions is The Sin of Facebooking.  Circus Dad belongs to a (not entirely small nor unfounded) group of stalwart social networking holdouts.  When Facebook first hit our radar, we both wrinkled our noses in distaste and declared "Creepy!" and "Why!?" and "But how do you know anybody is actually REAL?".  At the time, my younger siblings had accounts and it seemed to be about keeping in touch with high school and college friends.  And then about hooking up.  Sort of.  I remember thinking, "Not For Me".  Fast Forward 24 months and I shut down the website I had kept to post photos and info about our kids, and insisted that everybody that wanted to keep up with the Circus/Broccoli Fam had to get on the Facebook Wagon and come play.  Initially, I did just that.  Then I found games (NO, I never had a farm or a Mafia.  But I was briefly a Vampire and I confess to having intensely focused phases of addiction over one silly game or another).  On two occasions I have taken the time to clean out my Friends list...just taking a hatchet to the people that I can't remember or who asked me to be their Friend and then never said "Boo".  I don't need stalkers...and frankly, a lot of the people I knew 30 years ago...I don't really want to know anymore.  Still, I somehow have close to 600 Friends.

This makes Circus Dad loony. He HATES Facebook.  I can't really blame him, because I do have multiple periods of high activity each day.  IMs, Messages, guffawing at statuses....and it definitely does take time away from things I should be doing.  Like reading The Financial Times and worrying about our childrens' educations.  But, in all seriousness...I might do those things occasionally, but what it's probably keeping me from doing is playing another round of Old Maid or painting toenails.  And when I'm honest with myself I feel a little bit bad about stealing that time from the girls.  Circus Dad thinks Facebook is just the Devil's Playground.  It's a "safe" place to connect with old friends...but it's also a place to hook up with old flames.  It's temptation overload.  We're Old Married People.  We aren't jealous and we know each other well.  Nonetheless, he is not a fan of me having Friends that I was previously romantically linked to.  And I get that.  Only, it seems kind of ridiculous. Because while I do know a number of real life people who have had affairs and/or caught their partner in an affair that was Made Possible by the end of the day, you have to want to do it.  And I don't.  So, it's basically an impasse.  He curses it and I giggle along with it.

My second sin is that my gift of self deprecation also tends to occasionally become non-self deprecation and it's really fun to kid a kidder.  I've become Much better about my tendency to skewer my husband in public social situations.  But what you should know about Circus Dad is that he is an infamous Pot Stirrer.  He is a born Contrarian and there is nothing he loves more than getting a serious person All Spun Up by taking a hard line position (that he actually doesn't really believe 90% of the time) in opposition to them.  So, it's hard not to want to see if you can get him Spun Up.  But he's unflappable....and when he is ticked, he's got a Slow Burn.  He'll just make you pay later. 

My third transgression is linked specifically to this blog but also slightly to my second sin.  My darling is NOT at all happy about my Blogging.  He admits (begrudgingly) that I'm "kinda" funny.  But he does not want our personal business to be public and he is entirely displeased with being labeled Circus Dad.  He says it makes him sound like a Clown.  Which, anyone who has met the man will confirm, he most definitely is Not.  Red hair aside, my husband is a rather serious guy.  He is logical and even-handed.  He is calm, if sharp-tongued.  He is, without question, the only person I have ever met who really and truly seems to have been born without an ounce of insecurity.  He just plain does not care what anybody thinks.  And I, on the other hand, am a little bit like a puppy dog.  I Need everybody to Like me.  It's a disease.  And it makes him crazy.  He used to beg me not to talk to the checkout ladies at the grocery store.  "Why must you be so friendly?"  Which is funny.  Because my Mother In Law is the kindest, happiest and friendliest person you will ever meet.  I am still hopeful that in his old age, Circus Dad will mellow into a craggy version of my darling Mother In Law.

Why am I airing my sins?  Firstly, because I think that being honest about this will make me more careful in choosing my words and which stories I tell.  I also think I owe the man a nicer epithet than Circus Dad (not that I'm changing the name of the blog, because I maintain that is Who we are).  So I introduce to you The Husband.  He will occasionally appear in these pages...but if he seems to be missing, just know that I'm self-editing.  I can actually hear the guffaws of my dearest friends at that one.  While I'm on a Confession Bent I suppose I should go ahead and admit that I seem to be without a Filter.  I have issues saying too much, putting my foot in my mouth, and otherwise causing social distress.  Know This: I Mean Well.  Always.  But I'm the child of a Hopeless Sarcastic and a Chatty Cathy....I'm come about it honestly.

So, I make no excuses for the Sins.  And I am not necessarily saying I will quit them (particularly the first one)...but I will commit myself to being kind.  Not that he's reading this....


It's Mardi Gras time!!!  What does that mean in my house, you ask??  Um...very little.  Raised Catholic, there was a time when I would probably have been shoveling one indulgent treat or another into my greedy little anticipation of 6 weeks of Lenten abstinence.  Only, now I have strayed so far from the flock that I can't even truly call myself a Christian without peering up at at the sky in fear of being struck down for blatant hypocrisy.  So, this weekend's Mardi Gras activity was limited to the Father-Daughter Gala.

The Gala was sponsored by the Girl Scout Council and held at a local club.  Nearly all of Drama's little friends from school are also involved in Girl Scouts, and so the Gala has been the on Drama's radar for months.  She got wind of the world "Gala" and insisted that her daddy wear a tuxedo, and started googling "gala gowns" before I had any idea what she was up to.   I am extremely proud to say that I stuck to my guns and did not allow her to wear a backless or strapless sparkly Oscars-style number.  It took a lot of finagling but ultimately, Drama wore a little-girl appropriate silk dress with embroidered flowers (so cute!) that she scowled at up until she actually put it on.  The other thing about the Gala is that ONLY registered Girl Scouts are permitted.  So, Trouble had to stay home (it seems that Girl Scouts, while adding the Daisy Scouts since we were kids...hasn't yet figured out how to cash in on the preschool crowd....but I wager there will be Baby Scouts sometime in the near future).  So my plan to keep the peace was to create a special event for the little one: High Tea with mama.

There is nothing particularly insightful about what I'm about to tell you...but it is a true account of what it took to get three of the Circus/Broccoli clan out the door looking Gorgeous.  Three, you ask?  But there are four of you.  Yes, indeedy.   Read on.

As you've already learned, Saturday mornings around here are sloppy and disorganized.  And yesterday was no exception.  We managed to make it out the door to Art Class without any meltdowns...but somehow I was still sporting bad hair and a patchy make-up job.  And I can't even blame Trouble.  After 2.5 hours spent chatting up the Art Parents, grocery shopping, chasing the daughter NOT in Art class around on her scooter, taking down caffeinated beverages, and then, finally, wrestling everybody back in the Clown Car (What did you think we drove??)....I realized we were home with just enough time to have lunch and start getting pretty.

Getting Pretty.  For Drama, this involved: Shower, moisturizer (borrowed from mama), Numerous Requests for Make-Up (Denied), a blow-out (lordhelpme...I can't even manage this well for my own hair), hair-curling (see point #4), earring selection (this required a Vote from the entire family), up-do (which had to be re-done 3 times for varying degrees of wrong-ness), Hairspray (Loads of drama over the smell, taste, and general horror of the cloud enveloping her head of glorious curls), Lip Gloss (Mom Caves!), Pinning Crown into updo, Dress (much convincing of her beauty and princess-y-ness), Shiny Shoes....and....Voila.

For Trouble, surprisingly, no issues.  Her process?  Shower, air-dry, ponytail, dress (love!!), ballet sippers (seriously, mom?!?  I can WEAR these OUT??), hairbow, lipgloss (like mom wasn't going to cave on all fronts).

Somewhere about 20 minutes before Drama and Circus Dad were supposed to be leaving (and Drama was somewhere mid-2nd-round of the updo crisis), I was enlisted to help Circus Dad button the tiny little buttons on the tuxedo shirt.  And then needed to tie the bowtie....and find the pocket square.

Approximately 10 minutes after the dance actually started, Drama and Trouble descend the stairs and semi-cooperate with the obligatory photo shoot.  I have to say they looked adorable and seeing Circus Dad in his tux reminds me that we really should get the Tux out more than once a year...cause men all look slightly more George Clooney-esque in a tuxedo.

Ding Dong!

It's our friends!  Ready to head to the Peninsula for High Tea.  I look down, unsure of what I even had on...but was relieved to see at some point I had thrown on a pair of grey trousers, a camisole and a cardigan.  Wet hair?  Check.  No Make-up?  Check.  I race upstairs, put on shoes, the first necklace I see and grab my make-up bag.

To my dear friend's credit, despite the fact that she looked stunning and put-together in a fabulous maxi dress and flawless hair and make-up, she didn't blink at me hopping in the taxi in that state.  In fact, she didn't even comment when I pulled out the eyelash curler and mascara en route.  Um...just in case you were wondering...using an eyelash curler in the back of a Hong Kong taxi with a 3-year-old in formal attire on your lap is not a great idea.

Tea was lovely.  Drama and Dad had a fabulous time at the ball.  And though I'm fairly sure that the waitstaff at the Peninsula thought I was either the poor relation or the unfortunate nanny to my sophisticated friend and the three adorable children....I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon.  And I'll go back again....when my eyelashes grow back.  Turns out that nobody cares what the mama looks like so long as the rest of the family is gorgeous.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Do You Do All Day?

After, "What do you Miss most about America"....the question I seem to get most isn't so much in regard to our ex-pat life...but rather it applies to my (admittedly against-type) choice to stay home with the kidlets.  I prefer that question to "What Do You DO All Day?" (because, seriously, any mom who asks that must not have ever spent a weekend at home alone with their children.  And also, it's just unabashedly rude). For the record, I was thrilled when the opportunity presented itself those 6 long years ago.  Stay At Home Mom sounded like the Holy Grail.  I was emotionally bruised and saddled with weighty guilt over missing many of Miss Drama's "firsts" in the early months of her life.  I always had lofty aspirations and the (possibly delusional) self-identity of a Leader.  I identified with the 80's Career Woman Archetype and never considered giving up my career to be a mom.  I loved that for the early years of my marriage I out-earned my husband and imagined that I would continue to do so...wielding my independence and determination like a weapon.


I think it happened sometime mid-maternity leave.  I got a call from my then-boss...telling me that he was leaving and that they were happy to offer me his position upon my return.  Hell Yeah! made the reality of my having to leave that incredible little creature, who became more human and more Herself every day, completely real.  And I was devastated.  We lucked into a fabulous nanny, and I left the baby version of Miss Drama with a little tear and a set jaw.  I loved having my identity back.  But I missed her waking hours.  And Drama, unlike her darling baby sister, Slept Through The I didn't get her company in the nighttime hours.  I actually might have liked that.  Wait....No.  I'm romanticizing, but still.  Our nanny warmly and openly shared with me all of her moments and took lots of photos and called me with regular updates throughout the day.  She phoned me one very memorable day, when I was on the road, to tell me that Miss Drama got her first tooth.  I remember that flight home, sloppily sobbing like a heartbroken pre-teen.    I snuck into her room (like that really creepy mom from the I'll Love You Forever book) and picked her up and rocked her in her sleep, weeping over my failure as a mother.  So, when the younger version of Circus Dad (who at the time wasn't really so circus-y) called to tell me that he had an opportunity in Switzerland...but it meant that I'd have to quit work, I actually did a little happy dance in my office...much to both of our surprise.  We discussed that I had no work permit and that it was possible that I might not be able to find work as long as we were abroad, but I didn't blink.  Every day!?  With my Baby Girl?!?  Awesome.

Only, it's hard.  Like, crazytown hard.  Add to that the new-culture, language-barrier, no-friends, thousands of miles from friends and family...and you get a tiny idea of what that meant.  Nonetheless, I reminded myself every day of my Good Fortune.  I got to live in this amazing, beautiful, safe country.  I got to spend my days completely immersed in learning a new language.  And I got to be The One that influenced the development of our daughter.  Only, that's kind of scary, too.  When she pipes up from the backseat as we've been (once again) cut off in traffic by a lunatic Swiss Vespa driver with "Jackass!"....there's nobody to blame but myself.

So, that's how I found myself...until moving to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is a fascinating little micro culture.  You can find somebody speaking nearly every language on the planet inside this tiny little island.  The Mom culture here is nothing like Switzerland.  En Suisse, we needed each other because of our cultural outcast status.  So, we leaned on each other and became like a surrogate family to each other.  Or a really gossipy sorority.  Well, probably the best and worst of both.  So, I landed in Hong Kong expecting to make ex-pat friends by offering to babysit and share dinners when husbands I had in Switzerland.  Ha!

Lesson Number One about life in Asia?  Not only is having Help common, inexpensive, and easily's Expected.  Life is structured in such a way that it is a basic expectation that everybody has a Helper (read: Maid/Nanny/Mother's Aid).  The first week we were in Hong Kong, I was invited to the New Parent Coffee at the school where Miss Drama had started Kindergarten.  It was at 9am.  Younger Siblings Not Welcome.  So,  I'd been in Hong Kong for 18 days.  I had no friends.  I had said hello to my neighbors but didn't have any of our worldly belongings so I was living like a freaky  hermit and still trying to adjust to Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road and the shock of hearing so much English/so little French all the time.  In short: I didn't know anybody to ask to watch Trouble.  When I called the school to ask, the secretary said, in abject horror: "You DON'T have a Helper?"

In those 5 years in Switzerland, I took great Pride in being a Kick-Ass Housewife.  In case you missed it earlier, I'm Competitive.  Why Do It if You're Not Going to Do It Well?  I took the annoying inconveniences of charming village-life in Switzerland in stride (with regular snarky side-comments, of course).  But I Rocked it.  Daily Grocery Shopping, Tire Rotation, Dry Cleaning, Doctor's Appointments, Home Repair, Public School (in a language I never got too far beyond conversational in), Kids' Activities (en Francais!), and even (eventually) coffees with the local ladies.  So, I entered into the Asian life (with Helper!) with trepidation...and, seriously...what WILL I Do all day??

I'll tell you.  In this moment, my life is a million times better than Circus Dad's.  But if you tell him I admitted that, I'll deny it.  I run around like a crazy person...but it is all my own doing.  The things I hate (laundry, dry cleaning run, all of the house chores and a good portion of the cooking...not because I hate it but because it takes up valuable time) are all the responsibility of the Helper.   But juggling all of that was what defined me as a Kick Ass HouseWife (Femme au Foyer, thankyouverymuch) in Switzerland.  I have found that I have to keep my days full.  So, I fill my days as follows: 1-3 hours per day I exercise.  I hike or run with friends, take tennis lessons, or workout in the gym.  I take my girls to and from the bus and or/school.  Which sounds like, DUH, but my kids go to two different schools and have widely varying hours.  I still manage the grocery shopping, the kids' activity schedules (7 activities per week for Drama and 4 for Trouble), all finances (in three countries and three currencies), and doctor's visits for the family.  I'm a Daisy Scout Leader and I volunteer in both girls' classes as much as I am permitted.  Trouble goes to half-day my afternoons are full of play-dates and Barbie fashion shows and tea parties with the 3 year old crowd.  On average, Circus Dad is out of town 35-40% of the time.  That's a lot of nights where it's The Mommy Show.  Only now...I come home from Ballet or Ice Skating to a cooked meal and a clean house.  In the 14 months I have lived in Hong Kong, aside from our Helperless days, (and that's a whole other post) I have never had to deal with the Five O'clock Witching Hour (that perfect storm where overtired kids combine with preparing and serving dinner, overseeing homework, juggling half-done laundry, breaking up bickering about who has to sit on the faucet-side during the bath, the resulting dual shower, and then, finally, wrestling the monkeys into pajamas, and ultimately trying to sooth them into bedtime....where Broccoli Mom is so exhausted and beyond the end of the very frayed rope that she barely pulls up the kidlet's covers before she tumbles, near-tears, into the kitchen to do dishes and drink a bottle of wine).  And I lived with the Daily 5-Oh for five years....I Rocked It.  So, this is my idea of heaven.  You can see, I stay busy.  With things that I like to do and want to do.  My time with the girls is not rushed and full of frustration because I have 10,000 other things I am freaking out about.   Because of this amazing thing called Help...I can take a night Oil Painting class, or meet my girlfriends for a glass of wine on Tuesday night, or go out to dinner with my husband without paying a ransom (Switzerland) or begging a favor off a family member (USA).

Now, Circus Dad would have you believe that I have it TOO easy.  One morning when I asked if he could walk Trouble to school so I could get to tennis, he asked what I was doing after.  I said I was hiking with a friend...and then having a coffee before grocery shopping.  He looked at me wistfully and said, "I want YOUR life".   I countered with, "I want our KIDS' lives".  'Cause seriously.  I do.  And is there any better feeling than the realization that your kids have amazing lives??  I think not.

Listen, I recognize that Trouble and Drama will need some therapy and be completely jacked up from something that we've done.  My Dad told me last summer (lovingly, I'm sure??) that our kids would grow up to either be absolutely fascinating and worldly....or unbearably entitled and spoiled.  I'm sure he's right.  And I also recognize that the next place Circus Dad moves us to will likely NOT include the amazing bonus of Help.  In fact, I will once again BE the Help.  So, for the moment....excuse me while I bask in this moment.  And don't waste a lot of time hating me.  Because, you already know, I don't get any sleep....and Barbie Girl won't let me have any cookies.