Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's the little differences

One of my favourite memories as a child is shopping with my mother. It' so simple really, but it meant that for that hour or two I had her absolutely to myself, while my siblings were at school. It also meant that while she was choosing condiments she could chat with me, and pay me attention, without being totally engrossed with the housework, the cooking and the ironing. Things which managed to be a full-time occupation for her with four children and a stoic refusal to hire help.

I don't take my children shopping if I can help it. They hate it, probably because they so seldom do it with me. In this wondrous time of internet shopping for everything from groceries to shoes, my kids are more used to the Amazon delivery guy than the inside of a mall. I think a 20 minute visit to Tesco to get the daily shop is probably their limit, and only because it usually involves the promise of Hula Hoops or a doughnut. I tried to sell Isaac on the wonders of K-Mart over here, but he was having none of it. He kept pointing to things in the trolley and saying 'Have it peas,'and I'd respond with, 'Why do you want my exfoliating cotton pads?' If I did give in, it involved the inevitable consumption of plastic or cardboard. A bad idea, and one I won't repeat if I can help it. 

My husband is planning a trip to the aquarium in Riverhead with the children this week, which means one thing and one thing only for me: Being dropped off at TARGET!!! I love love love Target. My friend Lori calls is the 100 dollar store, because she says despite the good value of its merchandise, you never leave without spending less than 100 dollars. Think Ikea mixed with a mega Boots, mixed with a Toys R Us, mixed with, well, you get the picture. They have everything and anything at great prices.

I've been trying to find help to clean my house here in the Hamptons and it's proving about as easy as acquiring the holy grail. We had one woman, which our friends here use, come on a Monday and agree with me to come every Monday thereafter. Trust me I would have liked her to come more often than once a week, but desperation made me agree to it. The following Sunday evening I texted her to confirm the time - no answer. The Monday I made two calls and left two messages and to date have not heard back. You might think she didn't like me, but I was in New York City at the time she cleaned my house, so I can't take credit for that. Mysterious. When I asked our friends if they had any ideas,  they shook their heads and said, "Yeah, well, Suzie can be a bit flaky." And that was that.

My friend then sent in her other cleaner, an attractive Eastern European woman. She arrived while I was home and seemed nice enough. She explained that the summers were crazy busy and she wasn't sure if she could fit me in again before we left for London. She did 3 hours, charged me $69 dollars and didn't even manage to make the beds. Her work was, well, perfunctory.

Yesterday I emailed a cleaning agency service that is apparently based in our town and as yet have heard nothing back. I wonder if news from London about my anal cleaning requirements have made it across the pond.

The pool guys arrived on Monday. I know this because as I was making a cup of tea at 8.30am I saw two young men in my yard cleaning the pool with the pool cover only three quarters of the way retracted, and pregnant with rain water on top. I asked them if they had heard of arriving at someone's home and announcing themselves first, you know, the small matter of ringing the bell or knocking on the front door before entering the property through the back gate. They looked confused. Then I asked them if they planned on pumping the water off of the pool cover so that they could fully retract it and clean beneath it. A lot of umming and ahhing as though what I had proposed what a totally novel idea. 

Today I found the local Thai/Mexican nail bar and had a pedicure. The girls kept asking me what different treatments cost in London, whistled through their teeth, and then said something to each other in what I can only describe as a Thai/Mex pigeon language. I tried explaining that the prices I was telling them were those charged by a single beautician that had her own business, but that you could also find larger nail bars that charged pretty much the same as they did.  But they were so fixated with the previous more expensive estimates I had cited, that I wouldn't be surprised if a new price board goes up tomorrow.

I take my children to this fantastic place called the CMEE - the Children's Museum of the East End. It is a haven for the under 5 crowd - full of pretend play stations (a pirate ship, a fire truck, an old fashioned diner where you can pretend pull sodas etc), an art room that anyone can use at any time (stocked with art supplies), and a great outside play area. It's always interesting to observe how kids play, and more interestingly, how parents allow their children to play. More often than not you see kids engrossed in an activity, really focused and enjoying themselves, and then a parent will say in an uber enthusiastic voice, "Come on Kennedy, let's go see something else. Come on, come on, let's go and do X Y or Z!" The child reluctantly stopping what they are doing before being dragged off to the next attraction.

I do wonder if this short attention span by proxy contributes later to children having to be constantly entertained or even lacking the ability to sit still and focus on a single activity for an extended period of time. One of the best bits of advice I got from my a friend when I had my daughter was to not feel the need to constantly stimulate my baby. That it was important at certain times of the day that she was allowed to lie on her play mat with her toys and just play by herself (me being there naturally), not to be interrupted if she was involved in an activity, and to let her figure things out - i.e. not always rush to step in and solve a task she is trying to tackle herself. It was invaluable advice and I think it continues to be important for children of all ages.

There's a very relaxed attitude around here, which probably accounts for the pool guys just entering through the back gate and getting on with their job, albeit in a half arsed manner. And although it irritated me, I also quite like the trusting nature of it. And how I come home and there's a delivery sitting on my porch (I love that word 'porch'), or by the garage, as opposed to that ever irritating note in the postbox 'We tried delivering but you weren't home, your parcel is at *indecipherable scribble*'. It feels like the way the world used to be before it became such a paranoid place, or I became such a paranoid person. Sag Harbor is also a historical town and a lot of the houses here date back to whaling times. The church over the road from us, with the Reverend Michael Jackson in the house, has a secret entrance to an underground tunnel from a front row pew where slaves (freed by the whalers), would duck into when there were raids. When you walk down the street you could be in any era, and it's only the cars that give it away.

A friend of mine came to visit and her opinion is that people here are abrupt. I can't say that's my experience, although there is a somewhat different way of interacting that's, well, different from London. I'd say people talk straight and are quite open and chatty. They'll think nothing to ask you where you are from, what you do, and how the money in that is. Fairly intimate questions given you have never met them before and only happened upon them because your animal-mad daughter is stroking their dog on the street.

My experience of living in London for going on 15 years is that people don't really like to talk about money. It's considered bad taste and leaves them feeling very uncomfortable. It's one thing saying, 'Oh I bought this dress at Zara on sale', and quite another talking about the cost of your holiday to Barbados, even if it is by way of griping about it. Whereas here it doesn't appear such a taboo. 

They have all the back to school stuff on display here, as I imagine the London shops do too, what with school starting in September. I still get a wave of excitement when I see all that lovely brightly coloured stationary. I love it, and it was the single thing that made me look forward to each new school year. My mother would always let me choose new stuff, and then we had to cover our books and the choosing of the wrapping paper or picture for each exercise book was a whole other bag of joy. Yep, times were different back then as were expectations, although Julia is very keen on the idea of having her own pencil case and scissors with her name on.

We like to eat in the local Thai restaurant called Phao. It's really really good, by any standards - NYC or London. Twice now we've had the same waitress who talks and behaves like someone that is more comfortable smoking interesting cigarettes and surfing than serving food. She'll come round and ask you how your food is and before you've had a chance to lower your fork and respond she says, 'Excellent riiiight?' One day, just to see her reaction, I'd like to interject, 'Actually no, it's bloody awful.' 

The weather here has been beautiful. Perhaps three days where it has rained part of the day and one day where it was a rainy day. But in three weeks of vacation, I can handle that. I think I was becoming depressed in London. It's worse when you have small children because there are only so many indoor activities you can do with them including painting, play dough, watching Diego, baking, and preventing them from injuring themselves as they race around the furniture in an attempt to expend all that energy. And yes, there are the indoor play places like Topsy Turvy, but that requires driving to and there are days you just want to plonk them outside with a sandpit and read a magazine instead of schlepping around in rainy London traffic.

I can see it with the little kids in my music class. When the weather is good (hard to remember when that was), they seem more relaxed and focused. When it's been a week of rain or more, its like a scene from the Battleship Potemkin. I spend the half hour shout-singing over the chaos of crazed cabin feverish toddlers and wondering why it is I'm doing this again.

I don't think I'm alone when I say the morbid weather in England has prompted a serious consideration to move somewhere where our children can have a more outdoorsy life. But then I get an email from Hobbs showing their new autumn collection which is stunningly Hitchcock in its silhouette. And then there's the promise of my lovely, sane, and regular cleaner who will be there to take care of our home when we get back. Did I mention regularly? And I think, well maybe, just maybe, I can handle a bit of rain.

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