Archive for the ‘foreign living’ Category

Adjusting (or not)

I find it difficult to get used to this place. The next door neighbor is a single mum with three young kids, and from my point of view the kids are out of control, the whole family constantly screaming at each other (and worse on occasion). Though her youngest and mine rarely play together- the pervasiveness of their life is starting to affect my kids. Rafe, who is normally incredibly good natured, has started screaming at me. I have long learned how to handle that type of behaviour and can nip it in the bud with a stern word of warning, but it disturbs me just the same. My daughter,11, occasionally plays with the other girls on the street, and afterwards she is belligerent, demanding and snotty. Trying to manage these new behaviours is demanding as they are not part of my kids normal makeup, and are the result of influence. I find that I have to be even more strict than usual and can’t let them get away with it for a second. My eldest is son is thankfully not yet affected, he is not allowed to hang out with the few boys his age on the street as I know they smoke and drink. He’d like to go to the skatepark but the kids there are nasty little cretins and Dev finds that instead of just being able to play, he has to spend his whole time arguing or standing up for himself. Never mind that he is bigger than the kids and could easily lay them out if he decided to let them have it, that’s not in his genetic makeup and I think they see that.

The nights are difficult. Though we are fairly tucked away, our road is some sort of bus through-fare and they come and go at all hours. People come and go all night as well, usually loud and drunkenly. The dogs of the neighbourhood wake me up early every morning with collective howling and barking. During the day the street is full of kids, normally just playing, but when the neighbor kids are about you can be sure their mother will turn up soon and they will all start screaming again, usually just outside our windows. The little one, only 6, will inevitably start crying and there will be more screaming and I end up pacing the floor, wondering what I can do and usually just taking my kids to the park so they don’t have to listen to it anymore. Once I could hear her sobbing through the walls with occasional screaming at the kids and I gathered up all my courage and went over to ask if I could help, maybe by taking her kids to the park or something, she pretended not to be there, and when I pressed said she was fine, thank you.

Her behaviour disturbs me, especially as I worry about her kids, and the effect on mine, and initially I was very judgemental about her. I softened though when I remembered being a single mother for 8 years with two kids, one of which would later be diagnosed with a “social communication disorder”, which just means he screamed a lot as a kid, and occasionally jumped out of moving cars on busy roads because he couldn’t control his anger. It took me a few years to get the hang of this parenting stuff, and I remember being so hard on my son for silly things. I want to help my new neighbour, but she clearly does not want my help. She struts around the neighbourhood, wine class in hand, screaming at her kids or sobbing about some transgression to the adolescent girls that make up her entourage. I find myself less sympathetic and understanding and more irritated and disgusted. When the screaming starts I twitch the curtains, worried she will strike one of the children and knowing that if, when, it happens I will not be able to stay out of it anymore. My family knows this, and while I don’t think they would truly want me to stand back if she were beating them, I know they want me to be quiet, mind my own business, not get involved. I feel embarrassed that they feel this way, that I am some big mouth always getting involved in things that they don’t think concern me. I feel ashamed of them, too. We once came across a man and a woman fighting in the back of the van at a red light. We could see him punching her, could see the blood on her face and clothes. Instinctively I got out of the car, started to shout at them but was dragged back in by the sounds of my family shouting at me. I knew it could end up with me being hurt and didn’t want my kids to see that, so I got back in, and called the police instead. I thought perhaps I had taught my kids an important lesson that night, but now I wonder. Could it be that I am raising kids, and am married to a man, who can stand back and do nothing while others are hurt or treated badly and worse, believe that is better somehow than getting involved?

I long for our detached house in the tiny little cul-de-sac, where the cats could sleep all day on the road outside without ever being disturbed, where the nights were mostly silent and the only noise on a Sunday morning are the church bells in town, which I opened my windows wide to, so that we could hear them better, especially in the winter, when they chime Christmas carols.

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trapped

I feel… trapped. Imprisoned. My chains? No, not the children. Not even the husband. Religion? Nope. Gender? Not in the west in 2011. So, why? How can I feel trapped? I have a roof over my head, food in my ample belly. Opportunities that women in other countries can only dream of. How can I feel trapped?

I think to myself that I am limited by my bank account, that I want to get on a boat or a train and see the world, I want my only limits to what I can do, to what my family can do, to be our imaginations. I think I want to grab life by the horns and live it to the absolute fullest and if only I had a few million in the bank, I could.

Other days I don’t want that at all, I want nothing more than a big house in the country, surrounded by fields and to spend my days pottering around my large kitchen, or lounging in my library, reading or writing. Having huge holiday celebrations and family reunions and just…living a good, content, full life.

Alas, both options require money. I am not sure why my life in its current state cannot content me. My children are healthy, intelligent, beautiful. My husband is caring and loyal. Even on the days when the cupboard and the fridge is full, there is plenty of money in the bank account, the bills are paid and my hair is clean and shiny, I still feel…unfulfilled. As if something is missing and I can’t work out what it is. A sense of purpose? Perhaps. Security? Independence? Perhaps.

I feel as if I am living constantly in the house of cards my teenage son constructed this summer, stuck at home with a broken leg and a pack of cards I had just handed him. He had never built one before and even the slightest hint of a breath would send it tumbling to the floor. I can’t get that feeling out of my head. Every day I become more certain that I never will. No matter how successful I might ever become, or how much money amasses in my bank account, no matter what great things my children persue in their lives, I fear that I will never escape that feeling of everything tumbling down around me at the slightest hint of a breath. That no matter how many pills I take or counseling I have, I will never feel happy with myself or my life.

I wonder why this is? Is it because I was unhappy as a child? Bullied incessantly at school and disliked at home? Have I become conditioned to feel this way? Certain that any feeling of happiness or pleasure is a sign of a great wind bearing down on my house of cards. Is it because there is some fundamental glitch in my programming?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, only that as I get older (Hello, 30! See you soon!) they become more pressing, more relevant. I wonder if it is perhaps a part of growing up, and that perhaps I will grow out of it, as indeed I grew out of my “I know everything, nobody can tell me what to do, it’s MY life so fuck off” teenage years.

On the bad days, the ones where for whatever reason I have found myself lying in bed at 11am, sobbing uncontrollably, the black hole in my chest absorbing light and life and threatening to consume every ounce of me, I find myself wanting nothing more then to go home.

“I want to go home.” I sob in to my husband’s chest hair, helpless and small and wishing I could melt into him, not understanding why I’m saying it, why my heart is feeling it. There is nothing left for me there. I think if I were to die suddenly I would not want to be returned there, to travel 6000 miles in a box and be buried so far from the people that love me the most, so why do I long to be back there in my darkest days? Perhaps what is calling to me is the desert which I love so much, the free and open spaces where I could never feel trapped or confined, where I could climb a mountain and watch the sunrise over the peaks and cactus. Even standing on the shores of Great Britain, gazing into the Atlantic Ocean, where there is nothing but sea and sky before me, I feel trapped. An island full of unfamiliar people behind me, a vast inhospitable sea before me.

I wonder if I will ever leave this country again, if I will ever leave behind the feeling of being imprisoned and lost within myself.

20/20

My eldest son has what I imagine is about the worst vision possible this side of legal blindness. Nobody knew this until he was about 6. I suppose a lot of his early behaviour issues probably were closely linked, but I was a young first time mother and oscilliated between privately thinking my child was crazy or completely normal. I didn’t know. Oddly enough, I don’t remember the first time it was suggested he may have a vision problem, whether it was before or after his teachers tried to convince me he had ADD and to medicate him, his first vision test, or even his first pair of glasses. I don’t even remember the first time I learned how poor his vision was, perhaps I blocked it out because not a day goes by that I don’t berate myself for unintentionally letting him go through his first years of life like that. Shocking to me is that my child was forcibly taken from me and circumcised while he screamed and I begged them not to, but checking his vision was not a priority for nearly 6 years. (I gather the APA’s priorities are slightly different now, we can but hope.)

My daughter had her vision tested at my firm insistence early on and, thankfully, it was perfect. I have not worried about Rafe’s vision as he has not exhibited any signs of vision trouble, and here in the UK, the health visitors are pretty on top of it. But, it’s been awhile since Rafe has seen a health visitor and rarely needs to go to the doctor and since he is school age, I thought it should be professionally checked. The morning of the appointment, I kicked myself for not insisting it be done when he was much younger, for once again putting my faith in the professionals and I was terrified it was going to be a similar case to my older sons. Thankfully, it was not. I had prepared him for the appointment beforehand and he quite enjoyed wearing all the funny contraptions and telling the eye doctor what the symbols on the wall were. He really wanted to use the letters and not the symbols, but wasn’t quite confident enough in letter names (they teach them the sounds first.)

To be told he had 20/20 vision made me want to cry with happiness. I suppose I wouldn’t go so far as to call my eldest son’s poor vision a disability, but I imagine the relief I felt knowing my younger children will not have to endure the same challenges and pain that he has must be equal to that of any mother, who aches to see one child suffer and rejoices to know their siblings will not.

Rafey

Yes, that is a Santa hat next to him. The fact that he was wearing a Santa hat in August greatly offended the cleaning guy we passed, who felt the need to point out Christmas was 4 months (is that all? Shit- I’m still in 6 months away mode!) away, and then a moment later, having apparently decided he was super annoyed, informed me it was at least 130 days away! (144 days to Christmas, actually. 89 until Halloween and, most important in this house- 227 days until Rafe’s 6th birthday. This kid is on top of his holidays!)

Idsworth

About seven years ago a friend of mine that I knew online introduced me through MSN messenger to a friend of his that he knew online. I knew my friend through a photography website/forum and he knew his friend through a forum for people with an unhealthy interest in airplanes. (Occasionally known as “anoraks” in this part of the world.) We hit it off and started chatting and emailing. Five months later, we were married and four months after that, my two kids and I got on a plane bound for England with a one-way ticket.

It has not been rainbows and butterflies, in fact it has been a rough road and last year we separated and remained that way for over a year. My husband moved back in a few months ago and a few weeks ago I slipped my wedding ring back on and didn’t take it off. Now we are in a difficult period of readjustment. I could fill a large room with all the reasons why we separated and all the reasons why we got back together, they are many and varied and sometimes even conflicting. What I wanted to share was an image.

Last night I was searching through some old emails and came across hundreds he had sent me in 2005. Every day, all different. They were pictures. Pictures he had taken. He chose the most beautiful, the most interesting, his best. The ones he wanted to share with me.

They are all beautiful images, but my favorite- the one that made me long for England, the one that excited my kids about our move, the one that convinced me that this move was the right thing to do was this one:

Church

Oh, how I fell in love with this church. We talked about getting married there, and it became synonymous with England, with our new life. I’ve been to that church a few times since living here, it is local, but not close enough to walk to. It is as beautiful and quaint and picture perfect as in the image. This is such a beautiful country and if the day ever comes for me to leave, it will be with a sadness in my heart.

Greed and Anger and the cruelty of eviction.

2010 was a hard year for me. 2011 was a chance for things to be better, a fresh start in a new year. Unfortunately, 2011 was doomed from the start. My husband lost his job early on, I was already not working due to valid personal reasons. We missed a months rent, but within two weeks it was sorted and paid in full. Within that time, and after I’d already explained and made a significant partial payment, my landlord had been at the door screaming about eviction in front of my kids. Please keep in mind that by that point we had lived here two years and had never missed a single rent payment. The next month, it was clear we would not be able to pay in full, we prepared for eviction, but our housing benefit came through and while it wouldn’t pay the full amount each month,it would pay most of it, the shortfall being less than £200. The one month back rent was paid, with even the difference paid by us. Technically we were not behind anymore. Yet, our landlord came to us, verbally abused us, called me stupid, and threw an eviction notice in my face and screamed at us about the “condition of the house” (normal ware and tear to the carpets and the crappy to begin with kitchen cupboards, which I have complained about three times). The benefits coming in do not cover even our normal expenses, and we certainly can’t pay the excess rent each month, so I understand his right to evict us.

What infuriates me is his complete unwillingness to work with us for even a few months while I find a job and D gets some training to qualify him for something new. His unwillingness to admit that we are not the months behind with our rent that he has claimed we are to the council and that we can prove it. His abusive and horrible attitude, his coldheartedness. We have three young children, we have lived here without incident for over two years, we are trying to get back on our feet. He is getting his money, every month. Yet, almost every week he turns up and insults and treats us like trash, demands to know when he will get his money (I only assume he means the difference between monthly rent and our benefit) and when we will get out of the house. Threatens to have his guys force the door and get in (to do what? I’m terrified to ask). I point out that any excess rent due once we have vacated he may take out of our £1250 deposit. He has more or less admitted he did not, as the law demands, protect out deposit when we moved in.

We do not have £2000 sitting around for a new deposit so we’ve had to go begging to the council for emergency housing. They insist we stay here until after the date on our notice, until a court order has been gotten by the landlord and bailiffs are standing on our doorstep, only then will the council step in and get us into a new place.

It is hard to write this, to make it public knowledge. I feel ashamed. Like we are awful people who refuse to pay our rent. We aren’t, we’ve paid our rent on time in this house for over two years, and continue to do so. We paid our rent on time in every house we’ve lived in over the last six years. We’ve worked so hard for the last six years to cope with exorbitant rent, utility, transportation food and clothing costs. We buy the cheapest food, the cheapest clothing. I am studying for a degree, taking as many courses as my university will allow each year to finish as soon as possible. (I should point out that it is only this year I have qualified for financial aid, I have paid for all my courses since 2008 out of pocket) My husband is taking courses, 4 different ones, all in different areas, trying to gain qualifications to get a new job.

So, even though I am ashamed, I am also angry. What’s so wrong with taking a slightly smaller amount of rent for six months, or even a year? What’s so wrong with trying to work with good tenants who are struggling but trying to get back on their feet? What gives a landlord the right to be abusive and cruel? Is it greed? Our landlords actions the last few months have shocked us. Previously we would have said he was a good landlord, if not a bit annoying in his tendency to ignore minor (to him) problems. He has shown his true colours with this, lying to the council about our rent payments and the amount of our rent, lying to us, even accusing us of doing damage to the property which he knows is specified in the inspection as pre-existing to our tenancy. To demand we pay money we categorically do not owe, especially when we paid a large deposit which should cover all rent owing on our departure. What gave him the right to spend that money instead of protecting it as he is required to by law?

I feel broken down by this. I am afraid, first and foremost that the council will not come through for us and we will end up living in our car, if it’s not repossessed first! (Though I am being reassured this will not happen) I am afraid the landlord will force his way in and have our things removed before our notice is up, while we sit and wait for the council to help us. He comes here and only wants to deal with my husband, who is soft spoken and will agree to things he shouldn’t just so the landlord won’t scream and swear at him. I have to be the strong one and I don’t feel strong. I have to stand up and say no to this man who is bigger than me and nasty and cruel to me. I have to tell him to go, and point out that he is lying and that he has not done what he is required to by law. I have to instruct my oldest son that he is not to open the door to the landlord if we are not in.

We asked my inlaws if we could move in with them just while we tried to get back on our feet and they refused. Which is their right of course, but when they have three extra bedrooms and we have offered to pay rent and a share of the utilties and buy and prepare our own food and try to be as little nuisciance as possible, I can’t help but feel aggrieved by this.

I try to hide all of this, I don’t want people to know all our problems, or, worse think badly of us, but my blog is the place where I share my feelings and I can’t keep quite about this anymore. We are being forced out, over a measly £150 a month. Never once did he ask why, or how can I help, or how long do you think it will take to get back on your feet? From day one it was lies and insults and “GET OUT.”

Is that right?

Parenting Styles idealistic vs realistic?

While I have dozens of blogs in my bookmarks folder that I read at least weekly, there are only a very few that are in my top sites and I click on daily (or as often as they post something new). One of these is my favourite, because I really do identify with the blogger and enjoy reading what she writes. I especially enjoy reading about her parenting style, as while it’s not to different from my own, there are some stark contrasts. I find her style of parenting to be on one hand refreshing, possibly even inspiring. On the other hand, I find it naive in its innocence, lacking perhaps in depth and I wonder if her children won’t be in for a nasty shock when one day they step out into the real world without her there to protect them.   This is of course, not a post meant to slam any other blogger, I only know of her parenting style that which she cares to share through her blog, and I’m not criticising her.

I only use her as an example because when I read her posts about parenting, I, of course, compare it to my own style and wonder which is best, ultimately. That, I don’t know. I am accused of being over protective of my kids, I am told I should give them more freedom, especially my oldest son.  I try to be fair, and I certainly don’t want my children to feel as if they are caged, so I consider it.

When I moved my oldest children to England not quite six years ago, I had these wonderful ideals about the childhood they would have. To some extent those ideals have been fulfilled. We take long rambling walks through the woods, go to the beach all the time, they climb trees, eat fruit straight off the branch,  know the joy of a snow day, and are sick to death of historical monuments and buildings. But the one ideal that has not been met is the one where the kids would spend days out playing, like I did and I imagine my parents before me. I built huts in fields, rode bikes, played in my friends houses, played hide and seek at twilight. My kids don’t do those things, or not often anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, they LOVE to do those things.

Smiley

But, Britain is a funny place. Children here are a strange breed. Having gone out to ride bikes with her big brother, my daughter has come home in tears, having been shoved off her bike and punched in the stomach by a bigger boy. My son has been the victim of a group attack after having gone to play at the skate park with friends, by kids he barely knew. He has also been the victim of random violence, coming home one evening.  The children who live across from us, who my kids used to be friends with and the older one went out to dinner with us for my sons birthday last year, turned nasty and started doing things like calling us names, throwing eggs at our house, even ringing our doorbell and running away. Their parents couldn’t care less.

Children who very much appear to be younger than 5 play outside on their own, or with slightly older siblings. Older teens roam the streets with beer in hand, shouting abuse and obscenities.

So, yes, I consider giving my children more freedom. I would even like to. But, it seems like it would be ridiculous to ever follow through. I worry about my daughter, she is only ten. It seems she is at an age where she is at risk of being kidnapped or even sexually assaulted. She is allowed certain freedoms, but very little compared to her friends. She complains about it, but I can only cringe at the freedoms her friends have.  Once while at the park with her friends after school (Daddy was there to keep an eye on her), one of her friends had a strange phone call from a man who said he wanted to meet her in the woods. The friend wanted to go into the woods to meet the man(!!), but my daughter talked her out of it. I have no idea if the girl really did get that strange phone call, but the point is that had my husband not been there, there would have been no adult supervision whatsoever. He was there only because I refuse to let my daughter play at the park alone with her friends, the other girls parents would have had no idea he was there. Another cringeworthy example is my daughters (former) best friends freedoms, we took her out Trick or Treating last halloween, and for fun stopped at her house, at some point after dark. We told her father we’d have her home probably in an hour or so, and he said not to worry, she could walk by herself (!), after dark, on Halloween!  I was gobsmacked.  (We, of course, dropped her off)

Rocket Man

I worry about my 13 year old son, who is at an age where I myself was experiencing my first days in juvenile detention, sleeping on the streets, smoking, having sex and doing drugs. Needless to say, I lose countless hours of sleep worrying about him. I give him some freedoms, he is allowed to go out to “play” but I insist on regular, in person, check ins. I like to know where he plans to be and who he plans to be with. He gets ever so annoyed about my frequent reminders about not smoking, drinking, or kissing. I am strict. Failing to check in and being gone for hours and hours is a guaranteed road to grounding. I seem too strict but I find my method works. I have a better idea of where he is and what he’s doing. He has a failsafe, he can always get out of uncomfortable situations because his mom makes him check in and after years of this, I know that when he fails to check in it is usually because he is having a good time with his friends, riding bikes or building forts, and I worry slightly less. If something off were going on, he would be more likely to check in and not go back out.

I find that far from constraining them, my limits allow for more quality family time. We can hardly take those long rambling walks, go to the beach or enjoy £1 bowling or movies if the kids are never around. The kids moan about it, but they are far happier when they are out with us than when they come home having been with their friends all day.

As parents we always have our kids best interests at heart. The other blogger obviously wants her kids to have an innocent childhood, blissfully unaware of the bad shit that happens in real life. This is commendable, but I wonder if it’s realistic?  On the other hand, I believe in being honest and open with my kids. They know all about the bad shit. My daughter knows what to do if someone tries to grab or lure her off the street. My son knows about smoking and drugs and sex. They know that sometimes kids get killed, and they know that the world is not necessarily a nice place.  Is this a good way for them to grow up, have they lost some of their innocence?

Easter Cake

I never quite know which method is best, and I sometimes covet the apparently idealised childhood her kids seem to have. But, I can’t quite remove myself from the stories of bad shit that happens to kids, or from my own experiences, enough to let go and let them have the freedom they want, and others tell me to give. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Do I need to cut the cord? Or is my parenting style encouraging stronger ties with their family, giving them a strong support structure and keeping their minds open to all the opportunities out there, beyond spending 6 hours jumping on a trampoline, culminating in a level of boredom that will lead to drinking/smoking/making out?

I am truly interested in this, because I must admit to getting irritated at the constant squeaking of the people involved in my sons education who listen to his complaints and refer to me as overprotective and controlling. I disagree with them, I am not blind and see the way kids are being raised around me, and surely it is my job as a parent to do whats best for my child? Is my 13 year old son really old enough to make his own decisions and be trusted with the level of responsibility necessary to keep himself safe and healthy on a day to day basis when is being pressured? I wasn’t. Hell, I can’t even trust him to remember to feed the cats every day. Is it really safe enough to allow my daughter to play alone at the park with only other 10 year old girls with her, or walk home alone late in the evening?  Do I need to take into account that we live in Nowhere,Hampshire as opposed to Central London?

I wonder what others opinions are on this? If you have kids, how much freedom do you allow them? Is family time more important than friend time and do you let your kids be aware of the bad things that can happen, or do you keep them insulated from it as much as possible?  Would you prefer your kids had extracurricular activities and interests or would you rather they enjoyed the freedom of going out to play with their friends after school and on weekends?

on life in a foreign country

It’s a funny thing, moving to a foreign country. People get upset if you expect it to be at all like home, you are expected to know everything will be different, accept it and just be happy about it. Enjoy discovering new things. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. In theory. The problem comes when you step off the plane in a new country and the first thing you see is… McDonalds. Or Starbucks.

For me, as an American, this wasn’t what I expected. I expected things in England to be different. I was totally prepared for things to be different, yet what I quickly discovered is that, actually, they really weren’t. Thanks to globalisation, I could have the same lunch latte in London on Thursday that I had had two days and 6000 miles previously, in Phoenix. The similarities didn’t stop there, I could also buy most of the same brands of clothing and food, shop in the exact same supermarkets, even watch the same tv shows and channels. I can buy a lot of the same food, enjoy many of the same sporting activities and speak the language fluently, with no extra effort at all.

I have been here six years now and know that while things look the same, they arent exactly the same. I know that certain drinks and foods are prepared differently, with different ingredients, or amounts. I know that while many of the food items and brands I know and love from my formative years in the states may be available, in the same or a different form, in grocery stores, chances are restaurants will not have heard of them or added them to their menu. I know a lot of the ins and outs of the culture.

To someone just getting off the plane, expecting adventure and discovering new things, it is disconcerting to find everything the same. To then have to adjust, not to foreign differences, but to foreign sameness is quite difficult. As the days and years pass by and you learn and absorb you eventually start to pity and even mock those newcomers.

But, perhaps we should all remember that it is not necessarily ignorance or arrogance that defines foreign visitors who don’t seem to accept that they are in a foregin country and things will be different. Perhaps it is a genuine confusion over what is actually different, and trying to reconcile that with what is the same. This is no easy task and instead of anger or surprise- natives and long term foreign residents should try their best to guide newcomers, help them find the differences that they will cherish and be thankful for.

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