Monday, 30 April 2007

Channeling Dear Abby

I thought I might write today about how this blog came to be. I'm new to blogs, though they've been around for quite awhile. I read in the paper about an interesting one, Then I had a conversation with a friend who said I should write down all my opinions, which are many.

I also am emerging from one black devil dog of a depression. The depression grew over a year and a half. My husband got a new job in London (hooray!). We thought at the time that keeping the family together would be the best thing even though the kids and I really didn't want to move. So we spent a year and a lot of money doing up the house to get it ready to sell. Meanwhile, my husband got an apartment down south and commuted home at the weekends. Things started to go pear-shaped pretty quickly. When he was home, he seemed to criticize everything I did or didn't do. I was struggling to be a single parent during the week and wife at the weekend. The kids coped OK but I was the one who had to be there to do everything for them. Sundays became the most awful day of the week as my husband would get nervous about the drive back, and I would try to get his ironing done and cook a substantial family meal so we could all be together once a week. I began to resent my husband, he began to resent me. We would snipe at each other and talk badly about each other to the kids.

Then we put the house up for sale. Fairly quickly, it became obvious to me that the house wasn't going to shift in the time scale we'd hoped for (before my son started secondary school). At the same time I was working with my son to pass his 11-Plus test. My son is allergic to tests at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. Because we didn't know when we would move or where we end up, we thought it would be best to be prepared for all outcomes. We went on a house-hunting expedition to London (well, outside London). I knew there was a price difference in housing, but didn't think it would be HUGE. To live in a house like we have now in a decent school catchment area would mean living well outside London, like an hour commute. In the end, the house we liked sold, the people we thought liked our house didn't, and we were back to square one. Then, my husband and I had a huge fight (vodka-fuelled on my part) in which I said I'd already made huge sacrifices to be with him, and that if the situation were reversed I don't think he'd do the same for me. He admitted that he probably wouldn't. And a little part of me started to hate him.

Truthfully, I never wanted to move down south. I've spent 15 years here, the longest I've lived in one place since I was 15. I have friends and a life. I didn't feel like starting over at this stage in my life. But I didn't think there was an alternative. My husband wouldn't back down. Then I thought I finally got him to see things my way. The kids and I went skiing, and when I got back my husband had changed his mind again. Why? Well, the estate agent rang and said she had a really interested buyer. I knew that she lies, but my husband didn't. The so-called buyers hadn't even put their house up for sale. My husband and I had another big fight, in front of the kids. He said it is costing him £19,000 a year to commute back and forth and he is exhausted. I said what about working from home one day a week. He said he couldn't do that. I got very angry because I felt he was putting money in front of his family's needs. My hands and feet were very swollen from the flight back and I had to take my wedding rings off. I didn't bother putting them back on.

I started thinking about a life apart from my husband. We could sell the house, I could buy a smaller place up here and begin a new life without him. I gave the kids three scenarios and asked them which one they preferred most: 1) stay here and not move and their dad continues to commute, 2)sell the house and move to maybe not as nice a house down south, 3)sell the house and buy something smaller here. They both preferred options 1 and 2 and disliked 3 altogether. Of course they did. Even though I didn't say anything about splitting up with their dad, they knew what it meant. And I would be breaking a promise I made to myself when I was 15 that I would never put my own children through what my parents put me through. I burst into tears one day and ran upstairs and put the rings back on. I decided that whatever happens happens but that I would stay with my husband at least till the kids were grown, and then would think about a new life for myself. Then I got the letter saying my son passed the 11-plus. Once I told my husband, he was so happy that he gladly took the house off the market.

Throughout this crisis in the marriage, I kept hearing Dear Abby's voice in my head. She always had some good no-nonsense advice. She always told women who were thinking of leaving their husbands to ask themselves if they'd be better off with him or without him. This I did and decided to stay.

One day I decided to create a blog, and in a random search of other blogs found some that made me realize that my problems, while big to me, are quite small in the grand scheme of life. One in particular that has moved me to tears many times is Reading about what this woman is coping so admirably with made me "wake up and smell the coffee," as Dear Abby would say. Another one I found through snickollet is, who writes so well about issues I care about. It's a big bloguniverse out there, but it shows me that the human capacity to care about others, to share with others, is endless.

I worry constantly about my husband commuting so much, but he does seem more relaxed now. We are working at the building the relationship again because we both have so much to lose if it goes wrong and so much to gain if it doesn't.

Friday, 27 April 2007

David Halberstam is dead

David Halberstam is dead. And his breed of journalism is dying out. What's happened to journalism over the past six or seven years? It's like many journalists have decided to hide their heads in the sand, lifting them only to eat up the lies the Bush administration has fed them.

Yes, I'm on my soapbox now. I have watched U.S. journalism from afar for quite a few years and been so disappointed and angered by its decline. Dubya and his cohorts have gotten away with an illegal and immoral war by using the "war on terrorism" card for far too long. Dubya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld should be on trial for crimes against humanity because they are as guilty as any ethnic-cleansing Serb in Bosnia. And the media in America are guilty of watching and not doing much about it. When I come home to visit and read the newspapers, it's like a different war to the one reported in the British newspapers. It's changing now, but for the first two years, it was a joke.

David Halberstam wouldn't have allowed the terrible trio to get away with it. It's because of Halberstam and others like him that we learned about the lies told about the Vietnam War. And in those days publishers defended their reporters and stood up for them. Journalists felt they had a moral obligation to report on what the public should know. Now they report on what they think the public wants to know.

Why is this? The fight for higher circulation and viewing figures, for one. The corporatization of the media for another. It started happening in the 80s, I think. When I was at journalism school, about 30 years ago, the dean of the college kept sounding the death knell for print journalism. He was a radio man, so he would. But there was a change in the type of person enrolling in j-school. No longer the idealistic, truth-finding, slightly scruffy sorts; instead, lots of Kens and Barbies who wanted to be in PR or TV. And when I graduated and got a job at a newspaper owned by an up-and-coming media conglomerate, I watched my colleagues change. Idealism was replaced by cynicism, truth-finding only had a place if it brought up circulation figures or reaped rewards. Slightly scruffy types cut their hair and bought new clothes.

I was a young teen-ager when Watergate happened. Woodward and Bernstein were my heroes, as were Halberstam and others of that generation. The Reagan era seemed to change journalism for the worse. Now there are so many media outlets that there must be a huge competition for viewers and readers. Print journalism still exists, but has diversified. Rupert Murdoch has left his mark with the tabloid-style Fox News Network (is that an oxymoron?).

I left journalism 15 years ago to move to the UK to be with my husband. But I was demoralised and disillusioned with journalism anyway. I probably would have left for another type of job if I hadn't moved.

David Halberstam is dead. Long live the David Halberstams still alive.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Safety in numbers

1: Thing people don't know about me.
People who know me don't know a thing about this blog. I haven't told my husband, my children, my friends, no one. Partly because I want to feel free to write what I think and feel without having to edit myself. I don't care if the rest of the world knows as long as the rest of the world doesn't know who I am.

2: Pounds I hope to have lost this week.
After a shaky start, Weight Watchers seems to be working. I managed to lose 2 1/2 pounds while I was away. Being ill helped tremendously. I'm also getting back to being more active. And that is the key to losing weight. You can cut down on your food drastically, but if you're active you don't have to cut down as much.

3: Kilometers I ran today.
Ok, it was on the treadmill, and apparently that doesn't count as much, but it is something. The 5K Race for Life is on June 3. I should be OK by then. I'm not pushing myself as much as I did two years ago because that caused me to get ITBS, or iliotibial band syndrome (try saying that three times when you're drunk). Very painful, but then again I am a physical wreck. I have a bad back, weak wrists, dodgy shoulder, narrow sinuses, one leg that is ever so slightly shorter than the other causing all sorts of problems. One thing that isn't bothering me at the moment is the menopause issue. I think my body has decided to put it off for a while after all.

4: Times I've told my children I love them today.
There is no magic number for how many times I tell them. It's how many times I want or need to say it and how many times they want or need to hear it.

5: The optimum number for a group of friends.
I've been thinking about this. I have a large number of acquaintances, one or two really close friends in whom I can confide most things, and one group of five friends I go out with, go away with, have parties and barbecues with. I had another group of friends, but the number grew to exceed the optimum five. I then found myself in the outer group of three instead of the inner group of five and now plan to put myself in the select group of one who no longer associates with them much. I don't know why five is the magic number. Some social scientists could probably tell me. It's like planting bulbs or plants, in a way. You should always have either one, three, or five. Two or four look funny and more than five is overpowering.

Monday, 23 April 2007

I just don't know what to do with myself

The media are still blethering on about the deaths in Virginia. The British media have sent some of their best and brightest to Virginia to try to make sense out of something that is senseless. This was a troubled and disturbed boy who grew to be a troubled and disturbed young man. The gun-control laws in the States are a sham and have been for a very long time. The mental health system also has problems. All these things came together in a great big tragedy. Could it have been prevented? Possibly. I pray for all those involved.

Today my son went back to school after being off for a whole week. I've never kept him off school that long. However, because I was suffering myself, I had a bit more sympathy for his pain. I miss him being here, though. Because my husband works in London all week, and I'm holding up the fort at home, we both have a lot of loneliness, but at different times of the day. I'm on my own all day, my husband faces the loneliness at night. Who's to say which is worse. I like to think it's mine. Hubby gets lots of kudos from colleagues and clients all day plus the office banter. I haven't had office banter in 15 years when I left my job to move over here. My day picks up when the kids come home from school. Then it's homework, dinner, places to take them, baths, bedtime. I don't get kudos for that because that's what a mother does, unless she hires someone else to do it for her. If the kids don't do well in school or life, it's because I haven't done something right. I haven't fed them the rights foods or vitamins. I let them stay up too late (my husband's favourite). I'm too hard or too soft on them.

I'm not having a dig at working mothers either. No mother ever seems to get it right. And the biggest critics are other mothers. I don't work and I have stayed at home with my kids. That doesn't make me a martyr or an idle cow. That is just how it worked out for my family. There have been many times I wished I hadn't given up my career. No regrets about having children though. I wasn't planning to be a stay-at-home mom. No, I was going to be a career woman and there was no way I was going to stay at home with my children and eat bon-bons (yes, those were my words). I've eaten those words (though not the bon-bons, which I don't like anyway).

Now at 47 I look ahead and think no one will hire me now. I'm too young for a pension and too old for most employers. I do want to work but whatever it is will have to be something I start up myself. And though my children are older, they still need me around. The answer to what to do with the rest of my life will come eventually.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

More questions than answers

Oh my God. In my post yesterday I bemoaned that no one had tried to do much about the VTech killer's obvious mental illness. How very sadly wrong I was. Read if you don't know already. Living here in the UK, I'm not able to watch NBC.

So now we have two problems: a sad lack of gun control and an inability to share and follow up information about the dangerous mental state of a student.

What's not being written about yet (that I've seen at least) is what did his parents know and what did they try to do about it? If I'd known the campus police (who always seem to be useless) had tried to have my son involuntarily committed, I think I might take some action myself. Did they bury their heads in the sand? Did they not have any contact with him? Did they try but fail to have him committed as well? Were they afraid of bringing any attention to their son's problems because of their immigrant status? I'll have to trawl the newspaper websites. Maybe the answers to these questions are out there.

OK, I've now checked and the answers are out there. And they are disturbing. Universities can't tell parents if students have suicidal thoughts or have been referred to counselling without the student's permission. Does that let his parents off the hook? Would they not have noticed anything odd or different about their son? Were they too busy working? Didn't we go through all this with the Columbine parents? And should parents have to bear some responsibility for the insane and criminal actions of their children? I don't know. My gut reaction is the parents must have some inkling that something is not quite right with their child. But hindsight is always 20/20. I'm trying to put myself in Cho's parents' place. The horror of knowing their son committed a heinous crime, the grief for the loss of that son, the shame, the guilt, the recriminations.
It's all too much.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Guns don't kill people. People with guns kill people.

The British newspapers today are full of the tragedy at VTech. One story carried the frightening statistic that about 25,000 deaths a year in America, including suicides and accidents, are gun-related. Why do the far-right, NRA-supporting, gun-toting morons for whom George Bush is the poster child not get it? How many more deaths will it take? No other country has the equivalent of "going postal". The USA might as well be Iraq. This young man obviously was mentally ill, and it is a massive tragedy that nobody figured out just how mentally ill in time. Yet he was giving out clues all along in his writing. He was referred to the university's counselling service. Did no one check to see if he actually went? If he did go, who saw him and how did they assess him?

I feel so sorry for the families of those killed and for the family of the killer. And I am so relieved I'm raising my children in a civilized country that doesn't believe in everyone's right to bear arms.

I am as big a defender of the U.S. Constitution as the next American, but I think the Founding Fathers had something very different in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. It was an uncertain time politically. They'd fought and won a war to be independent, and the threat of the loss of that independence was still great. I think they wanted to be able to call up an already armed militia. Also, I think some aspects of the constitution were in reaction to what they'd endured as colonists (taxation without representation for example). However, I'm no historian so I could be entirely wrong about this.

Has anyone out there ever actually been a gun-crime victim? The mother of an ex-boyfriend of mine was shot and killed during a convenience store robbery. My own mother, in a deranged state, tried to buy a gun to kill my dad and me. Fortunately, the three-day waiting limit thwarted her. I never actually believed she'd go through with it, and I'm very grateful I didn't have to find out. Just because someone doesn't have a criminal record doesn't mean they won't commit a violent crime. As the VTech murders so tragically have shown us yet again.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Unspoken words

I was composing so many letters and posts in my head last night. Had a night sweat, a coughing fit or two, and a really bad earache from 3:30 onwards. Then I worried about my son, who has a blinding headache that won't go away. Then I worried about my daughter because I can see that I have turned into my mother. Then I fretted about my stepmother, who was rude to me on the phone on Sunday. As I tossed and turned, I thought about writing to her and saying just what I think. I won't though.

It's amazing how bleak the world seems when you're in pain and on your own. Hubby had to go back to London last night. He wouldn't have been able to help much anyway. I'll take my son to the dr. today.

I don't know how to change out of being my mother though. I can feel her channeling through me sometimes. And still my daughter is actually a level-headed, kind-hearted person in spite of my neuroses. It's all to do with friends and insecurity -- mine, not my daughter's. I think it all started with my grandmother. Her father died -- allegedly of sunstroke, but why was he in a state hospital then? -- when she was a girl. Her mother had to do all manner of jobs to keep food on the table for her three very young children. My grandmother as the eldest was expected to look after the younger two. Now Grandma didn't grow into much of a beauty. That was her sister. But she was a good God-fearing woman with some brains so she became a school teacher. My grandfather and she were in their 30s when they married and had a son very soon. He was the light of her life (he's now dying of cancer in a nursing home because Medicare would only pay for one week in the hospice. Disgraceful!!!). Then she got pregnant again three years later with twins. It was all too much for Grandma so her mother moved in to help her, and pretty much stayed there till she died many years later. The twins grew up into good-looking, insecure, neurotic women. And still are today.

And that insecurity and neuroticism (is that a word?) has been passed down to the next generation. I'm doing my best not to pass it on again, but I fail over and over. I always felt like my mother and I changed roles when I became a teen-ager. I can understand now why my mother wanted to hand over the adult reins, but as grown up as I looked and acted then and my daughter does now, teen-agers are still children with so very many needs. Sometimes I want to ask my daughter if I'm as bad as my mother was. But what if she says yes? Maybe it's better not to ask.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Living and Dying

Just back from London where I would have had a better time if I'd felt better. However, I did manage a day of shopping and a day of culture. On my day of culture, I thought I'd like to see the Exploration of the New World exhibit at the British Museum. Well, that was actually a bit of a disappointment. Also, some poncey Brit was trying to impress his wife by telling her that anorak and kayak have to be spelled that way, otherwise Americans wouldn't know what they meant. Huh???

I wondered into another room that had the theme Living and Dying, showing how different cultures have different rituals to mark the deaths of loved ones. That was far more interesting. Widows in one African tribe will cover themselves with mud and leave it to dry. They wear that for about a year, then wash it off and can marry again.

Carrying on the Living and Dying theme, I made my way to the Shaw Theatre to see Menopause the Musical. I was one of the younger ones there and I think the only one who went by herself. The theatre staff helpfully placed me in the center of a row on my own, just in case there were any doubts that I truly am Betty No-Mates. Still, I enjoyed myself. In fact I was crying with laughter at some points. I needed to see this because I've been quite depressed about my menopausal symptoms over the past six months. I feel that at 47 I'm too young to go through this change. It feels like the death of a part of my life. I started menstruating at the age of 9, which was far too young. But I still felt young up until six months ago. And I've been mourning the death of my reproductive life since then. I don't think I'm completely through the change, but it is starting, no doubt about it.

My husband appreciated having me there so it was worthwhile. He was behaving like such a bastard until we decided not to move. But maybe I wasn't behaving so well either. We haven't spent two weeks in each other's company since Christmas or maybe last summer. And I cleaned his apartment for him. Why do guys always revert to their slobby single habits given half a chance?

Saturday, 7 April 2007


Just back from Barcelona. I love that city, but not when it's raining and I'm on top of a tour bus. And not when it's 7:45 p.m. and my son is whining that he's hungry, my husband is huffing and puffing because nowhere in my guidebook seems to exist, and my daughter is 12.

I nearly cried the first night. Our hotel room was a bit disappointing (and very, very hot). We stripped down to our underwear every time we went back there. My husband ordered an ice bucket. Room Service arrived with two styrofoam cups filled with ice. Well, that was funny.

We planned things all wrong, went on the tour bus the worst day of the week for weather, planned to shop on Good Friday when everything was closed. My son hated the Gaudi buildings when I thought he'd love them. You know what they liked? The tram and the playground we found quite by accident. Kids!!!

I had a scary moment. My daughter (who is gorgeous if I say so myself) and I were waiting to cross a road. A car roared past, honking, and the driver leaned out and blew a kiss. At my daughter.

Things started to look up our last night there. A busload of Germans arrived. I nudged my husband and said there's no way they'll tolerate the heat. And guess what? That night we had air conditioning. And I froze. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tomorrow is Easter. Usually, we have my dad and stepmom visiting. But this year they said they couldn't afford it. And my stepmother is in a lot of pain because she has osteoporosis and fell two years ago and fractured her spine. She also refuses to take the drug for osteoporosis because she says it has too many side effects. My mother-in-law takes it and doesn't seem to have any problems.

The kids are going to the grandparents for a few days starting Monday. I was going to stay here by myself but instead I'm going to London with my husband. I plan to see Menopause the Musical (by myself since my husband won't go with me) while I'm there. I need to find some humour in the situation I'm in. I keep thinking 47 is too young for menopause. I don't look menopausal, I think. I'll see what the other women in the audience look like.