Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lying to children

I’ll be honest, I’ve lost track of the number of lies I’ve told my children. Before becoming a parent, I probably had the rather inflexible view that lying is wrong and should be avoided. That morality stumbled at almost the first parenting hurdle.

A study published in the International Journal of Psychology confirms what every parent already knows – an overwhelming majority of us lie to our children regularly.

About 200 families in the United States and China were studied and the conclusion, reports the BBC, is that the most common lie was threatening children with leaving them alone in a public place unless they behaved.

I’m very familiar with this particular lie. I employ the threat almost daily.

I remember walking home from my closest food shop not very long ago. It’s a walk that should take less than five minutes, but I had the Raging Bull with me. Whenever the Raging Bull is with me, time becomes irrelevant and foolish to factor in. Five minutes can easily become 20.

On the short walk back, the Bull decided that she just couldn’t go any further than the corner of our street; we were two minutes away.

I was carrying two bags of heavy shopping and couldn’t ‘cuddle’ her if I tried. Besides, I decided in a fit of frustration, I wasn’t going to cave in like other soft-touch parents on this particular issue.

I felt myself sliding into very dangerous territory here. It was like standing on a sheet of cracking ice. Give in on this walk and I will find myself sinking into icy waters. I would drown in a long line of, ‘I want a cuddle, I am tired, I want a cuddle,’ until the Raging Bulls turns 13 and decides she can’t be seen with me anymore.

Initially I tried to negotiate. Bad mistake. I tried employing bribery and the promise of chocolate, another favorite tactic. She wasn’t taking the bait. I could see that she was in her intractable terrorist mode.

Getting nowhere after five long minutes and several ear-piercing screams, I abandoned her on the street corner and told her I was leaving. I hid behind a bush to watch if she’d move.

Sadly, I lost this battle and walked back to the corner, minus the shopping bags, to pick her up and carry her home in a huff.

Today I heard the English Husband telling the Raging Bull – who was refusing to get dressed – that she had to wear leggings if she wanted to eat at McDonald’s. This is probably somewhere between a lie and a bribe.

The Chatterbox, meanwhile, has been told a whole spectrum of lies. I’ve championed the existence of Santa Claus when she voiced doubt; told her that tooth fairies don’t work on Sundays when I forgot to leave money under the pillow; suggested that eating vegetables will make you grow faster (no idea if this is true); and told her, in no uncertain terms, that she will end up penniless if she doesn’t go to college.

Do I feel bad about these half-lies, these possible untruths? Hell no.

I suspect the kids will learn very soon, like all of us do, that we not only tell small lies to others but we lie to ourselves. How else to get through life?

And, frankly, how else to get a screaming/ranting child out of a toy shop without saying, ‘I don’t have any money now, I left it at home, but we could return later.’

What lies do you tell your children? I’d be curious to know.



Filed under motherhood

Motherhood amnesia

Raging Bull and me

Early motherhood – the Raging Bull before she could answer back

Actress Sienna Miller is the latest in a string of high-profile celebrities to declare the ecstatic joys of motherhood. She was pictured in a London newspaper with her fiance after his first night in a new play at the Royal Court. The line she threw to journalists was that ‘everything was great’ about motherhood. She became a mother to baby Marlowe in July.

Now, I know that she can hardly go into a thesis about early motherhood with journalists standing outside a theatre on a celebrity safari hunt and nor would she want to. But can we be honest here and really ask ourselves if everything is great about motherhood.

Can’t a celebrity come clean and tell like it is occasionally? There are a fair few things I won’t miss, particularly in those first months:

  • Leaky boobs and maternity bras
  • Expressing milk with a machine
  • Lack of sleep
  • Feeling like a zombie
  • Feeling like your life is suddenly suspended and not entirely yours
  • Thinking your body has suddenly become your enemy
  • Losing a scary amount of hair from my head
  • Blending combinations of vegetables into unidentifiable mush
  • Getting a stroller on a crowded London bus

Now that the kids are slightly older, I have a new list:

  • Making dinner every single night after coming home from work, often with no idea of what’s in the fridge or how I will assemble it.
  • Bath time, a half hour of screaming and chaos.
  • Lack of sleep
  • Picking up toys, picking up clothes and picking up cat hair. I’m always stooping.
  • Brushing hair and teeth – more screaming, more chaos.
  • Repeating myself endlessly.
  • Illness every few weeks, sometimes accompanied by spontaneous vomiting.
  • Picking the kids up, on foot, after a long day at work, dragging them home with the enthusiasm of a criminal being dragged in front of an execution squad.

Sure, I have loved aspects of motherhood. Yes, there are some amazing things about it. But I’d be kidding myself if I thought it was all some life-altering experience. It’s not.

Drew Barrymore recently said: ‘The best thing about being a mom is just what a better person it makes you on a daily basis.’

Really? I’ve had days when I’m pretty convinced it has made me a lunatic. The worst part is when you hear yourself sound like your parents. ‘You better not to do that or else you will regret it,’ I holler. I realize, as the words escape my mouth, just how powerless it makes me sound.

I’m guessing Drew hasn’t got to the bit where they talk back to you and try to hit you during a tantrum. Has she experienced an 11-hour plane ride with a frothing, furious child? That particular joy is probably yet to come or handled by the nanny.

It’s no secret that celebrities have it far easier than us ordinary mortals. They can pick and choose which bits of motherhood they like or how much of it they can handle in one day. They probably have a chef on hand to make meals. They don’t have to scratch their heads at lunchtime, wondering if pitta bread and hummus is too cruel several days in a row.

For the stay-at-home mother and the working mother, life can feel like a succession of chores sometimes.

So here’s the thing: I’m pretty convinced that as mothers we have to continuously wipe our memory banks clean of the messy, mucky parts of our job. No wonder they say that new mothers have terrible memories. It’s a coping mechanism or a survival strategy. If we remembered everything about motherhood, the species would probably go extinct.

I have asked my mother many times, ‘How did you cope?’ She often replies, ‘Oh, I don’t think you were that demanding. I don’t remember that much crying.’

She’s clearly completely wiped the experience from her memory – and I probably will too. It was Matthew Arnold who said: ‘And we forget because we must.’


Filed under motherhood

Happy 150th birthday, London Underground

Tube sign

The iconic Tube logo first appeared in 1908

The London Underground, affectionately known as the Tube since 1890, turns 150 years old on January 10. I have been known to complain about this form of transportation to anyone who will listen (ask the English Husband) and on this blog. My last entry called it ‘a vehicle for transporting germs’ destined to shorten my life. I am American and have always had a slight love affair with the comfort and convenience of cars, although I don’t like driving them any more.

While I still maintain that it can be an immensely frustrating experience for a daily commuter, the Tube is also an essential London rite of passage, without which the city would not be the same. It’s like a teenager coming of age. You are not a true Londoner unless you have used the Tube repeatedly, marching through its slightly depressing stations (all 270 of them) and cursing the crowds and the occasional filth.

My first Tube ride is not memorable. I reckon I was about 20 years old and it was 1994. I was most likely travelling to the Barbican theatre to watch Shakespeare, part of my summer studies in the UK. I was a wide-eyed student then, taken with the enormity and foreignness of London. The Tube was just the backdrop to the pulse of London life.

A few years later I was travelling on the Piccadilly Line to work on a Sunday morning. It was early and I was still feeling that zombie hangover of sleep. Suddenly, the Tube driver comes on the speaker and says mournfully, ‘This is the west-bound Piccadilly Line on this very, very sad day.’ I was suddenly alert – what was he talking about? I imagined this ambiguous message had something to do with a national holiday I knew nothing about. Everything was new to me back then.

It turned out to be the day Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris, a day when the nation went into some sort of shock and collective mourning. I will never forget that Tube journey.

Other journeys that have stayed with me: the evening I was sick on the Tube. I vaguely remember an older couple, looking on horrified, while my English Husband (then a boyfriend) dug around in his backpack for what ended up being a sock to clean me up. Not a highlight but memorable with the Husband, who retells the story with glee.

Or the time a kind stranger I had never met before helped me as I collapsed at King’s Cross Station, fainting as I stumbled out of a train onto the platform. I don’t know who he was, but he helped me up and gave me his bottle of water. The staff at the station stayed with me until I felt better. Thank you.

There was the time, heavily pregnant on the Central Line, when a man I had never met before announced loudly to anyone who would listen: ‘Will no one give this pregnant woman a seat?’ Someone got up then.

There was also the very hot day in July when I got stuck in a Victoria Line tunnel on a packed train full of commuters. London trains can be unfriendly places at rush hour – no one makes eye contact and almost no one speaks. But this unnatural silence on a stifling train was broken by our shared experience of being stuck with nowhere to go. We were there for half an hour, temperatures soaring to nearly 100 degrees – and people started to hand out precious water to those who were feeling sick. Sometimes in London you can forget the decency of humans, but this brought it out.

I have also started and finished many books on London Underground trains. I am always thankful that reading on a train is my refuge, that moment of retreat from all the rushing around. It’s something I couldn’t do by car. I still, however, hate my switchover at Oxford Circus (from the Central Line to the Victoria Line for my trudge home). It’s hell at 5.30pm, and I could probably do it blindfolded if I wasn’t crushed by so many frenzied people, who have clipped my heels more times than I can count and then had the gall to tut at me.

Happy birthday, London Underground. Thanks for the memories. As we’ve been told many times, in many variations, it’s not the destination but how you get there.

A few facts

  • The Metropolitan Railway, the first underground railway in the world, ran from Paddington (west London) to Farringdon (east London) and was opened on 10 January 1863
  • Number of London Underground stations: 270
  • Number of passengers carried per year: 1,107 million
  • American talk show host Jerry Springer was born on the London Underground. His mother had taken shelter at Highgate from bombing during World War II
  • Number of deaths on the Tube in the last decade, excluding deaths from natural causes and terrorist attacks: 265
  • Chance of being involved in a fatal accident on the Tube: 1 in 300 million
  • Chance of being in a fatal road accident: United States (13.9 per 100,000) and UK (5.4 per 100,000) – Global Status Report on Safety, 2009
  • Proportion of the network in underground tunnels: 45%

Sources: London Underground/Guardian newspaper


Filed under British life, Getting around

The secret to long life

Girls in Piccadilly Circus

The kids in Piccadilly Circus after going to the theatre. There wouldn’t be as much culture in Ikaria but would we all live longer?

I’m guilty of always feeling guilty about one thing or another. My latest guilt trip revolves around not being a very convincing Santa Claus and possibly putting an end to my child’s innocent belief in the jolly old man at the age of six.

But I’m not feeling guilty, as many do in the bleakness of January, about drinking too much this Christmas. Is this attitude destined to put me in an early grave? Maybe not.

An article on the BBC today tells us that the secret to living longer is drinking large quantities of wine (preferably that you make yourself with your own grapes) and moving to an island in Greece.

In the 1960s, Stamatis Moraitis – who was living in the United States at the time – was told he had terminal lung cancer. Rather than fork out for an expensive funeral, he decided to head to the island of his birth, Ikaria, and live out the remaining days in a sun-drenched, wine-soaked daze.

He’s still alive and just celebrated his 98th birthday. He told the BBC: ‘I found my friends in the village where I was born, and we started drinking. I thought, at least I’ll die happy.

‘Every day we got together, we drank wine, and I waited. Time passed by and I felt stronger. Nine months came – I felt good. Eleven months came – I felt better. And now, 45 years later, I’m still here!

‘A few years ago I went back to the US and tried to find my doctors. But I couldn’t find them. They were all dead.’

Ikaria is a tiny island with a population of 8000. Two and half times as many people reach the age of 90 on the island as they do in the United States.

According to the Office for National Statistics, life expectancy in the UK is 78 years for males and 82 for females. The area with the highest life expectancy is the affluent Kensington and Chelsea borough in London; the lowest is Glasgow City in Scotland.

Stamatis makes 700 litres of wine per year, which he drinks with his friends. He doesn’t believe that commercially made wine is as good for your health because it contains preservatives.

Since I can’t exactly move to Greece immediately – and there’s the small problem of how to make a living – I’ll make do with commercial equivalents of wine and hope for the best.

Anyhow, I’m convinced that all my commuting back and forth on the Tube – a vehicle for transporting germs more than anything else – is destined to shorten my life a lot faster than drinking, but I have no hard facts to back this up.

My American readers might be interested to note that Loma Linda, CA, is also a long-life hotspot. The website for the city, south of Los Angeles, says: ‘Loma Linda is a unique community of 21,000. The city has been a national center of health and wellness research for decades. Loma Linda offers residents an alternative to the intense, often anonymous lifestyle so characteristic of modern life. It is no surprise to find numerous families strolling along the city’s tree lined streets, or playing in its numerous parks.’

Well, it sounds a tad boring and not quite as idyllic as olive groves, but I’m willing to take a chance on it after England’s second wettest year on record since these records began. (Don’t ask me when they began, but it was a long time ago.)

Other places you could try are the island of Okinawa, Japan; Nuoro province, Sardinia; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Interestingly, they all appear to be coastal regions but I’m guessing they aren’t cloudy and drizzly most of the year. Just a guess.


Filed under British life, Uncategorized