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Archive for June, 2008

Today I am grateful for:

  1. The fact that even though baseball really is quite boring and even though our seats were way up in the gods and even though he did not understand at all what was going on, M really did enjoy his very first baseball game today. We cheered when they stole bases, we yelled ‘batterbatterbatterbatterbatter!” when the other team was up, we did the seventh inning stretch — Americana at its finest. We had a fab day!
  2. The absolutely perfect weather — it was warm enough but not too hot, with a really refreshing breeze, and when it finally erupted into a cracking thunderstorm (and, apparently, a tornado warning to boot), we were already safely home having a nice post-game cup of tea.
  3. The fact that my mum, as well as babysitting, cooked dinner for us, so that when we got home the house smelled delicious and we didn’t have to think of what to make — it was all done.

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The fact that when E2 fell off backwards off a kitchen chair today, and landed with a great thud flat on her back and the back of her head, and then would not stop crying and couldn’t be consoled no matter what we did, it was only because she had bitten through the back of her lip and not anything more serious than that.
  2. The fact that when M went in to get her from her nap and found her as naked as the day she was born (because he’d accidentally dressed her in E1’s vest she had wriggled out of it), she’d not found another exciting poo when she took off her nappy and the worst we had to deal with this time was the huge wet patch in the middle of the mattress.
  3. The fact that at the moment when she did the biggest and most stinky poo right in the middle of Mass tonight, it was M who happened to be holding her, and so there was a sort of natural assumption that it was he, rather than me, who should have to carry her out to the car where the nappy bag was and change her on one of the seats in the pouring rain.

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. A day at home to recuperate, forced indoors by stormy weather.
  2. An evening stroll as a family, up to town for a quick drink.
  3. E1 using a ‘big girl toilet’ at the pub, listening carefully to every instruction I gave her and doing so well at it, and wearing a huge grin at the sheer excitement of it.

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When the realtor and I finished our hot and humid day of househunting, and I poured myself a cold glass of water and sat down alone in the quiet house, I felt so disheartened and down that when M got home and immediately asked me what was the matter, I couldn’t put it into words and only shrugged my shoulders instead. The matter is that I clearly have not managed to express to the realtor what it is I want in a house and that he comes from such a different (that is, American) cultural perspective that what is instinctively appealing to him is all wrong to me. He had worked hard to find the right houses and it had all been a waste of time.

I want what I am used to, but which doesn’t exist here: I want a house within walking distance of the (functioning) Main Street of a small self-contained and self-sustaining town located out in the country. This is what I am used to, it is what I knew growing up, and it is what I sought out when I lived in Britain. Now that I am back in the US, it is what I am hoping for again, but I cannot find it, and no one seems to get what I am looking for.

What I find instead around here is that I have three choices: either to live near into the city where there are walkable shops and cafes, or to live way out in the countryside where all the towns are essentially dead and you have to drive to everything, or to live in the suburbs where you have neither the advantage of walkability nor the space of the countryside and so live right next to your neighbours but still have to drive to everything. If I can’t have both countryside and walkability, then my second choice is an option that has one or the other. But it is the suburbs — which have neither — that seem to appeal to most people here and I am finding it very difficult to get people to understand that they are truly not to my taste. Unsidewalked streets of tidy house after tidy house as far as the eye can see, each with its driveway and a grassy yard backing onto its neighbour, but with nowhere to walk to and the nearest shops a strip mall which always includes a supermarket, a Hallmark store, and a McDonald’s at one end… These neighbourhoods and the houses in them do absolutely nothing for me. Nothing. Nada. I know they are exactly what most people want, but they just don’t work for me.

The town we are in at the moment is an old suburb of the city, which means it is close in, quite urban. The houses are all about 75 years old and so have old-fashioned layouts to them: no powder-room (downstairs toilet), small bedrooms, smaller kitchens, odd (or no) garaging arrangements. They are built back to back to back with not much space between them — front, back, or sides. But this area is one of the posher urban neighbourhoods — much sought after and pricey, with really top-ranking schools, safe streets and low crime figures, and a wonderful Main Street filled with cafes and art galleries and restaurants. Walking into town on a weekend night is such a buzz, the whole street alive with happy people tripping in and out of the bars, or eating at tables set out on the sidewalk, talking and chatting and laughing… This town doesn’t have the rural aspect that I am looking for, but the walkability and lively Main Street are a good trade-off. We’d both be happy to buy here, if only we can find a workable house in our price-range.

When I emailed the realtor with a list of houses that I’d like to see, he said that we’d get more house for our money in some neighbouring boroughs and suggested we look there instead. I agreed reluctantly, guessing that — while he was undoubtedly right about the value of the houses — these other suburbs probably wouldn’t appeal to my peculiar tastes. We trouped doggedly through eight houses — a couple of gems, two complete horrors, and the rest neither here nor there. He waxed lyrical about the neighbourhoods: weren’t they just so nice? Look at the mature trees. And the big yards! The houses all so tidy, the streets so pleasant and respectable. Oh, weren’t they lovely neighbourhoods?!?

Indeed they were. Lovely. And completely and utterly not for me. As I explained to my mother, every house I saw felt like nothing more inspiring than someplace to put our furniture so it didn’t get wet when it rains. She pulled a pitying face, “Awww… I’m sorry. But you know, those areas are very near to here — you could just pop the girls in the car and drive over here anytime you wanted to walk along the Main Street!” She doesn’t get it. The realtor doesn’t get it. I feel like a naive fool for wanting something so obviously impossible. And the whole day seemed like an utter waste of time.

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. That when the realtor and I ran back out of a house that I had chosen to view without realising it was a foreclosure, after having been completely freaked out by the blood red walls and ceiling in the living room, the incredibly rancid smell, and the canopy of cobwebs that hung low and dusty and alive with spiders across the entire room, and then both stood shivering in the driveway the way you do when you feel like you are covered in bugs, he didn’t hit me over the head with his flashlight for making him go in there.
  2. Trader Joe’s frozen pizza in the icebox — easy, soy-free food when we’re both too tired to think after a long day.
  3. The fact that when the best and most violent thunderstorm of the summer-so-far began this evening, my daughters were not frightened or clingy, but instead squealed with joy and clapped their hands at the spectacle. Atta girls!

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The fact that my husband kept his good humour even though he was shattered from work, red from the sun, and near keeling over with hunger, and came out and looked at two open houses with me as soon as he got home from work
  2. That when I realised what a perfect summer’s night it was and suggested we eat dinner outside, and he surprised me by agreeing (he has always hated eating outside) and then sat with me on our kitchen chairs as we held our plates in our laps, picking at our dinners in the near dark on one side and blinding brightness of the porch light on the other, he looked up and said, “Now I see why you always sat outside back home and looked up at the sky. It’s really quite… nice when you’re not freezing.”
  3. And that just before we sat down to that dinner, I caught a gift for M out of the sky and when I carefully opened his hand and gently shook my prize into his palm, he looked at it intently before suddenly exclaiming with surprise, “Oh! His bum glows! Why does his bum glow?!?” and then looked around himself and sounded as delighted as a child as he said, “They’re everywhere! Oh, look!!!

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. The first lightning bugs I have seen this summer… this year… these fifteen years. I was at my mother’s friend’s house tonight, standing alone on the patio with a glass of wine, relishing the peace of a twilight garden whilst a dozen ladies chatted loudly in the house behind me, when I was startled by a brief and bright pinprick of light close over my left shoulder. Then another in the garden, and another, and one off to my right. For a moment, I was frightened — I had forgotten completely this summer delight and couldn’t think what danger these flashes might be. And then, I suddenly remembered summers of charging round the garden barefoot with hands outstretched, glass jars with nail-holes pricked into the lids, small glowing friends walking lightly over the backs of my hands before lifting off and floating skyward, tails aglow. I relaxed, took a sip of wine, and spent a few moments enjoying the silent show, before turning and walking back to the happy din inside.
  2. That when I broke a vow today and discussed our relationship with my mother, we were both able to express our thoughts diplomatically and civilly, and we both listened as much as we spoke, and the conversation ended up being a step forward, instead of the disaster it so easily could have been.
  3. That when the trench that M has spent the past few days working in collapsed today, bringing down a 15′ wall of dirt and mud and rocks that would have crushed anyone standing underneath it and buried them too deeply to be dug out in time, he and all of his colleagues were standing safely on the surface several feet away, and he and they were all able to go home to their wives tonight.

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