Leaning In

For the first time in my life I’ve joined a proper book club. We meet once a month, and actually spend quite a while talking about the chosen book, as well as drinking a fair amount of wine.

This month’s book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg which has been a best seller pretty much since it was published last year. There are a dozen of us in our group; mid thirties female professionals, mostly Irish doctors, some with kids, some partnered and some single.

For this month’s meeting we went away to Cape Cod, the summer holiday playground of the Kennedys. In the winter it is lovely and quiet, we didn’t see any neighbours and had a bracing walk on the beach. With over 60 emails in the week before planning catering, car pools and leaving time, we arrived on Friday night looking forward to a break from real life and a chance to chill out and recharge the batteries.

It was a really fluid weekend, chatting to whoever was sitting at the table or on the sofa. Everyone chipped in, a couple of us took a meal, we had professional looking cupcakes and others bought wine. So relaxing. ImageImage

Once we got talking about the book it got quite heated, well from me at least. The Irish medical system seems to be quite inflexible for families with two doctors, the hours are long and career prospects are curtailed for men who may want to take some time off to raise their children. Either I’m quite deluded (which is very possible) or the Australian system is slightly better. Not being a doctor myself may make things a little easier but I’m hoping when we go home that Hutch will be able to have a varied working week that will allow for him to be primary carer at least a couple of days a week. Some of the book club members are already Attendings here in Boston (Consultants for those in Aus) and their challenge is to support flexibility as much as they can. Some are seeking out mentees to help develop and the best outcome we’ve had already is that after reading the first few chapters, one member sent an email out looking for a Fellowship for the coming year and got one! Once Hutch has finished his Masters I’m going to get him to read the book. I think we need to get more men supporting women and their careers and as our generation become the Consultants it is their responsiblity to make it easier for the next generation, not harder.

The decisions we make as mothers seem to cause a lot of guilt, whether it’s because we need to work, or if we’ve chosen to stay home and wonder if that’s the most satisfying decision for us personally. Interestingly our parents all did different things, some of the mums were at home, some of the dads were teachers so were home more and some families had both parents working. Exactly as it is today. I think so long as the kids are fed, clothed and loved they will turn out ok and we should be able to prioritise what makes us fulfilled as adults too. Saying all that though, I do realise that fitting that in with a husband’s inflexible career can be difficult.

As the token Aussie I was very remiss in introducing any cultural aspects to the weekend, but our American representative showed us how to make s’mores, the all American campfire dessert. Image

Some very late nights, with lots of dancing, laughs, bad selfies and wine, (did I mention the wine?) meant we left on Sunday afternoon recharged but happily tired.

I got home to a daughter who’d vomited half an hour before I walked in the door, how’s that for a crash back into reality?

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The luckiest

Lots of people told us we’d become closer as a family by going away and that has most definitely come true. Hutch is home a lot, to the point I try not to talk about it with our friends because they have husbands working 60+ hours a week and the burden on those at home is much worse than on me. Given he’s home so much, our household responsibilities have become more even, I’d go as far as to say he’s possibly doing more than I am these days. With no work, no volunteering and low school responsibilities I’ve been much more mentally relaxed, the constant to do list that we have in our real life doesn’t exist. We have no car to run and don’t even have to pay bills as our rent is all-inclusive.

I have a natural leaning towards laziness and I have to remind myself that as comfortable and stress free as life in Boston is, it isn’t a sustainable and that to be truly fulfilled we need to challenge ourselves, and push the comfort zone.

The money will of course run out eventually, and we’ll go back home to a big mortgage, school, childcare, work, study and all that involves.

But for now I say without any intention of gloating or smugness, that we are lucky to live a simple happy life and I will look back on this time with fondness.

Thanksgiving

We hosted Thanksgiving, as you do when you’ve got no idea what’s required. A good hour trawling through Martha Stewart gave me some clues; pretty much the same meal we’d do for Christmas without the ham but plus the pumpkin pie.

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The advantage of home delivery shopping and not working meant the pumpkin and apple soup and the cranberry and pomegranate relish were done on Tuesday, and the stuffing prep all done on Wednesday. Getting the bird in the oven first thing in the morning Thursday and with Hutch pottering around tidying the house, we actually had time to go and see a football game, apparently a very traditional thing to do on Thanksgiving day. Our team got spanked – not sure if they actually scored any points at all. They had a good crowd though, cheerleaders, drummers and lots of rah rah. The game itself escaped me, seemed to be a lot of guys on the sidelines and not much flow of play.

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Guests arrived at midday and after a couple of glasses of bubbles, I in my dorkdom made everyone around the table say what they are thankful for in 2013. Put us all on the spot a bit, but confirmed to me that all of life is about relationships. We were thankful for new friends, new opportunities and all glad we had settled in so well. One of the great things about Boston is the itinerant population, so many people are from out of town that friendships are easily formed. Understandably Bostonians aren’t as keen to invest in friendships with us as we’re going to leave them eventually, but we now have people around the world to visit.

I bought an apple pie through school as a fundraiser and it was way better than I’d hoped. We also had pumpkin and pecan pies both very tasty, and cake pops, gorgeous little angry bird style turkeys and little orange pumpkins.

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The leftover cake pops have taunted the kids for the past few days, there was far too much fussiness at Thanksgiving for my liking so we’ve been using them as incentive for vegetable and fruit consumption. Poor Skets has never been very good at his fruit or veg but will happily drink green smoothies. So we’ve made a bit of a chart with everyone’s targets- Meema has to have 2 veg and 1 fruit, the boys are 4/1 and Hutch and I are 5/2. The first day was horrendous. Woo’s tantrum was beyond, he felt quite out of control in the whole process so we eventually got him calm enough to discuss day two and he agreed to eat his veg so long as they were raw. Fine with me. Skets never thought he’d make it to four veg, but with a smoothie full of spinach and a roast dinner with me helping him eat peas and corn he got over the line on day three with the final incentive of calling Dinks. He got there, only gagging twice, and we are all so proud. I bet that cake pop tasted like heaven.

Now we’re in December and all the blogs I read talk about getting ready for Christmas and I’m not feeling it at all. Christmas for us is usually hot, and at the end of the year with lots of counting down to the holidays and the beach. This year it feels like we’re only at the beginning of the year, it’s cold and with a massive meal for Thanksgiving over and done with, I imagine Christmas with the five of us will be very low key. Perhaps with some snowball fights 🙂

Exploring the countryside

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Last weekend we decided to explore New Hampshire, about two hours drive north of here (if you know where you’re going) to see the gorgeous colours of the changing Autumn leaves.

We found a much better car hire place than we had in LA, and they even pick you up if you need them to. Good service offering if you ask me. We hit the road about 230 on Friday afternoon, Hutch’s last class for the week was cancelled and the boys finish school at 140 so we thought we’d head straight out of town. Of course, with me navigating on a phone rather than with a GPS, meant we went the scenic way through Cambridge, instead of straight onto the interstate, and the traffic was quite heavy so it took a little longer than we thought.

We had a plan for a few activities, but nothing set in stone so we waited to see what the weather was going to do before we committed to anything. The kids are at quite a good age in that they go along with our ideas, no teenage eye rolling yet, they are happy so long as they’ve got full tummies and a little bit of Gorillaz and Gotye to listen to.

Saturday morning we decided to check out a ropes course about 10 min drive from where we were staying in Laconia. I always like the idea of ropes courses, I loved them in high school and quite enjoy the zip lines (flying foxes). Meema was too small to go, so Hutch stayed with her while the boys went through the kids’ course and I navigated the adults’. The boys got the knack of the safety really quickly, six point harnesses and two ‘monkey paws’ that had to be attached to the lines at all times. They hooned around their course very happily, with some lovely team work along the way, finishing off with a little zip line at the end.

I could see all this happening because I got up to the top of the course at the beginning of a zip line and had to ‘rest’. I sat there for quite a while, way too long really cos I couldn’t convince myself to step off the edge and go. The top platform was about four storeys up, attached to a pole which swayed a little as people tugged on the lines. The course staff ended up coming up to check on me. We had a lovely chat, (turns out he’s a twin who works with his brother and they’re very close, I found out quite a bit, anything to distract me from what I had to do) and he gave me the sensible advice of looking up not down. I was quite happy with that, I trusted the monkey paws to hold me up, I just didn’t like the stepping over the edge part. Choice sucks really, I mean I’ve jumped out of an aeroplane before and LOVED it, but then I was attached to someone who wasn’t going to kill himself so it was much easier. This time I just had to distract my brain and latch onto something that made sense. So I wriggled to the edge of the platform on my bottom, looked to the sky and slipped off. It was a lovely ride, over a pond and came in gently to the other side where I had to do it over again. Was much easier the second time once I knew what I had to do.

I never used to be afraid of heights and there really hasn’t been an occasion for me to develop one, but it seems here to stay as I had the same issue back in January with Tough Mudder.

We did some more touristy things and went back to our accommodation where Hutch and the kids spent the late afternoon in the indoor pool, with two little waterslides.

On Sunday morning it was very drizzly (or sprinkly as they call it here) so we set off for home via Walmart (they don’t have a Walmart in Boston, apparently the wages are really bad or something) and a short walk through the state park which was luckily not affected by the government shutdown. The boys had to collect Fall specimens for school so we gathered a bag full of pine cones, acorns and leaves for them to take home.

Another stop at LLBean for some winter clothes, Meema looks way too cute in a snow suit, and we hit the interstate and were home very quickly.

We were supposed to have a block party that afternoon but it was bucketing so we thought it would be called off. It was for most people, but our new friends from Sydney and one of the boys’ classmates had pulled out the BBQ and were having a party anyway, so we took the scooters, umbrellas and some beers and let the kids cruise around and we had a very relaxing end to the weekend.

It was quite a different weekend than what we would have done if it was just the two of us, but we all had a great time and I think that’s mostly because we didn’t try to do too much. In April it’s Maple Syrup harvest in Vermont so we’ll definitely have to go to check that out, and do some tasting!

We are all very happy here, and will definitely do some more weekends away. Hutch is loving learning in an environment broader than medicine and hopes he can share those skills and knowledge through uni when we get home.

High heels, red lipstick and a glass of sangria

A beep on my phone from one of my Irish friends suggesting drinks on a Saturday night made me smile for about an hour. You know life is good when you feel like you’re settling in, not just observing like a tourist. Hutch decided to stay home and finish some homework so I could have a girls night.

I got dressed up in high heels and bright red lipstick, jammed the earbuds in my ear, cranked up Scissor Sisters and strutted my way to the T station. I’d left plenty of time to get there so I could have a sneaky trip to Sephora on the way in and it was well worth it. I bought a few things and of those that are stocked in Australia, I paid nearly $30 less. It’s crazy how much more  expensive makeup is back home and Sephora doesn’t ship internationally.

A lovely stroll to the spanish bar where we were all meeting was really rejuvenating, time on my own, good tunes in my ear and generally feeling more than a mother who screeches at her kids to stop fighting or to leave her alone.

A dodgy photo of the walk I took – iphones aren’t great at night time shots. It was about 18 degrees at 9pm, perfect. It didn’t even occur to me to take a selfie all dressed up, clearly I’m too old!

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There ended up being about 15 people at the bar that I met, I was the only Australian in a crowd of Irish (what’s the collective noun for Irish I wonder?) and it was great fun. Drinks on a saturday night? I’ll do that again for sure.

Who gets the sleep in when you’re both hungover?

A couple of weeks ago we met a family with an Australian mum and a Spanish dad. She approached Hutch in the playground after seeing him kicking a footy with Skets. She’s lovely, and it turns out they live really close by, so we strolled to their place on Friday night for pizzas and wine. Three kids very similar in age to ours meant we only had to referee dramas a couple of times, other than that the grown ups happily chatted in the kitchen. I may have polished off the better part of a bottle of wine but in the new world of parenting, we were home by 9pm.

Unfortunately both Hutch and I woke up on Saturday feeling a little dusty and those are always the days when the kids are just a little annoying aren’t they?

We eventually left the house with the sole mission of getting a coffee from the only place that knows how to do a good latte, 4A coffee. Woo annoyingly has become fussier and fussier, food he would eat on arrival in the US are now off the list, he doesn’t like soft tacos, only hard, and he’s so determined he’d rather go without than even try something really plain. It’s quite frustrating as you know that within an hour he’ll be crying because he’s hungry, but he’s not to be negotiated with when he’s set his mind to something.

A bit of a wander further along the street took us to a TJ Maxx store, kind of a clearance place for last year’s fashion and some budget items. We spent about 20 minutes around the Halloween costume rack and finally decided on one and they had great fun trying it all out. I’ll post pics in October. School does a halloween dress up apparently and the neighbours have told me there are streets around here that people drive to because it’s so good. I still haven’t decided if I’ll dress up too, or just stay home and give out the lollies. Did you know toffee isn’t a word in the American vernacular? I made some for the school picnic a week ago and didn’t know what to call them, sticky candy? Taffy? Oh well they sold out 🙂

The song that lasts forever

A long long time ago before Hutch and I got together, one of the few things I wanted for my wedding was the song ‘Even when I’m sleeping’ by Leonardo’s Bride. It’s a beautiful song and one that I’ll never tire of. It didn’t make the final cut as we ended up having a flute trio so the song slipped off my radar for a good few years.

Before we came to the US, I used to have a day a week at home with Woo. With the childcare juggle it worked out that he and I would spend Fridays together and I really enjoyed his company. He’s very happy in his own space and we’d do the usual errands, he’d build some Lego and I’d get some work done.

Occasionally I’d throw the iPod on shuffle and one day this song came on. I asked Woo to dance with me, and for once he agreed. It was such a snapshot moment as I realised the love I had for this song and the potential it had to demonstrate that love for Hutch during our wedding, was even more applicable for the kids. Everyone knows that even after the hardest day, looking at sleeping babies makes it all worth while. Even though the lyrics refer to loving someone when I’m sleeping, they could easily apply to loving you when you’re asleep.

We played it tonight for Skets who was in a grump because Meema went to bed 2 minutes after him… It’s tough being 5, but for him a cuddle with someone he loves is enough to set him right.

Finding friends in the playground

I’ve read a few things online about the spectrum of ‘vert’ (I just invented a word – look out Oxford dictionary)! People used to be either an introvert or an extrovert and had personality types and expectations set on them accordingly. Now, you can be an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert. It pretty much comes down to how you recharge your batteries, alone time or with other people. If I were to label myself I’d be an extroverted introvert. I love catching up with my friends, I talk a lot and I think that I’m fairly welcoming to new people to a group. I have a limit though. Too much socialising is hard for me, I need time out to read a book or spend time on my own to reset the balance.

You don’t get much time on your own when you’ve got three kids home all day and a husband studying. We spend a fair amount of the day at the playgrounds around here (pushing the swings is still tedious), the kids love to be outside and Meema is most definitely not shy and will play with anyone.

Knowing we need to meet people and actually putting yourself out there beyond just chatting feels a bit like dating. The asking for phone numbers, wondering if people want to see you again, making sure you’re polite, your breath doesn’t smell, all of that.

We’ve been really lucky so far to meet a couple of lovely friendly Irish mums who have similar aged kids, similar reasons for being here, and similar concerns about finding a tribe. So the baby step of making friends with other expats is going really well, the next challenge is to make friends with some local families too. The boys starting school today, so we’ve got a new families morning tomorrow so we’ll see who we meet then. I may have to have the afternoon in silence to be recharged enough to make the most of it.

Oh the joys of five

We have one son who is a boy who likes rules. He likes order and things to be done a certain way. He’s very good at lego and loves construction art, but is not likely to be seen in a costume or painting very often.

I’ve jokingly said to friends that he’ll be a good pro bono lawyer one day, he likes to argue and defend those he thinks need looking after. He is very loyal and very protective of his brother. I overheard the other day ‘if you’re friends with me you have to be friends with E too’.

He thinks in a very black and white way. He complains if we go a different way home that it’s wrong, he argues with the kinder teacher if he doesn’t agree with what she says and every single day I pick him up from kinder it’s the wrong time. Either too early or too late, totally depending on what activity he’s doing.

I worry that he’s going to struggle a bit in Boston, I had to explain that just because it’s different doesn’t make it wrong. The names of things are different over there, the kitchen bench is called the counter, they drive on the other side of the road. All that kind of stuff.

A big learning curve for him coming up I hope he can open his mind to explore how wonderful ‘different’ can be. I’m just so glad he’s got a brother that will be there along the way.

 

Racing ahead too fast

We’re starting to get into packing mode, my in-laws dropped off about 50 moving boxes that are now cluttering up the study. I’m slowly filling them, but I think subconsciously that until visas are approved and flights are booked I won’t change up a gear until the count down is less than a month. 

Because I’ve probably done all the research I can do into Boston for the moment, I’m now thinking about what our life will be like when we get home. We’ve got a couple of ideas but they’re in the very early stages. I keep wrestling with myself, do I follow one path that would take me in a direction I would never have considered that ties in with Hutch’s work, but one that I think I would be good at, or do I stick to what I know? A man is not a financial plan, but why pay someone to do something I can do? Do I undertake more study just in case I need it? How much work do I want to be doing when the boys start school? 

So many questions, and no answers in sight yet. But that’s ok, it will fall into place.