Promposal

It’s called a Promposal and it’s a pretty big deal here. There are hashtags on every sort of social media you can imagine to seek out the best and the rest in the #promposal world. Instagram, tumblr, youtube and Pinterest #promposals are everywhere.

We’re racing to the end of the school year here in Murica, which means Prom time, and promposals are flying thick and fast. It doesn’t matter if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, apparently it’s not a given they will attend Prom with you.  No longer the assumption that you will go together or an idle conversation at lunch. The new normal is a slightly elaborate and more formal request of some kind, generally filmed or photographed by your friends or others standing by.

No. pressure. kids.

Last week my own 7 year old daughter was thrilled to be involved in such a scheme. Her Under 9 lacrosse team was playing at our local high school in an exhibition scrimmage (5 minute game amongst her own team) between the Varsity (Grades 11 and 12) and Junior Varsity (Grades 9 and 10) games.

One would imagine this would be an excellent opportunity to watch the bigger and much more experienced girls playing lacrosse and looking at ways to improve their own game. Not so, the U9′s were under the bleachers fighting over who would be the P,R.O and M. My own junior LAXer* was at first the M, but was later reassigned to O. I’m not sure of the difference but apparently all letters were debated over at length.

The coach’s son had a girlfriend in the Varsity game. After that match finished the U9 team ran on and this happened

#PROMPOSAL (click for video)

Thankfully for all involved – she said yes. We must also have some respect for the U9 team who followed coach instructions and dropped and ran back to their game immediately.

Notes on the Promposal

- The team in purple were the visiting team. They had just been beaten 17 – 2, so that may be why they were not so enthusiastic about the exciting on field events.

Heard in the bleachers

- High School girl ‘I want that relationship’

- U9 Father in attendance ‘Glad I never had to do that, I had enough trouble with the marriage proposal’

I hear you, U9 dad. Amen to that.

Additional general notes

- Every teenage girl in Georgia has waist length hair apparently

*LAX being the accepted shortened form of Lacrosse

Snowmaggedon – Tales from the ‘hood

The snow event-  pretty if at home

The snow event- pretty if at home

If you don’t know about our little ‘snow event’ in the ATL  (formerly known as Hotlanta-  new name pending)  you must be living under a rock. Or not residing  in America, although I know it has hit the news internationally as several Aussie friends have posted screen shots from the local news to my Facebook wall.

There will be many stories written,  because there are so many to tell. It was  almost the perfect clusterf#ck*.

Picture this

Atlanta a city of endless suburban sprawl, 6 million residents, no public transport system to suburbia, no winterization of roads or cars (because it NEVER** snows) , sends EVERYONE – schools, businesses and government employees, home the same 30 minute time slot on a road system that already has one of the worst reputations in the country, experiences snow that drops 2-3 inches everywhere in below freezing conditions and pretty much turns immediately to ice on the roadways.

The result – mayhem, that included too many car accidents to count, children stranded overnight on school busses and in schools, people sheltering in service stations, supermarkets, cars and homes of friends and strangers, commutes of up to 18 hours and many abandoned vehicles, giving the producers of the Walking Dead and anyone planning on filming the next post apocalyptic movie some free perfectly staged shots.

When the lady slammed into the back of my car after failing to stop on ice that was barely there, a mere 20 minutes after it had started snowing and 200 metres from home (after I had taken a cheeky trip to the supermarket less than a mile away to stock up for Snowpocalypse) I called my husband perched in his office watching car accidents happen out the window and told him to not come home. Stay in the office overnight, we didn’t need two damaged cars, or worse.

It was then that our neighbourhood sprang into action. Our ‘hood that I often make fun of for it’s Home Owners Association rules and regulations, welcome cookies and being more manicured than Wisteria Lane amongst other things is really a genuine caring community that dived head first into assistance mode.

There are many amazing stories from all over Atlanta, these are a few from our ‘hood.

At least 20 people stopped to offer assistance to the young lady and myself who were perched in our cars precariously close to the neighborhood entrance. After being able to get off the main road, her car was unable to be driven – cue neighbours walking down the hill and pushing her car deep into our ‘hood for safety purposes.

Gee, you’ve got a lot of friends she said.

Just a lot of super friendly, helpful neighbours I replied.

One of the car pushers insisted on waiting with me, until the Police had established due to a State of Emergency they wouldn’t be coming and we had concluded Insurance company reporting and other formalities. Thank you again Adam.

Just a little bit later when it became clear the hill outside our enclave was becoming impassable they went out by foot to help push cars and offer assistance to weary drivers deciding it was too late, dark and icy to get home.

Other’s with 4×4′s were heading out into the night to rescue those abandoning cars and bringing them home over the icy roads.

Our neighbourhood clubhouse, generally the location of birthday parties, book

Food arriving by the minute at the clubhouse

Food arriving by the minute at the clubhouse

club and Bunko nights was thrown open to keep stranded motorists warm, dry and safe.  There was a constant stream of people arriving with sleeping bags, blankets, food, drinks and toiletries to make those inside comfortable for the duration.

When it appeared there may be excess people to couches they just started taking them to their houses – total strangers, come on over. It was happening all over Atlanta, quite amazing.

The next morning people were quickly out to the road to find anyone newly stuck or who may have arrived later and direct them inside for bathroom relief, steaming coffee and breakfast casseroles.***

One woman had high heels on and didn’t want to leave the car for fear of slipping on the ice. No problem, the guy hiked home and took a pair of his wife’s flats back to the car and escorted her safely down the hill. S is now down a pair of shoes but to a great cause!

Abandoned vehicles on the road outside the 'hood

Abandoned vehicles on the hill outside the ‘hood

I was out taking photos and an acquaintance was walking past checking on her husband’s car. We had just heard one of our neighbours, with three under 5 and a husband away was nearly out of formula for her baby, she offered as it was on her way, to go and check if the supermarket was open and buy the formula (if not much left) and put it behind the counter or bring it back. For someone she didn’t even know.

Sometime mid afternoon my husband arrived home from a night on the office floor, no couches there either, and transitioned directly into a snowball fight with the kids.

Spot the snowball

Spot the snowball

Later that day the same neighbour, now with a fed baby, accidentally locked herself out of the house while stepping out to check on her bigger boys and their snow activities. Cue operation house break. I now know a local B&E team that includes an antipodean 7 year old who can make the climb in the window if you need. Doing her heritage proud declared another cheeky bystander. (I do have a photo but I don’t want to give away the identities or the point of entry)

The day was winding down and we just had one guest left at the clubhouse who was waiting for her husband to pick her up. She told us his name was Leonardo Di Caprio. We felt it was unlikely there was more than one around. Further investigation  discovered that while she had been taking shelter with us during the day, she wasn’t really sure where she was from or where she should be going. Earlier conversations had been put down to extreme tiredness and disorientation from being overnight in her car. A group of ladies stayed with her for a little while and attempted to calmly get some more information that could lead us to calling someone who would be missing her. Sadly, we were unable to so we called for professional assistance and the excellent first responder teams arrived and took her to at least overnight safety in hospital.  I have been wondering about her all day. I hope she and her family have been reunited.

The end result of such an action packed 36 hour period  can surely only be a wine party at someone’s house, so when the Bus Mother’s WhatsApp group buzzed with such an invitation that included hot chocolate for the under 21′s we were quick to accept. About 10 bottles of wine, several bottles of beer later it was time for bed which I gratefully crawled into.

I was just having a warm and fuzzy feeling about our caring and sharing neighbourhood when they went and cancelled school again tomorrow.  Safety first I guess…….

*technical term for when many things go wrong at once

**never being once every two to three years where anything hits the ground and sticks

***so much more on the American love of casseroles later

Plodding along…

While I am writing many blog posts, all the time, in my mind, sadly they are not getting to the magic publish button stage on this page.

This of course has nothing at all to do with the fact that I am training for the NYC Marathon in 24 days from now……  However my other blog One Mountain, One Marathon does have a few more recent posts than here. So if you want to follow along drop over and see how it’s all shaping up.

slowrunner

I miss my Mum

My cousin is having a baby, it’s her fourth, she has three boys, this one is a girl. Due in November, I found out about it on Facebook yesterday.

My Aunt has moved house, I’m not sure when, she recently had a fall and is now in hospital awaiting surgery on a brain aneurism. It’s tomorrow, or today in Australia. I am hoping it goes well. Found out about that by emailing another cousin whose news I used to know, but the regular information source has been missing for the last nine months.

Someone else has moved interstate, I’m not sure exactly where but they have bought a house and are renovating, she’s an architect. Her mother and my mum were the closest of friends. They were high on the news rotation in our calls.

Despite how plugged in I am and remain to the online world, I don’t know the back stories or the tidbits that fill in the gaps. I see the outlines and scraps on Facebook or a sentence in an email and I feel disconnected where before I felt connected to them and their story.

These are the conversations I miss with my mother, filling in the gaps.

The other day I went for a ‘long run’ in marathon training terms and it was hot, it was hard and I was probably a bit dehydrated at the end. I collapsed on the front step and cried a bit because it was hard, because of the reasons I am training for the marathon, because I miss my Mum.

My six year old daughter appeared

‘What are you crying about?’

‘I was thinking about Mumma and how I miss her’

‘Oh, are you still going on about that? That was months ago!’

We’ll leave the empathy lesson for later, I know that’s how the world sees it as well, she was only speaking the truth. It still hurt.

We have new neighbours Mum would love, she would want to know that some of our regular Thursday night drinks crew on the street corner have moved on and the people who bought their house have a daughter in my daughter’s class at school. Because she came to stay last summer for three months she would be able to picture the people and the houses I am talking about and she would have questions and comments aplenty.  The new school year has started, she would want to know about classes and friends and coping skills.

I went to BlogHer recently in Chicago. I was looking for my tribe. I’m not sure what I found but I did love the conference, the city and the people I met. One of the speakers was Sheryl Sandberg, I am a bit of a fan girl. When she spoke she pitched the whole thing perfectly to her audience, as you would expect a speaker of her experience to do. Before she spoke she spent time in the audience meeting and greeting some people and learning their stories, then she used, with their permission, those stories in her speech.

Many people spoke of how they admired her approaching it that way and found it impressive. I found her a great speaker, but I guess I expected that she would do that. That was Terrie Baxter to a T, it was how she did it, her role as the International President of a Public Speaking organisation may have had something to do with it, but it is the standard I expect.

There are so many things in my every day life that remind me of Mum and they are hard. Lately I have been thinking about them, a lot. My relationships with my other family members, my father, my mother in law and even my brother have suffered in the last nine months as I try to adjust to this change in my life. I will get there, I think I just need a moment or two to pause and collect myself, or another one…

Recently a special friend sent me a message

I thought of you today sweet, as I often do. You need to get Gold Dust, the ministry of sound version, to run to. If uninspired, it’s a fab song. Hope all is ok, from personal experience, this is when I found losing Mum really, really hard. Hope you are doing ok sweetie, I really am thinking of you often.

Haven’t got the song yet but the rest of it is spot on.

IMG_0087

Swim Team

Don’t do it!

Do it!

It’s awful, you will be SOOOO glad when its over!

It’s great, they will be soooo much better at it by the time its over!

Everyone gets a ribbon, no matter where they come!

The excessive exclamation marks are warranted because everyone I discussed it with had a strong opinion and they were all heartfelt.

I may have mentioned 77 days of summer vacation already. While Phineas and Ferb thought ‘their generation’ was the one deciding how to spend it, I can assure them that their parents also had to get out their thinking caps, their wallets and more cleverly their calendars – in about January.

Failing that, those of us that are less organised, not heading elsewhere for three months, new to the extremely lengthy summer holiday season for school age peoples of the USA, or ALL of the above, need to scramble to take the scraps of what’s left activity wise or enter those that accept enrollments when the ground has thawed and there are birds singing in the trees.

Swim team was one such activity. As an Aussie girl who wanted to see the swimming tradition passed to the next generation it seemed a great fit. Six weeks of 45mins a day per age group. Why couldn’t it go on all holidays I wondered? Why only six weeks?  Sounds great on paper, until the information that they train not all the same time but in a consecutive fashion. Read the fine print Nikki. Sadly too  late to fix the three and a half year age gap between Ms 6 (aka WASYO) and Mr 10.

Poolside daily 8.30-11am gets you these tan lines

Poolside daily 8.30-11am gets you these tan lines

Then there were the Swim Meets. A once a week reminder of the reason we were all there – a six hour extravaganza where all kids regardless of their abilities get the opportunity to swim a lap or two or four of our or another neighbhourhood pool with their parents and coaches cheering them onto victory – or just lap completion, whatever worked better for them. The theory is beautiful, the reality hot, humid, filled with volunteering pitfalls and swim parents* aplenty.

Heres the thing about swim meets – there are about 650** children from age 5-18 (most in the lower age groups) and their parents and coaches all packed onto the pool deck of a neighbourhood pool.  These pools are not Olympic swim meet certified, they are not designed for this kind of activity. Most of these kids / tweens and teens swim between three and six races EACH between 6pm and 10pm on a weeknight in summer.***

What the pool deck looks like during a swim meet - this one an 'away' meet when the away team gets the sunny side of the pool, lucky!

What the pool deck looks like during a swim meet – this one an ‘away’ meet when the away team gets the sunny side of the pool, lucky!

In summertime the temperature in Georgia peaks between 5-7pm. Just so you know, it is impossible to look any kind of reasonable at a swim meet and that’s before you start your three hour shift managing the 6 and under ‘bullpen’. The bullpen manager is responsible for ensuring that not one of the sugar fueled swimmers, did I mention the concession stand ‘Oh, they’re swimming they can have some treats’ (I’m guilty too),  leaves the proscribed location for the duration of the event, and gets the relevant swimmers to their relevant heats in reasonable time before they swim.

Before the first meet someone told me not to wear a dress or skirt, it was good advice – all the sweat ran straight into my shorts so at least I looked like I had an accident in my pants as opposed to it all running down my legs and looking like something else. Not kidding. I was not alone, every other volunteer parent, same thing. Someone should have tipped me off to wear a sweat band too. I am thinking of getting some printed for next year, or my head shaved, or both.****

Six weeks, five swim meets – six really if you count the washed out one that had to be continued after we waited for one hour and ten minutes in the pouring rain because you have to be out of the water for 30 minutes after each incidence of thunder.

We made it and we have the many many ribbons and one 9 & 10 Boys most improved medal to prove it. Yay us!

Swim team booty!

Swim team booty!

I also have the perfect crowd control item for my kids – if they misbehave I threaten to wear my ‘swim team pin’ (its a badge to me) in a public place, it came in my swim team photo pack, I had no idea but it works a charm.

Behaviour control badge

Behaviour control badge

See y’all next year, maybe….

* As part of my ongoing identification of new opportunities for reality television shows in the US – which there are MANY, I am currently working on a proposal for ‘Swim parents’. Please treat this accordingly as a copyright notice. My idea, thanks.

**OK its probably really only 100 but it FEELS like many many more

*** Even thought the swim meet starts at 6pm you have to be there by 4.30pm to enable warm ups, volunteer job distribution and ‘sugaring up’ of the kids in advance of the 6pm kick off.

**** Someone obviously had tipped my husband off as he was out of town for five of the six events – out of town completely.

Summertime

Summertime and the living is easy hot, humid and one very long school holiday break – or vacation as they say here in Hotlanta, USA.

There’s a 104 days of Summer Vacation,
And school comes along just to end it.
So the annual problem for our generation,
Is finding a good way to spend it.

So starts the Phineas and Ferb song that rattles around my head as I panic about the weeks ahead and how to fill them.

Thankfully there are not quite 104 days ONLY 77 phew.

Like maybe …
Building a rocket,
or fighting a mummy,
or climbing up the Eiffel Tower.

Discovering something that doesn’t exist,
or giving a monkey a shower.
Surfing tidal waves,
Creating nanobots,
Or locating Frankenstein’s brain.

Finding a dodo bird,
Painting a continent,
Or driving our sister insane.

In our house we only need one brother to drive one sister insane or the other way around as the case may be.

Come August 7th, which frankly although I may enjoy the first few weeks of the school holidays, I will be willing to arrive quickly with various fibres of my being, I will have a fifth grader and a first grader returning for their second American school year experience.

Between today and August 7th when they depart at 7.24am on the yellow school bus to resume their scholastic activities, they shall be known as a ‘rising 5th grader’ and a ‘rising 1st grader’. I only hope they rise to the occasion and get along for the intervening weeks.

Today is of course a whole lot more exciting if this is it – finito – you are done with the school years that the government and generally your parents think you should undertake for a basic level of educational instruction.  You will be a High School Graduate and good on you for all those years of undertaking learning with various levels of enthusiasm.

As with all things American I am finding this requires special celebratory activities. Not the least of which is widespread acknowledgement of your achievement of graduation by your micro community, the set of streets you live in, known in these parts as your neighbourhood.

I present to you the Class of 2013 High School graduates as seen on every street corner of our corner of East Cobb.*

Big community -all those babysitters heading off to college

Big community -all those babysitters heading off to college

Floodlit for the night time driving crowd

Floodlit for the night time driving crowd

IMG_3208

IMG_3207

Clever - listing high school and college grads on the same banner

Clever – listing high school and college grads on the same banner

Did Steven's parents forget to send in his name or just wanted to go big?

Did Steven’s parents forget to send in his name or just wanted to go big?

Some recycling for next year here and then an individual wall poster for the basement

Some recycling for next year here and then an individual wall poster for the basement

Simple - clever! Enviro friendly

Simple – clever, enviro friendly

Mixing it up

Mixing it up – different high schools and college grads

Questions

Is this America wide or just our little corner?

What happens if you don’t get into College – lots of focus seems to be on where to next? Don’t you wish just one said
Bar tending and surfing for a year
with accompanying picture of a long board or is that just me?

With the exception of a couple of clever recyclers, what happens to these banners after they are used? Do they get cut up and shared by all?

But you just can’t help get caught up in it all. As I left on my walk/run this morning I came across my neighbour decking her home with balloons to celebrate her high schooler’s graduation. Decorations in the colour of the college you will attend is apparently traditional. It was hard not to feel pleased and excited for her and all those thousands of dollars of college education coming her way.**

Georgia bulldog to be

Georgia bulldog to be

Then I went past our own school on my loop, car park was overflowing due to the Grade 5 graduation going on inside -

Reminder - not even a full day....

Reminder – not even a full day….

Last year of elementary school round these parts

Last year of elementary school round these parts

I guess I have 12 months to find out where to buy car crayons

See next photo

Speaks for itself

Speaks for itself

I guess I have 12 months to find out where to buy car crayons.

* These photos were taken from the road on my run this morning (except the night shot – taken on my walk Monday night to the supermarket) on main roads, I didn’t jump a fence, step in a garden or leave the footpath to take any of these.

** I asked her if I could take a photo to record the moment and she was happy for me to do so.

Cindy and Njabulo

For some of us just landed and still in confusion, there can be a secret benefit to expat life depending which country you have arrived in. There might be someone who can help you with running your household, ease your acclimatisation just a tiny bit quicker than if you have to clean your bathroom, vacuum the floors or iron your own sheets.*

While you’re trying to work out how to connect the internet, buy the school uniforms and where to find the right ingredients in a plethora of new supermarkets and speciality shops, someone is at home – making it just a little more homely and welcoming for all.

In Hong Kong that someone was Gina, our dearly loved nanny, housekeeper and all around superstar. The third parent in my children’s lives, who ran our house like a machine, which we are forever grateful to her for. Gina was from the Philippines and so lived with us in our apartment in Hong Kong and became a part of our family and our lives over our six years there.

When we moved to South Africa, Gina came with us for three months, to ease the transition.** This was mainly for me as I transitioned from full time working mother to tennis morning, school run and mountain climber in training mother.

In South Africa we met Cindy.  Where Gina was gregarious and outgoing, Cindy was shy and reserved. Where Gina was forthright, Cindy held back. She was initially overwhelmed by the boisterousness and noise of my children, it took quite a few weeks to have a conversation of more than three or four sentences with her. I am an extrovert, Cindy was an introvert. We had to take time to understand the rhythm of each other as with any new relationship. It was OK, we had some of that.

Cindy travelled to us from her home in a township every day in a series of taxis, two or three depending on which route she took and the time of morning. Taxis in South Africa are small mini buses that hurtle along the roadways at alarming speeds and ferry the workforce around over the course of the day. She was proud that she owned her own four room home and could provide for herself and her son Njabulo.

Njabulo was her pride and joy. Many of our conversations over the three years were about our parenting experiences. Regardless of the differences in our nationality, culture and economic situation, parenting has universal themes. Health and education were recurring topics.

Cindy and Njabulo on the day we moved out of our house

Cindy and Njabulo on the day we moved out of our house

At one stage Njabulo had a cough that wouldn’t go away, even after visiting his local clinic and being administered antibiotics. The fear was tuberculosis, prevalent in South Africa and particularly Kwa-Zulu Natal where we lived. We decided to take him to our children’s doctor and have chest x-rays done if needed. Njabulo came to our house with Cindy for the day and when it was time for the doctor’s appointment, she didn’t want to come. On reflection it was such a privilege for her to trust me with her 15 year old son visiting various doctor’s offices over the course of the afternoon.  X-rays and spit tests thankfully revealed the all clear.

Next up was a girlfriend conversation. She thought he had one, what kind of things should she talk to him about? Safe sex obviously – with any teenager anyone in South Africa HIV is an important topic. There are various statistics but African males in Kwa-Zulu Natal are extremely high risk. We worked on various opening gambits and reinforcement statements. I think it went OK, he insisted he didn’t have a girlfriend at the time but at least he got the talk.

The day we left our house in Durban, Cindy, Njabulo, Zanele (Cindy’s sister), Noluh (Zanele’s daughter) and a friend pulled away in a utility vehicle piled high with household items we weren’t taking with us.  It was a happy parting of ways.

Cindy, Zanele and Noluh with a cameo by WASYO

Cindy, Zanele and Noluh with a cameo by WASYO

In December last year, I got a message from Cindy, she had been diagnosed with cancer and would need to undergo a month of chemotherapy. She was worried about Njabulo, she didn’t feel well.  I kept in sporadic contact, she had the chemo, got very sick from it, there was no feeling any better.

On March 16th I received a message from Zanele, Cindy had passed away.

Njabulo is in his last year of high school. He no longer has his mother to take him to the doctor or to give him talks about safe sex practices, or talk to him at all. He is 17, the same age Cindy was when he was born. His aunt Zanele now has a teenager and a 2 year old to provide for with less than half the household income they had previously when Cindy was working full time.

Cindy wanted Njabulo to graduate from high school and if at all possible attend University. Our family has committed to help him do this. We aim to set up a foundation to provide support for his educational future. I am currently researching organisations or groups that can help provide mentorship and guidance on the ground in Durban.

The starting point is this year’s school fees. These fees need to be paid in order for him to receive his final examination scores and submit them to University for acceptance.

I invite everyone to share this story and help us to Educate Njabulo.

* What, ironed sheets? You’re right, I don’t iron my own sheets, never did, but nearly twelve months on I still miss the luxury of freshly laundered and ironed sheets on a bed I didn’t make myself. The ULTIMATE expat princess perk. Roll your eyes, mock me and then try it for nine years and see how easy it is to give up.

**Super expat princess alert