Archive for the 'Expat Life' Category

Babble, brought to you by the letter B

NS October 21st, 2009

sperm

Things are a little quiet here. I’m feeling a little quiet. Introspective, even. It’s no big surprise, really. I think most bloggers go through short periods of time every so often in which it seems better to be taking things in that churning them out. I’ve taken breaks before and I’ve always come back. I ain’t quittin’ you, Internet, and this isn’t an official ‘break’, but I’m just not going to force myself to blog about nothing if that’s all I’ve got to say. Though…isn’t that what I’m doing right now?

Maybe it’s the change in season or my decision to start looking at going back to work and all the planning that is going into that, but I’ve been finding myself crunching numbers for our childcare budget and reading in bed with cups of tea more appealing than sitting in front of the computer getting angry at all the douchebags, numbskulls and ignoramuses out there.

Like the guy who wrote the book pictured above. I picked this book up at a secondhand shop on Sunday whilst out for a boozy lunch with my good friend, H. We’d had two bottles of wine over a gorgeous Turkish meal and had left more than a little tipsy. Seeing as I’d been for my bibliotherapy session earlier that morning, we’d stumbled over to the bookshop on the premise of finding the book I’d been ‘prescribed.’  Lo, we could not find The Last Samurai and had to settle for the ridiculously titled Sperm Are From Men, Eggs Are From Women: The *real* reason men and women are diferent to amuse ourselves with as we went off in search of another pub. At least twice per drink, H would shout out a page and paragraph number and I would do a short dramatic reading of that passage while sloshing my drink around as I gesticulated wildly.  Another bottle of wine and a couple of gin and tonics later, I was reading passages out loud to people on the train on the way home.

What can I say, I’m a literate drunk. I’m sure the other passengers were thrilled.

At one point, while gesturing with the hand holding a lollipop I’d found in the bottom of my handbag and which I was happily licking between bouts of indignant gesturing, I dropped it on the floor near my seatmate’s shoe. Charming.

At least I wasn’t dropping atomic bombs on anybody because, apparently, I am responsible for that as well, as one of those evil American types. Or at least, so sayeth a man in the park earlier that day who, upon hearing my accent, launched into a diatribe about it and demanded I give him some answers. Seeing as it all happened 34 years before I was even born, I had none, sadly.

Ever since Obama came into office I’ve seen a sharp decline in the amount of anti-American encounters I have, which were at their height during the Bush years, so I was taken a little more off guard than I normally am. From 2002 through most of 2008 I wouldn’t have blinked an eye if someone wanted to shout at me about bombs, though usually the diatribe was aimed at the variety being rained down upon Iraq and Afghanistan, not The Big One during World War II.

Still, this is something I’ve just gotten used to the longer I’ve lived here. Having an American accent will, for the moment, always mark me out as different, as privileged and (usually) as either a bit off my rocker, slightly stupid or ragingly arrogant. Such appealing stereotypes to face on a daily basis, no?

Conversely, having a British accent in America marks one out as exceedingly intelligent, humorous and polite, if a little stuffy and prudish. It’s not surprising that I had little sympathy for The Noble Husband when we were living in the States and he would complain of being teased for the way he said ‘water’ or ‘pawn’  or ‘tuna’. Most of the time people were falling all over themselves to hear him speak and thought he was the epitome of class and charm. Repeat after me: poooooor widdle thing!

Anyway, that concludes my inane babbling about breaks, budgets, books, booze and bombs. Hopefully, I’ll get my blogging mojo back soon. Until then, I’ll be curled up in my duvet thinking about one of the aforementioned Bs.

Mother-to-mother (in-law)

NS October 1st, 2009

I am a lucky woman in that I get along fabulously with my mother-in-law. Our relationship wasn’t always so effortless or, dare I say, close as it is now (we had a few minor snits in the beginning of mine and TNH’s marriage)  but 98% of the time we get on really well. The other two percent of the time just means that I really do consider her family. After all, everyone gets slightly annoyed with people they love occasionally!

Every Thursday I bring The Noble Child here to her house (from where I’m writing this) so they can spend the day together and so I only have one child to look after. Sometimes I leave and go do other things, sometimes I stick around for coffee and a chat and end up staying here all day, happy to just have some company and a hand in looking after both the kids. We talk about them as only a parent or grandparent could (“He did the cutest thing the other day. Watch!” *cue endless attempts to get a repeat performance*; “I got her to eat broccoli the other day, it was amazing!”) and ask for each other’s opinions on the day’s news as I flick through the papers. She’ll ask me a question about my childhood and I hers. We find out things about one another that you only find out by just hanging out in a low-key, informal setting. It’s lovely, definitely, but it makes me incredibly sad sometimes as well.

I want to do this with MY mother. Sometimes I want her to be the one to come rescue us when we’re all sick and can’t get out of bed, or have us over for Sunday lunch. I would give anything to be able to just pop in for a coffee and look on admiringly and contentedly as the children play, chatting and sharing and scheduling family events. Every Christmas, birthday, summer party or milestone achievement finds me taking pictures frantically, trying to capture for my parents what TNH’s have just seen with their own eyes.

The guilt and the sadness can be overwhelming sometimes.

And even though I comfort myself by thinking about a possible future move to be closer to my family, I’m then reminded that my inlaws will be put in my parents’ position and how difficult it would be for all of us to leave them behind. They’re our family, too.

I will always be pulled in two different directions by the two nationalities in my family, my two homes. I knew that upon becoming an expat. But I didn’t realise how much harder it would get after having children.

I can’t dwell on these thoughts though, I just can’t. My heart won’t allow it.

So I pour another coffee and smile at my mother-in-law’s comment on how tall TNC is getting and remind myself to count the blessings in my life, not the hardships.

Socialism fever: America is dying

NS August 10th, 2009

I got this email from a family member yesterday, who was passing it on from a friend of a friend. As I sat there reading the forwarded message, which was written by an American woman who’d received health care while visiting Scotland last month, I found myself growing very angry and depressingly sad. This woman used her story to “prove” that socialized medicine doesn’t work, is inhumane and utterly inferior to the system in the USA. I almost couldn’t make it to the end of the email and had to stop myself from Replying All and letting loose with a detailed response. Instead, I’m posting it here.

This is what was contained in the email:

I, Karen Sparks, found myself in need of hospitalization and surgery while I was visiting Scotland in July 2009.  I had a critical health issue and had emergency surgery  within 7 hours of admittance to the UK National Health Care system at the Royal Aberdeen Infirmary for a septic knee.
My first stop was a dingy ward room to speak to a doctor to evaluate me.  There were people there waiting to get a bed in the hospital for treatment, but no beds were available to them until someone else left.  I had some tests done and then i was sent to my bed upstairs. I was fortunate to get one. It was a shock to me to be put in a ward room with 6 other women.  I had not saw that since I was a child.  I was being told I would soon have my surgery by a doctor who was not going to be my surgeon.  I never ever saw the person who operated on me.  I only saw doctors and interns who had been in a general meeting about the surgerys of that night. That is not any way to get any clear answers to your questions or fears.  You really don't know anything when you are there.
My husband was beside himself and followed the gurney to wait to talk to the surgeon.  As we got to the elevator the nurse told my husband he could not come down to surgery and there are no provisions for waiting during surgery. He could see me the next day at 2pm visiting hours! It was now 10:30PM. You do not get public relations in government health care systems.
Now he had to call home and tell my mother ,who was worried sick, he did not know a thing about how I made it through surgery and wouldn't until the next afternoon. He did hide out in the hospital during my surgery but did not know anything about how I did, all he saw was me going back to my ward. Actually you never see any doctors as a family member unless you get lucky and they come speak to them at visiting hours, but you have to ask.  It makes you feel totally at their mercy without much say in your own life or treatment.
I was assigned to a womens orthopedic ward with 6 beds, all full, three whose ages were 93, 87,and 85, all of which had broken hips.  Those elderly women laid in their beds NO LESS than five, yes I said 5 days, before they took them to surgery to fix those hips.  The doctors would come in most every day and tell them that they were not an emergency situation and maybe tomorrow we will have time.
I had an IV port in my arm from surgery and it was used to main line my antibiotics by syringes.  You took oral pain pills, no drip Iv's to sustain you. If you couldn't eat and drink on your own to sustain yourself you got weaker which I saw the elderly do. I don't know if my 93 year old roommate made it through her surgery. I never saw her again after they took her to "theater".
The pain of those aged women lying with badly broken bones, in  bed getting joustled about all week in the name of cleanliness was cruel and depressing.  I am sure they did not care to get a bath or clean sheets by the sounds of their protests and crys. They wanted medical help!  As sick as I was I knew I was the lucky one.
Remember we are are closer to the United Kingdom than any other country in the world by the way we live and have compassion. They are living with this horrible health system and we could be next if the powers in Washington force it  upon us.
I don't believe any of us are going to want a national socialized health care.  Everyone will suffer except those in control who set it up for the masses.Do you want your family member lying in a bed suffering for days because they aren't precieved as an emergency?  Yes it is expensive to have health insurance in the United States but we do have health care that far outweighs what I saw in the United Kingdom.
God bless and help us to keep our leading doctors, specialists  and  research doctors.  We will loose all of that with the new reform and the rest of the world depends on us to be leaders in health care and prevention.  They come here to our doctors and hospitals when they
can not get a life saving procedure in a timely fashion in their socialized country of health care.We are the United States of America and we need to start protecting our valuable human resourses, the citizens of The United States of America.  Wake up before it is too late America!

Karen T Sparks
Bartlesville Oklahoma

Well, Karen, let me tell  you something: you are a propaganda pusher. You are ignorant, arrogant beyond belief and your “concern” for the “citizens of the United States of America” is a facade. What you *really* care about is covering your own ass. You, as a fully insured person with enough material wealth to be traveling abroad, don’t want things to change FOR YOU. You don’t give a rat’s ass about the 40 million Americans without any health insurance, or the millions more who are underinsured. You speak only to those fortunate enough to have jobs or pensions with good health benefits attached; those middle class and educated enough to have access to the state-of-the-art facilities your pampered ass is used to being in. You consider health care a business and you are a customer whose needs and demands must be met and satisfied at all times. And as long as that happens, you’re happy.

How DARE you take your one isolated experience of socialised health care  and use it to make direct comparisons and predictions for what health care reform would mean for America? How DARE you tell me, an American citizen who went uninsured for several years because I couldn’t afford it and now, as a UK resident with instant and unlimited access to health care based on my status as a HUMAN BEING instead of as PAYING CUSTOMER, that I’m the one missing out? How DARE you tell the people who arent insured, or who don’t have adequate insurance, that they don’t matter, so long as you get your clean, private room and your husband gets his own personal PR agent to hold his hand while he waits for news of your progress?

You say you were confused, your questions unanswered. Do you think that perhaps it had more to do with the fact that you were already in an unfamiliar environment, in an unfamiliar system in a foreign country, than with the system itself? That perhaps because of that, you were too scared and unsure of yourselves to ask the proper questions? That perhaps you were too arrogant to bother asking them at all, too shocked that someone wasn’t spoon feeding it to you through an IV drip so you didn’t have to do any work at all? Because that’s what you want, right? To lie back and let the doctors do their work on your behalf, sure that they have your best interests at heart since you’re a goddamn American citizen and therefore the best, most worthy patient in the world?

Karen T. Sparks, socialised medicine isn’t sick…you are. And I’ll tell you why.

I have two children and don’t work outside the home. I take care of them while my husband works to pay our mortgage and bills. We are very fortunate to be able to do this, and we know it. Many people need two incomes to even make their basic payments. We are blessed, and lucky. My husband likes his job but if he didn’t, he would be free to go out and look for another where he’d be happier. He can change jobs without endangering his family’s ability to access health care. He could even lose his job and we’d be okay. If worse came to worst and we had to sell our house and move in with family, at least we’d know that our health wasn’t compromised or that we’d be bankrupted in the process of making sure it wasn’t. We wouldn’t have to sit up at night with a sick and feverish child, agonising over whether to see how it goes a little longer or rush her into the hospital, thinking about what it’s going to cost us instead of focusing on getting our daughter well again.

When I went into the hospital to have my first baby, I didn’t have to fill out a bunch of insurance forms while I was in labour or sign a consent form allowing the doctors to perform a zillion procedures and interventions so that they could guarantee a perfect outcome and reduce the chance that I’d sue them. Because that’s what Americans do, right? If something goes wrong, they sue. If their hospital “experience” wasnt’ what they feel they paid for, they get a lawyer and they sue the shit out of the doctor, the nurse, the hospital, the janitor…whoever they can cut down with their merciless need to blame someone for all of life’s ills. You pride yourselves on your work ethic and bootstraps mentality, don’t you? You think you’re the greatest nation in the world and that you can do anything if you set your minds to it or are paying top dollar for it. You, and others like you, have gotten so above yourselves and stuck your heads so far up our own self-congratulatory asses that you have no time for things like Nature, or Death or Human Fallibility. You want only Service, Results and Accountability. Having a health care system based on ability to pay has turned you into clients, not patients, and your health care practitioners into business owners concerned only with the bottom line.

When I had my second child, I had a choice in where and how I gave birth. I wasn’t treated as a pod carrying a precious “pre-born person” who had more rights than me. Since I was healthy and having a baby is a natural process, I was given the option to give birth at home. I had two midwives in attendance and no drugs. No IV drip, no scalpel, no monitors or wires strapped to me, no paperwork to fill out. I birthed a baby and they were there in case anything went wrong. It didn’t.

I got one-to-one care and they even came back every couple day for the next few weeks to check on me and the baby so I didn’t have to get myself together and take a newborn baby into a doctor’s office full of sick people. Not once was I asked how I was paying or for proof that I had a right to receive their care. I was treated as a person, not a “customer.” Me and my baby were the bottom line, not what procedures and length of stay my insurance would cover.

Don’t get me wrong, the national health service here is not perfect. There are longer waiting times for non-life-threatening procedures and cleanliness and understaffing can be a problem. These problems are transparent because they are government run and therefore constantly in the public eye, up for scrutiny, as they should be. Though an imperfect system, the NHS is always striving to improve. The American system is not perfect either, though. There are mistakes and long waits and dirty hospitals and not enough staff to go around and aged women are left in pain on gurneys and alone on hospital beds. You just don’t know about it because you don’t have to frequent the facilities where these problems are more prevalent. You don’t see this because you have insurance, and good coverage at that. You are blind to the inadequate care that millions and millions of Americans receive (or don’t receive at all) because they aren’t  valued top-paying customers. You are in the VIP room of health care;  you are so blind to your privilege that you don’t know any other room even exists.

You may have noticed that I keep using the pronoun ‘they’ when talking about Americans, and that I must not identify as one. Well, I was born and raised in America. I will always be American. I love my country. But I hate the mentalities of many of its citizens and how it is run. This resistance to change is a resistance to criticise yourselves. And a society that cannot criticise itself and work to change for the better — to evolve and grow as a nation — is not a healthy one, nor one that I want to be a part of. Callous disregard for such as basic human right as the right to health care is not something I want to be a part of anymore. As much as I miss my family and the land of my childhood, and as many good qualities as America has, I can never go back. I can never go back because it is not the country I thought it was. It is so sick that it doesn’t even KNOW it’s sick and refuses to take any medicine. All the pleading and cajoling in the world won’t make that bitter pill go down, as sad as that is. So like any sane person who can’t take anymore, I proclaim to wash my hands of it. Let them get sick and die in their millions then! I won’t be witness to it anymore. I’m finished.

Except, I can’t turn away. My family and my friends still live there, and my children are American citizens, too. One day we’d like to move back and allow them to experience that part of their heritage — MY heritage — but I refuse to take them to a place that doesn’t value their health as a right, but a privilege. It would be like taking a step backwards in time after having seen the future. I won’t make them feel like second-class citizens if they are not fortunate enough to have good jobs with good insurance, or force them to stay in jobs they hate so they can go to the doctor when they need to. I’d rather never see my homeland again then expose them to a system that disregards its most vulnerable citizens in such a callous way. I’d want them to know the beauty and the aching kindnesses that I know are somewhere underneath all the layers of fear and hate, but I don’t think Iv’e got the strength, or enough shovels, to dig them out.

So, Karen T. Sparks, I will take my socialised health care over the American system any day of the week. I am saddened and angered that people such as yourself , who I’m sure are caring and kind, can be taken in by the propaganda and be blind to the changes that are needed. It takes courage and humanity to move from a hierarchical system to a more equitable one and I guess in that department, America is sorely lacking. The land of the free and the home of the brave, indeed. You’re so shackled by the IDEA of freedom that you don’t even know what it is anymore. Those of us living under socialised health care don’t need or want your pity. It is us who pity you.

God bless America? God save America.

A thunderous welcome

NS June 19th, 2009

I’m still in shock.

The flight went so well and passed by so quickly that I don’t feel as if we flew on a plane but a magical time machine. There were no hitches. None. We got up on time, got ready in time, got into the taxi on time and were given bulkhead seats without even asking. We got through security in less than 10 minutes and even though TNC got patted down and security-wanded, she thought it was great fun. Both children settled in well and we were given a sky cot for The Noble Baby. He didn’t sleep in it at all but it was a great place for him to sit and play or, when he was on our laps, a place to throw our empty drink bottles, blankets, toys, etc..

We watched Coraline (fantastic film, highly recommend) and I even managed to read a chapter of my book and have a glass of wine with the meal. There was no running, no tantrums, no screaming or crying, until the very, very end when TNC fell asleep right before we began the descent and she was forced to sit up in her seat with seatbelt on. Even then, the crying was fairly short-lived. Astonishment does not even begin to cover it. I had mentally prepared myself for a long, drawn-out battle that would leave me in a crumpled heap of defeat, all blubbering and stress and fury, in the arrivals hall.

Perhaps this does not seem all that amazing or significant to you, but if you knew my past history with traveling, even before I had children, you would know that me plus airplanes and airports usually results in mayhem and misery. From my two-day European mishap to bomb scares at O’Hare involving sitting outside in the baking heat watching SWAT teams descend from helicopters to missed connections and lost tickets, flying for me is never straightforward. So to have an eight hour flight with two small children go so swimmingly is nothing short of a miracle to me.

I watched the wide, sprawling roads and pavements pass by as we drove from the airport and arrived at my sister’s enormous flat with the green-eyed monster weighing heavily on my back. Look at all this room! Cars can drive in opposite directions on a road and not have to dodge in and out of parked cars and perform elaborate headlight-flashing morse code acrobatics to indicate who should go first. You can walk into a store and not immediately bump into a display stacked ceiling-high. My sister’s apartment is at least four times as big as my entire house (no joke!) and has air-conditioning, ceiling fans, a dishwasher, garbage disposal, private parking and FOUR bathrooms. Four! I know I’ve been on the tiny island we call Great Britain too long when these things have me open-mouthed and wide-eyed still, even hours after our arrival. The inevitable “everything in England is crap and tiny” feeling has already started and I know I’ll be eyeing up property websites with a dream in my heart before the first week is up. I also know, without a doubt, that the fantasy move will not materialize (at least not for a good few years) and that by the end of the trip I will also be sick to the teeth of American infomercials, personal injury lawyers, perfect teeth and permatans on news presenters, fast food outlets and strip malls, and various other things that annoy me about my homeland.

As it is, I’ve had a very good start to my trip. Not only did the journey go well but this morning, awakened at 3am local time by my jetlagged and confused children, we were treated to a magnificent midwestern thunderstorm. Pouring, steady rain; warm humid air; lightning streaking across the night sky and thunder that rumbled and grumbled like an old man’s cough and a dog’s warning growl. I opened the back door to listen to the raindrops clattering on the wooded deck and smell the air, vivid with electricity and sound and humidity, so thick and forceful that I almost felt I could reach out and grab it in my hands. I inhaled deeply and smelled my childhood come flooding back, my previous life. I was lucky to grow up where and how and when I did, this I know. And that I get to share that with my kids as they grow up, even if it’s only every other year, for three weeks at a time, it’s enough for me. If they ever appreciate the smell of a rainstorm and learn to love the sound of thunder, I will be satisfied that at least some of my heart’s beginnings have been passed down to them.

A stranger in my own land, certainly, but this land and this force of nature will never be a stranger to me. It will always welcome me back into the fold like a mother’s embrace, full of forgiveness and love even when the chid has strayed.

What a welcome home.

Is Chicago, is not Chicago*

NS June 17th, 2009

*Bonus points to whoever knows the title song

Well, we’re off. Tomorrow morning at 7.30am a giant taxi will arrive to take two adults, two children, two carseats, four suitcases and three carry-on bags to Heathrow, where we will begin the 12-hour journey (8 hour flight; 4 at airports) to Chicago. I’ve been looking forward to this trip immensely since we booked it back in January and while in a way it seems like it’s been forever, it’s suddenly crept up on me quickly, as time does.

Posting will be light, obviously. So adios, mi amigos. I’ll catch up with you all when I’m back in three weeks.

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