Sickly

 

The seasonal change has kicked in and Chaos is an early casualty. The poor wee bug has an ear infection to go with a bad cold. She is not happy.

Our kids aren’t really sickly types, but I have been worried about this. Mostly because I’m pretty bad with cabin fever, and Hurricane is even worse. Chaos kicked off on Sunday night and after looking like she might have been on an upward swing the next morning she then deteriorated and we didn’t leave the apartment even once that day. Tuesday wasn’t much better and we ended up taking her to the doctor today (Wednesday) so she’s now on antibiotics.

Thankfully we have (expensive) medical insurance for the little people, even though that doesn’t make treatment free. We still had to pay $60 to have Chaos seen and another $20 for the prescription. Back in NZ, well we would have paid nothing.

Since I’ve been here I’ve learnt a bit about the US healthcare system and how screwed it is. The truth is, it’s probably beyond fixing. The Government effectively absolved itself of one of its core responsibilities – to look after the health of its citizens – a very long time ago and it can’t really go back. The US now has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but you don’t really get much for your dollar. Just a whole lot of waste and exorbitantly priced drugs. The relationships between insurers, pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare professionals themselves are pretty sorry when you look at the simplicity of the NZ system.

For example, early on BB went to the doctor and sought a very basic prescription for what back home is an over the counter purchase. She then went to fill it, but her insurance card hadn’t arrived yet. They said if she was happy to pay cash they could get it sorted for her on that day anyway, so she was like sure how much? $700. Seven. Hundred. Dollars. You didn’t misread that. $700!!!!!!!! No really. $700!!!!!!!!

I thought that can’t possibly be right. Surely. They’re just taking the piss to see if some dumb foreigner would pay it. In some ways, yes. See what happens here is that prescription medicines are just part of the money-go-round. The insurers don’t pay $700 for that drug. They negotiate deals with all the pharmas on what they pay, so it’s probably closer to $50 per prescription (which is still triple what it should be). The hyper-inflated price point also drives people to get comprehensive medical insurance, so there’s some mutual back-scratching involved. Just like insurers negotiate deals, so could we try to negotiate a better price. But we don’t exactly have the same bargaining power.

When people (including that super bigly demi-God Trump) talk about Big Pharma extorting Americans, this is what they mean.  Then there’s the other racket where they sidle up to doctors to get their drugs prescribed in the first place. The whole system kind of feels like it was born from a hillbilly dinner where the moonshine-filled cousins started out playing footsies under the table and ended up with a 7-fingered baby.

Anyway, so yeah Chaos is sick. This week is now about nothing more than survival. I’m treating it like a prelude to winter, when a snow-storm will inevitably hit and the cabin fever will truly kick in. Just imagine the ramblings that will emerge on this blog when that happens.

 

 

Eyes up chief

For those of you who have never traveled to the States, there is something you need to know. Public toilets live up to their name. They are very public.

Add it to the list of things I didn’t bother researching before we moved, because it simply never crossed my mind that the Yanks might be into poo voyeurism.

I am by no means a nervous pooer. Any place, any time. I have always found it amusing to rock into a toilet and have the occupant of a clearly inhabited cubicle go deathly silent, obviously terrified that a stranger might hear them fart in the very place it’s acceptable to do so, or dare I say it, cause a splash. These poor souls are such easy targets for a bit of mischief. The anxiety levels must go through the roof when someone settles in for the long haul next to them, especially now that it’s so easy to spend 30 minutes reading the news on your phone. It is definitely a legacy of our English ancestry that so many of us remain ashamed of having to drop a deuce. And I’m only talking about blokes, I imagine most of the fairer sex adopt the silent strategy till they’re at least 70.

So then imagine being an anxious pooer in America, where there’s a half inch gap in the door. In every single public toilet. I have a feeling it must be regulated, because if it’s not it means they freely choose to do this. Either way though, they want to be able to watch you.

I didn’t just discover this now, by the way. That was on day one. It creeped me out a bit, but needs must. What happens is that you’re sitting there seeing other dudes walk in to the bathroom and you’re hoping you don’t catch any eye contact, but you feel like you have to be on alert in case someone does start watching you so that then increases your chances of eyeing up a stranger while in situ. It’s an awful Catch 22. And it just happened to me.

Nana is in town (Nana being BB’s mum – she does not know this story yet), so we hired an SUV and headed upstate to see the Franklin D Roosevelt estate and do some sightseeing. It was at the FDR visitor centre where it all went wrong. There was one cubicle free, on the left edge, so I took it. I dropped my daks and settled in. I don’t know how long it had been, but I suddenly realised there was a middle-aged man standing directly in the line of sight that the gap offered him. He had a clear view. And he was taking full advantage of it.

His eyes weren’t looking at my eyes, they were settled somewhere lower. His face was expressionless, completely blank. I knew what was probably happening – he wasn’t actually looking, he was thinking while he waited. Unfortunately for him, in his glazed state his eyes had locked onto the one object they should not have. That, of course, was the generous interpretation. The other was that he is a pervert who likes staring at men on the crapper.

At this point I had two choices: wait him out or get his attention. There are pros and cons to both, but only one of them answers the pervert question. So I started waving at him. On the third pass I saw his consciousness kick in. He looked at me, looking at him. I watched the realisation cross his face and the crimson climb from his neck. Yes, that’s right, you’ve been watching me take a poo. For quite a long time. I am now embedded in your subconscious.

He took a step to his right, out of view. I decided not to compound his obvious discomfort and waited till he had found his throne before exiting my own. I saw him about an hour later as I was leaving with Hurricane. He was talking to his wife in the gift shop, and both spoke in very Eton-esque British accents. Ahhh the Motherland, always keeping an eye on us.

 

 

 

The quarterly report

I set some goals for my first quarter. Here is my report card.

Find a playgroup

Achieved. Great work. Now just need to make sure Hurricane’s totalitarian instincts are kept under control and Chaos keeps her teeth to herself.

Work out how to take the kids on the public transport system when solo

Partially achieved. The bus is manageable, but it’s a battle dealing with Hurricane, Chaos, a stroller and a backpack. The subway is a different beast. Getting on isn’t the problem, it’s getting off. Once you reach Manhattan the trains fill up fast during all daylight hours and the stops are short. I am yet to muster the courage for a solo subway journey, but I will tackle it soon.

Stay under 100kg (220lb)

Achieved. Though with the torn calf that’s under threat. Might have to make it 105kg for the second quarter. That seems more realistic. There are a lot of temptations, as you can see.

Find a friend who likes sport

Achieved, thanks to BB’s crowd at law school I have found an Aussie who spends most of his time working out how to get cheap tickets to different sporting events. Very handy. So far I’ve been to the ice hockey and a couple of college football games. The NBA is scheduled for a few weeks time. The ultimate challenge will be an NFL game. It’s a work-on.

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That’s just one team. Insane
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Barclay’s Center – home of the most expensive beer I’ve had anywhere in the world

Make friends with a nanny that looks after the kids of someone famous so I can get invited over for a play date and pretend it’s my house 

Not achieved. The nannies still view me with suspicion given my love of fuzzy hair. I’ll have to play a long term game. Draw up a strategy perhaps. The same friend who likes sport just got a job at one of the rich private schools where Suri Cruise is on the roll. He may be a good wingman on this one.

Avoid teaching the kids my bad habits

Not achieved. They have all of them – picking fingernails, standing around with hands down their pants, farting and laughing, eating like the food is about to disappear, pretending not to hear what their mother is telling them to do. The list goes on.

Stick to a budget

Not achieved. Yet. The grocery budget ($120 a week) is manageable, but transport, winter clothing and other costs have added up pretty quickly. Then the new NZ Government announced a massive spending program and put the country on a pretty hefty inflation track so the dollar dived. Wiped a month’s living costs for us in just a week. That hasn’t helped. But oh well. It was always a risk.

Happy kids and happy wife 

The kids are happy. They have settled in well and are used to Dad being in charge now. It’s pretty heart warming when Hurricane tells me I’m his best friend, or Chaos climbs onto my lap just to have a cuddle.  The wife would be a lot happier if Chaos would stop terrorising us in the night. Unbroken sleep is about as rare as a clean-shaven hipster right now.

Score: 4 out of 8

Pretty sure that’s a pass mark. It’s how I got my degree anyway.

Man in a mum’s world

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Commonwealth Club hits the zoo

It has been nearly 3 months. I’m pretty used to the dadding routine. It took some adjusting, but it feels normal now. Well, normalish. There are pretty constant reminders that I’m an outlier in this at home parenting world. But it doesn’t really bother me.

I’ve realised there are a few keys to maintaining your sanity when you’re on permanent kid duty. I would be in a real battle if it wasn’t for the friends we have in the building – aka the Commonwealth Club. Some of the first people we met were families from Australia and Canada. They each have one little nibbler, both about 6 months younger than Chaos. We have a set playgroup every Tuesday, but we tend to see each other a lot more than that given we’re always trying to find ways to entertain our offspring.

Hurricane and Chaos love our playgroup. They are the big kids, so they get to be ringleaders most of the time. Our little posse all head over to a bigger community playgroup once a week too where the adults eat bagels while the kids run rampant. I am not daunted by much at all, but the first time we went there would have been 20 mums, and me. I couldn’t have been more conspicuous.

My fellow club mates were quickly brought into the fold, but I felt the room withdraw from me a bit, so I just played with Hurricane, Chaos and their little mates. I kind of expected it. Mums love to talk to other mums. Meeting up at these playgroups is a big stress reliever for a lot of them, so I don’t feel particularly aggrieved that they prefer not to waste small talk on me when they could be ranting to their friends about the destruction of their once beautiful boobs.

In the weeks since not much has changed, though I’m part of the furniture now so I get plenty of hellos and smiles. I have made friends with a Grandmother who somehow looks after a 3-year-old 5 days a week on top of having a husband with Alzheimers. We are pretty tight. She likes to talk bluntly. I like people who talk bluntly. They’re never boring. And just recently another dad turned up and his relief at seeing another Y chromosome in the room was palpable. He once played pro basketball in Mexico. We will be friends – though he’s not on permanent dadding like me.

Of all the adjustments I’ve had to make, the biggest has been getting accustomed to talking pretty much only to women from Monday to Friday. I imagine it’s what working in HR would be like. It’s not that easy. I actually have to listen. Carefully. And respond. Men aren’t really that good at it, and I’m worse than most. It’s exhausting. I feel like I’m doing a passable job. We’ll see how long I can last.

 

Lessons in female anatomy

There are many things I didn’t think about before agreeing to take on the kids. Having to learn the anatomically correct words for the various parts of female genitalia is one of them.

For starters, I never really considered that there were multiple parts to learn. I was comfortable just calling it a vagina. In my mind that is the socially accepted word for that general area of the female body. Apparently I’m wrong. The vagina is a specific term, not a general term. As you can see below, it is an internal piece of the puzzle. I’m not sure when I was supposed to have learnt this, or why it matters, but I have been told it does.

Picture of Human Vagina

How did this come about, you ask? Well Chaos and Hurricane shower together, and he knows to wash his penis. She knows the word penis because he’s quite happy to talk loudly about its existence – when it’s sore, or itchy, or stuck to his sack. So she then looks at me and asks recently: “I wash my penis?”

I say: “No, you have a vagina, Hurricane has a penis. You wash your vagina.”

And I was perfectly satisfied with that interaction. Job done.

But then BB tells me no, it’s not her vagina, it’s her vulva. That’s what she has said to Chaos before, so I need to reinforce it.

What’s a vulva? Seriously, what’s a vulva? I have no clue what that is. Admittedly I dropped science in high school at the earliest opportunity, so maybe I missed out on the detail. Regardless, I don’t recall anyone talking about vulva before. Volvo is a car. Close but not related, it seems. The only other connotation it serves up in my mind is that it might have something to do with a volcanic eruption, or possibly be one of those old Greek gods.

Anyway, if I have to learn about this now, then so do you.

Diagram reproduced with permission from The Interstitial Cystitis Survival Guide by Robert Moldwin, MD, New Harbinger Publications, Inc. © 2000.

Turns out the vulva is, well, that entire area, as this rather confronting diagram shows (I probably should have found a friendlier illustration, but it was the first one that popped up on a very legitimate human biology site so I didn’t exactly want to go searching for more). And look at all the other pieces in there. Introitus? Urethral meatus? They sound terrifying. For some reason I thought a Vestibule was just a porch. I guess it is, kind of.

BB is keen that we be accurate in our descriptions so that Chaos knows they’re just body parts and never feels there’s anything shameful about them. I understand her point. It’s fair enough. Vagina, vulva, they’re both anatomical terms, and yet there is something mundane and inoffensive about the former, while the latter, and more accurate term, is well a bit cringe. I bet you’re sitting there yourself feeling a bit uncomfortable – though that could be because I failed to warn you there would be a lovely picture of a vulva staring at you in this post and you’re reading this at work.

I’m not opposed to the idea of being accurate for Chaos’ benefit. Kids pick up loaded meanings of words from us. It’s our discomfort, not theirs. We pass it on to them. If I can somehow find the maturity to be comfortable using an anatomically correct term then Chaos should hopefully never feel embarrassed about it herself. It makes sense. Maybe eventually vulva and vagina will just be interchangeable. Or maybe they won’t. I don’t know. I’ve already spent more time thinking about vulvas than I ever thought possible.

Anyway, I asked BB, well what about the rest of it? If Chaos points at something and says: “Daddy, what’s dis?” am I allowed to just say vulva? Am I safe? Please say I’m safe.

I’m not safe.

What am I supposed to do at this point? Guess? Because let’s be honest, if there’s a guy out there who can answer these questions with even 50% accuracy then he’s a gynecologist. And I reckon even he would just say vagina and exit the conversation as quickly as I did.

There is a solution to this, however. Honesty. The next time she asks, and she will, I’m simply going to say:

“I don’t know Chaos. It’s too complicated for me. You need to ask your Mother, she’s got one too.”

I just really hope she doesn’t mimic Hurricane and start telling me loudly in the supermarket that her Labia majora are itchy.

 

 

A rant

There are many things that have done my head in since landing in NY. For starters, the bread here is terrible. Truly awful. And expensive. I’m talking the staple grocery bread as opposed to the artisan kind. It is closer to donut than bread. I actually read the ingredients list to try and understand what it is they’re doing to it but it was so long I gave up. I’ve never read the ingredients list on a loaf of bread before. I should have been able to get through life without ever needing to.

I have to stop writing about this now because it’s making me angry and the crappy bread isn’t even the purpose of this post. I probably have to go buy a breadmaker. Dammit. I had no intention of being that domesticated. Look at what you’re turning me into America. I’ll be in a flour dusted pinny shortly. And don’t even start me on the bog roll here. Unbelievable.

Anyway, enough of that. Do you know what Hurricane’s current favourite game is? It’s called Guess the Dog. It started out as Spot the Poo and then evolved – though Chaos is still a spotter so frequently initiates the game and gets to play too. The rule is simple, you guess what kind of dog is likely responsible for laying every turd you see. Not breed of dog obviously, just size and colour. Big black, short brown, ratty white – the dog that is, though you could be forgiven for thinking I was describing the poo. Generally Hurricane equates the two anyway.

This city is caked in dog poo. That isn’t hyperbole, it is literally left to bake on the sidewalks. In the peak of summer the entirety of Manhattan smells like an obese man’s jocks after a post-curry GoT season binge. That’s the real reason everyone with money heads to the Hamptons for two months, probably sans dogs just to rub it in.

Out here in suburbia it’s just as bad. Worse even. Not only do dog owners – an obviously feral breed of human – have complete disregard for concrete paths, but they also sully every patch of green they can find. One of the very first actions I was forced to undertake on arrival here was to train Hurricane on identifying and avoiding the common dog drop so he didn’t go picking them up and putting them in my pockets like he does with everything else he finds.

So yes, I created the game. It has been far more effective than I imagined, probably due to it being completely non challenging. I doubt they will ever stop spotting poo. All because NY dog owners seem to believe it is their constitutional right to leave it where it lies.

I can appreciate that it is a humbling experience to have to bend over in public, hand in bag, to collect another living being’s stool. The stench of digested horse meat is probably unpleasant, and the warmth radiating in your palm likely unsettling, but that is the social (and legal) contract you signed when you got a dog. If you don’t like it, don’t own a dog.

After all, just because I don’t like you, doesn’t mean I am entitled to pop a squat on your car bonnet and leave yesterday’s pancake breakfast for you to inspect. The contract I uphold is not to defecate on your property. So if I’m upholding my end of the bargain, why can’t you?

It’s all well and good to pen a rant. It’s cathartic, mostly. But I know it’s not enough, so I have started taking a solution-focused approach to this problem. An experiment of sorts. I am the guy that stops, stands and stares when I see your dog taking a dump. The kids are happy to play their part too. Though I’m working on them to stay silent so it is creepier. Give them time.

Ideally, I want your pooch to become so terrified of laying its load in public it won’t leave the house before filling your boots. Obviously that is an unlikely outcome, so I will settle for making you feel so uncomfortable that whether you are carrying a bag or not, you will pick it up. I am currently 2 for 2, and one of those definitely didn’t want to collect. They resented me, deeply. And it made me happy.

Maybe if this blog ever exceeds its current audience of 63 and enough locals read this, we can form a posse of observers. Call ourselves the Paw Pootrol. Someone who likes admin could even create a spreadsheet of established offenders. Imagine how intimidating it would be to be surrounded by strangers staring at you while your mutt squeezes one out. You would go bare hand. There’s no way you wouldn’t. The pressure would get to you. And then there’s always the threat that we film it and post it to Instagram #youpoopyouscoop #PawPootrolexpose. Name and shame.

Maybe I’ve just started a revolution. My gift to NY. You’re welcome.

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The problem with peak adorable

You will have noticed by now that I don’t put up photos of our children’s faces. It was a decision we made before Hurricane was born – we would let our kids make their own decisions on how identifiable they want to be online. Funnily enough since BB has been studying cyber security and data privacy at Columbia she has probably overtaken me when it comes to cynicism about the internet.

Many of you will know I don’t have Facebook. I can’t fathom the admin of having to maintain a much better version of my life for public consumption. Too much effort. I did try Twitter for a week about 5 years ago and concluded there were only three types of users: corporates, journalists and self-righteous mugs. I have to deal with all of those groups in my day job as it is. A kidney stone would be preferable to taking them home with me.

Anyway, that whole preamble is just to explain that since most of you don’t know exactly what Hurricane and Chaos look like, you have to take my word that they are very cute kids. I reckon peak adorable hits between 18 months and 3 years for most little people, so don’t panic if you’ve popped out a mole rat. Best they be ugly early when everyone will say they’re beautiful regardless. Even I know to say nothing in the face of the obvious when it comes to newborns.

There is something about that 18 month period where everything aligns – cute little voices and mannerisms to go with a sweet elfish appearance. Hurricane is now beyond this point. His transition to little man is well advanced. His sister however, is at the peak of her powers.

There are two reasons why I try to avoid taking the pair of them to the supermarket. The first is that Hurricane will start doing laps of the aisles, normally in bare feet. For some reason that freaks people out here. The laps are just annoying, though when shoppers realise it’s Dad in charge they resign themselves to the fact that I don’t care enough to stop him. It’s the bare feet New Yorkers can’t handle. Maybe it’s a hangover from the 80s when heroin needles were as prolific as pennies.

The second, and primary, reason for avoiding the supermarket is that I can’t get down an aisle without a middle aged woman wanting to stop me to talk about how adorable Chaos is. With Hurricane they see his bare feet and write him off as a Gypsy child, but I could dress Chaos in a potato sack and she would still reel them in.

Thank you yes she is a gorgeous little lady. She’s nearly two. Oh wow you have grandkids do you. That’s lovely. Michael and Maria. Those are nice names. They’re at school, oh which one? Where is that? That’s nice. Smart kids then. No close though, New Zealand. Where did they travel to? Oh no Tasmania is in Australia. It looks a bit like New Zealand though. You should definitely travel there. Go to the South Island. Yes well the grandkids will still be here. Tell them to get a nanny. Hahaha.

And on it goes.

Same conversation, over and over. You see I’ve come to realise that Chaos’ adorability provides women with an opening to come and talk to me about themselves. And yes I mean women exclusively. Men don’t approach strangers to talk about their kids.

And herein lies the problem. Every parent of small children knows that taking them with you to the supermarket requires courage and quick feet. They are little sticks of dynamite with lit wicks. You would think anyone with parental experience would know this and assist your need for the mission to run smoothly. But there is this thing called post-parental amnesia. Having survived raising children, people forget what it is like.

By stopping me in conversation these well-meaning women have just cut my wick in half. So while on the surface I’ve engaged auto-pilot to politely navigate some benign chit-chat, what I’m thinking is:

Hurricane, be cool man. Stay in sight. No don’t touch that. Crap he’s off. Don’t fight the straps Chaos. Just chill. You can hold on. Oh no she’s losing it. I’m going to have to let her out. But if I let her out it’s over. I can’t let her out. Dammit she ate the raisins already. I should have packed an apple. Would they think I stole the apple? Maybe. Probably. It was smart of Countdown to give away free fruit to kids, but man I hate Countdown. Horrible place to shop. Though people leave you alone in there. Probably because they all hate it and just want to get out. I still need to get toilet paper. He’s in the ice cream section. This just went pear. Ok I’m going to start walking now. That’s your signal this conversation is over. You can stop talking now. I’m going to walk faster.

Yes I’m partially responsible for the fact Chaos is adorable. If you like, you can say so as you walk past and I will smile and genuinely say thank you. If you want to talk sport, or politics, or beer, or food, or anything other than your kids or grandkids or how New Zealand is a state of Australia, I would probably ignore Hurricane terrorising the apple stacks for a few more minutes purely out of shock that such topics are being aired.

But we both know that’s not what you want to talk about, and that you will be oblivious to your role in the war that’s about to kick off. So forgive me for ignoring you, but it’s better I get in and out of dodge before someone calls child welfare to deal with the barefooted Gypsy boy.

 

 

Signs of intelligence

Apparently once a child starts to lie to you it is a sign of intelligence. They now comprehend that there are consequences to their actions, and if they want to avoid those consequences then it’s best not to admit to what they have just done.

Hurricane has now reached this junction. And he’s very bad at it.

It is one thing to be smart enough to lie, but it’s another thing to be smart enough to know when you can get away with it. In that regard, Hurricane is at least smart enough to be President of the United States. Not a high bar unfortunately.

The first time he lied to me I was making dinner. He was sitting with Chaos in the living room in my direct line of sight. She had her bunny, he tried to take it off her. When she refused to let go he leaned back and kicked her in the head. The force left her face down on the ground as the tears started.

Up to this point, whenever I asked Hurricane why Chaos was crying he would explain very honestly what he had done and why. But this time his response was: “She fell on her face”.

Partially true of course. She did fall over after been clocked in the head with his heel. So I followed up with a leading question. Did she trip?

Yes she tripped.

Did she trip before or after you kicked her in the head?

Ummmmm

I saw you kick her in the head Hurricane.

Silence.

I could see the wheels spinning in his head. He knew he was in trouble, so he stood up and walked himself to time out to mitigate the fall out. Well played little man.

I thought that catching him dead cold first up might have made him rethink the wisdom of trying to lie to me. I was wrong. He’s adopted a strategy akin to a computer virus and has started testing my defences searching for weaknesses.

He now only lies to me when he knows I couldn’t have seen what happened, or he guesses I was otherwise distracted enough to not notice. There are several problems with his strategy of course.

  1. I’m smarter than he is
  2. Chaos still tells me the truth
  3. He doesn’t know how to sell a lie (his tone and body language give him up)

None of this stops him from trying. His best efforts to date have been when he has convinced Chaos to do something with him – for example dump our takeaway containers in the toilet. He will promptly blame her, and she will happily admit to it. But of course she will also just as happily sell him out when I ask her if he was the ringleader.

This raises a counter question. While lying at an early age might be a sign of intelligence, is continually getting caught in a lie a sign of persistence, or stupidity?