Becoming American

I have lived in the United States for some 12 years. I married a US Citizen, my children are US Citizens, so I figured it was about time I joined their club.

Friends kept warning me that “you never know what can happen” and the most compelling message from well-meaning advisors: “you should always have the same citizenship/s as your children.” Was I worried my husband might flee with the kids and deny me access, like those awful stories on the 10pm news? No, I am pretty comfortable in the thought that my children will stay glued to me for as long as they can, G*d bless them and their attachment issues.

But it did make sense not to worry about renewing my Green Card every so many years: and it did feel odd having to stand in a separate immigration line to my kids and husband when I travel with an Australian passport and they all have US passports. It’s the little things that made me to push ahead, plus, it seemed like only a little effort  and about $675 to make the application.

Now the fun begins. I have a couple of days to cram the history of the United States, from colonization to present day, with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the structure of government, wars spanning the 1800s and 1900s, a smattering of geography, a bunch of presidents and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in between.

I happen to know from watching late-night talk shows – Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” segments come to mind – that the average American, born and schooled in this fine country, could NOT, even on a very good day and with clues, answer most of the test questions laid out in the printed 29-page Learn About the United States: Quick Civics Lessons for the New Naturalization Test publication that citizenship candidates are handed after their fingerprinting and biometrics ‘meeting” with immigration officials.

My husband is a bit of a history buff and could answer most of the questions correctly, but I suspect he’s not the norm. Here is a sampling of the questions: how do you rate?

Who is Chief Justice of the United States now?

The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the US Constitution. Name one of the writers?

When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

When was the Constitution written?

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?

What territory did the US buy from France in 1803?

How many amendments does the Constitution have?

The House of Representatives has how many voting members? They are elected for how many years?

These are just a few of the questions that most people probably have to think about, just a little, lest the number get muddled of the memory is hazy. And I’m willing to bet many, many people wouldn’t even have a clue, but perhaps I am underselling the population. Either way, it’s a task for those thousands of people who, every year, choose to pledge loyalty to the United States, many who speak or read little English and probably weren’t taught about the Civil War in school, and haven’t heard Star Spangled Banner at a hundred baseball games.

I’ll admit, I plan to study the book before I go.

Failing the civics section of the test (it’s not multiple choice unfortunately) is not an option. There are 100 questions; I will be asked 10 and have to answer six right to “pass”. There is also an English writing and verbal test, which I hope not to worry about, given that English is my first language and writing is my living.

But hey, I am not getting cocky about any of this. One dear friend has already made it clear that I will be mocked mercilessly for years to come if I don’t walk out of my interview a citizen. I consider myself warned!

Make Plans+ G*D Laughs:Lice Before London

It’s hard to be chic when you are up to your elbows in laundry, let alone when your youngest starts scratching wildly at her head after weeks in day camp at the height of summer.

Well, that’s how my long-awaited trip to London began, or the preparation time at least when I should have been laying out the clothes I would pack, and styling them with shoes and accessories, a raincoat, umbrella … all those precautionary things you need for London.

Instead, I was confronted for the first time ever with the biting reality of head lice.

My 5 year-old complained her head itched, which given the heat and her very long hair, wasn’t anything unusual. I had never seen lice, but a closer look at her head suggested something was wrong – something seemed to move, or was I imagining it? There was no time to muck around, so off to the appropriately nicknamed “lice lady” we went. In Boro Park, Brooklyn, in a self-contained primarily Orthodox Jewish community, the lice lady and her family lives. There are daughters and daughters-in-law aplenty who help out too, picking heads searching for lice and then combing them out with tedious but effective (and pricey!) precision.

My daughter, it turned out, was infested with live bugs – probably acquired at her very nice day camp. My son and I, thankfully, were all clear. But what happened next was like a military operation and not what I needed one day before delivering the children to their grandparents’ house and setting off for our first grown-up trip overseas sans kids.

Daily Torture

Bedding, cushions, clothing, dolls – anything my daughter had contact with had to be washed. And what couldn’t be washed and dried at high heat had to be bagged and sealed for several weeks, so anything lurking would die. My daughter’s hair still had to be monitored, so grandma was armed with a big bottle of Pantene – the conditioner of choice because it’s thick enough to coat the hairs, and the delousing crew informed me you can get huge bottles at Costco – and a sturdy German-made “lice comb” to torture dear daughter with daily.

The initial head check and subsequent comb through for a 5 year old with very long hair, in case you wonder, was about $175 and the comb, another $25. Somehow it worked out to another $70 each for my son and I to be combed through with conditioner. It’s a cash-preferred business, but if you don’t happen to have $300-plus on you, they will accept a check. This, I have decided, is a business to be seriously considered, though probably not by clean-freak, type-A personalities (like me).

As part of the overall service, my daughter went back for a head check the following day and was declared all clear; my son and I have yet to return for a final checking but that also was included in the price. I was told that London is crawling with lice, so I really should return for a  post-trip check. Ahh, the glamor of international travel these days: if it’s not lice, then beware the bed bugs.

Needless to say, a week away was much needed. And needless to say, in the midst of a delousing operation, I packed completely inappropriately. The scorching heat in New York addled my brain and had me stocked with flimsy sundresses and open-toe wedges for London, instead of layers, and rain-wear and at least one pair of closed shoes. I froze, I was rained on and my feet were splattered with mud on long walks through Hyde Park. But none of that mattered.

And we’re back now to cooler weather and lice-free kids.

Lobster + Pool = Summer Salvation

The sweltering heat is killing me just like everyone else. I’ve spent a disproportionate number of hours with the AC running, much to my annoyance. But there are two things in particular that have given me solace this summer: the weekly lobster feasts at Rocky Sullivan’s pub in Red Hook and the Double-D pool.

Lobster no doubt speaks for itself. What’s not to love about a fresh Maine lobster cooked by the Red Hook Lobster Pound crew and dished up with corn, a teeny container of coleslaw or potato salad, a bib and a mound of napkins for cleanup – followed by a whoopie pie for dessert – all for $25. With a Sixpoint Ale at hand and a table of friends outside on Rocky’s sprawling rooftop you really can’t go wrong. This weekly dinner – lobsters are Friday and Saturday nights only – are a great way to get together with people and include the kids. Who doesn’t like lobster- especially when you can crack and suck and gnaw out in the open without worrying too much about the clean up?

The other almost daily destination that has saved many a scorching day is the local pool. Not some fancy country club or beach house out East, but a New York City public pool, one that came distressingly close to being closed because of budget cuts before the swim season even started this year. Thankfully Mayor Bloomberg and co had the sense to keep open the Double D, so named because of its location between Douglass and Degraw Streets, and Nevins Street and Third Avenue. Its dubious position, nestled amongst derelict industrial buildings and just across the Gowanus Canal, has helped keep it a bit of a secret watering hole for as long as I’ve lived in Carroll Gardens.

The first time I took my children there a summer ago, we embarked on an adventure, strolling down the street in just our swimsuits and towels, past the old men huddled outside C-Town and across not-so-salubrious streets into something of a wasteland butting the Gowanus, the now Superfund site-and aspiring Venice of Brooklyn. The pool is not in the prettiest spot, and it’s not easy to find unless you’re willing to venture outside your usual zone. The rigid rules that go with a City pool can also deter a lot of people – from only allowing white tees and hats to banning cell phones in the pool area. But traveling light (swimsuit, towel, that’s it) and going early all make it worthwhile. It really is a neighborhood oasis.

We’ve been to the pool at least every second day since school ended, sometimes for a full four-hour session and other days for just a quick dip before dinner. It’s worth knowing that children can have a free, school-style lunch, too, if you are there through lunch hours. It’s usually a sandwich, fruit and a carton of chocolate milk – not especially appetizing, but enough to tide waterlogged children over until they get home.

The Double-D pool is open daily until Labor Day. There are two swim sessions: 11am-3pm and 4pm -7pm. For pool rules and information ring 718 625 3268.

Rocky Sullivan’s is at 34 Van Dyke Street, at Dwight Street, 718 246 8050. If you can’t make it to Rockys but still want lobster, head to the Red Hook Lobster Pound at 284 Van Brunt Street, 646 326 7650.

Comings + Goings

A sign in the window at shuttered Cube 63 on 234 Court Street announces that another eatery, Brucie, is coming soon. No further details yet.

Strong Place gastropub has just opened (July 26) in the old Shakespeare’s Sister location at 270 Court Street. The team at Cobble Hill’s Bocca Lupo is behind the new spot, which boasts a seafood-meat rich menu and some 24 beers on tap. Word is a garden area is planned as well, possibly through September.

On Smith Street, there is a new Mediterranean-style restaurant in the works, adjacent the Big Apple deli that has just shutdown after a speedy “buy one, get one free” clearance sale.

This is especially annoying since it’s where my husband has long picked up icecream for me on his way home from work late at night, and it was really the only well-stocked deli on the stretch between the subway station on Warren Street  and Degraw Street that opened late.

Across the way at 208 Smith there is another casualty. Rocketship – the geeky comic/anime store is finally gone for good after a string of lengthy, unexplained closures signaled something was wrong in the land of graphic novels. It’s a shame – my 7 year-old-son loved stopping in there on weekends to choose some quirky book with great drawings and impossibly small print.