Friday, November 28, 2008


Mom takes a break in Chicago

I'm sure the last thing Michelle Obama needs is my sympathy. But, hey, she's got it anyway. The reason? Her vilification in some corners of the press for her recent "momification". Old school feminists are aghast that someone as intelligent and successful as Michelle Obama could deign to swap a highly lucrative job for the (unpaid) post of First Mom. They bemoan the loss of her "independent identity" and fret about the example it sets modern women the world over. Not for them a life where the biggest strategic decision is where to school your kids. (The prestigious Sidwell Friends, if you're wondering.) 

Yet, others believe that in ditching her $300,000-a-year job as vice-president at the University of Chicago Medical Centre to become a stay-at-home Mom, Michelle is just exercising her right to choose: choice being the ultimate victory of the women's movement after all. 

I'm battling with a similar choice myself just now. The Independent is (once again) seeking volunteers to take redundancy. Is this a gifthorse I shouldn't overlook or would unemployment be a waste of years of graft and a pretty decent education? I'm in an agony of indecision. Although I'd like to look to Michelle for inspiration, my problem is that while she will have law firms falling over themselves to make her partner in four or even eight years' time, I'll be lucky if newspapers still even exist by then. Maybe I should just stay put and shut up. Although who then, would look after Louis? The Independent's impending move from the Isle of Dogs (just down the road) to High Street Kensington isn't helping much either. I hardly think Associated Newspapers will have a creche. As someone pointed out, the Mail doesn't even like women wearing trousers let alone Mums coming to work. Answers on a postcard, please.

Black Friday

Thanksgiving may be billed as the biggest day of the year for Americans. But it turns out that the turkey eating fest is actually a sideshow to November's main event: Black Friday. That's the day the holiday shopping season kicks off. (Apart from in Chicago, where it begins the day after the Christmas parade along the Magnificent Mile, pictured above.) 

Unlike in the UK, retailers here don't pretend they intend to wait until after Christmas to slash their prices. Maybe it's because there is no Boxing Day in the US and hence no Boxing Day sales, or maybe it's because America just likes to do things differently. Either way, shoppers are sharpening their elbows for what are expected to be record bargains given the collapse in retail sales. Some stores are offering up to 75 per cent off. 

But even that might not be enough for some families. With finances so tight this year, something has to give when it comes to Christmas shopping. Recent sales figures suggest that something is the time honoured festive tradition of Moms doing a little cheeky shopping on the side for themselves while playing Santa. Women's clothing sales nosedived last month, forcing retailers from Barneys to Benetton into some savage discounting. A New York Times piece this week said Moms were holding back and digging clothes out from the back of their wardrobes just so they could afford their children's wishlists. 

Nobody tell Louis! As it happens, just before reading that story, I'd decided that my need for a new pair of jeans that actually fit should take precedence over his Christmas presents. After all, surely a kid has to be able to write before he can tell Father Christmas what he'd like? I could have taken back the jeans (and the cardigan) I bought but frankly Louis's needs have already topped mine for the last 18 months and I figured it was time to fight back. A little. While I still can. As for DC's Black Friday, we'll be testing out the Georgetown sales tomorrow with Charlie, who jets in tonight for a couple of days. You never know, if Louis's very lucky maybe she'll buy him a Christmas present.  

Saturday, November 22, 2008

(Anti) Stroller Stress

               A cheery Louis in his (forward-facing) buggy

Hear that? No, not the sirens of a(nother) passing cavalcade, but the sound of smug parents patting themselves on the back for splashing out on the baby buggy equivalent of a Maserati. If slightly more eco-friendly. 

How so? All those dollars (or pounds) spent on one of the ubiquitous Bugaboos or Martian-like Stokkes you see around  have just been vindicated by a new study suggesting that babies left to eyeball the pavement in strollers that face away from their Moms risk being stunted developmentally. The theory goes that babies who face their Moms benefit from her constant waffling as she marches them along the pavement in her own version of pramaerobics. All her chit chat means they are more likely to talk, laugh and interact as a result. And they're less stressed than their forward-facing peers too. Apparently. 

What I want to know, though, is what happens when just being in the buggy - Mom facing or not - stresses out your baby? My own extremely unscientific study of two (that's Louis and his friend Soph) suggests that babies are much happier in their (much cheaper) baby slings than their state-of-the-art strollers. They certainly get plenty of chit chat when carried around at chin level. The only danger there is they get too much: one baby book I read warned that babies could start to tune you out if you talked TOO much to them! On that basis, Louis probably stopped listening to me at least three months ago....

Friday, November 21, 2008

Road to the White House

                     Louis outside the Smithsonian "Castle"

Amid the excitement of Barack Obama's election as the next president, I managed to miss one poignant coincidence: America voted for its first black leader on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of its greatest black leader to date, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. That quirk of timing was underlined at a moving exhibition we chanced upon this week about the civil rights movement that ultimately set Obama on his path to the White House. 

In the depths of one of the lesser known Smithsonian institutions, the International Museum, is a photo exhibition called Road to Freedom, graphically charting a struggle for equality that started with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1968, the last of the three great legislative milestones of the 1960s civil rights movement. It's hard, today, to imagine a world where Louis's grandparents couldn't have gone to school with our great friend Nikki's, Mum; or where I couldn't have sat on a bus with my news editor, Peter, let alone sat next to him at work. But that was the reality of life just one generation ago. 

The photos told the story of the largely peaceful battle for basic human rights in graphic and tear-jerking detail. Among the most memorable was one showing a motel owner in Florida, a state that just voted for Obama, pouring chemicals into a swimming pool to try and get rid of the blacks protesting their right to be there. Another depicted the hatred etched on the faces of a white female mob taunting Elizabeth Eckford, who made history by becoming the the first black student to integrate a major southern high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then there were the many shots of a young Jesse Jackson, who would survive to become a veteran of the civil rights movement; little wonder he shed so many tears during Obama's acceptance speech in Grant Park on 4 November. 

The exhibition was the perfect preamble to another Louis and I visited yesterday at the City Museum about the 1968 race riots in DC. Again, how amazing to think that just one generation ago a city - America's capital - was ripped apart by black versus white antipathy sparked by Dr King's assassination and yet in two months exactly a black man will be sworn in as president. I'm not sure Louis quite appreciates the tumultuous events going on around him, but it's nice to think that one day he will.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sling Envy

Louis in the Ergo

Tommy, Lila and Louis in various Ergos; Alex and Esther in the Mobys
                                      Sophie in the Bjorn

Back home, if you fancy carrying your baby around town instead of pushing it in a buggy, your hands-free options are pretty limited. There's basically the Baby Bjorn or the Baby Bjorn. A few daring souls might try the Kari-Me, metres and metres of stretchy material that supposedly wraps around the body to create a kangaroo-esque pouch for your prized cargo, but are unlikely to make it further than the corner shop before dashing home, scared of their baby plopping out on the pavement. 

But in America, land of opportunity, the baby "wearing" options are a different story. I had only to go to my first nursing group at the local breastfeeding centre to have the entire gamut of baby slings paraded before my jetlagged eyes. There was the Moby, the Maya Wrap, the Mei Tai, the Peanut Shell, the Hotsling, the Ergo and, yes, the Bjorn. Then there was the circular discussion over the merits of one baby carrier over another. One particular group of Moms would have the same conversation each time they met about the evils of the Bjorn versus the Moby. Or was it the Ergo versus the Maya Wrap? I forget.

Baby carrying over here even has its own Mom 'n' Pop philosophy: "attachment parenting", which says that babies who are "worn" non-stop feel more secure and loved than other babies and are happier and cry less as a result. And which sleep-deprived new Mum wouldn't buy into that? 

Me for one. Yup, when it comes to obsessing about carrying babies, I am, I readily confess, as guilty as the next Mom. I might have been hopelessly disorganised before Louis's birth, but the one thing I knew I wanted was the Ergo, in part because a friend had recommended it and in part because I was desperate to avoid the ubiquity of the Bjorn. Pre-birth, I read and re-read my Babygami book (a present from G'ma P), which was full of different ways to concoct your own baby sling from the nearest tablecloth or pashmina. John's sister sent me a Peanut Shell from California and I even walked to Borough Market (and back) nine days after my C-section, to borrow a Kari-Me from a friend just so I'd have all my sling bases covered. And yes, I also had, and used - and even liked - the Bjorn. 

So when an online storm broke out here this week about a painkiller maker mocking Moms for wearing their babies as fashion accessories and doing untold damage to their backs in the process, I felt the Momosphere pain. The ads, for Motrin, claimed women "put up with the pain [of baby wearing] because it totally makes me look like an official Mom". The ads, which aired during International Babywearing Week, have now been pulled. Meanwhile, I've "worn" Louis round DC for the past three days straight. Does my back hurt? You bet, but five months into Momhood and I've, like, totally learned that there's literally no gain without pain. And in this case avoiding Louis's mid-afternoon stroller squawks by toting him around town has to be worth it.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rainbow Rally

It's no secret that babies know a thing or two about protesting. They protest when they're hungry, tired, wet, hot, cold.... So today I decided it was time to teach Louis that protests aren't just a one way street. To cap a fortnight of major firsts for him (the election, the yoga retreat), I took him on his first protest march. I also scored him his first ride in a cop car. Could a five-month-old boy's day get any better? 

The focus of DC's dissent was last week's shock vote banning gay marriage in California. Yes, California, that liberal blue bastion where voters voted for Obama and a ban on battery farming at the same time that they backed Proposition 8, outlawing previously legal same-sex marriages in the state. Sara, a fellow Mother Yogi and one of Louis' friend Alex's two Mommies, invited us to tag along on the rally. That's Alex's stroller you can see above with the 'My Moms are Gr8' placard. 

In true DC style, the march kicked off from the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol, destination the White House. Anti Prop 8 protesters made for a colourful bunch. The artwork on some of the signs was pretty nifty too. My favourite: "California 4 November: Chickens 1, Gays 0." From his vantage point of my shoulder, Louis took center stage, as ever. His beaming face was captured on camera phone after camera phone. I swear he thought the chanting hoards had gathered purely for his benefit.

But back to the cop car. So there we were, the wrong side of the Mall - thanks to the G20's attempt to save the financial world the protesters had to take the long route round - when the heavens opened. The rain was torrential. My pathetic umbrella barely covered us and that was before the wind whipped the rain sideways. Hardly baby friendly. Luckily the police trailing the march were, beckoning us into their patrol car to escape the weather. Louis couldn't believe his luck and I could hardly get him out when the rain eventually eased. 

If that was the highlight of our day, then the marchers' came when the clouds briefly parted to reveal not a silver lining but a gay pride rainbow. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Yoga-ga Retreat

Just five months into life, and Louis has already ticked off one of his Mom's enduring new year's resolutions. No, not giving up chocolate. I figure you can't give up something you haven't taken up yet. Our budding yogini has been on a yoga retreat. Organised by his guru, Carol, the retreat was specifically for babies under six months old. But because Louis knew how much I'd always wanted to go on the ultimate escape, he kindly let me come along too. 

Carol, pictured above in the last photo, couldn't have picked a better day for the retreat. Louis was feeling particularly frazzled after a tricky night when he'd had vocally to tell his Mom on several occasions that yes he really did need to eat again and no his chubby little belly wasn't still full from his last feed. It turned out that his fellow yogini, Alex, had had a similarly tough night with his Mom, Lisa, so Louis was in good company. 

The retreat was out in Great Falls, a national park near here. It got off to a slightly worrying start when the lady who owned the studio put on a special kids yoga DVD featuring several very indoctrinated looking children dressed in white chanting 'I am happy' over and over again (Gma Penny would not have been impressed), but quickly picked up once the baby cobra session got under way. Louis regained his inner tranquility very quickly and was soon gurgling 'oms' with his four fellow yoginis (Alex, Lila, Tommy and Esther). As the oldest baby there, Louis began the class by showing off his upward dog to the rest of the gang. Later, he even let his Mom do a little yoga - you can see him helping her out with her Warrior I, above. 

All this yoga seems to be doing scary things to the development of LJ's motor skills. Much to his Mom's horror, he has already mastered the knack of 'creeping' - a precursor to crawling she fears, which involves him spinning round and backing up on any surface he gets placed. Life as she knows it could soon be over.

Veterans Day

At home, we have Remembrance Sunday; here, there is Veterans Day. The same thing, you might think, but after observing 11 November in DC I'd beg to differ. With many more recent veterans in the US than in the UK, the day has an immediacy that it can lack in Britain. Nowhere brought that home more forcibly than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is unique among the many war memorials on the Mall for its simplicity and power. Perhaps understandably, it lacks the hubris of the World War II memorial, pictured above with its fountains galore; instead, the 58,000-plus names etched into the site's black granite walls, visible behind an appropriately solemn Louis, simply tell the story of war's futility.   

It must have been the Mom thing, because walking through the wreath-strewn memorial yesterday afternoon with Louis I couldn't help but hope fervently that somehow the President-elect can see a way to make good with his election promise and end the blood shed in Iraq. It's hard to believe that Bush, during the eight years he has spent in Washington, could ever have even visited the memorial if he thought that sanctioning the war was a good idea. The Mom thing meant I found myself worrying in case Louis ever had to - or wanted to - fight for his country. 

We missed the service proper to mark the day, but did catch an enduringly poignant Last Post being played at the Vietnam Women's Memorial (it gets an apostrophe, the Vets, apparently, don't). There is nowhere like Washington's Mall on 11 November. The memorials read like a roll call to battles past and draw a crowd commensurate as a result. While in Britain, it can be hard to spot a war veteran, here there is no such difficulty because men - and women - shout it out loud and proud, most obviously from their Vietnam Vets-branded baseball caps. And if you'd forgotten to bring one with you, then no worries: the souvenir carts lining the sidewalks along the Mall had plenty spare, plus Veterans Day caps, T-shirts, pins, flags and medals. After all, a federal holiday is not a holiday without a shopping opportunity. We left empty handed but with a better sense of America's recent history. Where will they put the Iraq Vets Memorial, I wonder? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

For rent

For rent: "cosy" two-bed condo, plenty of cream walls and minimal windows. Sleeps four (small) adults and two babies. Could squeeze additional small child into walk-in closet. Rate: sky-high for inauguration weekend. 

Canny DC residents are posting ads like this all over the web as the city's 95,000 hotel rooms fill up ahead of 20 January so Louis thought he should also get in on the action. (That's the front door to our apartment pictured behind Louis and his Mom above.) Listen hard, and in between the incessant sirens you can hear phones ringing non-stop as friends of friends of friends seek out anyone they know in Washington in the quest for a place to crash on 20 January. It's already floor space only in many apartments; expect a rush on airbeds in Target. 

Pundits expect Obamamania to draw a crowd of 1.5 million plus, topping the previous record set for a presidential parade at Lyndon B Johnson's swearing in back in 1965. That is, if people can actually make it to DC. Seats on flights into town are already selling out. Louis has already resigned himself to missing the inauguration proper: the 250,000 tickets will be available only to Americans via their Congressmen - not, as some reports suggest, via eBay for $40,000. In fact, it will be a federal offence to sell a ticket. But he is hoping at least to catch a glimpse of Mr President-elect as he makes his way down Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House. Failing that, maybe he could score a ticket to one of the capital's evening balls: tradition has it that Barack and Michelle will show their faces at many of them for a quick dance. Louis is practising his moves in anticipation (video link to follow). 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yes we could - by Daddy J

Five days on it's still sinking in. I didn't dare believe my luck when they reassigned me from McCain HQ in Arizona to Chicago for election night. I thought I had probably jinxed the entire Obama campaign. But I didn't - I was there for the ultimate "I was there" moment. Didn't get the t-shirt - I'm supposed to be part of the dispassionate BBC after all - but I guess a badge and a handful of indelible memories will do.

In fact, merchandise is a key element of the Obama phenomenon. I was dispatched to interview the Obama army as they queued to get into Grant Park in the unseasonably balmy dusk and the atmosphere was much more rock concert than political rally - hot dog stands, self-conscious trendies and memorabilia stalls that would put the Stones to shame. The festival vibe continued in the makeshift arena inside the park complete with VIP zone (Spike, Brad and Oprah were all there), big screens, and fainting teenage girls being pulled from the crowd.

It was all a bit difficult to get used to. I'm used to doing "cool" stuff during my down time of course (fatherhood notwithstanding), but my working life is supposed to be, well, serious. It's not that I've never enjoyed what I do, its just that I've always thought of it as a bit niche and nerdy - and here I was with the hottest ticket in town. Turns out Obama's made politics cool. 

Even more paradoxically, despite delivering the biggest landslide for the Democrats since 1964, it also strikes me that Obama has done a huge disservice to left wing politics. I'd lost count of the number of people I've spoken to in Europe and over here who thought an Obama presidency impossible because "they" would never let it happen. Some fingered the corporations who rigged the 2000 election for Bush and were now producing voting machines that somehow turned votes for the Democrat into votes for McCain - a favorite complaint among Obama footsoldiers. Others - more popular abroad this one - thought that the spooks who run the American war machine would see to it that Mr Obama would meet some kind of accident. 

But Obama's win blows the conspiracy theories out of the park. It turns out that, in America at least, individual talent and determination can defeat established interests. So while conservatives may have lost control of the US government, they can console themselves that their view of how the world works could have had no more effective endorsement. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Jobs for the boys

Keen as Louis is on his burgeoning career as a newspup, he is excited by news today that he can apply for a job in President-elect Obama's new administration. Yes, really. Taking his "anything is possible" creed to the max, Obama is giving ordinary Joes (and Josephs and Louis's) the chance to join his team. Application forms are available at, Obama's new website, but competition for posts is expected to be intense given Americans' new sense of self-belief following the African-American's election victory. 

Given Obama's obsession with young voters, Louis reckons that at five months and two days he is aptly qualified to advise the new president on the issues that really matter. Never mind better public schools, top of Louis's policy list would be opening new toy shops and running more baby-focused classes. His Mom has failed to find him any swimming lessons and the only music class she has managed to get him into is decidedly lame. So far he's had one teacher who was tone deaf and one suffering from laryngitis.

Three days in and Louis is already impressed with the President-elect's priorities. In his first press conference today, Obama revealed that getting his children a puppy to take with them to the White House was up there with solving the economic crisis and responding to the Iranian leader in terms of importance. Asked what breed the new dog would be, Obama said probably a "mutt" like him. Maybe the new dog could apply for a post within the administration: he could be in charge of sniffing out all the political rats standing in Obama's way.  

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hold the front page

Despite my new found addiction to blogging, as a (former?) print journalist I feel I must record an event second only in terms of historic significance to the election of a black president. I speak, of course, of the unprecedented sight of people queueing round the block - round the block!! - to get their hands on a newspaper. Yes, that's right: that 20th century phenomenon widely reputed to be on its last legs was such hot property in cities across America today that entire print runs sold out. (One can only hope the same was true in the UK for the Independent or I seriously might have to become a full-time blogger, sorry, I meant Mum.) 

The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, were among those titles to rush special commemorative issues to the presses this afternoon in an attempt to satiate the demand that saw people queuing into the night outside drugstores across DC, such as the one on Dupont Circle snapped above by our young blogger, in the hope of getting their hands on a copy. This was despite newspapers upping their print runs by as much as a third. By lunchtime, even the Post's newsrooms had been stripped bare of the mountains of copies that normally lie around creating a fire hazard, one local source told us. 

For all those left disappointed by the restrictions placed on purchases - our local CVS was only allowing those queueing to buy one copy each - Louis has graciously offered to print off copies of his live election day blogging for free. He just asks that you send him a stamped address envelope. He'll even throw in some previously unreported footage, in the manner of those special edition DVDs that get rushed out for Christmas. 

The new dawn

After missing the euphoria of last night's spontaneous gathering at the White House, Louis and I set off before the crack of dawn in search of a little post-election magic of our own. Our destination: the Lincoln Memorial, site of Martin Luther King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech and unofficial totem of the US civil rights movement. The thinking was that DC's all-night revellers would wind up here, lured by the monument's symbolism after the country's choice of its new president elect, allowing us to catch a little of the Obama vibe. 

But perhaps our logic was too subtle for the city's party-weary Obamaites because we had the place largely to ourselves. As we stood, waiting for the new day to break through the remnants of the previous night's rain clouds, it was impossible not to dwell on the metaphor of that Wednesday's new dawn; not to mull over the way that Obama's election had changed the course of American history forever. Here, I must nail my colours as a history graduate firmly to the mast, and one who specialised in US history at that, including the Civil War. The enormity of Obama's election in states such as Virginia, which was once the soul of the Confederacy, cannot be overstated.

How many other Brits today must, like me, have wished just a little bit that they were American so that they could claim Obama's victory as their own? And this admission from someone who has enjoyed watching the country's gradual fall from grace as the world's pre-eminent power these past few months. Yet which non-Americans, during Obama's moving acceptance speech as president-elect, didn't wish that this also was their moment, their time to "open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can." 

It must be something to do with becoming a Mum because ever since Louis was born, the news has seemed unrelentingly grim, making me wonder what sort of a world I have brought him into. Obama's election, for once, gives me hope that it could just be a good one. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Blogged out!

Can you believe I was just hovering over his crib willing him to wake up? There are fireworks lighting up the sky over Georgetown, car horns beeping wildly and cheers echoing through the night air. Even the rain has stopped and now I'm dying to hit the streets. What a shame little Louis is blogged out! Doesn't he realise that he's sleeping through history? 

P.S. He actually woke up and watched Obama's Grant Park speech. But we've probably all had quite enough excitement for one day. Tomorrow is another one after all. 

The Glorious 44th!

Bringing you a babieswhobrunch projection: he's done it. Easily. CNN has Obama at 207 to McCain's 95 but here on the bwb hill we're going to go all out and say, all hail the first African-American president elect of the United States. Now that's progress. Just think, when Obama was born, Washington, DC was still a segregated city. But come 20 January, a black(ish) man and his family will be moving into the White House. Champagne on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at dawn tomorrow it is! 

Election Fever

If elections are like a bug then today was the day that DC needed hospitalising. The city went election crazy, with almost everyone we passed proudly touting their "I voted" lapel stickers. Cafes, shops and bars were all falling over themselves to cash in on the political vibe. Voters who got up early to brave the polling queues were able to boost their blood sugar levels with free doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and coffee on tap at Starbucks. 

Louis and I had our taster of election fever at Busboys and Poets, DC's own mini Grant Park for Obama fans. The cafe-cum-bookstore is hot on progressive political tomes, mainly featuring Barack. By tea time, its red, blue and white festooned walls were already bursting and we barely squeezed in. My Obama baby (as oppose to a "Drill, baby, drill", as one man put it) was a big hit. He certainly enjoyed himself, giggling and smiling away, much to the delight of the gathered Barack acolytes. For a five month old, he wasn't bad company, either and seemed more than up for partying all night. But after a couple of hours of utter over stimulation my Mummy conscience got the better of me and I dragged him away. (I must have already broken every rule in the baby books by even taking him in the first place.)

So now we're back at the flat watching the elections results roll in, and with the networks all calling Pennsylvania for Obama, Louis and I are finally starting to believe in the dream. (He was up just now to check on the result - it's all a bit too exciting for him to stay asleep.) CNN is showing a very flat looking Republican party at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona: lucky, lucky DJ for landing the Chicago gig instead of that one. 

Breaking news: Obama has won Ohio, the swing state featured in an earlier post. No Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio. Could it already be game, set and match Barack at barely half-past nine? I sure am regretting not splashing out on that airfare to Chicago....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Glorious 4th?

Louis and I have temporarily given up trying to find us an election party to crash and intend to focus instead on some live blogging. So far we can bring you the breaking news that: polling has started in 26 states and New Yorkers are queueing up with.... their dogs. Never let it be said that babieswhobrunch doesn't bring you the big stories! And Obama has just cast his ballot in an unseasonably warm Chicago. It took him about 15 minutes of scratching his head in the poll booth, so let's hope he ticked the right box. 

Meanwhile, DJ may be grateful for the unusual November warmth in Chicago, where he's spending most of the next 24 hours outside, but here on the east coast the weather gods have been less kind. It's pouring in Virginia, a key swing state, which never bodes well for getting people out to vote. I was planning a trip to Alexandria, a DC suburb, which is in Virginia, so that Louis could entertain the voters queueing at the polling stations but am having second thoughts....

Update from our Boston correspondent, aka Gma Penny who flew up there this morning: Bostonians are queueing round the block at the Boston Public Library, which her cab driver said was a first. For what it's worth, he was v gloomy, peddling the line that the voting machines had all been tampered with so that a vote for Obama would simply register as one for McCain. Maybe that's why Obama took his time in Chicago! 

Although, Karl Rove (Bush's former spin meister) of all people is predicting 338-200 electoral vote victory for Obama, which would be the biggest margin since 1996. One thing is for sure, if McCain scoops it then a lot of pollsters will be looking for new jobs. 

Whose day?

You know when grown ups - and by grown ups, I mean parents - used to say that birthdays were nothing special? Insist they were 'just another day'? Well, today, my first birthday as a Mum, I fear I may have got an inkling of what they were on about. Not that today wasn't special; for starters my own Mum concocted a business trip and flew across the Atlantic to spend the day with me because she knew DJ would be somewhat distracted on matters presidential.

But despite the cards and the presents - not to mention my own Mum's presence - for the first time in my life someone else took precedence over me on 3 November. No prizes for guessing who. Yes, the little chappie pictured above in his own birthday cardigan (bought by his Grandma literally on his birth day). Not that he was any particular trouble. He was just Louis being Louis, with his usual mix of smiles, laughs, cuddles, goos and, okay, the occasional little grumble when he had buggy fatigue/hunger pangs/shopping overload. And that meant that his needs, of course, came first. (Except, that is, when his tea got delayed so we could nip into Trader Joe's for a bottle of Prosecco.) He even stopped me from watching the pre-election edition of the Daily Show that I'd stayed up especially late to catch because he decided he fancied a midnight snack. I'm guessing that birthdays will have a whole new significance from here on in with his, not mine, taking centre stage. 

Talking of men overshadowing my big day, I can't help but mention another. Yes, that would have to be Mr Obama, the reason I just watched CNN on my birthday instead of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which I'd been saving especially, and who has just wrapped up his last rally before America goes to the polls. It was only down the road, in Manassas, Virginia, and much as I'd have loved to be there I'm not sure Louis would have thanked me for taking him. He looked exhausted - that's Barack, not Louis - but as ever it was stirring stuff. I know I'm not American and I know I can't vote, but oh, how I do hope that he wins. For Louis's sake as much as anything; just think of the kudos in years to come if he can say he was here when America elected its first African-American president and put its first black first family in the White House, just down the road from where we're living. Go Obama! Go America! 

Dupont Halloween

Louis was worried that with so much attention focused on certain other big events going on this week - his Grandma Penny's visit, his Mommy's first birthday as a Mom, a certain election - he'd missed his Halloween blogging deadline. But he was so keen to share his thoughts and pics from 31 October that we've granted him an extension. 

He dressed up as a skellington for the local tots costume parade, even though he was worried he'd have no body to go with. Louis must have been the only American bubster wearing a Halloween costume sent from the UK (thanks G'ma). We gathered by the fountain on Dupont Circle along with a cross section of Disney characters, Jack O' Lanterns, farmyard animals and a couple of DC specials. I'm talking mainly about the little chap - he can't have been more than 9 months - who came dressed up as Barack Obama in a little navy suit with his lapel studded with Vote Obama stickers. I would have taken a picture but he'd been sick on his collar and was being a little fractious. 

Then it was on up to our American Mom friend Lisa's house to hang out while she was trick or treated and have dinner. Although the sales guy in the CVS we raided to re-up the candy stash awarded his top costume and general cutester prize to your own special little blogger, a handful of other outfits caught our eye. I'm thinking of the little chap who turned up as a foreclosed (that's American for repossessed) house, the boy who dressed up as a tax attorney (bet he's popular in the playground) and the primly dressed little girl who I thought for a minute was Sarah Palin but who turned out to be Nancy Drew; she collected her candy in her vintage purse. (But we did clock at least one Sarah Palin lookalike while walking home.)

Poor old Louis is going to find Halloween 09 a bit of a let down: in Bermondsey there are no treats, only tricks and Mummy will be lying low....