We’ve been in London for over 4 months now. And our London “adventure” is starting to feel more and more like ordinary life, though it really is nothing close to ordinary. Life is full here, but in such a different way than it was full back in Boston. We don’t have a lot of friends, we don’t have a lot of commitments, but there are opportunities to soak stuff in all around us and that is keeping us really quite busy.
Because my memory is so bad I have been anxious about capturing ever piece of what life is like here. But then living life is so busy that I rarely make the time to sit and write things down. But, I’m going to do it. I’m going to stop everything this afternoon. Sit on this sun chair and soak up the England sun that has been hiding for so long and write a little snapshot of what our life is like here (and hope my kids stay happy playing in the cricket pitch while Peter naps). Sure, I’ve taken a bunch of pictures, but pictures cant help me remember everything….how things smelt, what we loved, how we lived day to day. So, here' it goes. A little verbal splice of our life here.
I wake up to Peter around 6:00 am. He cries for me to come and nurse him (I probably should be done nursing by now, this is the longest I’ve nursed a child, but I love it….it is so easy, so calming, so good on my nerves, so constant…..not sure how the weaning is ever going to happen.) I go and fetch him and cuddle him into my bed and try to catch a few more minutes of sleep while he nurses. When he’s done he pops up and looks for Da Da, saying his name over and over again until he finds Jeff under his pillow and leans his head into Jeff’s shoulder repeatedly to give him his cuddles. Peter then wanders around our room opening and closing all the wardrobe doors, somehow managing not to slam his little fingers until Emmeline comes in and demands that we get up to get her breakfast. I’m a bit embarrassed really that she has to drag me out of bed, but I’m always so tired! One of these days I’m going to get up before her. I get her her yogurt and oatmeal and head off for a run through the forest.
I love my runs through Knighton Wood (part of Epping forest). It is slick and muddy and green. Even the trunks of the trees are green here. It’s quiet in the wood until I run through and my feet wake the squirrels and birds and ducks. When I’m not thinking about where to place my foot so that my shoes don’t slip or get stuck in the mud I’m thinking processing my experience here, thinking about my kids, praying to know what they need, trying to figure out what to teach them next or where to take them. The steady rhythm of the run is my sanity here. Somehow running sort of presses out all the anxiety that builds up day to day doing hard and new things.
After getting everyone breakfast and Jeff off to work I take Emmeline to school. If it’s one of her long days then we all pack up and drive her there and then head into London from the station by her school. I love those London Days. We eat sandwiches at Pret and learn new things.
Charlie is super anxious about riding the Tube. Well, kind of about everything. He just plain doesn’t trust me or Jeff to keep us all safe, or headed in the right direction or on and off the tubes at the right times. During the entire ride he is asking when our stop is, if we can get ready, nervous that I’m still holding Peter, or that Hazel is still reading her book. I have to bribe him with treats if he can be calm all day while we’re in London. I think it’s slowly getting better, but boy it makes us all on edge. I can’t exactly blame him, we had one scary experience on the tube early on where the buggy (stroller) got stuck in the doors. Everyone was fine, but Charlie didn’t know that and has been worried ever since.
At night we all get to bed much later than we did back in Boston. Jeff is on a later schedule and we like to eat with him, so the whole bedtime routine gets shifted back. We eat lots of Yorkshire pudding and shepherd’s pie and soup and pasta and roast chicken (click here for the worlds easiest recipe). I’m kind of in a cooking rut since I got here, I just don’t have the energy for it.
It rains here really almost every day and it hasn’t really gotten out of the 50’s since we got here (except for one really nice week). I keep hearing about how horrible the spring has been here and how amazing it has been in Boston. Darn it! But, I have to say, the rain makes this world breathtaking. The green is vivid and bright and lush against the gray skies. And, though it rains a whole heck of a lot, most days are spotted with moments of glorious sunshine. You know, the kind of sunshine that sparkles after rain. The clouds that move in and out are huge and puffy and beautiful. And something about the constant flux of weather makes the light here more magical than anywhere I’ve seen. It makes me want to take my camera out all the time to try to capture it, though I rarely do. One mom with 4 kids doesn’t really go well with a big bulky camera. So I do what I can to capture things on my iPhone.
We have milk delivered in glass pint bottles. Even though I don’t like the taste of that milk as much, there is just something so romantic about drinking milk out of a little glass bottle. And about leaving the bottles out for the milkman to collect and replenish the next day.
The raw ingredients here are amazing. I feel like I’ve been able to find almost anything I need here, and what I find is such high quality. The milk and eggs and cheese are delicious. The produce tastes real and un-altered. The carrots especially taste like they’ve just been dug up, full of flavor. The butter and cheese and meat and produce all go bad much quicker here, which makes me feel like they’re more fresh and less processed. Sometimes I even find a feather on my brown eggs (you can’t even find white eggs here).
I don’t run errands. Like never. At first it was because we didn’t have a car. And then it was because our car had broken down. And then it was because I was a little terrified about driving places or I didn’t know where to go. And then it was because I had four kids attached to me wherever I went. And now, it’s because I’ve learned how to make things work without errands! And it’s amazingly liberating. I used to think I liked running errands, and I have to admit, sometimes I do miss a good trip to Target, but overall, I’ve found life so much better without all that running about (running about London has pretty much done me in). I need to write a whole blog post about how I’ve weaned myself from errands here. I’m hoping I can keep it up when we get back. Basically, I’ve learned how to make do with what I have, I’ve learned how to stop myself from wanting things changed, and, I’ve discovered the true joy of grocery home delivery. Grocery shopping in your pj’s on your couch while your husband watches TV and then having them arrive the next day, brought right into your kitchen? It doesn’t really get much better than that.
Instead of errands we spend our time seeing things, reading, going to the park, figuring out how to be creative and make do with what we have. I like just being instead of running.
We have all loved how polite and kind and genteel everyone is here. I wish I could say it was rubbing off on my children, but they are just as loud and American and crazy and silly and ill-mannered as ever. I guess Emmeline has learned how to say please with a little less pleading on my part, and Hazel is as polite as can be when she puts on her British accent, but overall, my dream of my kids suddenly becoming all prim and proper because we have plopped them into this culture hasn’t really come true. We’re working on it. Meanwhile, I love the polite part of British culture. People are so friendly and warm and kind.
Our neighbors across the street and next door are lovely people. Little Sophia lives next door and she and Emmeline could be twins they’re so similar (though Sophia is much more polished). They draw pictures for each other and pop them in each other’s letter boxes and occasionally meet up in the cricket pitch or one of their back gardens to play for a few minutes. It’s so nice to have a little friend so close where you don’t really have to plan play dates, they just kind of happen. And just today we had Lola and Harvey over from across the street. Seriously, the children here are so incredibly well behaved! At the end of our little impromptu play date little Lola turns to me (without any prompting from her mother who is not even there) and says in her charming little accent, “Saydi, thank you so much for having me over, and for those lovely cookies.” Seriously people, how can I train my children to act this way?
I feel like a lot of my life has been trying to get my kids to do things. Do their school work, do their jobs, get dressed, clean up after themselves, make their beds, help their siblings. Somehow homeschooling here means so much more of this, mostly just because we’re together all the time and throughout most of the day, until Jeff get’s home, I’m the only adult who is getting them to move through anything. I’m learning a lot about what motivates them, mostly just by failing over and over again. It’s kind of exhausting, to be honest and I’m not sure if I’m getting any better at it.
It’s funny because I thought that homeschooling would afford us so many more mellow, stress free mommy moments. When my kids were in Boston in school I felt like none of us go the best of each other. I would be rushing them out the door in the mornings, we’d spend all of our good energy when we were apart and then afterschool we’d all be wasted, and I’d spend my lingering energy moving them through the afternoon/evening routine. Somehow, I thought homeschooling would lesson the amount of energy I’d have to put into hassling them. But, boy was I wrong. To be fair, it’s mostly Charlie, Hazel is pretty darn good at getting things done. It’s just so hard to get that boy to do things with no one else around to motivate or challenge him.
At night, if Jeff is home by 7, we eat together in the mommy school room. The layout of houses here is so different to me, the dining room is generally not connected to the kitchen, so it’s kind of a hassle to eat formally together. But, in some ways that makes our family dinners feel quite different and special. (Until you’re in charge of clearing or setting the table which is quite a chore….we need to do assembly lines more often to get that chore done).
The kids are always so excited to see Jeff for dinner that it’s hard to maintain any semblance of calmness or civility. We muddle through dinner, mostly trying and failing at having a civilized family conversation. We finally devised a system where the kids have 3 strikes. If they strike out they have to got to their rooms and wait to come down and finish their dinner until we have finished. Then they have to clear the table while we read upstairs. It’s a pretty severe consequence and no one has struck out yet (though I’m pretty sure if we were being more consistent we’d have had a lot of 3rd strikes.)
Charlie being silly at dinner time.
Peter screams through most of dinner, somehow we just can’t keep up with his demands of food and water. He is really the least demanding child ever until we sit down to eat. And then he just can’t get anything fast enough. For some reason we have to still feed him one little bite at a time. The minute he gets a plethora of food on his tray he thinks it’s his responsibility to swipe it all off onto the floor. Weird little guy.
Speaking of Peter, we all adore him more than I could ever describe. He is just now getting steady on his little feet. He doesn’t get much of a chance to practice walking, since either Hazel and Charlie are carrying him places or Emmeline is knocking him down or trying to “help” him walk. Slowly he is getting it though and he walks around the house, pleased as punch at himself, with both hands in the air to steady himself.
Hazel loves our life here I think more than anyone. She tells me at least once a day how much she loves England and Woodford Green and all of our adventures and that she never wants to go home. I suspect she’s partly doing this because Charlie plays the opposite role and says he wants to go home at least once a day. But, I also know that a lot of it is quite genuine. Hazel has an adventuring little soul. Whatever our weekly crisis is here, she is constantly reminding us that it’s all part of the adventure. The other day after we needed to call a tow truck (again, for the 5th time I think?) I suggested that we say a little prayer that everything would work out and she said, “No, mom, if things work out it won’t be an adventure!” Hmm. Maybe she’s a little too adventurous for my taste.
We drive out to Chelmsford to see the Schwartz family quite often and I love our trips out there. The kids play on the trampoline and I visit with Amy. We walk to pick up her kids at school, we stop at the store and the park. WE cook (Amy always cooks such tasty things). We play dinner games at dinner as we feed the kids together without dads. I love those days at Amy’s. I love having such an old best friend so close.
Other days in the afternoon we have the Fowles girls over to play, and boy do I love those days too. Christine Fowles and Hazel have become such great friends and whenever they come over they come up with elaborate plans which almost always include calling me “your majesty” and making sure that I rest while they clean or cook or experiment. Charlie and Katie often join in the mix and I get a nice afternoon off. I need to have them over more often.
It has been so nice having the Fowles nearby, so good for Hazel socially, so good for me to have a friend showing me the ropes. Allison has been such an good, instant friend to me, I’m not sure what we’d do without them.
And then there are the Saltzmans down the road who are also in our ward. They are fantastic, always dropping by to see what we need. Jeanette has brought us holiday decorations and cookies and let us borrow all kinds of strange things that we’ve found we need. Richard comes to check on us, somehow timing his visits when we most need something. Cori comes to babysit at pretty much my beck and call. The kids love her, as do Jeff and I. She is so super responsible, the minute she walks in I can flee without worrying a bit.
I still get a bit terrified whenever we get in the car. I’ve gotten comfortable enough with the tiny streets and the opposite side of the road that I’ve sort of slacked on praying every time we drive out of the driveway. That is exactly why now I am in more danger than ever. Need to start that up again. I am pleased that I’ve convinced Charlie that I’m a good driver and I’m not going to kill us all.
The kids play together a lot. We don’t really spend much time with other friends so they’ve really become each others best friends (and worst enemies). They play mostly with Legos, it’s miraculous to me how many hours of entertainment Legos have provided my children. They don’t have many other toys, so Lego it is. They just never get bored of them. We’ve also dug up an old doll house from our houses garage and Emmeline is getting into playing with all her little Sylvanian families in them. Besides Lego though, the kids favorite activity is still dancing to their music (mostly Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift) in the living room while jumping on the furniture. Some things are just constant.
I do love how we have very little here. One of the main things I’ve learned from this adventure is that you really don’t need much stuff. We have about 1/8th of what we have in Boston and it still feels like too much most days.
Jeff and I have met up in London a few times for dinner with the Schwartz’s and some other friends. I love those moments of freedom, I feel like flying as soon as I walk out the door. All of my responsibilities left behind in Cori’s capable hands. Being on the tube alone is heaven. The city feels like a whole other world without the kids in tow.
At night, after dinner, we haggle our kids to move through their evening routine. This is may be my least favorite part of the day right now, so luckily it is followed (usually if it’s not too late) with scripture reading and prayer and then our read-aloud time, which I love. Scripture time is working really well lately, mostly because the kids each have their own set of scriptures that we got off the missionaries. Something about having a tangible book to look at and try to follow along with has really helped them stay connected. Charlie also likes to follow along in his Brick of Mormon. I know, seems really weird, even maybe a little sacrilegious, but it has gotten Charlie really excited about the scriptures, and that is a mini miracle. Charlie and Hazel also like taking turns reading verses. Hazel can do quite well, she is really a reader now. It takes Charlie a while to plow through a verse, all the while Hazel literally biting her cheek trying to stop herself from blurting out words. But during those few minutes at the end of the day when all the motion has stopped we have some of our best discussions. The scriptures, even if it’s just a few verses, almost always give us something to talk about and as we talk we are all connected to God in a very real way. I know we all feel it, as tired as we are, as annoyed at Emmeline who is bouncing off the walls while we read, a blanket of God settles in on us for a moment and it sort of erases all the black marks from the day. Then we sing a little song and pray together before settling into a good novel. We’ve been reading through the Chronicles of Narnia and boy they are good and so fun to read together. So full of rich stories, packed with symbolism. They spur all kinds of questions and thoughts and teaching moments. Somehow the stories and lessons and symbols have really helped me understand our experience here. More on that later.
Oh how I love reading with my kids at night. I wish I could do it for hours (and they do too). But, sadly, all the obligations that had been neglected by the bustle of the day call to me and I snug each child in and ask about their happys and sads. Hazel usually thinks hard about these and gives good, insightful answers. Charlie’s happy usually gives me some idea of what's going on in his little soul, but his sad is almost always the same for weeks at a time. For about 2 years his sad was that he didn’t have $100 to buy the Lego Crystal sweeper. In the last few months though it has changed. For a few weeks it was that he didn’t have his Diamond with him that Santa had given him last Christmas. And then it was that he’s bored here. And now it’s that we aren’t going home fast enough. Poor boy, he really is homesick. I know he is enjoying a lot of what we’re doing, I know he is learning and growing, but whenever I talk to him about our experience here he says he just wants to go home. Emmeline for some reason usually doesn’t want to do happy and sads. She mostly just wants a bunch of different kinds of kisses (nose kiss, eyelash kiss, cheek kiss) and then she wants me to stroke her cheek while I sing her a song about Jesus. And, some nights she doesn’t want anything at all, just wants to curl up in a little kitty cat ball and have me leave. She is one strange child.
Emmeline is processing this adventure in her own unique way. She is obsessed with talking about when she was a baby in Boston. Anything that was in our life before coming here was her baby life. I think she’s spot on. She has grown out of babiness here. She is getting so big.
And speaking of Emmeline, she is loving school. She had a rough go of it at the beginning. She was always a little nervous and I felt bad leaving her in that room full of kids and toys and teachers to fend for herself. But she was always happy as could be when I picked her up so I knew something was working. Now she can’t wait to go to school. She has really bonded with a nice teacher called Belen who gives her “cuddles” as soon as she sees her in the mornings. She is making friends and even saying some pretty British things. She is having such an English experience there, her own little individual adventure that we don’t know much about.
After the kids are down Jeff and I usually hang out in the living room and hear the chandelier rattle a few times from Emmeline jumping off her bed. If we’re lucky they settle themselves down again, often we have to go back up and threaten sleeping in the garage. But, finally, every night, the clinking chandelier stops and all is quiet and Jeff and I can breath, move through work we’ve needed to get done, put in loads of laundry, clean up the kitchen, prep mommy school, look stuff up on the computer. About once a week we even get to watch a movie together or catch up on some Modern Family episodes. Shawni told me to savor that time alone with Jeff at night because in a few years Hazel will be up till 10:30 needing our help with homework. Ever since she said that I’ve felt so much better about pushing aside (once again) all the things that I should have done for the day, and just relaxing with Jeff for a while before it’s time to turn in.
We go to bed too late here. We keep trying to change that, but it’s always too late. It’s just too hard to sleep away all those quite, uninterrupted hours.
Laundry here is just as hard as it has ever been. We have a condenser drier which means that half the time I forget to empty the tank and I come back to find my clothes still wet. We all know the last thing I need is another laundry hurdle, I am horrible at it with all things lined up just right. And things still have to be cleaned here and wiped and fed, the perpetual motion of motherhood is roughly the same, we’re just in another country doing it. Overall though, England is such a lovely country to do it in. It’s just foreign enough to feel different and interesting and just similar enough to make us feel at home.
Ok, enough. I would really love to search through and fill this with post with pictures to fill in all these words, but I need to post this never ending post. It feels good to get some of what our life is like here all solidly out there. Published. Remembered. As I type I can feel the feelings I know I’m going to have as I read through this post in 10 years time. I’ll want to reach right back into this life, smell the green air, feel the thrill of the adventure, cuddle up my children -- all small and vulnerable and brave and trusting. Gather them under my wings and explore the world with them. I know this time is so fleeting and so, even though there have been bits of our life here that have not been much fun, I haven’t for one single instance wished we were not here. We all feel more full and connected and alive than ever.