Wow! What a summer it has been. We travelled! We did it. I still have to kind of pinch myself and look back at pictures to believe that we actually pulled that family adventure off. There was a time when I was pretty convinced that we couldn’t make it happen. But somehow we did, miracles and people and miles and good fares all fell into place and helped us make a dream come true. This was just the adventure I think we all needed.
We went to Europe as a family and we came home and no one died and we made all of our connections (just barely) and we saw the grandeur of cultures and places and new worlds. Our eyes were opened, our brains have fired in new ways, we have felt alive and new again, we have woven other cultures and places into the fabric of who we are. We feel smaller now in this big world full of majestic things but we also have a better sense for where we fit in it. And we have adventure under our belts, which is something we kind of like as Shumways.
Sure it wasn’t all roses. Man there were some crazy times. Some downright not very fun times. (Don’t worry, I’ll share some of them just to keep it real). We had some extremely frustrating times full of fighting and contention and stress and tears and hunger and exhaustion. But memory is kind. And most of the time it just took a few hours for memory to do her magic and make the bad stuff all fit into the great story of our adventure. Other times it took a full day or two. But I’m pretty sure all of us would agree that even though the little moments and days were sometimes a bit bleak, the whole of it glistens.
These guys are really the most amazing little travelers. They were so good on our crazy (four lay over journey to get to London). Since I did a pretty good job of writing in my journal for the first part of the trip (when I had all my energy), I’m just going to post a bit of that so that I can better remember how it was as it was happening.
We’re crossing the Atlantic. Just me and the kids. We’re on our third of four flights to get to London to start our big summer adventure. I guess the adventure has already started. Traveling alone with four kids used to terrify me, and I was a little nervous before the flight, but it was mostly about not making connections. The kids have been awesome so far. Seriously, total angels. When Jeff dropped me off at the airport Hazel called all the kids around her to have a kids meeting. I heard her laughing a little and the other three smiling and the snippets of the meeting that I could hear were Hazel saying something like “now, lets make sure to take care of mom. Make sure we get her there safe, that she doesn’t loose any of us or anything.” And boy have they done that so far. Hazel has said to me quite a few times, “mom, let me take that, you just put your feet up.” I have only had to carry my own little backpack through these first two connections. Hazel and Charlie have worked out a tutor/tutee system where they trade off who is in charge of which little kid with each new flight. They have been better than golden.
I’m expecting all of this perfection to blow up before too long. We’re on an overnight flight and the kids haven’t eaten much all day, so they’re waiting to sleep until dinner has been served, which means they’ll only sleep a few hours before we have to get up and make a connection to our fourth flight. I’m a little worried about that bit of the trip, but worrying won’t change much. I’m just going to pray that everyone can have an added measure of patience and energy, especially me.
It has been a huge hassle getting us all here. I was packed up uncharacteristically early, with all that free floating anxiety kicking around me. I think I’m getting more anxious in my old age. Or maybe I just have a lot more kids to take adventuring with me. I don’t remember getting so worried about connections and getting places before. I guess the longer you live the more your brain is wired up in knots from all the mishaps you’ve experienced. I’m trying to shut those out and go with my gut. This is going to be a grand adventure.
Just booking the tickets for this trip in April made me feel more alive. The winter was long and we haven’t had a big family adventure for a while, not really since England. With no more babies on the horizon (that satiated my need for adventure for lots of years) I’ve been itching for something thrilling and different.
When everyday life gets broken up by thrilling adventure and travel my brain starts firing in different ways and I really do feel like I’m waking up. From a sleep I didn’t really realize I was in.
I am also really looking forward to being present with my kids. Something about being away from the regular routine, the schedule, the housework etc throws me into the present.
And boy the contrast between my brain once this journey started and while I was packing up/preparing is crazy stark. I've found since the adventure started I’ve been able to focus on what my kids are feeling and saying and experiencing and asking. I’ve spent the last week putting them off in order to get so many little logistics all packed up and squared away.
Now its time to just enjoy.
We went from Boston to Montreal to Toronto to Ireland to England. I know, crazy. But the only way we could make this trip happen was if we stuck to an extremely tight budget. And that crazy itinerary was the only way we could stick to it.
Here we are in the Toronto Airport. The kids didn’t let me dilly dally and take too many pictures. They were all business getting their connections.
The kids did sleep on the trans-Atlantic flight, but not very soundly. It’s hard to get comfortable on those cramped up seats. With the exception of Peter. He sawed logs for nearly 5 hours. Woke up and said, “Wow, that was quick!” It was not short for me and my restless legs.
Emmeline and Peter each brought a little guy to take pictures of throughout the adventure. It didn’t last past the first few days, but they sure did have fun posing them in funny places.
I love how Em plays with little guys. These little friends kept her busy for hours. Here we are on one of our connections (in Ireland). The kids were so excited to walk down stairs and out of an airplane. It really does make you feel more like you’ve actually flown. It was so fantastic to land in England finally. England is where my heart lies. I love that green land.
And it was so good to see Amy and her little Elsa there waiting for us. It was like coming home.
We stopped at Boots in the airport for some much missed English sweets and then walked to the car, talking and feeling like we were floating through a jet lagged dream. When we got to the car we did our little bag count (Charlie was in charge of counting the bags throughout our journey) and we were one bag short. I guess all the excitement and release of stress in seeing Amy and making it to our destination took me off guard. OF course it did! I left Amy to pack all my kids in the car and sprinted back to where I had last seen the bag. I wish I could describe how light I felt as I ran back through the terminal. It was as if I had been carrying 500 pounds for miles and miles and suddenly dropped it all. Even though I was a bit worried about the bag it felt GLORIOUS to be free of all those kids and bags. This giddy joy welling up in me. It was a pretty awesome few moments. Especially since my bag was there waiting for me. The drive to Amy’s was cloudy and blurry but so happy. And the kids were delighted when we got there to jump on her trampoline and play with her girls and eat all the yummy English treats she had waiting for us which we’d missed so much. It was such a great reunion.That evening we took a walk/bike ride to a beautiful manner house close to where she lives. She lives a pretty fairy tale life in her little village. It is beautiful and so great to see where she has settled since we saw her last.Hazel of course gathered beauty and arranged it into something even more beautiful. I love her eye. Sadly I didn’t bring my good camera, and my phone was out of battery, so all I have to remember this crystally evening are these photos from Esther’s old phone. The evening was 100 times more beautiful than these pictures depict. I think we all have some pretty beautiful pictures in our minds and hearts.
The next day we woke up early to go and visit our old stomping grounds.We visited our most favorite little bakery that we used to stop by every time we took the tube into London.
Some more from my journal:
Today Ames took us back to Woodford Green to see our old stomping grounds. It made my heart all fluttery to see that place again. I felt so thankful that God led us there, to that perfectly little British spot right on the tube line. To that charming little house backing onto a cricket pitch. We walked through our knighton woods and found our old climbing tree. The kids remembered so much and were delighted by everything from the delicious doughnuts at the bakery where we used to stop on the way to London to the leaves and flowers they remembered on our walk down to the woods. I loved seeing these memories cement in their minds as they walked the walk from 2012.
Knighton Wood and this tree was our favorite place to frequent by our home there in Woodford Green. I love how even the trunks of the trees are green in England.
So many memories came flooding in as we walked on the paths that we had walked so often three years ago. The kids could have climbed in that tree all day long. I think we did climb I that tree all day long when we lived there. It was like seeing an old friend.
If Emmeline wasn’t totally falling apart we could have stayed in Woodford all day, but she wasn’t in the right place to do that (jet lag finally hit that girl while trying to climb our old tree in the Forrest). So, we headed home to see the Schwartz girls and get my phone sorted out for our Europe needs. Ames made me some delicious food and ordered pizza for the girls and then we went out to an EPIC playground near their house. They know how to do playgrounds right here. My kids are happiest at a British playground.
I keep trying to stop and take in all this good. The smells of the clothes washing in the English washer, the wet smell in the woods and the green trunks. The slow and kind way people talk, the green fields we drive by. Having my kids play with Amy’s kids. Eating Amy’s food. Talking and walking with my best friend. It is all pretty magical to me when I stop to take a little picture in my soul. I feel so thankful to be here.
We played in a super adventure park by Amy’s house that afternoon when the Schwartz girls got home from school. They know how to do parks over there! This is how Charlie feels about being in a park with so many girls for so long. Actually, he mostly loved it, but didn’t want to take part in the group picture. Hazel, on the other hand, was in heaven with all those good girl friends. We walked down Amy’s foot paths and I reveled in the glory that is Amy’s life there in that charming little village.
More from the Journal:
I have been so excited to see Amy’s new life so that I could know sort of what things are like for her day to day. But now, having seeing it, it’s hard cause I’m totally COVETING every part of it. She lives in such a beautiful little English village and rides her cool bike with a big huge bucket around beautiful bike paths to do all of her shopping and errands. And she lives by so many beautiful walks and trails, it is really stunning. I am so happy for her. She seems happy, and I think her girls are four of my most favorite children in the world. I want to move in next door.
Part two of the England part of our trip tomorrow.