an addendum… the REAL way I survive

So, about three, (ok, more like ONE) days after writing this sweet, naïve post, it hit me again. That nagging, dulling, glimpse of the dark cloud that so strangely beckons me to just enter. Just enter, it says. Enter, succumb to the need. YOUR need. The need to be self-centered, to be ALL CONSUMED with how I feel, how I need. Look, it says. Look at how tired you are. Look at how poorly your kids behave. Look at how bad your skin is. Look at lazy you are. Look at how dirty your floors are. Look at how much weight you’ve gained.

You guys, it is in these moments, (NOT the moments in which I wrote that darling previous post) in which I realize that I am sometimes still merely surviving. And I scramble desperately to all the things I’ve learned, I’ve read, I’ve lived, to grasp the hook of hope to pull me the hell out of hell.

So. After reading that quaint list from that cutesy post, here’s the reality of what the last few days have looked like. First, I started getting a cold. No biggie, right? Then I wrote that lovely post. Then my adorable children woke me up at least 6 times for about four nights straight, because, you know, they’re sick, too. Get over it, you’re a mom, I think. So I’m literally sick and tired. Meanwhile, it rained for like four days. So much for that sunshine I was talking about. And, as one does when one is sick and tired and grumpy, I totally drank plenty of fluids, got exercise, took my vitamins, read the Bible, and spent lots of time praying. (You guys, I did NONE of those things. Not a one.) And the last three days have been some of my lowest since we’ve moved here.

What is it about our lowest moments that make us forget about the things that can HELP US?? The twisted spiral that is depression is like no other medical illness. If you break a leg, you go to the doctor. If you have a headache, you take some pain meds. If you have depression, you just sit. You sit in your depression. The very existence of depression means you are almost completely UNABLE TO HELP YOURSELF.

Unless… unless you know the signs. Unless you can catch it BEFORE you completely succumb. I thank the Lord that I am finally at the point where I can catch it. I can’t erase the feelings, but I can ease them. So today, these are a few things that I actually did. So while my previous list was groovy, here’s more of a real one.

First, I sent a few SOSes. I prayed. It was a I’m-in-the-middle-of-making-breakfast-for-the-kids-who-are-yelling-at-me-from-the-other-room-and-making-each-other-cry-and-I-haven’t-had-coffee-yet “Dear sweet Jesus HELP ME” kind of prayer. But I truly meant it. Then I sent AJ a text that said something like, “My patience and sanity is wearing thin and I think I’m getting a sinus infection” at about 8:30am. (He knows me well enough to know that it was a cry for help and support, sweet man.)

Then I made the kids help me clean the house. (This was after I assessed that my stress level would drop a little if there were not DOZENS of ripped stickers all over the floor and if I could walk down the hallway without stepping on markers.) A tidy house can really do wonders for one’s sanity.

Then I took them outside. I was cranky, they were cranky, but we did it, kicking and literally crying (the two year old was so. angry. about having to sit in the stroller) and I forced them to lie on a swing and close their eyes to absorb the weak, 9:30am sunshine. Because I’m so mean.

Then we had to go to a birthday party, which meant INTERACTING. As in, with PEOPLE WHO ARE ADULTS. This is no small feat if you’ve been beckoned by the dark cloud, but it can often be one of the best remedies.

And later in the afternoon I sent a group text to three ladies I knew would give me the right dose of laughter and practical advice.

So here I am, finally aware that it’s been a rough few days but seeing the light. (And I’ve found a cocktail combination of meds to help my sinus pain…so there’s that…)

Guys. You’ve got to stick with it. All the things you’ve done to pull yourself out, DON’T FORGET THEM. USE THEM. And never think that it’s over. Because, if you’ve suffered from depression once, you’ll probably suffer again. But there’s hope :)

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The worst day of the year: surviving the days with no sunlight

An [American] friend asked me recently, “So are you guys still enjoying your stay over there?” To answer in a word, YES! These last couple of months have flown by so quickly that it’s hard to believe that in a few weeks we will have been in the UK for six months. SIX MONTHS, PEOPLE. That’s a long time. And a short time. You know what I mean.

And, as is the usual, I managed to take a break from writing for, um, a “few” weeks.

To me, these last couple of months have been critical in several ways, but mainly: I’VE SURVIVED THE DARKEST MONTHS OF THE YEAR WITHOUT REGRESSING INTO MY DEPRESSION!!!! Big deal. Huge. You guys, on what I often call “the worst day of the year,” aka December 21, aka the Winter Solstice, the sun rose at 8:00am and set at 3:50pm here in London. Less than 8 hrs of sunlight. And high noon looked like 4pm because the sun is so low here.

Those of you familiar with depression know that the depths of winter can be a trying time. Lack of sunlight = lack of vitamin D and also a lack of visual brightness, both of which are clinically proven to help reduce the effects of depression. Not to mention the potential of added stress of holidays and family and after-Christmas-blues.

I’ll be brutally honest: of all the unknowns and fears and general disruption of moving our family to London, my biggest inner fear was that, even while still taking my anti-depressant, I would not be able to handle the darkness of winter again and my mind would slip back into a state of depression. I was coming from a place where there is sunshine literally 360 days a year, and all I could remember about winters in Boston was being filled with dread, discontent and a general grumpiness.

BUT. So far so good! And here are a few things I believe have contributed to my “staying afloat” these last couple of months.

  • We walk EVERYWHERE.

    We walk EVERYWHERE.

    I’ve been outside a lot. We don’t own a car here (!) so I literally walk EVERYWHERE. I make the point to walk even when I could/should take a bus or cab. And while I wish I could say it was great exercise, it’s moderate at best. BUT being outdoors during the day makes such a big difference than when I was either in school or at work all day, and it was dark when I left home and dark when I returned. My little buddy Anders and I are out and about during the day, which means that when the sun is actually shining, we’re in it.

  • I own a “light therapy” light box, an amazing gift from my mother-in-law. This one, to be exact. It is not UV rays. It’s basically just a bright lamp that you sit in front of to give your eyes the illusion of being in daylight. I use it a couple of times a week, and while it’s not an immediate mood-booster, I’m positive it has benefitted my overall mood.
  • Sunrise Alarm Clock

    Sunrise Alarm Clock

    I also use a “sunrise alarm clock.” It slowly brightens as the hour gets closer to my “awake” time, so that when I need to get out of bed, it’s not pitch black in my room. I also use one in the kids’ room! It’s been most useful, actually, for my son when I need to wake him from his naptime and it’s pretty much dark in his north-facing bedroom.

  • I’ve been pretty regular at taking my vitamin D supplements, along with fish oil (omega 3s) and my multi-vitamin.
  • I’ve been praying against my depression, and I know my close friends and family are, too. (For which I’m so very grateful!!) When I start feeling anxious or stressed, I claim these promises. We’ve also found a church we can truly worship in, yay!
  • I’m still taking 50mg of sertraline. As I’ve written before, this is not a “happy pill”. But for me it’s made a major difference in my life and has enabled me to “wake up” and literally smell the hundreds of roses that are in this lovely city of London :-)

Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly times I can feel hints of my past depression and short-temperedness, usually when I’m tired and trying to haul my stroller/”buggy” and a “soccer/football” and a few bags of groceries and two whining kids up the stairs to my flat and my darling son chooses that moment to lie on the third step throwing a tantrum because he wiped his nose with his hand and now his hand is wet… (Our poor, sweet neighbors have never once complained about our kids…!!)

But for now, for this moment, I’m doing ok. (So thanks for asking!!)

Tough Questions: Handling Cultural Diversity with Young Children

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We were at our local grocery store in north London when my four-year-old daughter, Tori, tugged on my sleeve.

“Mommy. MOMMY.” She whispered fervently, eyes wide and face solemn. “There’s a MONSTER over there.”

She then, as children do, pointed. And when I saw who she was pointing at, I was taken aback. Not because of who I saw, but more because I wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment.

She was pointing to a woman dressed in a full abaya and niqab, a black cloak and veil Muslim women sometimes wear, which draped her from head-to-toe, covering everything except her eyes.

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London’s markets are rich with diversity.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. I wasn’t sure what to say to my daughter. What I did say (whisper) was something like, “Oh, no, that’s not a monster, she’s a woman just like me! I think she’s even a mommy! And do you see how by wearing those clothes we are forced to look at her pretty eyes?” And then we kept shopping.

Yeah… I still have no clue if that was the right thing to say. Here’s what I was feeling: “I know it LOOKS like she could be a monster to you. She is wearing the color of Halloween, she has a mask on, and she’s staring out at you through that mask. And you don’t see people like this very often, do you? It sometimes startles us when we see things we aren’t used to seeing.”

But of course I didn’t say that there. We talked about it more at home, but even then it was on the level a four-year-old could understand, and my main point to her was that those women are mommies and sisters and are just like she and I, and are nothing to be scared of, and should be loved just like everyone else.

Cultural diversity is one of the big reasons we chose to take our adventure to London, and we haven’t been disappointed! Tori literally had NEVER seen a woman in a niqab before. In fact, she had barely seen women wearing a hijab (head covering) until we moved here. I’ll be brutally honest again: our corner of Tucson just wasn’t very ethnically diverse. I’m not saying Muslims and Buddhists and people of MULTIPLE different religions, languages and race don’t live there, I’m just saying it’s not nearly as prevalent as in a city like London. (And, admittedly, we didn’t make a huge effort to leave our little corner often…)

Tori's adorable "Reception" class.

Tori’s adorable “Reception” class. She’s the one with the blonde pig-tails :-)

Tori, with her blonde hair, fair skin and light eyes, is a minority at her school. Many of her playmates are bi- or tri-lingual! They speak Spanish, French, Farsi, Hindi, Italian… One of Anders’ friends has an Italian dad and African-Muslim French-born-in-Paris mum! Tori has a playdate with a friend from India this afternoon, our babysitter is from Romania and we’ll be seeing some German friends later this week.

I love that we are here while my children are young enough to have this become a “norm” for them. One of our goals as parents is to provide our children with the opportunity to LOVE EVERYONE they meet, and to be able to look beyond race or ethnicity or religion or any other lifestyle that might be different from theirs, and show them the love Christ would have shown.

But I’ll admit, answering the cultural questions of a four-year-old is HARD. “Mommy, why does my friend wear a scarf on her head every day?” or “Mommy, is that a man or a woman?” or “Mommy, why is that old man wearing a skirt and a funny hat?” or “Why does my friend live with her mommy and not her daddy?” or “Why are there shops in that church?”

Ummm…. :-) It’s been a challenge for us, but a good one. A NEEDED one. We were getting too lazy and complacent in our little bubble. Answering Tori’s questions has forced AJ and me to really be thoughtful about all those topics, and to be very deliberate in answering them in a way that she’ll understand. Or, in some instances, say, “Um, I’m not sure” and go home and do an internet search to find the answer, haha! (Because, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what the Muslim woman’s face veil was called until I researched it, and even now I HOPE I called it the correct name!!)

How DO we want our children to view the world? It’s a very tricky question but one we’re excited to explore answering.

12 hours on a plane, 8 hour jet-lag, two small kids…

Many people have been asking me about how the kids handled the long overseas flight, so here you go!

Kids on planesI’ll start with this disclaimer: our flight to London from Tucson, AZ was by no means the first time my children have been on an airplane. They’ve flown to Florida, New Orleans, North Carolina and Boston (many times). Whether this helped them or not, hard to say :-) But it certainly helped us in our planning.

Probably the most unusual element of our flight to London was that we did not know our exact flight date or time until 8 days before. Yes. 8 days. We knew we were going, so I had been able to plan almost everything, but I had no idea WHEN it was going to happen! No clue as to what day of the week, or what time of day, or through which airport, or which airline, or how long a flight.

I think this might be stressful for anyone, but it was especially stressful for me since I was trying to prepare our 2 year old and 4 year old children for this flight, trying to consider meal times, sleep time, potty time, etc.

Needless to say it was a HUGE relief when we finally booked our tickets for a Saturday flight, which left Tucson mid-morning, ~2 hrs to Dallas, then an almost 6 hr layover, then a 9hr flight to London. Total time change: 8hrs ahead.

Here’s another huge disclaimer: my parents-in-law flew with us! Ahhh, such a relief and such a blessing. But to be honest, our kids really were the CHAMPIONS on these flights! I could feel the prayers surrounding us and was constantly amazed at how well my children handled everything.

So below are a few of the things we did to ease our travel. Hope it can help even one other mum or dad in their preparation for even a short flight!

In advance:

  • Talk a lot about going on the airplane. Watch TV shows about airplanes (the airplane episode of Bubble Guppies was one of our favorites). Talk about going to the airport, WAITING at the airport, getting on the plane and SITTING on the plane “for a very long time” and getting off the plane and WAITING in another airport, etc. You get the idea. Keep telling them about it! Even our two year old could understand most of it.
  • Have your child practice using earphones while watching a show or using an iPad. This is really critical, especially if they are young (Anders was 2 years old, and on our flight to Florida a month earlier, didn’t really want to use the headphones, but used them frequently on our flights to London…) We bought them each a set of these headphones and have had no complaints! And consider purchasing a splitter if your device doesn’t have two ports.
  • Buy surprises and treats. I watched the Target $1 section for clearance. Pull aside several books a month in advance so that when you bring them out they are “new,” or buy several used books at a book sale. Buy stickers. Lots of stickers.
  • Perhaps buy a new movie or two (or download a few onto the iPad). Younger kids might need to see a show a couple of times before they are able to sit through the whole thing, so consider watching it once or twice before the flight.
  • Make sure the two or three days prior to departure the kids have as normal a schedule as you can possibly manage. Meaning low-key days, meals at home, baths at night, regular mornings, etc. The worst thing is to have a tired grumpy kid even BEFORE you leave!

During travel:

  • Allow 10-20 extra minutes for going through security. Since I’ve been traveling with children I almost ALWAYS have to have something tested or re-scanned by security. Tell other folks to go on ahead of you. Take your time and smile. Don’t let the rushed grumpiness of other travelers make you feel stressed!
  • Purchase water bottles in the airport once through security. (My kids didn’t need any special food or water, but when I was bottle-feeding, I would ask the cashier in the news store to get me a bottle of room-temperature water, which sometimes was only in the back room. This made mixing the formula much easier than using cold water.)
  • Pre-boarding!

    Pre-boarding!

    Sometimes we take advantage of pre-boarding, sometimes we don’t. If we have a ton of carry-ons or a carseat, then pre-board. If it’s just a bag or two, we prefer waiting to allow our kids more time to run around :-)

  • Once on board and in our seats (after my daughter literally seems to bump into every person in an aisle seat), the first thing I do is give the kids several sanitizing wipes and have them clean their seats! This activity is so great. They literally wipe down everything in sight and love doing it! It’s a great activity to allow you time to get settled.
  • Allow your kids to stand up in the seats (if they’re young) when you first board, and let them give big smiles to the people sitting around you. This (might) promote sympathy instead of anger later when the kids get fussy.
  • Hold off on screen time as long as possible!! Preferably at least until after drinks have been served and consumed. There’s not much worse than having a sticky, orange-juice covered DVD player or iPad… :-)

Sleeping (or should I say, “sleeping”):

  • It’s completely hit-or-miss. There is no way to anticipate if your child will sleep or not. When they are babies, snugglers often sleep better because they love being held. My daughter hated sleeping in our arms and therefore barely slept on a plane until this trip!
  • For shorter flights, if you’re hoping they’ll take a nap, don’t be discouraged if they don’t, and praise Jesus if they do! If they are fighting sleep, put on a show and then try again later.
  • For longer flights when sleep is necessary, both for you, your child, and the people around you, make sure everything you do is intentional:
    • Eat some sort of meal before you want them to sleep, even if it’s just a snack. Don’t rely on the food provided by the airline; it can take a VERY long time for them to get to you, and even if you pre-order a kids’ meal, you might not get it. (This happened to us.)
    • After the food, put their pajamas on! PJs=sleep to them. Brush their teeth. Bring along a couple bed-time books. Try to make some sort of familiar routine. Keep lights low or off. And of course bring each child their own full pillow, blanket and one stuffed animal.
    • If you’re lucky, your daughter will say to you, “Mom, I’m tired, can I sleep now?” and fall asleep. No joke, this is what my 4 year old daughter did!! She then proceeded to sleep for the entire remaining 6 hours of the flight. Probably got better sleep than anyone else on the entire plane!
    • If your child is normal, haha, then he/she might need more coaxing. Anders was pretty restless. I put a show on for him and had him lay his head down. Then I turned the show off, turned all the lights off, and gave him zero stimulation, and eventually he fell asleep. Of course half of the time his sister’s foot was in his face, but oh well!
    • If traveling with someone, take turns sleeping. When it’s your turn, put in earplugs, use an eyemask and forget about your kids :-) For the next couple of hours THEY ARE NOT YOUR PROBLEM!
Waiting... and more waiting...

Waiting…and more waiting…

 After you land:

  • Prepare yourself for the worst-case scenarios: lost luggage, huge line at rental car, zero food stands open, a quarter-mile walk to customs (with no stroller – it happened to us!!), a two-hour line to get through customs, major traffic, etc. Basically lots of waiting around. Consider it a full last leg of your trip, and it can be as critical as any other part. Bring lots of snacks for this specific time! Hungry kids can make waiting MISERABLE. Save a couple of activities or books for while you are waiting after your flight.

Jet Lag:

  • For up to 3 hours of time change, we do our hardest to immediately put the kids on the schedule of wherever we are. It’s kind of rough but seems to be the best bet. It might mean an extra power nap in the late afternoon to keep them awake until bedtime, but it’s worth it. My kids usually adjust to a 3 hr time change quite easily.
  • For longer, (say, 8 hours?) :-) It’s quite another story. The first two nights our kids went to bed at a reasonable hour and slept fairly well through the night. The next four nights were TERRIBLE. Tori woke up at 3 am WIDE AWAKE and ready to play. I sat with her, using my phone as a flashlight, and read books quietly until she went back to sleep, 90 minutes later. Ugh.
  • Have a bottle of wine ready. Or popcorn. Or SOMETHING that you can consume in the bathroom with minimal noise. The next couple of nights the two kids stayed awake until almost midnight, laughing and joking and making fart noises. Nothing I could say or do would make them sleep, so AJ and I poured wine into the hotel coffee mugs and sat in the bathroom and watched a movie on the iPad. Not our best nights.
  • It took a full 7 nights to be completely adjusted. Part of this I believe is because my kids were not used to sleeping in the same room together. If your kids share a room already, they’re better prepared for hotel living :-)

Anyway, sorry this was so wordy! It really is just a brief synopsis of our travel, but I hope it gives some of you an idea of how we handled such a long journey :-) Imagine if we had gone to Australia or Japan!

Thanks for reading! What are some things you do to survive travel with kids?

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Culture-shock! A list of things that make England foreign to Americans

Even as I wrote my previous post, I experienced a culture-change: for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to insert the British currency £ symbol!!! Thank goodness for google.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that moving to England wouldn’t be a huge culture shock. And that’s not incorrect in the sense that they do technically speak English, and it certainly is a first-world country. But I’ve truly been surprised at how different things are here than in the US! Especially compared to Tucson, AZ. So, besides the obvious they-drive-on-the-left, below is a short-list of some of the funny-to-us things we’ve noticed! Enjoy :-)

Cheers! – This is not always used as a “good-bye” but rather as a “thanks”! If you open the door for someone, they respond, “cheers” in a fairly monotonous tone.

Peeing on the playground – No joke. If a child needs to pee, their mum or dad just holds them over a bush and the kid does his/her thing. Only rarely do they make an effort to go somewhere discreet! This is probably due to the lack of public loos. (And my sister in Cambridge, MA says the same thing occurs on the city playgrounds in Boston, too…) So maybe just a city thing, not necessarily a London thing.

This is one section of the ham aisle.

This is one section of the ham aisle.

Ham – the other white meat. Seriously! There’s so much ham here. They have an aisle dedicated to it! All types of ham. Smoked ham. Chicken ham. (?) Ham salami. Ham turkey. Ham-I-know-what-you-did-last-summer-ham. Even their bacon is more like ham than bacon. It’s amazing and so very British.

Half-and-half – My search for half-and-half coffee creamer (or any type of Coffeemate thing) will continue ceaselessly and probably fruitlessly. This tea-drinking city does have coffee drinkers, but they add only skim or semi-skim (still not sure what this is?) milk. And the true cream (think heavy whipping cream) is sold in a container that looks like yogurt so it took me a full 6 visits to the store to find it, haha!

Trash pick-up – “Oh, you know, just leave your bags on your front stoop and they’ll be grabbed” was the reply when we asked a local when and how to get our trash picked up. So, on any given day, you might see a black trash bag on someones steps. Technically our trash pick up is Friday, but it’s hard to tell… It’s kind of weird if you’re used to a rigid HOA sending you threat letters because you left your empty trash bin out overnight. And the CRAZIEST thing: at AJ’s work, HE’S NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE A TRASH CAN AT HIS DESK!!! So crazy! Apparently it’s to force people “to use the proper rubbish receptacle” and to recycle even used tissues. (OK, maybe another exaggeration.) But he does not have a trash can under his desk. I can’t even imagine.

A playground across from the Tower of London. The brick wall on the right is part of the original Roman wall.

A playground across from the Tower of London. The brick wall on the right is part of the original Roman wall.

Playgrounds everywhere! – There are parks and playgrounds around every corner. I kid you not. There are at least 7 within reasonable walking distance from us, and I’m sure there are more that I haven’t discovered yet! It’s really great. If I ever, say, have to drag the kids to the Islington Council to talk about our taxes and school applications (fun fun), there’s always a playground very close that I can bribe treat my kids with.

School– While it’s not legally required for children under 5 to attend school, it is presumed by EVERYONE that your child will start full-time “Reception” at the age of 4 (essentially kindergarten with less academia and more free-play). Now, in preparing us for the move, I had read the “legal” part and thought, ok, we’ll just find a preschool for Tori that’s part-time! Yeah! So easy! Easy peasy. NO. WRONG. There basically is no such thing for a preschool for a 4 year old. Because it’s assumed she’ll be in reception. Even though legally she doesn’t have to be in school, there’s no place for her except in a reception class. The preschools all say she’s too old. It’s been an incredibly stressful and confusing process, as every mum I meet has a different view on how the school system works. And the one preschool I found that would offer her a part-time place was £12,000 a year. That is, as of today, $19,581 USD. For a PART TIME preschool. Not an option for us, so into Reception she will go, starting Tuesday. :-)

"British" semi-skimmed milk.

“British” semi-skimmed milk.

Total patriots – Even more than Americans, I’d dare say! All the food is labeled with “British” as the description. “British tomatoes” and “British milk” and “British pasta” and “British orange juice” and “British toilet paper.” Ok, that last one is an exaggeration. I think. I’ll look next time. While it’s true that Americans love to “buy American,” they don’t label EVERYTHING as American. Maybe American cheese. But they don’t say “American! Cheddar Cheese.” Unless I was totally unobservant in my US grocery shopping?

Our pile of burnt out electronics – this makes me so sad. I had read about needing adapters for the outlets (duh) and needing to purchase new “hot” appliances such as curling irons, crock pots and coffee makers. But nowhere in all my web-based research did I read that even a simple table lamp will literally POP when you turn it on. There are a few things that work (why, I’m not sure) but so far we’ve busted two lamps, a sound machine, and our gorgeous Dyson vacuum. (Moment of silence, please…) Even with the power converter, these things still couldn’t handle the UK’s higher wattage. A very sad, and very expensive, part of our re-location!

Laundry in the kitchen!

Laundry in the kitchen!

Washing machine in the kitchen – this is very standard-European.  You clean your clothes in the kitchen. It’s just the way it’s done, especially in a flat. And most flats/apartments don’t have a clothes dryer, so there’s an entire section in each grocery store dedicated to clothespins and laundry lines and racks. And an obscene amount of fabric softener. (Although I’m so excited to try out this scented vinegar rinse that supposedly acts as a softener…will let you know how it goes!)

Lemonade – isn’t always the lemonade as we know it! Lemonade here is often another name for Sprite. So, needless to say, we made the can’t-go-back mistake in one of our first dinners and now Anders asks for “lemo-lade” at every meal :-)

These are just a few of the things we’ve noticed. There are so many more! Paper towels are shorter, toilet paper squares are longer (aka, rectangles, lol). Of course everything is done in litres and kilos and Celsius. Utilities are less expensive but there’s a “Council Tax” every month, so it kind of evens out. Rent is absurdly high. Absurd. But overall, if you don’t consider the exchange rate, most groceries are comparable to Tucson, except for meat. Clothing and shoe sizes are different. Clothing is slightly less expensive (for instance a pair of Gap baby jeans that in the US are usually $24.95 are £19.95 in UK.) But the exchange rate kills ya :-)

Anyway, none of these differences, except maybe the school issue, has been detrimental to our experience here. If anything, it’s been fun to explore the new culture! Have you ever heard the idea that you should take a different route to work/school every few days to build up synapses in the brain? Well, moving overseas is like doing that ALL DAY LONG. There’s always something new! I think our synapses have been built up enough to last for quite a while :-)

Have any of you been to Britain? What other things did you notice as being culturally unique to the UK?

Adjusting to Britain

So, I haven’t written in a while. Again. Sorry. I’ve been pretty busy so I’m not going to beat myself up about it.  :)

I am now officially a “migrant spouse” living in the UK! It’s been a whirlwind 4 weeks (whaaat? FOUR WEEKS ALREADY!?!?!) but it’s also been an amazing journey.

We’ve been tested in so many ways. My children have been amazing-super-troopers and have withstood said tests. My marriage has, so far, also withstood said tests. We celebrated our 9th anniversary last week, sitting on our couch paying bills, ordering delivery groceries (my entire grocery list delivered for 4 quid? Yes, please.) and celebrating our newly installed wifi. And we were both so happy.

On the Tube!

On the Tube!

People have been asking me, “What been the biggest adjustment?” Well, in short, the biggest adjustment has been for my children. They’ve slept in 4 different beds in as many weeks (5 if you count the airplane?), experienced an 8 hr jet lag, been traipsed through a foreign city via buses, cabs, the Tube and their little feet were blistered and sore from all the walking. They’ve learned to drink from adult cups because there’s no such thing as “kids’ cups” at restaurants here. They can’t always understand the other kids at the playground. (“Hi, my name is Jennifer!” said one little girl. Tori replied, “Hi Jannika!” lol.) The Bubble Guppies have British accents. And. The. Big. Deal: THERE IS NO BLUE BOX MACARONI AND CHEESE IN THE ENTIRE BLOOMING COUNTRY.

New habit of using fingers instead of pacifier...

New habit of using fingers instead of pacifier…

We’ve seen the effects of the stress on them. Anders still uses a pacifier (we had deliberately put off weaning him from it until after the move) and during the first two weeks of being here, if he didn’t have his pacifier, he’d put his fingers in his mouth at all times. He’d never done this before!! Thankfully this habit has stopped, but it certainly was a sign that he felt stressed, poor guy.

Crying all the way home from the market.

Crying all the way home from the market.

Tori has shown her stress in a more verbal and behavioral way… Lots of tantrums and acting out, and random-to-us bouts of major tears. She’s expressed sadness about being away from her friends and family, and gets easily offended if a child won’t play with her at the playground. We’re in the (stressful) process of finding a school for her, which I think will help quite a bit. It will get her into a routine, will give her an outlet for play and learning, and will, hopefully, reinforce some of the behavior training we’ve been teaching her. (For example, it’s not ok to call anyone, especially a grown-up we’ve just met, “poopy face” and then stick your tongue out and spit. Sigh.)

The most stressful part for me, so far, has been seeing my kids stressed! It’s amazing how many of my thoughts and actions are centered around trying to make them comfortable, even more than before. I’ve questioned my ability as a mom, I’ve questioned why I even bothered to have kids in the first place. My heart has been broken time and time again as my daughter weeps uncontrollably on my shoulder.

But. BUT. I have not once questioned whether we made the right decision in moving here. AJ and I both have a sense of right-ness, for lack of a better word. These adjustments are exactly that: adjustments. With, in theory, an end. It will take a little while but we’ve come so far. We’ve been loving our location, in a north-eastern borough of London, where everything we can possibly need is within a few blocks walking distance. There’s a playground or garden literally around every corner, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of seeing all there is to see here. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying exploring the city and chatting with the local mums and dads on the playgrounds.

Exploring London!

Exploring London!

I think next I’ll compile a list of the things we’ve found surprisingly different here; that’s the other big question people have been asking me: “What are some of the cultural differences?” So stay tuned for stories of creamer in yogurt containers, trash collection, burnt out electronics, peeing on the playground, and ham. :-)

Cheers!

The Amazing Spica Cast That Changed Our Lives!

To say it’s been a crazy couple of months would be an understatement! In this and the next couple of posts, I will try to give you a glimpse into our recent medical, emotional, and spiritual experiences :)

I’ll start by describing the Amazing Spica Cast That Changed Our Lives!! (Insert: Dramatic announcer voice)

My son, Anders, turned two in April and has been a healthy, active little guy. Shortly after his birthday he learned to jump with both feet, which is what ultimately caused our Big Excitement.

We were having a laid-back Friday evening in early May; AJ and I had put on Mary Poppins and dragged the cushions off the couches and were watching the kids jump off the couch and onto the pillows. Pretty normal, right? Right. Until Anders jumped, landed on a pillow on his knees and didn’t get up. Little did we know it would be almost eight weeks before he took another step.

At first it didn’t seem like a big deal, the guy didn’t even cry! And I, mom-of-the-year, told him, “It’s ok, bud, get on up!” But when he didn’t, we moved him to the couch and watched as he refused to move his leg and wouldn’t let us touch it. A phone call to the doctor convinced us to let him sleep the night at home and then bring him to the ER in the morning if he was still acting this way.

Waiting in the ER at University Medical Center, Tucson.

Waiting in the ER.

Which, of course, he was. Many hours and several x-rays later, we learned that he had fractured his left femur, poor guy!! To say my heart was wrenched was an understatement! He was such a trooper, though. We were admitted overnight to prepare him for full anesthesia in the morning, when the surgeon would set the bone and administer the cast. The SPICA cast.

The moment we heard the word, we looked it up on google. Enter the thought: Our lives are going to be changed, for a very long time. A hip-spica cast fully wraps around the waist and hips and goes down the affected leg, and often the other leg as well. The pictures online are quite shocking.

Marks left from the IV attempts.

Marks left from the IV attempts.

With all of this in our minds, we watched as they tried to administer an IV on our baby boy. It took FOURTEEN tries. FOURTEEN times they poked a needle into my son. His hands, wrists, feet and ankles were covered with needle holes. And the IV ultimately ended up in his NECK.

Watching our son scream and writhe in pain and confusion until he vomited was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve never felt so helpless, so torn between wanting peace for my son but knowing the pain had to be endured. It was a small help to know he probably won’t remember much, if any, of it.

Recovering from the spica cast application.

Recovering from the spica    cast application.

He came out of surgery, and it would be a full 5 weeks until we would see his little leg again. We were released that evening, mainly due to my persistence and nagging. It had gotten to the point that every time a nurse even walked past our door, Anders started crying in fear. Ugh. You guys, it was truly awful. We needed to go HOME and start our new, crazy life.

I’m so grateful for AJ’s parents, who had watched Tori for two nights. It allowed us to settle in at home and try and figure out how to deal with a two-year-old in a spica cast.

So, how DO you deal with a two-year-old in a spica cast?? We honestly had no clue. Many children who have a hip-spica have hip dysplasia, and their parents have months to research spica care. We, obviously, did not.

So in case anyone is reading this because you, like I was, are furiously searching the internet for any, ANY advice on spica cast care, here are some tips I learned based on our own experience. If you’re one of my regular readers, feel free to skip this part :) Gets kinda detailed!

The first two weeks are the hardest!!! They are stressful, emotional, and physically demanding. But once you’ve passed the two-week mark, it gets slightly easier. So hang in there!

Pain. If your child has broken a bone like mine did, expect him to be in fairly severe pain for almost the full two weeks. Keep movement limited. We were tempted to take him to birthday parties, etc, in the stroller, but followed my maternal instinct and laid VERY low at first. The best thing for healing is REST, after all! So be prepared to be home-bound for a while. It sucks, (especially if you have, say, a 4 yr old daughter as well…) but you do what you’ve got to do.

The ice pack seemed to help with the pain.

Diapering. Ugh. Terrible!!! Many people are able to tuck a diaper up the front and back of the cast, all the way to the top. We were not, because the cast was too snug, at least until the last week or so when the little guy had lost weight :( So. The first week ended in a rash. I’m pretty sure it was a combination of true diaper rash and natural blistering from the cast on his bare skin. I felt sooooo bad. At his one-week follow up, I insisted that his cast be trimmed around the waist and bottom. This helped a LOT. If you’re having difficulty diapering, I’d suggest asking the doctor to trim the cast. Also, one word that saved Anders’ bottom: MOLESKIN. Use it all around the cast that touches the diaper. Change frequently, as soon as it gets wet. Use small pieces and “butterfly” it around the edges. It really, really helps. I’d also recommend getting very soft, very absorbent diapers. Now is not the time to get cheap diapers!! We bought Pampers Swaddlers size 3, trimmed off the Velcro, and put it on backwards, wedging it up into his cast, front and back, as much as we could. We then put size 5 diapers around the entire thing, OVER the cast. At night we’d also line under his bum, (in the size 3 diaper) with a wing-less sanitary pad, ultra thin. Remember that since they are sleeping only on their backs, all urine will seep to the bottom and back of the diaper. Change them more frequently than you normally would, and asap when they poo!

Bathing. Flashback to newborn baths. Yep. He lay on the counter while we gave him a sponge bath and shampoo. He hated every second of it, but we endured.

Bathing with a spica cast.

Bathing with a spica cast.

Entertainment. LOTS of tv. I can’t even tell you how many episodes of Bubble Guppies we’ve seen. Because of the position his body was in, he couldn’t sit up straight, which really limited the activities he could do. Even coloring or puzzles were awkward. We bought him this lap tray with pockets on the sides which helped, but even that was precarious. (And easy for a grumpy guy to throw to the floor, haha). Because of his age (barely two), I had to sit with him to help with the activities. But, even still, playdough got eaten and juice was spilled and we’re still finding goldfish crumbs from his little area of the couch. It’s a messy business.

Eating. Ugh. Take an already-picky eater and make him immobile and you’ve got an almost impossible eating situation. He did not fit into his high chair, so one of us ate with him at the couch. Because of the angle in which he was lying, we often had to spoon-feed him. One tip I’d recommend is buying some tall plastic (disposable) cups in which to put his dry snacks. The taller, the better, because a shallow bowl will spill very easily when he tips it.

Beanbag chairs! A super great idea to give your child a change of scenery. That is, if your child will sit in one. We were given a bean bag chair and Anders REFUSED to sit in it until a week before the cast was removed. Oh well. At least his sister enjoyed it :)

Sleeping with a spica cast.

Sleeping with a spica cast.

Sleeping. Ugh. Awkward at best. We raised the crib to the middle level – lifting him out from the lowest level without hurting him was almost impossible. We laid him on his back (obviously) with some small blankets under his upper body to ensure the cast didn’t cut into his back. The we placed a small pillow at the foot of the crib for his casted leg to rest on (otherwise it would’ve been hanging elevated…) Try all different types of support to see which works best for your child. Definitely use the prescription AND non-prescription pain meds for the first week or so at night. After about 4 weeks Anders started rolling to his side, which was such a relief to see. He actually slept pretty well, considering the awkwardness of it. But we did set our alarm to re-dose his medicine for the first week or two. Keeping ahead of the pain is always best!

–  Transportation. We were very lucky in that Anders’ cast went down only one leg! Many spica casts are on both legs, in which the baby’s legs are very wide apart. This means that children in a spica cast often have to get either a special carseat (we could’ve borrowed one from our hospital) or a harness type of thing. Anders fit into his regular carseat (Britax Marathon), with just a few adjustments!! I was so grateful for this. He also fit in his stroller (City Mini) fine, with it reclined a little. This was a lifesaver for the last couple of weeks when he wasn’t in pain and we wanted to GET. OUT. OF. THE. HOUSE. :) I’ve read of other parents using a wagon with pillows to get their kiddos around, too.

So, there you have it. That pretty much sums of the logistical end of almost 6 weeks of our lives. I have been wanting to write about our experiences and the things I’ve learned but needed to also get the details out of the way, so now that’s done :)

I haven’t delved into the emotional and stressful parts of it! In my next post, I’ll talk about how this experience has affected my depression, my marriage, how I canceled a much-anticipated trip to Boston, how we learned that we are moving to England (!) and how we prepared ourselves to travel to Florida for a week on the beach and my brother’s wedding, potentially with a boy in a spica cast.

So tune in again, soon!