Tag Archives: london

Parenting in Public

I could feel people staring at us as they walked past. My daughter was crying and so was my son, and, to be honest, I was near tears as well. We were walking home from school and it had been one of those afternoons when not a single nice word had come out of Tori’s mouth since I picked her up. Whining, complaining, sassy-I-don’t-care kind of words came instead. “MOM! Get my jacket NOW,” was the first thing she said to me. Not, “Hi Mom!” or “Can you get my jacket?” We had made it about half-way home (a full mile one-way commute) when she chose to snatch her brother’s snack from his hand, eliciting tears from him. When I made her give it back AND give him a piece from her own snack, she lost it. “How dare you?!” she yelled. “NO!!”

Meanwhile, cars and cyclists whizzed by, dozens of people walked past, and we were in the middle of the sidewalk. I stopped walking, squatted next to her, and gave her a stern talking-to. We didn’t start walking again until she apologized and chose to change her attitude. It was a cold, wet wait, and we certainly received our share of curious looks from passers-by.

I’m sure this kind of thing happens to every parent. Whether it’s in the grocery store, at a restaurant, or even just with friends, we parent around other people. But here’s the thing that’s changed for us since living here: we don’t own a car, so I am CONSTANTLY parenting in public, even on our way TO the grocery store or restaurant.

There is no moment in which I am ever alone with my children except when we are literally in our house. No drives home from school, no road trips, no seat belts limiting the kids’ movement, and certainly no drive-thru restaurants. And, when bad choices or tantrums start happening, there are no threats of “don’t make me pull this car over, young lady!” haha!

Don’t get me wrong, driving with kids can be so very stressful; they’re yelling or crying or whining, all while you’re trying to pay attention to the road. BUT. In a car, there are not random strangers listening to every word you say. No one watching you, just to make sure that you don’t seem abusive or inappropriate. No random person walking by and offering unsolicited advice or an eye-brow raised stare when you’re choosing to let your child continue with his tantrum on the sidewalk.

Overall, we really love not having to drive! But it can be hard to be constantly scrutinized and judged (or feel you are) by the behavior of your children, and not have the respite of getting into the privacy of your car.

Parenting in public can be so, so exhausting, can’t it?? The looks and stares are enough to make you question your parenting choices. “Maybe I’m being too hard on her. Maybe I’m not being hard enough. Yes, thank you, ma’am, for saying ‘oh my’ when my son hit my daughter. Should I even bother addressing Tori’s attitude right now? But if I wait until we get home it will lose its effect… But it’s raining out and I really don’t have the energy to wait out here in the cold while we talk about this…” and so on. Sometimes I deliberately speak loudly so people around me can hear that, yes, I am addressing the issue, and no, I’m not swearing at her or threatening her with violence. But then speaking loudly can seem like I’m yelling at her. Yet speaking softly seems to imply malice!

I’m most grateful when I make eye contact with a stranger and they give me a sympathetic, smiling look which says “I’ve been in your shoes, hang in there,” and then go on their way.

Our extra time in public has forced me to stay true to my convictions, and to learn to just ignore the people walking by, and to realize this: It’s a lose-lose situation if I start to care what strangers on the street think about me and my children. My psyche can’t handle trying to impress people. It’s an exhausting and dangerous downhill battle that can lead to dark places.

We’ve all had that moment when someone offers you unsolicited advice or condemnation when you’re already stressed about your children. We must choose to stick to our convictions and instincts, and, dare I say it? parent our children the same in public as we do in private. Otherwise we’re sending our kids a mixed message and that’s not fair to them!

It’s so much easier said than done… I’d love to hear your thoughts about parenting in public; do you parent the same way at home as you do in the grocery store? Is it really possible to parent in public WITHOUT taking into consideration that you have an audience?

Well, I’m off to do the “school run,” as they say here; praying that our walk home will be full of good attitudes and happy kids :)

our immigration story

We recently returned from a very un-planned trip to Boston. Essentially, due to some recent immigration policy changes, the UK government required us to submit our visa-renewal application from within the United States. Neither AJ’s company or we were prepared for this; therefore, we basically had a two-day notice to book our flights and get the heck out of the UK.

We’ve travelled quite a bit as a family, but never have we had to prepare in one day for an international, 7 hr flight, 5 hr time change kind of trip. We were all, “Hey kids, wanna go to Boston tomorrow?” and poor Tori thought we were moving there. “Are you going to miss your friends, Mommy?” she asked very quietly. “You know, when we move to America?” <Insert cracked heart here.>

As I printed out over 60 pages of application documents (printer courtesy of a dear London friend), news blurbs kept popping up, and all I could see were the words like “immigrants” and “border control” and “child refugees.” My heart wanted to stop and contemplate all of IT, but my head knew I needed to focus on the job at hand.

We boarded our plane and arrived in the US with no issues, other than that Anders was too short for the automated immigration photo-thingy upon arrival. (BTW, his passport/visa photos are The. Cutest. Ever.) We knew that, worst-case-scenario, our visas would expire while we were there, and the UK, for some reason, would not approve our renewal. And we’d be stuck in Boston indefinitely.

During our entire trip, my heart and head were in turmoil. Yes, we were stressed about the unknown. But in everything I did, my heart was feeling contradictory.

As the kids watched shows on the iPad and I read through Elle Décor on the plane, all I could think of were the thousands of people crammed into teeny boats with nothing but the clothes on their backs, trying to make their way across an ocean.

As we were escorted to the front of the line at the USCIS office, I was so grateful for not having to wait ages with my two young kids in the super-boring office. And my heart tugged as we passed non-American families with young children, waiting, looking as bored and cranky as we would have been.

As we were pulled aside to sit for 20 minutes in a “secure lounge” upon re-entry to the UK, (their systems hadn’t yet fully updated our status), I couldn’t help but think of the millions of families living in refugee camps, sometimes for decades.

And as I lay with my wide-awake, jet-lagged three-year-old son at 3:30am, my brain could not erase images of that tiny three-year-old body, limp and lifeless, washed ashore on a Turkish beach.

Were the last two weeks stressful? Yep, a type of stress we haven’t encountered before. Were the last two weeks exhausting? You bet. Were the last two weeks a strain on our marriage? Of course. But. Were they physically dangerous? Nope. Did they put us into major financial debt? No. Did they ever require that I put my children in a life-threatening situation? Of course not.

We’re back in the UK, after spending almost two weeks with family and friends. We have a five-year visa. And as small and cramped as our flat may have seemed before we left, it now feels quite adequate. We have a “long” walk to school in the morning, but now it doesn’t seem quite that bad, even in the rain.

AJ and I always try to look for God’s purpose in the events of our lives. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to see it. Often we can’t see it until well after the fact. But I do feel that perhaps God wanted to soften my heart toward the plight of others, and he used this “inconvenience” and “stress” as a means to do so. I’m still working through what it all means, and what I need to do next… I’m really not sure. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. ;-)

How living in London is teaching me to love myself

The city of London now has over 8.6 million people who call it home. 44% of the city’s people are now of black or ethnic minority origins.* What does this mean for me? I love people-watching, and it’s AMAZING here.

I’ve always loved people-watching. I love seeing other people’s fashion choices, their hairstyles, shoes, umbrellas, hats. There’s just so much to take in!

I’ll be honest: I’m not accustomed to being around so many ethnically diverse people. I think because of this, I find them fascinating to look at. They’re all so very different – Chinese, Indian, Caribbean, African, Turkish, Eastern European, I just love looking at all of their faces and noticing the sometimes-obvious-but-sometimes-subtle differences between all of these races.

I pass dozens of people every morning on our walk to Tori’s school, then Anders and I will, once or twice a week, get coffee and a muffin at a café and just hang out. And I watch as people walk by or sit sipping their drinks. And I’ve come to this conclusion: ALL OF THEM ARE SO BEAUTIFUL.

Which leads me to my main point: LONDON IS TEACHING ME TO LOVE MYSELF, specifically my physical self.

I’ve struggled with poor body image for a long time. It’s the kind of body image that when I’m being rational, I feel fine about myself! But when I’m being irrational (who, me?) I can be overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and loads of self-criticism. This can vary daily. One day I’ll loathe my teeth. The next I’ll be stressing about my skin. And to be honest, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of one day feeling great, and the next day being afraid to eat a blueberry muffin because of its fat content.

I know at this point some of you are rolling your eyes. Because, in the grand scheme of things, I’ve really got nothing to worry about. But that’s not the point. The point is that I FEEL I have something to worry about. As irrational as it may be, it’s still true, and I think a lot of you can relate.

I now realize that I used to people-watch mainly as a way to critique myself. “Look at how well she wears that sweater dress. I couldn’t pull that off.” Or “Wow those jeans look amazing on her. I tried that same pair on and I looked like a mushroom.” Or “How does she look so great in that tunic and riding boots? I always look like Robin Hood.” And so on… (you guys, I’m not even joking about the Robin Hood thing.)

Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit older, or because I’ve had 6 months of truly unique people-watching, but today, as Anders and I sat in Pret and I drank a vanilla latte strong, I watched an Indian woman sitting across the café. There wasn’t anything remarkable about her, not fat or thin, not short or tall, not plain or striking, but in that moment, I truly thought she was beautiful. Then I looked at another woman, massively pregnant, with closely-cropped hair, zero makeup and clearly exhausted, and I thought she looked beautiful. And then there was the barista who called me Madame and had the clearest blue eyes amidst an otherwise plain face and I thought she was stunning. It was like all at once, everyone I looked at suddenly became beautiful just for the sake of being beautiful, not as a means to further my self-critique.

I feel like this is a huge deal. I know some people are naturally blessed with the ability to see all people as beautiful, unique beings, and they can do that without bringing it back to themselves. But clearly I’m not (or I wasn’t!) one of those people. The word selfish comes to mind. Because isn’t that what you call it when everything in your life revolves around yourself? The word selfish is usually used in relation to someone who thinks that they are better than everyone, therefore deserve to get everything they want, but really it’s just about being all-consumed with yourself, good or bad.

angelou8I’ve been selfish. And how lame is that? How exhausting. How boring, really, to constantly be comparing yourself to other people. It has blinded me from truly seeing people for who they are, and how God has created them, and has blinded me from seeing myself as I truly am, and how God created me.

I think this is a turning point for me. In a really cool, unchartered, might-screw-up-once-in-a-while-but-will-get-back-on-track kind of way. I’m so excited to start being deliberate in bettering my body image. I’m not really sure what this looks like in a tangible way. Perhaps I’ll move our full-length mirror to a place I don’t walk past as often. Or maybe I’ll stop meandering through clothing stores a bit less. I’m not sure. But I do know that this is new to me, and I’m really excited about it.

And I’m pretty sure I might not have had this experience if we hadn’t moved to London!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139:14

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*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-31082941

Two other great articles about the modern issue of self-image:

https://lizboltzranfeld.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/what-happens-if-we-let-fat-people-be-happy/

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/10/body-image-anxiety-eva-wiseman

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!