6 Things I Like About England

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog bitching about the UK so I thought I would try to show that I’m not ALWAYS so miserable. Here are 6 good things about England:

1. Organic milk and egg deliveries – this one is important to me because I have three small children and always run out of milk and eggs. It is wonderfully convenient and we have a very friendly milkman that I imagine used to happen in the States in the 50s. When I was living in New York and San Fran, you could get your food delivered but I don’t think there were milkmen like there are here. It’s just really nice to have that delicious, fresh-off-the-farm milk with that thick cream on top delivered to your door in old-fashioned milk bottles. I love it!

2. Eurostar to Paris – OK, so maybe this is more about Paris than London or England but it is fabulous to be in London at 10am and then Paris at noon. Not only that but I’m about 2 hours from most of Europe which is great for wonderful weekend breaks. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to take as much advantage of that in the last 3 years but that’s going to change now that the twins are just turning 2! Paris, here we come!

3. Public footpaths – In England walking/hiking is one of the most popular past times. Anywhere you go in the country, you will see signs on fields that say “public footpaths”. This means you are allowed to cross through privately owned farms and fields along the marked footpaths. So you could walk through a field of sheep or cows with no worries of being ‘shot for trespassing’ as in the US. I think that’s nice. And most people are quite respectful and make sure to close the gates and not litter. It makes for beautiful, long walks through rolling hills of fields and forests.

4.  Free healthcare for kids – normally I am not a fan of the NHS (National Health Service) but there are a couple of components that I think are great with regards to kids.  If your child has a serious illness I feel it would be MUCH better to have him/her treated in the US.  However, there are three things that they do well:  free prescriptions, free inoculations and monitoring, and free dentist care.  Anytime you need to get antibiotics or any other kind of prescription (including the expensive lactose-free prescription formula that I used for the twins for a year) it is free and easy to pickup.  I think that is very helpful and great for the poorest families.  The NHS also monitors your baby’s age and as he/she reaches certain months, they tell you when to go in for an immunization which you can do quickly and easily and of course without cost.  This is especially helpful when your child is 3 or 4 years old and it’s been a while since the last immunization and you are more prone to forget.  I also think that’s good for society as a whole, making sure all children are kept free of the worst diseases.  (I’m not sure how it’s done in America but I don’t think it is this organized).  And finally, the free dentist care.  The best part of this is that you don’t have to go to special NHS dentists which may be hard to find.  I go to a private dentist who is quite good and every time I bring Will for a checkup, it’s free.  I love that!  Should be especially useful when the big teeth come in and he starts getting cavities.

5.  Black cabs – In London, the cabbies drive what is known as black cabs.  They are wonderful taxis for several reasons.  First and foremost, they are spacious enough so you can roll your stroller right into the back and you don’t have to carry a car seat with you at all times.  It is so convenient especially when you have twins in a double stroller.  I can’t imagine what I would do if I lived in NYC.  Second, the cabbies are all quite friendly and extremely knowledgeable of London streets.  Unlike many New York taxis who might even ask you where Bleecker Street is, London cabbies know EVERY single street no matter how small and also know the quickest way there at various times of day.  It is quite impressive.  The test to become a cabbie is very competitive and involves a detailed test of London streets called “The Knowledge” which requires about 2 years of roaming the streets with a moped so you can learn everything.  Well done, London!  By the way, a survey just came out that listed London black cabs as the friendliest and best cabs in the world.  Guess who was last…..Parisian cabs!   Black cabs beat yellow taxis to be named best in the world | Mail Online.

6.  Pub culture – Pubs are truly a wonderful establishment.  People who don’t live in England might not understand the difference between a pub and a bar.  First of all, good pubs generally welcome patrons of any age, be it a 90-year-old grandmother or a 6 month old baby.  It’s great to see three generations of a family enjoying each other’s company on a regular basis.  Certainly there is drinking here but it’s not only about getting alcohol.  It’s a place to sit down, have a beer (or not) with friends and family, order some nice hearty food and enjoy a lively ambiance.  My husband and I use pubs as a family outing regularly.  Our local pub has a lovely enclosed garden where the kids can run wild while we enjoy a pint in the sunshine and order chips for the kids.  And there is no one rushing you out — you could sit there all day if you wanted to.

It’s a short list but these are really nice things.  I am sure that there are probably more things I like but I just can’t think of them right now.  🙂

Junior Beds for the Twins: A Three Ring Circus

It’s been a while because I’m swamped with doing three different sets of taxes, two of them terribly late.  But now I have two hours on my own at a car service center waiting for my safety inspection, which is giving me the perfect opportunity to write.

My latest adventure involves the twins’ sleep (upon which most of my well-being and happiness seem to depend).  We have finally had a week of very fine weather which the Brits would call ‘hot’ but I consider very comfortable at about 75/80 degrees during the day.  Our house is an old Victorian house with no air conditioning, like most English houses, and the heat seems to build primarily in the twins’ bedroom which is south-facing.  Because of the heat, I can’t put sleep sacks on them anymore and with this newfound freedom my daughter Ellie  attempts to sling her leg over the side of her crib anytime her feet are unfettered.  She wants to escape but hasn’t grasped that she will go flying head first to the ground if she succeeds, probably breaking her neck.  I did briefly consider restraints but thought the health and safety crew might come after me for breaking rule 12,453 of their code.  No, the best alternative would be eliminating the crib and putting her into a junior bed.

Fortunately, I had already purchased two junior beds for Ellie and Jack.  I was dreading the transition.  We put the beds in the center of the room, moved their cribs against the windows so we could open the windows without worrying about the twins trying to climb out, and lay them in the beds.  Ellie and Jack popped up immediately and started jumping up and down on the beds and then running around the room like Energizer bunnies.  I was sort of at a loss and decided to do the regular night-time routine and then just leave them to it.    We locked the door and then watched the video monitor for the next 3 hours.  Holy SHIT!  It’s like there were two Tasmanian devils wreaking havoc in the room.  They got into EVERYTHING!  First Ellie cried for a while, banging on the door, and then she antagonized her brother a bit, trying to take away his security blanket.  Jack was worse.  He grabbed the monitor and unplugged it before I realized what he had done.  I moved it further out of reach.  He then went after the lamp which I thought was totally out of reach — my mistake.  He pulled it down to the floor and was turning on and off, on and off, until I got there and removed it.  Ellie finally passed out half on and half off  Jack’s bed which Jack found amusing so he kept poking her trying to get her to react.  When he finally managed to wake her after 20 minutes, he passed out on his bed while she wailed.  It was 10pm before both had fallen asleep.

Needless to say, they haven’t taken any naps in the two days since we brought out the beds.  How the hell am I going to get them to sleep??  I welcome your suggestions.

Why are you staring? — Am I a spectacle?

I am getting really sick and tired of being stared at when I am out with my kids. Does anyone else have this problem or is this just an English thing? Here is an example:

I decide to go to the coffee shop with the kids which is one of the only places I can go around here with the kids that is indoors without going to a full-fledged restaurant. It’s pretty pathetic actually — that’s my little outing for the morning when I am really stretched for ideas with the kids and I am on my own. For those of you who wonder why I can’t take them to playgroups alone, you have to imagine trying to monitor my three kids under 4 in a room full of little kids and play equipment. It’s nearly impossible without one of my kids hurting themselves or someone else. So I usually have to stay at home on the days my nanny doesn’t work or go somewhere like the coffee shop where I can buckle the little ones into the high chairs and hope like hell my eldest, Will, behaves. Now back to my point…

I wheel my double stroller and pre-schooler into the coffee shop with some difficulty, navigating the door and a step with Will struggling to push the door open and no one coming over to help but lots of them watching (including another mum with a baby of her own — COME ON!!! Where is your mum solidarity??) So I finally get inside, get in line trying to push the stroller as close to the counter as possible so that people can get by while trying to rein Will in from bumping into people, grabbing the treats on display, and chattering away at full volume. Uh-oh, and now the twins start fussing because we’ve stopped moving and we’re in a stuffy room. I finally get my order and I scan the room for a table with space around it, and navigate around people’s tables to get to our spot. It takes me about 5 minutes to get everyone set up. Jackets off, two high chairs, push the stroller to the side, get snacks out for the little ones, get Will seated and eating his snack, and finally I get to sit down with my coffee. Ahhhhh. The three children are momentarily occupied so I scan the room. Right next to me I see an elderly couple and the man is openly staring at me. I glance away and a minute later look back again. He’s still staring at me and not averting his eyes!! I get distracted by fussing at the table, fighting among the children about snacks, the usual chaos, and I know my time is getting short. I try to drink my coffee quickly. I feel the stare on me still. I look again and this time I don’t break my gaze. How obnoxious — he won’t stop staring with a slight smirk this time!   I have to look away because the kids are getting restless so I get them ready for leaving — faces wiped, picking up food off the floor, coats on, into the stroller for the twins and Ellie starts to scream because she doesn’t want to get into the stroller. Right about this time, the old man who hasn’t stopped staring has the nerve to say, “It is only going to get harder” with that damn smirk on his face. I’m about to lose it because I am already feeling self-conscious and I’ve been desperately trying to keep everyone calm the entire time just so I could enjoy one fucking cup of coffee outside my house. Instead of snapping at him, which would probably play right into his condescension, I hold everything in and give him a sunny smile and say, “Oh really? I don’t find them any trouble at all. They are wonderful lively children and I love every minute with them.”  I feel really proud of myself for not giving him the upper hand.  Who would say that to a mom who is clearly struggling and trying to not create a scene.  Is that supposed to make me feel better?  What an asshole!! I pack them all up and stroll out of the coffee shop.

This is just one isolated incident but basically this happens to me all the time.  Usually without the comments thank goodness.  But everywhere I go people are staring and it usually is the elderly who are the worst.  Is having three young children so unusual?  My twins are not even identical!  Maybe there is something flamboyant about how I go about my business — who knows?  I just get sick and tired of feeling like I stick out like a sore thumb over here.

I miss America

I just watched the film Blindside the other day and it really made me miss America. Let me preface this by letting you know I have spent a lot of my life living and travelling abroad, so I am not one of these people who has never truly experienced diverse cultures. I have lived in Europe, Canada, and Africa for several years each. But never have I missed my home more than now, living in England with my young family.  I feel like I am living in a cocoon over here separate from everything and everyone that is important to me.  My children are growing up without any relatives close by and with less than a handful of friends.  I actually miss the culture of America and everything Americans stand for.  I know that lots of people will have negative things to say about American culture but once you have children and live abroad you realize all the good things that your kids are missing out on — things that you took for granted growing up in America.  Let me list a few important things that I miss:

1.  The sports/activity mentality – At home kids are always playing an active game of some sort, whether organized or not.  Softball/baseball, swimming, soccer, tag, red light/green light, hockey (in an ice rink or on the pond out back with neighborhood kids), sledding, snowball fights with well built snow forts, basketball, throwing a football around, and the list just goes on and on.  That’s what kids do.  If the weather is at all passable, they go outside and play something.  My whole childhood was spent outside with friends.  Here in England, kids are just not encouraged to go outside and play as much.  There are lots of organized playgroups or visits to museums and such but not just free playing outside.  Maybe the weather is a main issue since it basically rains all winter long.  Or maybe there just isn’t as much free space around.  And don’t get me started on ‘Elf and Safety.  I don’t know but I miss carefree America.

2.  Team sports in school – this is somewhat related to #1 but after seeing Blindside I was jones-ing for an American football game.  The adrenaline of cheering your team on to win a tight game, especially if your child is playing, is an amazing natural high.  Winning is great!  Losing sucks but is a necessary part of learning about life.  I have no patience with games in school where “everyone wins”.  That’s ridiculous and unhealthy.  I see a lot of that over here in England.  Hopefully, that trend isn’t starting in America as well.

The sports over here are just not as exciting to me.  And there seems to be less of them to choose from especially for girls.

3.  Moms being friendly and connecting with you because you both have kids – this seems strange but lately as I have been taking Will to pre-school and waiting to pick him up, I have had some disappointing interactions with the British mums as we wait to be let into the school at noon.  Here is a gist of what happens:  I walk up to the gate where there are three or four other mums.  I say a friendly, “Hello!” and smile.  I get small grins and murmured, “Hello” back.  Then everyone shifts their eyes elsewhere.  We stand in silence.  So I try again.  “We finally got some sun today”.  I direct this to the nearest mum.  She smiles, says, “Yes” and we stand there quietly again.  Nervously waiting, shifting feet, staring at the door, uncomfortable….. silent.  It’s ridiculous!  I just know at home, there would be a hum of conversation and just a smile at one of the moms would get a conversation started.  I never thought I was a social butterfly but I miss socializing.

4.  The sun – Boy, am I sun deprived here!  I am used to being drenched in sun, having spent a good majority of my life in a southern state.  The perpetual darkness in this country actually depresses me.  Don’t underestimate the power of bad weather on your long-term psyche.  I can understand why the early English left England and tried to conquer the world. The weather had to be better anywhere else.   If it was my fate to live permanently on this windy, rainy island I would do my damnedest to find a nice, warm, sunny island to take-over.

So that’s all I have time for.  Kids are up and clamouring for my attention.  I have no idea what we are going to do — it’s raining again.

Babies Are Bad For Your Marriage

I am hoping this will change once the twins are a little older but I do think that having babies is the worst thing you can do for your marriage! Let’s recap the progression of my relationship with Jason:

1996 – We meet and are instantly attracted to each other but are dating other people.

1997 – We spend the last year flirting outrageously and finally get together after ending both of our previous relationships.

1998 – 2003 – Terribly sexy and fulfilling relationship. He’s the one. Can’t imagine life without him.

2004 – We get married!

2004 – 2006 – Married life is good. Enjoy big cities as a young married couple. Deal with usual small issues but all is good.

2006 – My first son is born.  Life changes dramatically.  Sleep is a huge issue and I do not deal with it well.  Lots of sniping with husband.

2007 – Things get a little better but there is no more time for “us”.   Life with one child seems overwhelming, especially in London with no family around.

2008 – The twins are born.  We look back at life with one child as the good life.  All hell breaks loose.  I never sleep a full night again.  I am a wreck and I do not treat my husband well.  (He is no angel either).

2009 – Things do not get better.

2010 – I am terribly hopeful that my husband and I can ‘rediscover’ each other.  It seems like I am just trying to get through each day.  I shower my babies with love but there is not much leftover for my husband.  Some days I think how different our life would be if we didn’t have three children under four years old.  How do people keep marriage alive with small children?? I have become such a grouch and he is not much better.

My advice to newly married couples:  Wait to have children!