Did we really just move our family to the other side of the world?
When I was single, I kept my passport in my purse. I wanted to be able to jump on a plane to some distant corner of the world in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. My imagination had great aspirations.
As a graduate student in Anthropology, I had my tastes of the backpacking version of seeing the world, huts and $20 hostels were my specialty. I was hellbent on experiencing the world. For our honeymoon, my husband humored my travel itch and we set out to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience: five weeks, eight countries, all backpacking. We experienced the low and luxury of Central and South America. And of course, all the fights and stomach bugs that accompany a couple traveling.
In many ways, it was the kind of trip designed to temporarily satiate my desire to travel before "trying" to start a family. We both knew a baby was on our horizon and while we intended to keep seeing the world together, some experiences, would become more than just "difficult" when children arrived.
As a mother of a two and four-year-old, I now know the realities of how even a trip to the grocery store can be traumatizing.
When our son was born, I fought tooth and nail to remain that backpacker of my early 20s. With enormous bags of extra clothes, pouches, snacks and distractions we continued our travels. Christmas in Dublin to see my in-laws when my son was just nine-weeks-old, the wedding in Mexico for a dear friend when he was five-months-old, and all of Papa's business trips we tagged along to. Before turning one, our son had been on more than 30 flights.
But then baby two arrived and with my son requiring full price tickets, these frequent trips quickly evaporated. With two kids, it felt like preparing for a trip would take longer than the trip itself. And was it actually a "vacation" just being in a different local without all the stabilizers of home? I began to wonder who had I become...and that upset me more than not being able to travel freely.
While our passports slowed down their mileage, the more we discussed moving our family abroad one day. More than just the experience, which we knew would be unforgettable, I think a part of me wanted to be that family. The family that wasn't phased or paralyzed by meltdowns or maybe in my fantasy if we lived somewhere else we would become the family were the kids were so perfectly chill, meltdowns weren't a word in their dictionary. This certainly wasn't our reality in New York, and like many of you, I'd read so much about those perfectly-behaved French children.
With my husband running a start up at the time, depending on the day and the ebb and flow of our collective stress, the fantasizing became more real. Maybe we could become the family that just dropped everything and travelled around the world? We charted our route, created a budget, and I even chatted with the pediatrician about which extra vaccinations the kids might need. All of our arm chair ideology about raising our children as "global citizens" felt like it might happen if we could just get ourselves to jump.
But then the offer came...a job in London.
While a great professional opportunity for my husband, if I'm honest, at first I was a little disappointed it wasn't quite the Indiana Jones version I'd been fantasizing about. But I put on my big girl pants of pragmatism and realized this, right in front of my face, was the once-in-a-lifetime chance for us to live abroad as a family. And I reminded myself to be thankful we were being given this opportunity. This would be our opportunity to jump.
But then the reality of what moving across the ocean would mean? And that tsunami of dread... "What in the WORLD did we just get ourselves into'?
As an Irishman, it would be the first time in more than 15 years my husband would live in the same time zone of his own family. But for me it would mean leaving mine. While my mom and I have the uncanny way of fighting more like sisters than mother and daughter, we certainly had been spoiled by her babysitting once a weekend and on that occasional overnight trip. I loved the way Grandma was just important to my kids as my grandparents, who raised me on and off across the years, had been to me. And what about my own grandmother, though sharper than a knife, at 82 years old, would moving overseas mean I'd lose our last chapter together?
While I had lived abroad when I was single, this was the first time I would be doing it as a mom. The weight of all the things to be managed and figured out felt enormous. Where would they go to school? Where would be we live? Would I be able to work there? Followed by the 10 million other things, like never ending paper cuts, that fall on a mom's constantly growing to-do list, which in the best of situations, already kept me up at night.
And I thought of myself, and how lonely motherhood is without your best mama friends.
My "mamas" had become my life line of sanity, the place I vented and cried, the people who understand both how hard and how amazing motherhood can be. Our kids had known each other since being babies, and we welcomed second children into our growing commune of friendship. Bath times, meal times, vacations, nights out all shared. Losing parents, premature babies, fights with partners, and that realization grown up womanhood is SO MUCH HARDER than anyone tells you, all shared. These were my sisters in arms, and I realized more than anything leaving them would be the hardest part of the move.
But after wiping away that tear, I knew I had to become laser focused on getting my family settled. The sooner this happened, the sooner I would find my own nest in this new adventure.
School became my first front of attack. Having just spent more than a year applying to schools in New York, I had a sense of what we were up against. College application like essays that judge us on every nuance of our pedigree and how well we represented our educational philosophies. Parent interviews. Kid play groups observed. I had heard that at many of the London private schools, children's names were put down at birth. C-sections scheduled to ensure a September first birthday and don't forget they had royalty in this country. How were we going to be able to compete with that?
The next week I would be on a plane to visit as many schools as I could in a two day period. (Mamas, often the heart of a home, often don't have the luxury of being gone too long.) Straight off a red eye, I rushed into an airport bathroom to change my clothes, spray some perfume and run off to my first school tour that would start 45 minutes later. Trying my best to be presentable, my goal was to charm perspective schools that we were the family for them, even if at this point in the year they had likely filled every last space.
Some places were astounding, with little Madeline uniforms and straw hats, other schools where the children looked just as dreary and depressed as the gray skies. But in the end, I got back on that plane so deeply fortunate a school we loved, in an area we loved, had room for my son. And even more a blessing, the Montessori school...across the street...had room for my daughter. A successful move meant them being happy, and school was a critical step in some of my maternal fears beginning to melt away.
Two months later I returned with my husband to find a home. A big city, I knew location was everything in London. And if we didn't play this right, between multiple kids, multiple drop offs and after school activities, I would likely be hauling small people around more than half the day around a city that was a stranger. After marathon sessions of House Hunters International, I was giddier than Christmas going into the process. But 40 apartments later, I was questioning if London was the city for us. While New York was filled with elevators and high rises, London was the home of steep narrow dark staircases that I saw every member of our family falling down. Houses were tall and skinny, small rooms none of our American furniture would fit in, and the price to be in a fourth floor walk-up with "charm" was staggering. While it's a little too small for us, and maybe a little too loud of Friday and Saturday nights with the pub across the street, we found our home, right on Portobello Road in the the heart of Notting Hill. Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant would be proud.
I have completely fallen in love with our new neighborhood. I simply could not ask for a better place to live at this particular moment in my life. There is this constant energy and buzz. So many places to eat, drink a coffee, buy fresh fruit an vegetables daily, people watch! There are live musicians on our corner a few times a week, the music wafting up into the apartment. I've made friends at a few local spots as well as the olive guy who comes on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday's to the market on our street. My two-year-old is becoming an anchovies/sardine fiend because of him. A few nights before it got too cold, my husband and I played chess on the roof top after the kids went to sleep, eating cheese and beautiful meats from the place across the street. We are embracing the "Europeaness" of our new home.
Nothing can replace New York in my heart (and for that matter my New York mamas), but slowly but surely I'm finding my way here. Each day I feel less and less like a tourist as I learn how to get around, find a doctor, find a babysitter, figure out the grocery store (which is not only filled with new brands and new foods, but also showcases an English obsession with sausage products) as well as that feeling of comfort the first time you get asked to coffee by the moms at school. Each day I absorb all the new words that mark our versions of English as just so different. And when my daughter asked for a "plaster" this morning, I held back my burning desire to correct her with the word "bandaid." In two months of being "Londoner's" I'm shocked and amazed how quickly the kids have adapted and assimilated. How soon until they have little British accents, and think of London as officially their home?
Home has become a tricky word in our household...does it mean where you come from or where you are now?
Thanks to this move, a giant jump across the so called "pond," the more I'm realizing home, rather than an address, is my husband as my partner and the two small human beings we brought into the world.
Whether we stay here for a year or forever, this is a lesson I hope none of us soon forget.