Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Christmas Story

“This something to celebrate God's life. There's a red ribbon to celebrate the blood of God. The orange on this is for the world. The candle is to celebrate Jesus' birthday. The little sultanas are to celebrate the things that we have got to have that God gave us. But I made it at my school. I'm learning 'RE' right now. RE is when we talk about Jesus.”

As told by Bridger Anderberg (6) about his Christingle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christingle) and documented by his beautiful mother.

There are lots of versions of the Christmas Story - just like any story - ask my friends who "sasquatch" is and you'll get a many, and varied assortment of stories. Ask them just how long one should boil corn at altitude, and you'll get a whole lot more than cooking instructions...

Luke chapter 2 will forever be "The Christmas Story" to me. Complete with Querinious, governor of Syriah, placed inexplicably into infamy by the Gospel's author. I can pretty much recite it from verse one all the way to "Mary treasured all these things in her heart..." I learned it a little at a time, one year to the next, one sunday school teacher after another, flannel-graph to flannel-graph. So at dinner the other night I asked the boys, "Can you guys tell me the Christmas Story?"

Could they ever...no flannel-graph required -

Bridger: "First, Mary was sweeping the house. Then, um, the angel told her that she was going to have a baby and then Joseph got disappointed that it wasn’t his baby but he fell asleep and had a dream that the angel came to him and told him that the child will not be yours but you can engage with Mary and then it will be yours. Then Joseph was so happy that he ran to Mary and they were engaged."

"Then the king..."

Caid: you mean Hawod..."
Bridger: No not Herod. The king, told them to register and they had to go to Bethlehem (pronounced in proper British with a long e between the l and the h), the town of David in Judea.

I find Joseph's courage this year at the heart of my Christmas Story. I now know what it feels like to uproot a young family and travel thousands of miles from home. We aren't birthing a new child but we are, we have been, birthing a new HOME. A home that is not, and will likely never again, be attached to a physical place in this world. Instead it immenates from the connection that Cori and I have found in all of the heartbreak. All of the pain and the tears. And - not to be missed - the delight, the wonder, the passion, the newness, and the adventure. We can list home in places now like an empty driveway where a car should have been parked awaiting our return from holiday. In a bedroom with nothing but an air mattres for three months. On a freezing cold train carriage where we texted back and forth for two hours as a very important international flight left Gatwick without me. But also home is at the top of the Eiffel Tower. In the wings of Notre Dame betneath the Rose Window. Around the Carousel at the Luxembourg Gardens. At the seaside of the English Channel. In the balcony of a west end theatre. At the Oscar Hotel for Christmas dinner with the boys. In front of this year's tree surrounded by paper chains and childrens' art projects...

And, for whatever inexplicable reason in the human design, like with child birth, most of that birthing has been from Cori. Right from her guts. Something about HOME must come from a woman working to make it so. And so, I have found myself, thinking this year of Joseph. How he must have done all he could to ease the pace and the cadence of that miserable mule on the long road. How he probably gave up the last drink from his water skin every time. And how when he was pointed to the stable he settled in with a smile, tied the donkey, and then slipped to the back where he slid to a squat against the back wall with his head in hands just trying to pull it together. Just trying to keep holding the space. Knowing that's really all he could do.

Bridger: "Then Mary had to have the baby in the stable because they were living in the house that was a stable because there was no where to stay because the rooms where all full."

Me: Where did they try to stay first?

Bridger:They tried to stay in the inn and they asked if they could come in but no, the rooms were all full go try the next inn so the inn keeper said you could stay in my stable.

Me: What's an Inn?

Bridger: An Inn is a hotel in Pub.

Caid: No... Inn is de guy who is de keeper of duh hotel.

I'm suprised this year how many people I've heard reference the Inn Keeper. Some in veiled tones of criticism for not cleaning out so much as a broom closet or giving up his own bed. Some wanting to saint him for offering his stable. Even Garrison Keillor gives the guy a shout out in his version of the story as an overworked, disaffected employee who "just works here." Funny thing is we don't have any idea how he, or she, might have responded. Or whether he or she was there to talk at all. Whatever the case, I like the idea that Joseph stopped and checked on the back room at the local pub, and Mr. Inn, vewy gwaciously offewed them his stable.

Bridger: "So, the shepherds were watching their flocks and an angel came to them and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said not to be afraid. He said I bring you good news, today a baby is born in Judea, town of david...

Caid: "That’s bethlemen..."

Bridger: "...and you will see him lying in a manger in white clothes. Then a whole choir of angels came and they said glory to god in the highest, peace on earth to old men, amen.

The shepherds went to marry and joseph and told them all about what the angels told them. Then everyone was amazed when the shepherds told everybody else.

This was an important point to Bridger. So much so that at the Christ Church Deal Christmas celebration, in the middle of a prayer, Bridger asked for the microphone, and in Christ Church Deal fashion, was given it to tell everyone that one of the important ways the shepherds welcomed Jesus was by telling everybody else about them. But that's just Bridger. Making the kind of connections that Bridger makes everywhere. His full name means "He who builds bridges with Yahweh as his God." And this is what Bridger does. Yesterday he and I went to St. Paul's for a caroling service. St. Paul's is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. The spectacle was amazing. The choir was amazing. Bridger, was unimpressed. Until he learned that the lady sitting next to us was from Boston. i.e., the home of the Red Sox. i.e., the arch nemesis of the Colorado Rockies due to the outcome of the 2007 World Series. i.e., the arch nemesis of Bridger Anderberg and a problem he has been trying to resolve with Nate Shultz since the inception of their relationship. But, Bridger found common ground here. Not in the rivalry, but in the beauty of the sport, and soon the cathedral in all of its splendor could have simply melted away into the dark streets of Bethlehem and, without knowing it, every deed that Bridger has ever witnessed Matt Holiday perform in left field was just one more perfect announcement that the Christ child was born - because he shown out so clearly from the perfect little brown eyes of that little boy and his willingness to make a new friend from Boston.

Bridger: Then there was wise men, riding on camels but they went to Jerusalem, the town where Herod lived and they asked him where Jesus was and he didn’t know and he grew angry but pretended he was happy and said when you find him tell me and I actually will bow down before him too.

Caid: Hewod said that because he gwew angwy and he wanted to kill all duh baby boys.

Me: Why did he want to do that?

Caid: I’m not willy suwe actually?

Bridger: He was afraid that he would lose his power and he wanted to keep his power so he decided to kill all the boys in every country and he sent his men to do that.

This is a part of the Christmas Story I have a tremendous problem with as I consider all of the parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends - all of the Anderbergs, and Hoggatts, and Nails, and Switzers, and Baars, and Shultzes, and Elwells, and Philips who would have been shattered by the unbelievable injustice of this event. The loss that would have torn through them as that innocent little piece of their wold was ripped inexplicably from them? I argue with God about this. About how that could have been prevented. About His safe passage to Egypt. About the ridiculous insanity of this bloodshed as a result of what we celebrate every December. I'm still arguing. He's still listening. Perhaps someday we'll change turns and I'll get a fuller picture. But this year I'm just thankful for Jake, and Jack, and Alastair, and I can't wait to see each of them.

Bridger: Then Mary and Joseph were told to move so they moved to a new house and the wise came to see them there. One of the wise men gave them gold, one gave him myrrh, one gave him frankincense. Myrrh is sap from a tree and frankincense is milk from a cow.

Caid: Huh uh. Fwankincence is sap from a twee and Myrrh (said in proper British muhh) is milk from a cow...

We never did discover which was which. But we are clear that those boys have been listenting during RE. RE is, of course, religious education. But this kind of understanding doesn't come from simply listening to the story in school. This comes because they ingest and ask questions and then think for themselves. It's why they can comment on Christmas eve that probably things didn't work out for Joseph and Mary exactly like they expected... Today didn't really end up the way we expected either. We spent the last third of the day in the emergency room because I dislocated my shoulder again. I was goofing around with he boys on the playground and out it popped. I knew immediately, but shoulders don't pop back in per the Mel Gibson/Leathal Weapon routine, so there we were, stuck in a park, in Croydon, on Christmas day with no idea where the closest emergency room was - and no phone. Cori was holding my arm in traction and uttered a quick prayer for help and within 30 seconds a family arrived with two boys, a girl, mum, dad, and the grandparents. Dad called an ambulance. Bridger was swept into the arms of grandmum for a chat to calm him down. Caid was figuring out how to shoot the air pellet guns the two boys had secured from Father Christmas and probably wondering if "it would be wise" to shoot one at me in that state. Granddad stood sentinel on the sidewalk and then barked orders at the EMT's until I was safely in the ambulance.

The ambulance drivers where very kind. Not the most gentle of men with an arm that happens to be as secure as a clock pendulum but very tender just the same - and I needed that today. Due to the horrors that I've heard of the NHS I expected much worse, but even the hospital experience wasn't bad and after only 5 hours from the time of dislocation, I was on my way home with something very strong and affecting doing cartwheels in my veins.

Expedient as it was, we missed Christmas dinner. So we went for plan B. Curry from the local Indian place. The door was open and I walked in to greet the manager and the guy that works the til at the offlicense up the street. Both know me by now and asked about the sling - so I explained. Turns out the restaurant wasn't open today. The manager just got stuck there due to holiday train schedules. He is a Muslim and has never in his life celebrated Christmas. However, when he heard the story, our Christmas Story, he just wanted to help. So he took my order and made us a take home feast of some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten. And made sure that each of us, boys included, had a special drink while we waited for the food to finish.

And so at the end of the day, as Christmas has once again passed on this side of the world, I think about the unexpected turn of events of our day. The unexpected turn of events of our lives. The times in the last few weeks that I have had to slip out back behind the stable, slide to a squat and put my head in my hands and just try to get a grip. And then I think of Roc, the manager of Taste of Bengali at the Sanderstead Train Station and I hope that's what "Inn" was like when he couldn't offer a room to Mary and pointed her to the stable. Simply delighted, even though the event meant nothing to him, to provide a place in the stable.

May the remainder of your Christmas be blessed. May you revel in the family and friends that you have. May you be surprised by all that a friendly universe can offer you if you will open your arms. And may you find the Christ Child in the most unexpected of places throughout 2009. Merry Christmas!

Dec. 25, 2008

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Bridger and I turned a corner in our relationship last night. He read a book to me. 'Snow' by P.D. Eastman (which is generationally indicative because he reads that "P dot D dot Eastman"). It has 61 pages. I was so proud of him. Afterwards I told him so. I asked him how he felt about himself, having worked so hard at learning to read. "Yeah, Mom," he said. "I persevered. I know what that word means. I heard you saying that to Holly B at school last week." We talked a little about perseverance and again how proud of him I was. He responded by looking me in the eye and with a very serious look on his face he said, "Yeah, Mom. 'Cause I'm old. And I'm ready for this."
I feel a little old too. I have a son who reads. A new dimension has been entered. I hope I'm as ready as he is.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

So here's a weird thing--the English don't seem to rinse things. I noticed it with dishes when we've visited friends here. There's one sink of water with soap. You wash the dishes in the water and then sort of swish them around in the water and set them on the sideboard to drain. No rinsing. No separate sink of non-soapy water. In fact most kitchens I have seen only have one basin in the kitchen--not two sections of the sink like my sink was in the States.
I haven't seen a traditional carwash here yet either. Instead, in the major grocery stores or at the mall there's a 'handwashing service.' They have a little cart with a bucket of soapy water and rags and sponges and that sort of thing. The cars look plenty clean when they're done. I still can't figure out how they rinse it though! There's no hose. There isn't a separate bucket of clean water to rinse with.
So I'm flabbergasted. No rinsing. Go figure...

Monday, 15 December 2008

You know you're a mama when...

You know you’re a mama when...you wake up with your hair crusted with snot because your four year old couldn’t sleep unless his little face was pressed right up against your head.
You know you’re REALLY a mama when...you don’t rush to the shower when you realize you have crusty, booger-hair. Instead you cook some breakfast because said sick child asked for something to eat for the first time in days. You give him a bath. You throw his crusty, booger-y clothes into the wash. You wipe down the entire house with antibacterial wipes and THEN you take a shower.
Oh my sick people at the Anderberg house. I finally tallied it up. Some or all of us have been sick the last 6 weeks. Almost seven weeks. We’ve had low grade fevers that make people fussy and uncomfortable. High fevers that make people hallucinate and convulse--or just sweat so profusely I’ve had to change soaked sheets several mornings in a row. We’ve had pink eye. Impetigo. Rashes. Really bad coughs. Body aches so severe people are sobbing and crying out. Puking, we’ve had that too.
We’re working our way down the forms of treatment. We’ve been to the doctor so many times I think they know me by my first name at our ‘surgery.’ Not super helpful so far. They initially diagnosed the impetigo as ‘dry skin.’ Caid got the sickest he’s been yet at the tail end of a round of antibiotics. And they were so dismissive about the fearful middle of the night phone call regarding a fever that they made me cry. It got so bad that Scott finally said, “Time to call a witch doctor!” So I took them to a homeopath. I can’t tell if it’s working. It’s a philosophy that works ‘with the body’s natural defense mechanisms’--like coughs and fevers. So maybe it is working? Maybe it would be much worse otherwise? I’m not sure what to think. Mostly I just want my little boy to run around and play and be the wild man I know and love. Bridger is better, but Caid...
I remember having mono when I was in high school. I was so sick. For weeks I barely ate anything. One day I said to my mom, “you know what I think I could eat? Some mashed potatoes.” She made this gigantic pot of mashed potatoes and was so thrilled when I ate about a 1/4 of a cup of them. My little Caid told me this evening he could maybe eat some mashed potatoes. I thought of my mom as I stood over my largest stock-pot full of potatoes and watched him eat two bites.
Things aren’t all bad though! After laying in bed much of Saturday just wanting to die, I felt pretty good when I woke up Sunday. So after I washed my nasty, crusty hair, I decided to seize the moment and went into the city to do my Christmas shopping. I had several of these cool moments where I’d look at the hustle and bustle around me and think, “Dude! I live in LONDON! I am Christmas shopping in LONDON! ‘Cause I live here!” It was surreal and very cool!
There were great big snowmen balloons and snowflake garlands in Soho. There were hundreds of Christmas lights on Oxford Street. There was a steel band in front of a huge department store playing their guts out to the tune of ‘Let it Snow.’ Amen, I say! I went to Hamley’s Toy Store. Which was insane but oh so festive. I shopped and ate a pasty in Covent Garden. I walked down Regent Street and could see literally thousands of shoppers in front of me and thousands behind. Like a scene in a movie. Then I got on a train with so many shopping bags I took up two seats. It was a great day! Add that to the list I suppose. You know you’re a mama when...you can go from on-your-death-bed-ill to shopping in 24 hours so your kiddos will have presents under the tree. Oh yeah, and then come home and bake cookies for your other son's Christmas party the next day.
Today I was back at sick duty. Nurse Mama. I decided to set aside my ‘to do’ list yet again and laid curled up with Caid all day. Not such a bad way to spend a Monday! We watched a really sappy Christmas movie. He’d cough and cough, and I’d just reach over and rub his chest or his head or just pause the movie and hold him. He was so content to do that all day. Truthfully, so was I. I wish I knew how to make him feel better. I'm worried about him. At the end of the day though it sure is fun to snuggle that little wild man for as long as he’ll let me!

Sunday, 7 December 2008


Do you ever have on of those days?  You know the kind that just starts bad and then spirals downward?  Pretty soon you're just begging for the sun to go down so you can legally go to bed and wait to start again the next day.  Good night!  Well...I have had one of those days...for over a month now.  
My gran died.  My car was stolen and my house broken into and robbed.  We went to the States and I had horrible culture shock.  Then as soon as we returned to England the you-know-what hit the fan.  We've missed so many days of school that I've started hiding from the head teacher.  Bridger and Caid and I sick as dogs and Scott out of town a ton.  Night after night of 3 or 4 hours of sleep total.  Mornings of rolling over and having to tell my just-turned-six-year-old that I'm too sick to fix him breakfast, let alone drive him to school.  Caid caught impetigo perhaps because--in spite of repeated admonishments of "stop touching everything!" and "buddy that has germs!" he still was caught licking the pole on the subway.  Heebie jeebies aside, I've been too tired and sick to hose the house down with bleach no matter how much I wanted to.  Add to that the fact that they misdiagnosed it the first time at the doctor's office as 'dry skin' and well...you get the idea.  
Just as things were starting to look up, I got lost about 6 times on my way to get Christmas presents for everyone Stateside this week so I could ship them on time.  Then when I finally got to the shopping center I spent half an hour trapped in a parking garage just LOOKING for a parking space.  Did I mention how narrow and tight these parking garages are here?  Can I just tell you how many hundreds of people were in front of me not to mention behind me?  If Caid had not been in the car and therefore I HAD to stay calm--serious panic attack.  As it was I had to use my carefully practiced labor breathing techniques.  Thank god I'm a doula!  
My house is a wreck.  There's so much laundry that even my oldest boy has resorted to going 'commando' (that's pretty much the younger one's m.o.).  This is a bad sign as he owns, well, a lot of pairs of underwear.  If they're all dirty it's been a long, long time since I've done laundry.  Every day someone says, "Mom?  I can't find any..."  I'm getting a little tired of saying, "They're dirty!  You'll have to go without today!"  
I keep trying and trying to get a grip.  Trying and trying to let myself off the hook--we've all, including me, been super sick.  What do I expect?  Clearly a spotless house, perfectly healthy/clean/cheerful children and everything in its place.  Including my waistline.  Loving adding that to the list of "things not going well."  Let's just say I'm wearing a lot of pants with elastic waistbands these days. 
Scott was in Germany most of this last week.  I felt like I was coping pretty well.  Then we went into the city for a "Christmas day."  I was picturing tinsel on all the trees.  Lights and greenery decorating every store.  Carolers on every corner.  I know it's corny and cheesy, but I really thought it would be just ridiculously festive.  We arrived at the Houses of Parliament to a big protest rally.  Trafalgar Square's tree was big, but that was about it.  We had a blast playing on the lions, but our camera's battery died when we tried to take a family photo.  We maybe should have just called it then.  The Covent Garden light display--critically hailed by all--turned out to be a very 80's sort of...um...I don't know.  The boys thought the 'light sabers' were cool, let me put it that way.  Our food was cold, I couldn't find the trains I really wanted to buy for my nephew.  The weirdo Christmas carnival in Hyde Park was pretty fun but kind of weirdly out of context.  Think Montana State Fair on the lawn of Buckingham Palace.  Bizarre.
So basically when Bridger started sobbing this morning because one of his 15 new Batman tattoos didn't quite work out right and had to be thrown away I lost it.  Scott was on a run.  Bridger was sobbing.  I just thought, "you spoiled rotten little brat!  It's ONE freaking tattoo--you have 14 left!  Choose another one!"  But no...there he is, sobbing, "I'd ask for some more for Christmas, but that would take so lo-o-o-o-ong!"  I'm not going to lie to you, it was one of those 'shoot me and put me out of my misery' moments.  At the time, I couldn't figure out why it made me so mad.  I just knew I pretty much wanted to wring his selfish little neck.
So I promptly gave myself a time out and told everyone I wasn't coming out of my room until I was ready to be sweet. 
I'm not proud of the fact that it took me nearly 4 hours to come out of there.  I was just so mad. I started furiously composing an email on the great and horrid injustice of my life when eventually I had my 'aha' moment.  It's amazing how angry a selfish little boy will make a selfish mama.  Sigh.  
See, I have all this baggage that makes me feel like I have to help everyone be cheerful and everything run smoothly.  It made a lot of sense when I bought the set.  Honestly, it did!  The unfortunate thing that baggage makes me decide now though is that everyone always ought to be cheerful and everything always ought to run smoothly.  So when it doesn't...well the s**t hits the fan.  The baggage has become far too cumbersome.  
So after this realization hit I took myself on a good long walk.  I wore my comfiest fuzzy fleece pants.  I snuggled up in my puffy down vest.  I strapped on my favorite tennies.  Then I took my time.  I watched the men playing golf in the fog and the frost.  I stopped and checked out the neighbors' gardens with their perfectly frozen flowers.  I squished through the mud on the football pitch nearby.  I bought myself a Christmas mug and some cute Christmas napkins.  I cried a little.  Then I came home and decided I was going to be sweet even if I couldn't be cheerful. 
The funniest thing happened.  I started wrapping presents and playing with my little boys.  I made them laugh and giggle--not because I needed them to be cheerful, but because it was fun and I wanted to.  All the sudden I found some cheer.  Not the obligatory kind either.  The genuine, deeply felt happiness.  The feeling you read about in all of the best Christmas books.  Where the snow falls and the fire crackles and everyone is happy and in love.  
There's no snow here in this part of England.  So far it just rains a ton.  There's not much for Christmas lights around and my stockings are hung above the radiator.  There's a couple of super fun little boys here though and a husband who loves me very much.  I don't know when I'm going to get the laundry done.  I hope we don't catch any more infections or diseases on account of me not having cleaned the house.  Regardless though, I've decided.  I want to be sweet.  I'll be cheerful when I can.  And I'm going to try my darndest to let go of the need for things to go smoothly.  Clearly holding on to that need does in no way make them go any smoother!  As far as I can tell, the best route there is thankfulness.  Who knows, maybe it'll even rub off on the 6 year old.  

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Stuff of Madness

I’m home! Hurray! With my love. It’s so good to be home. I’ve really been looking forward to it. Especially because all of our furniture and boxes arrived while we were away! The boys and I have been so excited to see it all. So pumped to lay eyes on this item or that after 13 long weeks. We’ve talked about it a ton for the last week and a half. Toys the boys couldn’t wait to play with. Pillows I couldn’t wait to lay my head on! A couch! A bed! Woo hoo!

Well, it’s all here. Want to know the overwhelming emotion? Distraction! Sheesh. I’ve only been home for about 4 hours, and already I see a huge difference. It was a lot simpler when there was no stuff. We made much less of a mess making dinner, and dinner was no less tasty! We didn’t have little boys crying because they couldn’t locate the one toy they want to play with amongst the millions of toys they don’t. It was easier to focus on the people in the house instead of the people focusing on the stuff in the house.

So…time to pare down.

It’s funny; I don’t actually know why we shipped most of this stuff. I mean come on! Fifteen boxes of Kleenex?!? Really? Eight rolls of toilet paper? It’s not Ukraine! They do have perfectly legitimate toilet paper in England! Last years half-burnt Christmas candles? Why? And for the love of all things culinary—how many black plastic spatulas does one girl need!?!? Sure, they’re safe on my non-stick pans, but for crying out loud there are only two pans—how does that justify not only OWNING but shipping SEVEN spatulas across the Atlantic! All wrapped individually in its own special piece of packing paper too I might add! Good night! The poor trees!

Sure, we’d never seen the house before we moved over here. We weren’t clear on what we’d need. Sure, we’d never lived in England before. Which helps explain why I thought it would be helpful to bring along 3 laundry baskets—none of which fit in the tiny English closets and none of which I want sitting on the floor cluttering up the space around the washer and dryer. Namely because if they did I wouldn’t be able to get into my fridge or my freezer. Washers primarily live in the kitchen in English houses.

I have decided I’m going to let myself off the hook. I didn’t know. As previously mentioned I wasn’t ready to let go of it all. Plus I’m getting a kick out of unpacking the boxes. So are my boys. They’re not currently upstairs playing with the dozens of toys that finally arrived. Nope! They’re in the living room playing with two empty boxes and a huge pile of packing paper.

Ah, the simple life. Let’s get back to that! Now…I wonder what one does with crap they don’t want if there’s no craigslist? Hmmmmm…

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Leaving on a jet plane...

So as I drove down University today with a Grande-Decaf-Triple Shot-Soy-Pumpkin Spice Latte-no whip on my right, the mountains on my left, wearing a down vest with 3/4 length sweatshirt and alternating between country music and KBCO on the radio I felt...well...truthfully a little disoriented. It's like that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot figure out for the life of you where you are. You flounder around a little. Take some deep breaths and ward off panic. It feels a little like that.
I barely payed attention as I drove to my dentist appointment. My body and mind on autopilot I shifted the gears of my dad's Jeep. I turned down this way and that, every once in a while noticing a new building is going up or one has been torn down. Other than that I noticed barely anything. I even spoke to Meggs on my cell phone on the way. While driving! It was that easy to just drive around.
People are nice at the stores. A few days ago, while having breakfast before leaving the Holiday Inn Express they must have asked me 10 times if I had everything I needed. I'm not going to lie to you. It kind of freaked me out.
I went to Target and could buy everything on my very diverse list. There were a dozen choices of booster seats alone. I ran to Park Meadows and there was every size and every flavor of every item I might ever need or want from hardware to fine wine to furniture to outdoor gear right there at my fingertips. For dinner I chose between 20 or some odd restaraunts within a one mile radius of the house. The seven burritos I ordered for my family at Chipotle were all customized down to the tiniest ingredient and no request was scoffed at or considered absurd. I didn't even attempt Costco. God help me.
Yeah, it's disorienting. It all feels familiar, but distant. Like it's on the other side of a veil. A veil I crossed over somewhere above Greenland on August 24th, 2008. Reverse culture shock is a bitch! Still, it seems somehow like more than just that.
I went by the house yesterday. The house that is 10 minutes from Target and Park Meadows and within a one mile radius of 20 some odd restaurants. It felt like I'd never left. Like I still lived there, but was just visiting somewhere else for a bit. I've driven by houses I lived in before. They always felt like 'places I'd lived before.' We'd drive by and there would be story telling and memories retrieved and told and shared again and again. That house didn't feel that way. It still felt like 'the house.' Bridger said, "It's good to be back!" I answered with a forced, "Yeah, but we don't really live here anymore. It's not really our house." "Oh yeah! It's Conrad's [our realtor] house now!" "Well no, B." I said. "We still own it, but we're trying to sell it. We live in England now." "Yeah, but it sure is good to see it again!"
He swung on the playset. He ran around the playroom with an exclamation of "look at our HUGE old playroom!" He thrilled at seeing his old bunk beds and his own room. He sat in the chair and read one of his old Pirate books and was so excited to see an "England flag! That ship must be from London!" I went up stairs at his request to "look at your room with me, Mom!" I found him snuggled up on the bed that's still there for staging. I could barely watch it. Talk about disorienting. As we went downstairs to leave he said, "see ya house!" But it was what he said as we pulled were pulling out of the driveway that really nailed me. "Well, bye house! Sorry we held on to you for so long! It's time for you to get new owners now!"
Out of the mouths of babes.
No wonder I feel disoriented. No wonder I wake up and can't figure out whre I am. I never left. Colorado, that house--they've been the ace up my sleeve. The safety net to fall back on. The somethin somethin to run to if England tanked. So there was no driving by an old place filled with old memories. It was a current place. A place I somehow still inhabited. Physically gone, but spiritually still present there. Sigh...and I can't figure out why I'm having trouble settling in England.
I get on a plane tomorrow. To go back home. To Scott. In England. I don't know that I will have sorted all of this out quite yet, and I'm going to be kind to myself about that. I do want to leave though. For real this time. I'd like to come back to Colorado as one of those 'favorite places.' Those places you visit. You drive by all the old haunts. You shop at your favorite old stores and eat at your favorite old restaurants. You drive by the old house and you tell stories about all the great memories you had there. But you don't live there anymore. You've left and moved on to new adventures and new dreams. New houses and new haunts and new stores and restaurants (even if there are fewer choices and the customer service sucks).
So..."Bye house! Bye Colorado! Sorry I held on to you for so long! It's time for you to find some new owners now!" I'm gone. I'm off to make my way in the big wide world. I'll be back to visit, but I don't live here anymore.

A Loss of Innocence

Yesterday was a rough day. Innocence lost. A little boy's heart broken. A dream shattered. Bridger grew up a little bit yesterday. He wasn't ready. It was devastating to watch. All I could do was hold him and love him and let him cry and cry. His favorite player, Matt Holiday was traded to the Oakland A's yesterday, Tuesday, November 11th, 2008.

Poor Bridger. We were in the middle of Target when we got the news. My mom came in and let us know. I was checking out Christmas ornaments when I realized my precious 5 year old was sobbing in the cart. "But Matty is my favorite! Now I won't have a favorite player." In my ignorance I say, "Well Matty can still be your favorite. You'll just have to watch him play for the A's." "But Mom," Bridger wails, "the ROCKIES are my team. They'll always be my favorite. And now I don't have a favorite player on the Rockies, and I'll never ... get ... to ... see ... Matty ... play ... for ... the ... Rockies ... AGAIN!"

By the time Dave came over last night he had begun to consider a replacement. "I'm thinking Brad" he told Dave. He didn't want to talk about it though. Wasn't ready. Poor guy. I think it'll take a while to work through this one. The big $$ of professional sports win again. A little boy's dream is shattered. And the green grass grows all around and around and the green grass grows all around...

Friday, 7 November 2008

True Confessions

I have a confession to make...I used to feel a little embarrassed at times to be an American. Let me explain: While waiting in line for lunch at the Musee d'Orsay last week a woman came around the corner, took one look at the line and exclaimed in her obnoxiously loud American accent, 'OH MY GOD! You have GOT to be kidding me! There are this many people in line and they have ONE checker? You'd think they could get another person up here to check people out!" Never mind that there was only one cash register. Never mind everyone else in the line was waiting patiently and calmly and didn't seem to be bothered. After about 2 minutes of waiting she slammed her full tray down on the closest clear space (right on top of the ice cream cooler so no one could now open said ice cream cooler) and stormed off making her exasperation widely known. A couple of minutes later the man in front of us said, "Are you Americans?" Oh no, I thought. Here it comes. I felt like a turtle wishing I could shrink back into my shell. "Yes," I hesitantly replied. Ended up he was an American as well. He shared the woman's sentiment, but was much quieter and more polite about it. I said, "You know. It's just not a value here. Speed, efficiency. It's not like they look at this line and think, 'Another cash register and cashier up here would really reduce the long lines and help move more people through here, but we just don't have the resources for that right now.' No, they don't mind the long lines. They don't even notice. Efficiency just isn't a value. Especially when it comes to dining." He nodded and chuckled. We had a nice chat. Still I left that experience feeling that I couldn't really blame Europeans who tend to think that we are loud, brash, selfish, and narrow minded in the sense we think it all ought to be done like it's done in America and everyone must hold the same cultural values that we do and are inferior if they don't. It embarrasses me.

Lately though, I'm feeling a lot more proud to be an American. A lot less embarrassed about the 'way we are.' Not so afraid to admit I am one.

I've been thinking through, for example, the whole introductions/neighbors/friendliness issue. The boys have been in school for 9 weeks and I only know 2 mom's names. Scott has met ONE person at the office, and only because he made it a point to introduce himself. That guy being a pretty high-up executive it's unlikely he'll turn into a friend. So the search for colleagues continues. At first I was really confused. Then I learned a little more about the 'regular' way to do things in the English culture. I had a few conversations with English friends and a few other American expats. I tried doing it their way which feels really false. Then I began to consider why in the world I value making friends so quickly and introductions so quickly. I remembered what sort of people I'm from. I come from Pioneers. Frontiersmen. The sort of folks that built community or didn't survive. They needed barns built. They needed someone to help them have their babies. They braved the elements. Famine. Disease. Warfare. They left the comfort of their known worlds and ventured west. In search of land and a dream. They had only each other--their families and those in the general vicinity. I said this to an English friend and followed it with, "perhaps if I had been born and raised on the East Coast I might fit in here a little better." She disagreed. She reminded me that all Americans are descended in some way or another from folks who left the comfort of their known worlds and ventured to the unknown in search of a better life for themselves and their children.

Making friends is in my blood. My bones. My marrow! It's who I am. It's part of the American way of life. Block parties. PTAs. Babysitting co-ops and neighborhood associations. Happy hour after work with friends and co-workers. Meals brought to new neighbors or friends having new babies or when folks have died.

I'll figure out this new British culture. I'm making friends and there are some GREAT folks in my life here. But harboring embarrassment? Nah. Not anymore. Loud disrespectful folks do come from America sometimes. They aren't the definition of all it means to be an American though. So I'm not going to let them make me feel ashamed.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Jury's Still Out

Scott and I have this distinction we have made between ‘traveling’ and ‘vacationing.’ Both involve leaving home and going somewhere else. Both are fun. Both include yummy things to eat and getting away from it all. We have decided we quite like to do both, but have learned it’s more helpful for our relationship to have this distinction and make a calculated decision about which kind of trip we want to take during our time off.

‘Vacation’ time is usually spent in a cabin, tent, or on a beach. The less one does in a day, the better. The fewer decisions one has to make the better. It involves a lot of laying around and chilling out.

Traveling is a different animal. Traveling is an adventure. It’s full of discovery. One has to be brave. Follow one’s instincts. Be super flexible. Make TONS of decisions. Do things. See things. Try things. Learn things. Also, there’s always a ton of walking involved.

At first glance it seems obvious what which type of trip we would choose with a 4 and 5 year old in tow. They’re little. They do better with routine. They think several days in a row of playing and laying around and chilling out sounds like heaven. The thing is we moved to England partially with the lofty ideal of showing them the world. So when their first half-term break came up we were dying to take them to the continent and where better than our favorite city?

After our first real opportunity to travel with the boys the jury is still out. It was certainly an adventure. We learned and discovered a lot. Namely that our boys are amazing little travelers. Scott estimates those little troopers walked about 7 miles today. With nary a complaint. It was an awesome day. It’s been an awesome several days. Even with the sad news of my Granny’s passing. I don’t know whether we’ll decide that we love to travel with them or not. We may stick to vacationing until they’re a little older.

Tonight we posed the question to them. Caid said he’d rather be in Mexico or “at that mountain place where we spent my birthday.” Bridger emphatically agreed. Then he leaned back and frowned that classic Bridger thinking frown. He said, “I don’t know, actually. I like both. I don’t mind either. This was good.” Then he pulled another Bridger classic and made a game of having us all name our favorite painting, sculpture, and mask of the day from the Musee D’Orsay.

It has been very good. I’ll try to post some photos and highlights this week.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mashed Potato Magic

Granny is gone. She left us last night. I am so glad she’s no longer in pain. So comforted that she’s resting now. But I miss her fiercely. Terribly. The world is a dimmer place without her in it.

She never knew a stranger. She befriended the unfriendly. She took in and took care of everyone and everyone’s plants. Take her a squashed, withered stump of a plant and she’d soon have it healthy and hearty and gracing her jumbled menagerie. I suppose she was much the same with the crazy menagerie of people who came into and out of her life. She patched them up and sent them on their way with a smile on their face and their head held a little higher.

She held every job you can imagine. If a job needed done she was certainly the one for it. It gave one the impression that she knew everything. Wise and sagacious but in a down-home, street smarts kind of a way. The ultimate go-to gal. The world’s greatest ‘domestic engineer.’ I hear the term ‘earth mama’ these days and I think of Gran. She was a foremother to the Earth Mama. Knew every home remedy in the book and passed on the cures and fixes to anyone in need.

She could always laugh at herself, but boy-howdy you knew she was in charge. You didn’t mess with Gran. She’d threaten to ‘slap and ice cream cone out of ya!’ and you’d lay-off whatever you were doing. You’d laugh though. You’d be laughing. She never seemed to dole out shame with her admonishments. Never.

She had an old softie in her too though! I remember my own mama getting after Ellie one afternoon. Ellie was a little less than two and sitting smack-dab in the middle of Granny’s kitchen table with her fist in a lemon meringue pie and half of it already down her front. Granny in classic style said something like, “Let that child alone! I told her she could have it! Tackiest mess you ever saw! I'm glad she's eatin' it!” Granny couldn’t have been more pleased than to watch her beautiful, delicious pie be completely destroyed and thoroughly enjoyed by a happy toddler gobbling it up with her hands.

She always had some project going. As if feeding the brood around her and taking care of Grandpa before he passed away wasn’t enough! Nah. If it wasn’t crocheting it was quilting or whatever other new thing took her fancy. As usual we were all the blessed recipients of her hard work. My Christmas Quilt is one of my most prized possessions and is proudly displayed each year in her honor. Of course it’s not just for display. I love the photos of me with my babies snuggled up under that quilt. Beautiful and practical. Isn’t that just like her.

I remember Granny always with a Styrofoam cup of instant iced tea with Sweet & Low set down nearby. Bleh! Sounds so terrible to me right now. It sure tasted good when Granny made it though. Never wanted to drink anything but at her place. Anything she made was unbelievably yummy. For crying out loud the woman could even make a bologna sandwich taste delicious! Peach cobbler. Apple pie. Divinity. Fruit cake. “Granny’s Goop” with zucchini and peppers and tomatoes. Don’t even get me started about the fried chicken!

It’s funny. I’m halfway across the world. In arguably one of the most delicious countries in the world. All kinds of gourmet delicacies at my fingertips. Somehow though, all I want is a plate of Granny’s fried chicken piled high on the plate with her amazing mashed potatoes and cream gravy. That’s the kind of food that cures what ails you.

Thanks, Gran. For all you’ve given. For the light you shined. For the love you freely gave. For how wanted you always made me feel. For the sloppy kisses. For magical mashed potatoes that made it all alright. You were an amazing, incredible woman. I love you so much, and I miss you like crazy.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Lost In Translation

We’re in Paris. So fun! So exciting! Such a blessing! To get to take Caid to ‘Frances’! He’s only been talking about it since he was big enough to recognize a photo of the Eiffel Tower. So why on earth were we sitting on a park bench wanting to strangle said child and send him home on the next train!?!? It could have been the fact that he’d almost knocked a woman in 3 inch heels and a fur coat down because he’d pulled his beanie down almost over his eyes—after we’d asked him not to about 800 times—and then wasn’t paying attention where he was going—after about 800 hundred lectures illustrating why paying attention is such a practical and useful skill. It could also have been the fact that he’d wet the front of his jeans because (you guessed it!) he wasn’t paying attention whilst using the toilet. Was it the whining? The grabbing? Punching his brother in the face? Maybe. Or maybe just a series of rookie parenting mistakes.

Somehow ‘travel-parenting’ is different than your regular ol’ ‘home-parenting.’ Now, I’m not going to lie to you. The Love & Logic basics that have served so well in the past have slipped a little at Chez Anderberg. Call it stress. Call it culture shock. Parenting-school-going-children-for-the-first-time shock. Or you know, lazy. Whichever way you slice it you really feel the lack of it when you’re out of your normal routine. A few too many lectures. A few too many warnings. More yelling/less empathy. A whole lot of entitlement and anger on both sides of the equation. Anyway…I’m sad it’s lagged. Cause this morning I was starting to feel like ‘Gay Paris!’ was anything but.

Some tips for other rookies on the ‘travel-parenting’ front:
  • Feed your children before noon. A healthy, hearty breakfast is every traveler’s best friend. Low blood sugar? Let’s just say it doesn’t make for cheerful children—or parents for that matter.
  • Check the menu outside the restaurant you plan to finally feed them at BEFORE you enter. That way you’ll know that there’s nothing in said restaurant you can afford except a cup of coffee. Sure, it was a damn good cup of café, but 7,60 Euros is maybe a little much for one tiny cup.
  • Note that old churches with cobblestone courtyards are perfect places to wait while one parent runs an errand because they can be transformed into a wonderland where imaginations run wild! You never know who might show up! Narnians, time travelers, and of course quite a lot of cool weaponry (can you tell I have boys?)!
  • While it is thoughtful and important to make certain your children do not run in to any passers-by while playing in their imagined land…simply ignore the woman who crosses herself dramatically and makes the sign that she will pray for you and your miscreant children who are rolling on the cobblestones happy as clams (Yes, this really did happen). Focus instead the man who nearly laughs out loud when your five year old emphatically insists that while there is quite a lot of cool weaponry there are most certainly no guns in Narnia.
  • Agree to be a Dryad or other varied and wild creature or character as often as possible. You can’t believe how fun an old cathedral becomes when you move secretively around it looking for jewels and captured comrades. (Plus it’s cool when you find out your four year old knows enough about wood spirits to be sure he guards your ‘tree.’)
  • Acknowledge that this is their vacation too. Going back at a reasonable hour (see next tip) to the apartment to play UNO might just end up the best part of the day. So it isn’t even a French game. They picked it. They had a blast playing it. They were pumped to finally have a say in what we did next and it showed all over their cheerful faces!
  • Keep reasonable, child-friendly hours. One of my favorite things about Paris is how life practically doesn’t even get rolling around here until 9 PM. Shops still open. Crowds beginning to gather. The gorgeous ‘City of Lights’ and people everywhere! Bring on the 10 o’clock dinner reservations! Bridger and Caid, however…they have a 7:30 bedtime these days. Let’s just say we’re going to try out this tip ourselves tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.
After a rocky start the day turned out well. We regrouped, ate 3 big huge sandwiches between us, apologized, and then went to ‘Jardin du Luxembourg.’ Which is the ultimate kid’s park. Boats to push along with a rented stick in a pool at the base of a fountain. Wide gravel paths to run on so you don’t have to get after your children for playing on the grass (yeah…apparently that’s a no-no in Paris). An old-school carousel ride with a ‘capture the rings’ game. A puppet theatre that we unfortunately didn’t get to see.

The piece de resistance however is most certainly the playground. Great structures. A sandbox. A circular zip-line thingy. The boys had a blast. I spent the better part of two hours deciding that I did not, in fact, want Caid to go anywhere. Watching he and Bridger play was such a blast.

Caid had no idea that the other children did not speak English as their first language. He’d ask them over and over again, “Do you want me to stop it?” “Do you want me to push it?” “Could you stop it for a sec?” “Do you want to climb up here?” “Can we go faster?” Never mind that they didn’t ever really answer. He never even seemed to notice. Scott died laughing when I interpreted what the French kids were saying to one another. An exchange that went basically, “What’s that kid saying?” “I have no idea, but I think he’s speaking English.” They clearly didn’t mind. They were speaking the universal language of play.

The same basic group of children, ages roughly between four and eleven, played together without close supervision or help for nearly an hour. They took turns pushing and stopping and riding the merry-go-round. After a while a couple of the older ones began saying ‘STOP!’ instead of the French ‘arêtes!’ I presume because Caid had become their friend. They wanted him to be included and to be able to understand.

I came to Paris with lofty goals. Albeit unrealistic. Rookie mistakes indeed. I’ve decided to refocus. I don’t want the time to be perfect. I don’t need it to be a rich, cultural experience with little boys who stay clean and don’t run into people and ask nicely and act the perfect gentleman. I’ve decided to take my cue from the kids. They so often get it before we adults, do they not? Nah…new goal. I want Caid and Bridger to be included and to understand.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Pumpkin is a Pumpkin is a Pumpkin...

…but there’s nothing like a holiday to remind one you are a foreigner in a foreign land.

They don’t really do Halloween here. Folks here tell me that “It’s starting to come over from the States,” but it’s not much of a thing here.

We never make a huge deal of Halloween. There are however a few tried and true traditions that I’ve come to love over the last 8 years or so. I put up harvesty-pumpkinish-type décor around the house in early October. A cornucopia ‘Welcome’ sign here, a pumpkin kitchen towel there. We always go to the pumpkin patch up in Broomfield, CO, with Rob and Breeann. Scott and Rob spend about half an hour driving around the massive farm from field to field. Pulling up alongside each one and scoping them out. Then we finally pull over and they spend an hour or more scouring the chosen field for the ‘perfect’ pumpkin. It’s like mining gold, I swear. They make a little pile of ‘maybes’ and then carefully consult with one another on which one will be best. Bree and I make fun of them and role our eyes but always insist on going with!

Then we all get together a week or so later and carve them and eat chili and drink pumpkin beer. The beer is never all that good, but it’s an important part of the tradition! I make gluten free pumpkin bars and Breeann cooks the pumpkin seeds. It’s a holiday at its finest. Sensory to the max. It smells good, the gooey pumpkin feels good squished between your fingers, the company of about a dozen other folks all crowded around our dining room table is warm and always, always wonderful. On the pumpkins, there are the simple faces, the hilarious attempts, and Rob and Scott trying to out-do one another. Sitting around the table long after everyone else with elaborate and funky designs that remain a secret until they are revealed at the end of the night. Then we pile them all up, light the candles, turn out the lights and take the photos. It’s not—as some English people apparently believe—‘bigger than Christmas,’ but it’s a good time, and I miss it terribly this year.

We went yesterday to the saddest little pumpkin patch you ever did see. Another American fam and the four of us went to a little ‘pick your own’ farm. Apparently the American School is close by so they’ve capitalized on that and planted, mmmmm…about ¼ acre of pumpkins in one of their fields. Ah well. It was fun. Suffice it to say Scott still scoured, but his pile at the end only had four pumpkins that were possibilities. Perhaps it took that little tiny field and the meager options, but I realized that Scott and Rob do always end up with perfect pumpkins.

It was a fun day in spite of the sort of ridiculous comparison to the pumpkin fields we are used to. We ate candy corn at a price that amounted to highway robbery and then spent about the same amount of money on delicious fish & chips for four. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

We talked about having a party here. It was pretty funny trying to explain to a bunch of English ladies what a Jack-o-Lantern is and why on earth you’d want to make one. In the end however, we sat out on the back porch on one of the most beautiful days since we arrived about 7 weeks ago and carved three wonderful pumpkins all together. Faces for the boys. A not-as-elaborate-but-very-sentimental Colorado Rockies ‘CR’ for Scott.

As the sun begins to set I have to say it was one of those days that nearly reached perfection. We slept in. We ate chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. Scott went to about a hundred places and finally found me a coffee. We laughed a ton. We listened to great music. We did haircuts in the back garden and no one freaked out or got mad or even looks too bad! We made lego boats. We got sunburned. We drank delicious margaritas with the ‘Stirrings’ mix that I returned triumphantly from Whole Foods with on Friday. And we carved pumpkins. It was gorgeous. The whole thing. It was the beginnings of new traditions I’m sure.

Still though, as I sit here contentedly sipping one last margarita I feel more than a little sad and very, very lonesome. What’s the Joni Mitchell song say? ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…’ Ain’t that the truth.

So here’s to you guys, Rob and Bree. Nate and Sarah. Dave. Steve-o. Ellie and Rachel and Noey and Jen and Rich and Stace and Jami and all the others that have come and gone at the pumpkin carving over the years. Here’s to traditions—the precious ones of the past and to the new ones both in the here and now and also in the future. May we forge ahead, and may we be together soon. Whether over a pile of squishy pumpkin and a funny-tasting beer or whatever new and foreign thing might take our fancy.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Heaven and Hell

Today I acquired that rarest of all things English—a sunburn. The weather was ridiculously gorgeous. The boys ran around the back yard with their shirts off and I timed them. Timed them running.

We had our usual lunch you see—hummus and avocado sandwiches. Actually, Caid’s ‘usual’ is peanut butter on one piece of bread and hummus on the other with avocado in between. He loves it. Asks me every day, “Can I have mine the way I like it?” Far be it from me to question the culinary tastes of a four year old who eats as diversely as that one!

Today I added tomato and ‘rocket’—the Brit’s word for arugula I believe. So of course after lunch I had to go into the back yard and time them. They were practicing the conventional wisdom of ‘you are what you eat’ and it needed to be tested. Tons of fun!

You might ask why we were all home during the day when we ought to have been at school. We were sick. Well, at least everyone thought they were when they woke up this morning. After the last week of insanity I can see why. A week ago we had our first NHS (National Health Service) experience. If that’s not enough to suck the life out of a healthy person I don’t know what is. It only took me about 10 minutes of the 3 ½ hours we were there to long for Partners in Pediatrics and The Life Center. My oh my.

I’ll make a long story short. Caid was sick with that type of cough that often turns to croupe in his little body. I asked the mom’s at school about a local ‘gp’ (General Practitioner) to ‘register’ with. We went to a gorgeous office with a beautiful mural on the wall and a Thomas the Train table and a garden out back. We were told we had to go somewhere else because we didn’t live close enough. Sigh…Frustration…asked around some more. Went to the one that lots of folks recommended. Walked in and had a horrible flash-back memory of the Ponca City, Oklahoma, emergency waiting room circa 1982. I had swallowed a penny and my mother panicked.

It was horrific. The NHS waiting room that is. Sick people everywhere. The phone never stopped ringing. Folks were angry because they got skipped when it should have been their turn. Old folks. Young folks. Pregnant folks. Plus my own personal favorite: The mom with her three little girls—Skye, Mercedes, and Summer. Mercedes spent the 1 ½ hours we waited across from her mother running around, climbing all over other people, and using up the entire industrial sized bottle of hand sanitizer. To which her mother continued to scream (yes, I DO mean scream. LOUD.), “SADIE!!! MER-CE-DES!!!! I SAID STOP!! NO MORE HAND SANITIZER!!! STOP! I SAID STOP!” Mercedes angelic response to this was simply, “No.” Every time. With nary a consequence. Poor Bridger buried his head in the crook of my arm and asked about every 5 minutes if we could PLEASE go home. I wish.

Anyway…that kicked off the last week. We eventually saw a doc who spent about 1.5 minutes with us and sent us on our way with two free prescriptions to be filled and the world’s worst migraine.

Plenty of lessons, thrills, hard news, more bread and jam then any sane person ought to eat and the like in between led up to last night. The weather. It was gorgeous again. So we went to the playground and were soon joined by every other 4-8 year old in a 2 mile radius. Which is a lot of children in the southern suburbs of London. Two little pixies made Bridger cry by making fun of him and then slugged Caid in the back. I ended up having a little run-in with a mom after I reminded the little girl that it’s not nice to hit other children. Apparently I ‘must have misjudged’ because ‘she would NEVER have done that’ and I am a ‘horrible stranger’ who is mean and inappropriate to little children.

The worst part of situations like that are all the things you desperately wish you would have said. I must be growing up somewhat though since I don’t also have a list of things I wish I wouldn’t have said. Sigh…the poise. The grace. The dignity to have remained calm and executed some of my best Love & Logic retorts. Ah well.

All three of us rushed to the bus stop, where the mother quickly marched her little girl behind us and leveled several more hateful remarks at my back. We all cried, fumed, processed, tried at forgiveness and then came home and made a fort. There’s nothing like a blankets-and-bunk-beds fort filled with pillows, good books, and the people you love best. It cures what ails you. I highly recommend it to anyone. Don’t have bunk beds? Any old table will do. I defy you to curl up in a fort and NOT feel better.

Anyway, we all woke up ‘sick.’ I have no doubt both Bridger and Caid were feeling unwell when they woke up. Both slept nearly 45 minutes past the regular time. I felt bad too. All of us had bad tummy aches. I have a pretty good idea why—our old friend Master Gluten. We threw caution to the wind and it didn’t work out. Some cuddling, a few dragon books and a package in the mail from Grammie later and we were all rarin’ to go again. So we made chocolate chip cookies with the booty from Gram and sat outside and got sunburned. Not a one of us every got out of our jammies.

Weather is a funny thing. Fantastic stuff, sunshine. Does one’s spirit good. A lack of sunshine can be well…ask Bridger. A post The Horse and His Boy discussion had us exploring the realities of heaven and hell a couple weeks ago. Bridger said, “It’s dark where Satan is, and it rains ALL the time. But in heaven it’s always sunny.” Apparently we have moved from heaven to hell. It does feel that way sometimes. Then we make a fort. We read some good books. We make ourselves sick on chocolate chip cookies. The sun comes out. And suddenly there is hope on the horizon…

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


How is driving in London like being in labor? Yeah. I mean childbirth. The whole kit and caboodle. The pain. The ecstasy. The new person at the end.

A couple of weeks ago I drove down to Deal, Kent, on my own. One of my best friends, Jenelle was having a birthday shindig and Scotty sent me down for a little girl-time. It was a gorgeous day. I even wore flops. Felt so good. One of like 3 times since we arrived it’s been warm enough to do so.

So there I was, toolin’ along the motorway. I’m driving 80 and people are blazing past me like I’m an old lady taking my own sweet time. DUDE! People drive fast on the motorways here. It’s insane. But I digress…I was listening to KT Tunstall and singing at the top of my lungs when it occured to me for perhaps the first time, “You know what? I LIKE driving. No really! I do!” Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a total freak show in the car. Sit me in the passenger seat and I am slamming my foot down on the floorboards (maybe trying to help with the braking?). I am grabbing the arm rest. I am breathing heavy and doing my best not to make a lot of ‘suggestions’ about cars coming towards us or using blinkers more frequently. Put me in the driver’s seat and I am not much better. I’ve used the spring-loaded soccer mom arm since high school. I’m a total control freak. Gripping the steering wheel. Giving myself a tension headache just driving over to the grocery store. ME?!?! LIKE DRIVING? I think NOT!

My heart dusted off this really old road-trip memory. I’m sitting in the front seat with my Grandmom. I’m guessing I’m about 8 or 9 years old. Noey has just thrown up orange soda all over her brand new white Keds and is heartbroken. We are somewhere between Montana and New Mexico. The trip has been all gorgeous mountain passes and Velomints. Grandmom has entrusted me with the map. Shown me where we are headed, pointed out the route, and then charged me with keeping her on track. I do. All the way to Farmington, New Mexico just before the 4th of July. I remember Papa bought us fireworks and a friend’s grandson burned a hole in his brand new tennis shoes. What was it with shoes that trip?

So thanks, Grandmom! I’ve been quite the little navigator here in England. I’ve usually got no less than 3 atlases with varying degrees of detail spread out in front of me. Scott drives and I get us there. It’s a blast. So fun to have him sitting on the right side of the car so his good ear is towards me and he can hear AND drive. That’s been awesome. Somehow years and years of being a total freak show in the car—whether passenger or driver—are starting to melt away.

That’s how driving in London is like labor. Last Wednesday I drove up into London. Now, technically we have a London ‘postcode’ [read: zipcode]. So I suppose I’m always driving in London. But this was different. This was up IN London. Not central London, but nearly. A friend was in labor and I stopped in to check on her on my way. She was so gorgeous. Still in that state where you know you’re going to have a baby, but you’re geeking out about it a little. Having contractions, but not quite ready to settle down and do the deed. All smiles.

I had google-mapped the directions on my iPhone. Seventeen steps seemed a little excessive though so I took the motorway out and around instead. Took a wrong turn several times. Lots of stopping on side streets or pulled up on a sidewalk—yep, that seems to be legal here! It happens every time. It’s so easy to get off-track. One roundabout after another. You’ve looked at the map. You’ve memorized the directions. You think you know exactly what to expect. Then you realize that they don’t mark any of the signs with “northbound” or “eastbound.” Instead it’s the “A2 towards…” and then a town name you didn’t look at on the map. You’re thinking only about your destination. The exacts of getting there. But the signs all speak to you the bigger picture. You want generic compass points. They want to give you something more personal. So you get a town name.

Plus there’s no, “go to the intersection of such and such and such and such and turn right.” All the intersections are roundabouts. Brilliant inventions all based on giving way and paying attention to other people. And if you don’t get the right exit the first time you just go round again. Get off at the wrong exit? Keep going. There’s bound to be a roundabout just around the bend where you can turn around and come back.

The streets aren’t all marked. You can’t always tell where you are. So how in the world do you know where you’re going? If they are marked, it’s certainly not at the regular intervals we’re accustomed to. I want it clear. Focused.

The roads are so tight. Cars are parked either direction and on either side. It’s so hard to trust there will be room for you and your car as you stare down the narrow alleyway the cars leave. Plus, as if the weaving in and out of the parked cars isn’t enough there’s the negotiation with the oncoming traffic of who goes next and who gives way to whom. At some point you just go for it. Weaving at the last minute—the other guy doesn’t slow down at all and you’re sure it’s a head on collision in the making.

I long to give up. I go through an uber narrow passageway and the sideview mirror pops closed. I want to go park on the side of the road and call Scotty sobbing and make him come get me. But there is no ‘side of the road’ where I am and I have to just blaze ahead with a Volvo riding right up on my ass. Yep, I’m pulling over. I can’t do it. I need someone to come rescue me. Then I remember that I have our only car. Plus there’s the tiny little reality that I don’t know where I am. There’s no way I could explain to someone how to get to me. It’s all so frightening and I feel so small.

Then somewhere in the back of my mind come the words of Regina, my Doula. “The only way over it is through it.” I calm down a little. I absorb the truth of her words. I trust those words. I’ve used them with many a mom in labor. And then I know I will get through. I don’t have any idea how, but I know I won’t be driving forever. I think of big things through tight passages. LABORynths that circle roundabout and have many exits. Digging deeper. Pain in the process. Fear because I don’t know the way. I studied all the studies. I memorized the steps. But somehow I am here in the middle of this and I don’t know the way.

So I take deep, quieting breaths. I drop my shoulders. I tell myself to relax my jaw. I begin to follow my instincts. To trust my sense of direction which is in my blood and my bones and has been handed down to me from generations before. I tell myself that I am brave and strong, that I will get through this. Then I ask for help. I say the ‘help prayer’ which Anne Lamott says goes, “help help help help help help help help.”

And it comes. I hear this voice. It comes from outside, but also from inside. Deep, deep inside. It says, “I want you to enjoy this.”

“What? I’m sorry. You want me to enjoy what?”

“I want you to enjoy this.”

“What? You mean helping myself calm down? Yeah, I’m getting pretty good at that aren’t I?”

“I want you to enjoy this. You are made to enjoy this. You have all the tools you need.”

“I’ve heard that before…when I was in labor. Oh, wait, you mean the driving!?!?! Yeah, no. No. No. NO. Ha ha! You don’t know me so well. I’m a control freak, freaking out, freak show in the car! I may learn to tolerate this, but…uh.”

But then I laugh. I think about how good I am at maps. About years of fun family road trips. How I used to be so chill in the car that I would fall asleep sometimes before we even pulled out of the driveway. I think of the stock I come from. A dad who thinks in another life he’d have loved to be a truck driver. Pop, who ran a trucking business. My grandmother who taught me to read a map when I was only 8. I think of Cokes and candy bars. I think of life getting tight and painful and the universal Hoggatt fix-all of going for a drive. I remember that I am one of the only people I know who loves to drive through Wyoming.

Something shifts. I am meant to enjoy this. This driving. It may have taken an ocean of distance and very tight, winding roads with no clear directions. But somewhere inside a new person is forming. Or an old person made new. The labor is painful. But there is triumph and ecstasy and freedom and new life too.

Yep, driving in London is a lot like being in labor.

Friday, 19 September 2008

gingerbread men

I’m not sure what possessed me. I volunteered in Caid’s class yesterday (no, that’s not the possessed part). I was hoping it’d help me get to know some of the other moms and the teachers a bit. Plus help me get a handle on the school thing here and maybe make me start feeling a little more comfortable with all of that—I’m still not very comfortable and I still can’t quite put my finger on why.

It was fun to see Caid in that environment. I of course barely saw him all morning. He went in and did his thing and I just happened to be around too. I’m thinking Bridger will be the opposite, but we’ll see. I’m hoping to start volunteering one morning a week in each of their classes. Who knows, maybe I’ll make some friends out of the deal. Maybe I’ll just get to be with the boys a little more. Either way it’ll be worthwhile!

Bridger is still not doing so hot. He had a great day on Monday. Okayish day Tuesday. He was off Wednesday and then he had a rough day yesterday. I guess he cried on and off throughout the whole day. Sigh…it’s so hard. I have no idea if it’s just him acclimating and getting used to everything and just taking longer with that. He’s always been one to crave routine and his has been shook up pretty well recently. Or maybe he really is just a little too young for school still? He’s enjoying learning to read and numbers and all of that. He just doesn’t want to be there that long during the day and he doesn’t like being away from me.

The other thing I’m wondering about is the behavior of the other kids. That’s always a tricky thing for Bridger. He doesn’t do very well with other kids being loud or misbehaving. Especially if he feels like the adults are not in control. The first thing he tells me each day is about some boy or other being not a good boy and what happened, etc. The good news is that he’s holding his own. Some kid named Max took one of his stickers off of his shirt the other day. He told me, “I just grabbed him around the neck, took back my sticker and then pushed him on the ground! Then I did it again when he took Jasmine’s hair thing. I just grabbed him, threw her hair thing to her and then shoved him.” Probably as a mom I ought to think of some way to help him resolve issues without violence, but I have to admit I was quite relieved. Considering Bridger’s personality I much prefer a ‘don’t mess with me’ approach.

It’s hard though. What does one do? Tell him to buck up and get over it? Listen and be patient? Check into the school atmosphere a little and maybe find somewhere that’s a better fit? Sit at home while they’re at school working oneself into a tizzy eating chocolate and drinking tea with way too much sugar whilst chewing one’s fingernails and worrying to death?

I think that’s what possessed me. Worry is a powerful emotion. It makes us do crazy things.

Like helping 28 children make gingerbread men. And not just making a big ol’ batch of dough and rolling them out with the little guys and cutting out the shapes. No, I’m talking measuring, melting, stirring, rolling, cutting, raisin-ing and then baking. Four times over. With groups of 5-9 four year olds. Snotting on me and all begging for the next turn and making a HUGE mess and not all following instructions.

That’s right. I showed up, they handed me a smock and pointed me to the ingredients. I’m sitting there at the little tiny table thinking, “Oh no…oh no no no no no…what I have I done?!?! What was I THINKING?!?! I don’t even like to bake with my own children and there are only TWO of them!” Talk about having to just dive right in and be in the moment.

As if that’s not bad enough I sit down with the recipe and the ingredients call for 200g of flour, 100 g of sugar, 50 g of butter. Okay, no biggie. Where is the cup that says ‘100g?’ ‘50g?’ Yeah no, it’s all done with scales. No measuring cups, just a scale. Let’s just say the old Cor-ster was completely out of her element.

You should have seen me. Covered in flour, wearing a hilarious blue smock a la ‘I Love Lucy’ at the candy factory, sitting in one of those little tiny chairs, using my sweetest mommy voice, “No, no, Elliot, please don’t punch a hole with your finger in the middle of the dough we just rolled out. Wait, Mia. We’ll all get a turn. Uh oh, Courtney, let’s cover our mouth when we cough. Good job, Avron, can you put raisins on that now? Just a second sweety, don’t panic, I’ll help you get that apron untied.” All the while running halfway across the building every 13 minutes to get the next batch out of the oven.

Yeah, possessed. No two ways about it. And yet, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The shiny, flour covered faces. The somber little boy who had never made cookies before and was so diligent and helpful who I finally got to smile right at the very end. The little boy who wasn’t even in Caid’s class who begged to stay and help and ended up laying his little head on my shoulder and patting me and just staying like that for a while. The little toeheaded girl with thick glasses who wanted to know if I thought she was “so helpful?”

I’m definitely going back next Thursday. Now I’m possessed by the longing to be with those little cutie pies. Who’d have thunk, huh?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hide 'n Seek

17 September 08

The boys and I played hide ‘n seek tonight. What a blast. Racing around, both parties screaming whenever the next person was found. Always extra fun in a new house. Lots of new hiding places. I had the best one. Tucked away on the side of my bed. It took both boys working together ages to find me. Even then they kept making me say, “Woo hoo! Woo hoo!”

It reminded me of a journal entry I wrote on the 5th of September. I thought you all might enjoy:

I asked the guys this morning, all three of them, “What should we have for dinner?” Bridger piped up right away, super enthusiastically, “I know!! Da duh da duh…SOUP!” He was so excited. He’d thought of the perfect thing. So like the kind, nurturing mother that I am I said, “Meah. Soup? Really?”

I wanted to go out. To some fabulous place we’d discover. Nearby. With wickedly good gourmet food. Made from fresh organic ingredients produced locally. With gorgeous gluten free options to boot. A fusion of some sort. Some place we’d love to take other people. ‘Oh we have this great restaurant—it’s just down the street. We can walk! You haaaaaave to come stay some weekend so we can go!’ Then when we took folks they’d ooo and ah and be jealous. Wishing they could be local regulars at this restaurant. Wishing they’d been clever enough to discover it first.

Or I’d settle for a good burrito and a margarita. Do they even have those here?!?

Bleh. I’m feeling snotty and pissy about our location. I don’t know exactly what I had expected. Well no, that’s a lie. I do know. I had wanted it to be all cute and ‘boutique-y.’ With a little flower/gifty shop and a tea room or coffee house with ridiculously good pastries and pretty cups.

Some little village with a weekly Farmer’s Market where I would put all my purchases—including homemade cheese and freshly cut flowers—into a big wicker basket and sashay home in my bohemian skirt holding my smiling shiny sons by each hand.

Instead it’s me, dragging Caid—who is whining about his sore legs—from the bus stop freezing cold in the rain with bags from the UK equivalent of King Soopers.


Caid’s napping now. Bridger is at school. I’m sitting at the kitchen table looking out at the wet, trying to warm up with a cup of tea and thinking, “You know what sounds perfect for dinner tonight? Da duh da duh…SOUP!”

The soup was good that night. Still haven’t found a fun restaurant. I’m listening for it to start calling, “Woo hoo! Woo hoo!”

Friday, 12 September 2008


10 Sept 08
I swear this is the text of my first encounter with my next door neighbor. Picture a woman in her 60s with an absolutely gorgeous garden, wearing Wellies, a skirt, and a thick sweater.

Her waiving in my kitchen window from her driveway.
I go out.
Her, 'I took in a parcel for you.' She hands me the parcel.
Me, accepting the parcel, 'Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. I'm Cori by the way. It's nice to meet you.'
Her, 'You're American.'
Me, 'Yep. Oh, here are my boys. This is Bridger and this is Kincaid.'
Her, 'So you're going to live HERE are you?' gesturing to the house.
Me, 'Yep. We've been admiring your garden. It's just gorgeous.'
Her, with a tiny, wierded-out sort of smile, 'Well.'

Then she went back in the house.

Thankfully the frigidity of this encounter (not to mention the crazy-makingness--did I do somethinig wrong? Am I too friendly? GOD what was I THINKING?!?! Introducing myself of all things!!??!) was juxtaposed with cake. Not just any cake either. Adorable pastel decorated pink and yellow cupcakes with butterflies on top. Not too mention that in the card that accompanied them the local mom who left them called them 'cakey things.' I was instantly won over. Ellie will relate--I instantly wanted to be best friends.

She came by last week with an invite to the local Mother's Union 'Jumble Sale.' If that isn't just the most polite title for 'junk sale' I've ever heard. Leave it to the English. I was bummed I couldn't go.

The Mother's Union sounds 'brilliant' to use a new favorite British phrase. Moms, hanging out, drinking wine, and occasionally raising money for literacy or clean water for African villages. Sign me up!

Anyway, I played phone tag with her today. I'm excited to 'pop over for coffee sometime' soon and it helps to think I am making friends.

Her out of context and extremely helpful comment to me last week just as she was leaving the house was, 'You might find people a bit...stand offish. Give it some time. You'll find the English can actually be quite warm.'