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.'