Friday, October 03, 2008


The driver's seat in my new Mommy Mobile has begun to mold satisfactorily to the shape of my ass.

What, not the update you were looking for from me after 9 weeks of silence? Because really, I think that one sentence tells you everything you need to know about my new life in the States. I am once again a suburban mom, hopping in and out of my SUV more times a day than I can count as I race from soccer practice to Target, from school drop off to coffee with a friend. Perhaps the fact that I'm still giving my daily routine this level of contemplation gives me away as not entirely comfortable here just yet. But I'm starting to get a little more settled, finding my groove simply by virtue of the fact of my presence here. The fit is coming -- in my life as well as in my car.

"How was London?" people ask me when they see me for the first time and I smile wistfully. "It was wonderful," I reply wholeheartedly. And then I sort of stop. Not just because I suspect that most people don't really want or need to hear anything more than that, but also because I'm not even sure quite what so say. It was wonderful, this I know. But I've lost the words (and perhaps even some of the memories already) to articulate how or why. When I think of London right now, the mental image is hazy, abstract, far away. It almost feels as if I had a wonderfully rich and detailed 2 year dream about living there. And now I've woken up, with that entire dream world just tantalizingly out of reach.

I'm apparently not the only one who feels that distance. Evan's English accent is very nearly gone. After a rough few weeks of transition, he tells me that school here is more fun than it was in England and he loves his new teachers the best of all. Yesterday, while building a block tower with him, I mentioned that our creation looked a lot like a castle that we'd seen in Spain. He paused. Squinted. Then shook his head. That memory has apparently evaporated already. My anglophile has fallen prey to the siren song of neighborhood bike riding and a dedicated play room in the basement. I have an American son again.

I have an American daughter, too. Julia speaks longingly about London with a frquency that surprises me a bit, reminiscing about her friends and the things they enjoyed doing together. But she seems willing enough to leave those happy memories in the past and is forging forward in her new life with gusto. I may be struggling with the educational gap that she's encountering here, but she's not struggling at all, in any way shape or form. Happy and confident and social and mature, she's as much at home in here as if we had never left.

For the 23 months that we lived in London, I felt like we were in the midst of a life altering experience. Yet here we are back in my New Jersey hometown, and our lives don't look all that different than they did before we left. That's both scary and soothing -- scary to have the most meaningful experience of our lives slip away so quickly and yet soothing to find that our transition back to American life has been easier than I'd envisioned. Some days I am filled with longing for all that I have left behind. But most days, it's frankly easier to leave it in the past. London bubbles up, to be sure. But as often as not these days, it's below the surface for all of us.

Will there be a lasting legacy of our London years, then, or will they just evaporate as our old life swallows us up again? I'm not really sure. I want to say that we're all enriched by the things that we saw and did and experienced, that the lessons of our time abroad will continue to impact the way we think and conduct ourselves for years to come. But it's kind of hard to believe that when I see how easily we've let ourselves get sucked back into our old world. I'm hoping that as time goes on and the day to day of our life here requires less immediate energy, we'll notice more and more of the subtle ways that London has influenced and changed us all. How and when that may happen remains to be seen.

Once upon a time, my family set out on an adventure. And then we came home. We were forever changed by our adventures and yet we were not changed at all. If we found ourselves while in London, it was only as the new improved people who we always were to begin with. And so life goes on seamlessly here on the other side of the pond. We giggle together and we argue at mealtimes and we run late to school and we snuggle close to read when the day is through, just as we did in England. We love London and we love our New Jersey hometown but more than anything, we love each other. Paul and I spent the past two years telling my children that wherever we are together as a family, that's home. At times I doubted this pat reassurance even as I spouted it. But now I know with absolute certainty that we were right all along. Perhaps that lesson is enough to have made the journey worthwhile in and of itself.

The End.

This will be my last blog post on Somewhere Over The Pond. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have shared in my family's adventures here over the past 2 years -- your comments and emails and support got me through many lonely days and made the happy days far more fun. I've been doing some writing as a contributing editor at Travel Savvy Mom and would welcome you to follow me there, both for my own posts and for those of the hysterical team of Mom travelers I'm lucky enough to work with there. I'm also hoping to pursue additional writing opportunities in the coming months, and will update with links here if and when I've got more to share (leads welcome!). In addition, my email address continues to work and I'm always happy to receive correspondence there. Please keep in touch!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An unintentional ode to my Ikea couch (that's one I never saw coming)

I am curled up on the Ikea couch in my living room, drafting a blog post. There is nothing unusual about that; this couch (which turned out to be far more comfortable than I expected when we purchased it in our flurry of frenzied furnishing) has always been my favorite place to sit and write in this flat. At this point, it's also my only option. The removals team is here today packing up the contents of our flat and virtually everything we own here is boxed or wrapped already. It is only the fact that we have sold this couch to the next tenants of this flat which has kept it from the bubble-wrap-and-packing-tape fate of the items which surround it on all sides. This is moving day, the first of two on this end. (I don't care to contemplate the number of moving days we face on the other side of the pond just now.) There are, as Julia reminded me gleefully this morning just before she left for camp, only two more days before we board our plane for America.

If ever there was a moment for a reflective wrap-up post, I suppose this would be it. Watching our London life fit easily into a surprisingly small number of boxes and containers should be the kind of thing that would make me nostalgic and maudlin. Instead, I find myself a little numb, spent from the sorting and organizing and purging and pre-packing which has consumed the last week of my life and exhausted from the sleepless nights I've spent trying not to dwell on the ways our life will change in the coming months. I've done enough looking back. I'm not quite ready to look forward just yet. And so I'm just sitting here, grateful for the opportunity to rest for a bit, trying to write a blog post on the couch as if it were any other day of my life.

I think my real issue here is that writing a conclusion-type post about our London adventure feels like drawing a line in the sand, saying that it is over. In some ways, there is no avoiding the reality that it is over. Our things are gone and soon we will be, too. But the drive to see and explore and understand that which is foreign from our own experiences is not something that we can pack in a box or leave behind when we board a plane. The things that we've learned and seen and done here are a part of who we are now and the interests and habits we've developed here aren't going away just because we are. The friendships that we made in London can withstand the distance just as well as our American friendships have over the past several years. The travel bug can certainly come with us, too; planes fly in and out of the US every bit as frequently as they arrive and depart from Heathrow and Gatwick. Hopefully, the kids' accents will last, at least for a little while. We will still talk about and think about and write about London and the people and places we love here. "Leaving" does not need to mean "leaving behind." At least that's what I keep telling myself at 2am when I can't sleep for the enormity of our impending loss. London will be in us, long after we are not in London any more.

If it's not really over then, well, then there's not much to say, is there? Except that as I sit here typing so contentedly, I do feel the need to mention that I'm kind of going to miss this Ikea couch. This "oh, what the hell, just give me whatever you've actually got in stock, then" couch, bought on what might have been the most exhausting, stressful, overwhelming, "what the hell have we done here" day of this entire London experience, is pretty damn great. In fact, it might just be the only thing standing between me and a clean break here. I'm just now realizing how much I love this "oh, if we must" purchase. I can't believe I have to leave it behind. I'm really, really going to miss this couch.

You just never know what's going to resonate, do you? If ever there were a reason to keep on moving forward, spreading our wings and taking on whichever adventures and obstacles come our way, I think I just found it in the nice, comfy cushions of my (now) beloved Ikea couch. Closure is a beautiful thing, even when you still plan to leave the door ever so slightly ajar.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Folks in a town that was quite remote (heard)

I spent much of our week in Austria singing the Lonely Goatherd song from The Sound of Music. This earworm might easily be explained by the fact that we began our Austrian adventure in Salzburg, a city which bears the dubious distinction of being the home of The Sound of Music. It might further be explained by the fact that this song was the encore for a fantastic Sound of Music marionette performance which we caught at one of the world's oldest marionette theatres while we were in town. Regardless of how the song got into my brain in the first place, once we left Salzburg and ventured into gorgeous Zell Am See, I kept gazing up at the unbelievable sights of the Austrian Alps and the only words that came to mind were "lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo." Oh, how my family must have loved having me around last week. (Oh, how much you must all be loving me right now.)

Don't you just see him there, the lonely goatherd, a little off to the left?

The Alps may have inspired me to yodel (What can I say? There were lots of things high on hills. One could easily have been a lonely goatherd...), but they also took my breath away. The resort town of Zell Am See, where we spent the majority of our Austrian holiday, was stunning; tremendous mountains, a crystal clear lake, and even -- due the the well-placed, though completely accidental timing of a summer festival one of the days that we were there -- folks in lederhosen and Bavarian dresses drinking copious amounts of beer long before the pretty bell tower had even struck noon. This was our kind of town.

We've been champions of the city break up until this point, pushing our children ahead through one urban landscape after another. This trip, our "interlude between lives" holiday, was nothing like our previous travels. After a quick visit to Salzburg, we spent the majority of our time at an all-inclusive "kinderhotel" in Zell Am See. We climbed a few mountains. We forded a few streams. But quite frankly, we spent the majority of our time with our asses plonked down on lounge chairs while our children ran and played with the other kids in the resort. It took us a few days to relax and unwind, but by the end of the week, I was starting to remember what a "vacation" truly feels like. We have traveled a lot in the past 2 years. But we haven't taken a single vacation. It turns out that I really like vacations. And my kids? They really seem to like vacations, too.

We returned to London rested, somewhat relaxed (What can I say? We're pretty tightly wound...) and just a bit detached from our lives here. As our minicab slipped through the streets of London, I found myself thinking what a good idea this trip had been and congratulating myself for a such well planned, strategically placed vacation. And then we got back into our flat and dropped our bags on the floor and Paul heaved an enormous sigh of relief. "It's not your fault, because you didn't know how it would all feel," he told me. "But we're not ever traveling so close to an impending move ever again. That was an impossible situation."

Huh. So, uh, I take it all back. Perhaps we weren't all so rested and relaxed after all. Except... I kind of think we were.

King of the mountain

Sunday, July 13, 2008

But wait -- there's more

Thanks to all of you who commented or sent emails or called me about this week's photo slide show... seems it was a fitting way to wrap up an amazing two years abroad. Don't go waving us out the door just yet, however, because we still have 2 and a half weeks of nearly non-stop action, including just one more European adventure, ahead of us before we call it quits and head stateside.

If it feels a bit disjointed have watched a departure-themed retrospective only to now read about our plans for another vacation and upcoming swimming lessons and playdates and camp here in London, well, welcome to the confusing schedule of events and emotions that is my July. The kids' last day of school was last Thursday and with it came a flurry of goodbyes and the end of our regular "life as we know it" routine in London. It was an emotional week, full of busy schedules and sad farewells and way, way too much sugar. With all of that now behind us, I feel very much as if our time here has reached its natural conclusion. It's time to go. And yet due to Paul's work schedule we really can't leave for good until the end of the month, so here we still are.

People tend to get out of London pretty quickly when the school term wraps up, and a lot of the people we care about are already gone or departing momentarily. We knew this would happen and so we booked one last trip to forestall the melancholy emptiness I knew that we'd feel once we had said our goodbyes. It was a good idea... in theory. But packing for vacation when we're also packing for the US is bizarre and looking forward to the week and a half that will be left when we get back here is even odder. It's hard to know what to look forward to and what to mourn and what to think and what to pack. It's harder still to know how to feel.

Several hours from now, we will be in Austria, climbing every mountain and fording every stream and hemming and hawing bizarrely when people ask us where we're from. This will either turn out be the best way we could have spent this week or money down the drain, but the trip is booked and so off we go. Tune in a week from now to hear about Salzburg and Zell Am See. For now, to London we say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen... but not quite yet goodbye.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In lieu of 1,000 words

Monday, June 30, 2008


Evan and I were sitting on a bus stop bench last week, talking -- as we often do these days -- about our impending move to the States.

"When we get to New Jersey, you and Daddy and Julia are going to have to show me everything," Evan reminded me for perhaps the eight dozenth time. His face was sweetly anxious, his high pitched voice decidedly British in its apprehension.

I wrapped my arm tightly around him and pulled him closer to my side. "We will, don't worry," I assured him, just as I've done so many other times in the past several weeks. "There are lots of wonderful things about New Jersey that you're going to love, and we're all really looking forward to sharing them with you."

Evan nodded solemnly. He'd heard this many times before and had clearly just wanted me to say it again. But this time, a new concern had occurred to him. "And if people there don't speak English, what will I say?" he asked as the worried look spread back across his features.

I tried to turn my amused smile into one of reassurance. "Oh, don't worry honey," I replied as gently as I could. "They speak English in America." The older English woman who was sitting beside Evan on the bench let out a snort. "Of a sort," she remarked dryly.

Evan looked confused. I automatically laughed, wondering guiltily as I did so whether I was being disloyal to my American roots in my amusement or whether my reaction was actually more American than anything else. And then we climbed about the big red bus and rode off up the left hand side of the street, Evan musing silently about the puzzling cipher that is America and me about the one that is England.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brighton beach memoirs

There was a time when Paul and I went to Nantucket every summer with a group of friends. We would rent a big house for a week and putter around, spending our days on the beach or cycling around town and our evening gathered together over elaborate meals that everyone had pitched in to help prepare. We started making the trip pre-kids, then there was that memorable summer when we all waddled around town with burgeoning bellies and then in the 2 years that followed, you were as likely to find empty baby bottles on the table as you were to find empty wine bottles when you wandered downstairs in the morning.

Our Nantucket days were wonderful and I still think of them fondly, but we knew it was time to stop making the trip once the children were all a few years old. Nantucket was great for the adults, but kids, we realized, need kid-friendly vacations -- rental houses that don't have breakable tchotchkies and local restaurants that welcome children and maybe some mini golf and a boardwalk to keep them entertained.

I remember feeling strongly that family vacations needed to be geared toward the kids, remember arguing this point vehemently during a late evening debate on the subject on one of our last Nantucket nights. We have the rest of our lives to go to Nantucket, I insisted. But first, we have an obligation to give our kids proper childhood memories in the kinds of borderline tacky environs that children adore. The following year -- and the year after that -- we talked wistfully of Nantucket and then we loaded up the car with buckets and tricycles and headed off to the kid-paradise that is the Jersey Shore, confident that we were doing the right thing for our children.

All that lofty catering-to-the-children nonsense went out the window when we moved here, of course. We traded vacations built on boardwalks and ice cream stands for holidays filled with castles and cathedrals, shouting "once in a lifetime" over and over again as we dragged our children to see all that Europe has to offer. Along the way, as it became clear that I had severely underestimated my kids' ability to enjoy attractions and activities which are not expressly kid-focused, I started to think that maybe I had overestimated the importance of the child friendly vacation destination.

It turns out I hadn't.

We took the kids on a day trip to Brighton this weekend. Just an hour south of London by train, Brighton is perhaps the English equivalent of the Jersey Shore. It is broad expanses of beach fringed by an endless stream of souvenir shops and Fish and Chip stands. It is a giant pier with funfair and amusement arcades. It is families with small children begging for one more ice cream, young adults hanging around the beach during the day and crowding into the local nightclubs when night falls. It is flashing lights and win a prize here and please-can-I-have-some more-ride-tokens-Daddy. I had completely forgotten how much kids like places like this.

All told, we maybe spent a grand total of about 5 or 6 hours in Brighton. In that time, the kids hunted for shells on the rocky beach and collected giant piles of smelly seaweed for reasons known only to them. They dropped 10p coins into the kiddie version of a slot machine and gorged themselves on candy floss (otherwise known as cotton candy). They gleefully rode a 2-seater merry go round and giggled endlessly as they rammed their Dodgems cars (bumper cars, natch) into each other. Evan rode a kiddie coaster. Julia had her first log flume ride. And then they universally declared our handful of hours in Brighton the best trip we've ever taken. Four days in Paris? Meh. A little under a week in Barcelona? Just fine. But Brighton, they insisted joyously, was the best place EVER.

Paris wasn't meh, of course. My kids loved Paris. Ditto Barcelona and Stockholm and Edinburgh and Rome and... must I type out the whole extensive list? I totally underestimated my children that night in Nantucket when I made that broad sweeping blame-it-on-that-extra-glass-of-wine proclamation that you must take kids to kid-focused destinations in order to have a good family vacation. But watching them delight in Brighton this weekend, I realized that I hadn't been all wrong about those child-magnet places, either.

I'll never forget or regret any of the trips we've taken here. But I'm looking forward to next summer and the promise of some time spent "down the Shore" all the same. We've given our kids endless European memories and now I want to give them some of those proper childhood memories in borderline tacky environs. Not because it's our only vacation option or because it's our "obligation" as I believed a few short years ago. Just because it's fun.