Eleventh

WP_20150822_10_31_52_Pro

And suddenly, you are eleven.  In the midst of moving and buying cars and sorting out new school arrangements and figuring out where the closest grocery store is and how to get there and the furniture being dropped off and finally getting a fridge and a washer and dryer and unpacking and all the chaos and insanity of moving to a different country, your birthday arrived.  And you are, unbelievably, eleven years old.

I wanted to wake you up this morning by shouting, “Yer a Witch, Bridget” in my very best Hagrid impersonation, but you were awake before me.  Your Hogwarts letter WAS waiting for you though, and your Dad and I jumped through hoops to make that happen.  But there are some chances you only get once in life.  Making sure you had a Hogwarts letter on your 11th birthday just three weeks after moving to England and only two weeks before you start school at your very own (Muggle) version of Hogwarts — in an actual castle and everything– we knew we couldn’t miss the chance.  We had some key help from Lucy, who is fortunately just as Harry Potter obsessed as you and I, and has the design skills to back up the wish.  It took Daddy and I 45 minutes to find two blank sheets of printer paper in all the mess of boxes in the house, by the way.  And I burned my fingers melting a crayon to make the wax seal.  It was totally worth it.

WP_20150826_22_07_21_Pro WP_20150826_22_24_36_Pro

You knew it was coming, though, because you know your Dad and I. 

In many ways, sometimes having you around is like having a third adult in the house.  We know we can rely on you, like when the movers arrived with our furniture yesterday, but I had to leave to take all your brothers to see their new school, so we asked you to basically be me.  You had to check off the inventory of 257 boxes as they came in the house, and, based on the contents listed on the check sheet, direct the movers to the correct room in the house to deposit each box.  According to your Dad, you did me proud, and it would have taken twice as long to get it all sorted out if you hadn’t been there to help Daddy.  As always, Daddy and I are grateful and proud to have you.  You rock.

B and Daddy

This is an interesting birthday, and an interesting year lies ahead for you (and all of us).  Although in America you’d be going into 6th grade — finally the big kid of the school! — in England, you’re starting what is essentially your first year of high school.  You’ll be the youngest, in a school with kids who are graduating and getting ready to go to University next year, and I can hardly imagine your tiny self in such a setting.

You aren’t scared though.  You’re excited and, as you’ve told us approximately one billion times in the last two weeks, you just want school to start already.  Your lack of intimidation takes away any nervousness I have.  You’ve got this. 

My only hope is that you really take advantage of this experience and that you make the most of this amazing and rare opportunity that you’ve got.  I hope you try new things and take chances and you find and define yourself in this new place, free of who you ever were before.  If anyone can do it, it’s you. 

tres sweet

You, my little, but not-so-little, girl, are tres sweet.  You’re also tres sassy and tres funny and tres smart and tres strong.  You have a great sense of adventure, and an admirable willingness to try new things.  You are equal parts serious and goofy, smart and silly.  I like hanging out with you.

Your brothers do too.  No matter what game they’re playing, what plan they’re hatching, no matter what they’re doing, they always enjoy it more when you’re involved.  I love watching you guys together, even though the fun parts are balanced out by a good portion of shrieking, whining, fighting, and wrestling.  I’ll take it.

WP_20150818_18_24_36_Pro

WP_20150809_16_25_45_Pro WP_20150809_17_56_16_Pro (2)

I hope this year of Eleven is an amazing, defining one for you, and that when you’re old you look back on our year(s) in England as life-changing and eye-opening.  I hope you love your new school and make wonderful friends and have incredible experiences.  I hope you continue on the path you’ve set for yourself so far, and you continue to be the bright light you’ve always been.  I’m so excited to watch you be you. 

WP_20150816_14_32_07_Pro 1

I love you a bushel and a peck, and I’m grateful to have you in my life.  Happy eleventh birthday my baby girl.

Home Sweet Home

the old vicarageWe’ve been in our house for a week now, although we still don’t have furniture (it comes tomorrow!  YAY!).  The Old Vicarage, as it’s named, is a 200+-year old brick and stucco house with, happily, majorly updated bathrooms and a lovely modern kitchen.  And as I stand at my sink, looking out the window, this is what I see:

view from my kitchen window

The church which stands just on the other side of the stone wall that borders our yard was built in the mid 1300’s.  We haven’t been inside yet, but looking at it from here is dreamy enough.  It’s a view you can’t get sick of.

The English don’t have a reputation for their amazing gardens for nothing; our yard is bordered by and entwined with gorgeous flowers, herbs, bushes, and trees.  So far, we’ve identified a few pear trees, a plum tree, at least 3 varieties of apple tree, and two other fruit trees I don’t know.  I’ll have to ask a neighbor.   We have big plans for all the ripening fruit.

gardens

It’s a garden that begs to be walked through, hidden in, and enjoyed.  There are trees in our yard that probably are older than America.  It’s humbling and thrilling all at once. 

There are plenty of quirks in this old house: uneven walls, crooked door frames, inexplicable bump-outs, and wavy-paned glass windows.  I love every last one of them. 

keys

And these are the keys to our castle, just as charming as the house itself.  We may be just temporary caretakers of this beautiful old place, but we’re already in love with her.  For now, at least, she’s home.

Highs and Lows

road in the English countryside

We’ve been here a week now and it’s been more than a rollercoaster ride.  Ups and downs sandwiched in between highs and lows, smiles and tears, joy and frustration. 

Moving is hard.

We’ve already overcome obstacles both minor and major, and we’re learning to cope with a life that is both familiar and foreign all at once.  And today, we finally move out of the hotel and into our house.  We still won’t have furniture, though, for probably another week.  Another frustration to handle, hopefully with some grace and fewer gritted teeth and mumbled curses than I’ve employed in the past week.

I’ve got lots to share: our flight and how we handled luggage and the airport, our arrival in Heathrow — including a minor incident where we lost Quinn and Owen for a few minutes, our first few days in London, making our way out to the countryside and driving on the right/wrong side of the road, living in a hotel for over a week with four children and 20+ bags, our new house, the kids’ new school, buying cars, and the many differences I’m noticing between life in the US and life in the UK.

I never expected the early part of this transition to be easy, and I wasn’t surprised when it was hard.  Those moments of frustration, though, are often accompanied by a severe case of tunnel vision where I’m sure that things are ruined and will never be okay again.  (Oh, the drama.  I’m the Queen of it.)  Then we come out the other side and see that we worked through another difficulty, together, and that we’ll continue to do so as we adjust.  I’m working on remembering that in the moment, and not just in hindsight.

This week has been nothing short of phenomenal — exciting and fun and challenging and enlightening, maddening and disappointing and exhausting.  Matt and I keep catching each others’ eyes and grinning, realizing that we’re finally doing it, we’re making it happen, we’re living the adventure we talked about for so long. 

It’s amazing, every insane moment of it.

Blank Space

We love this house — the place where we’ve lived for most of our marriage, the place our children will always think of as their childhood home.  It’s why we’re renting it instead of selling it when we move.  But I refuse to be sad about leaving it for this new adventure we’re facing. 

This house is still mine.  I’ll be back.  We’re not saying good-bye, we’re saying until we meet again, and that’s a very different sentiment.

Once the furniture and boxes were removed and I looked around at this big blank slate, I actually felt excited about the potential of what we can do when we return.  It’s a huge inspiration to see your space empty of all it’s familiar trappings so you can imagine it anew.  Not many people get to do that. 

We’re heading to a new house, in a new place, and I can’t wait to make it our home. I’ve looked at the photos of the house online a million times now, pored over the dimensions of each room on the floor plan, planned where my furniture will go and thought about what new items we’ll need to fill in spaces and make the house our own.  I can’t wait to get in there and get started.

And I look forward equally to the day when we come back here and reclaim this blank space and make it ours again. 

All-Star

Gabe on the wall

photo credit: Leslie Sallberg

At the beginning of the swim season, Gabe set a goal to make All-Stars this year.  At eight years old, he’s at the older end of his age group, and he’s been swimming with 8-unders since he was five. 

This, he said, was his year.

He worked hard this season.  He improved his times, he improved his starts, he improved his finishes.  And it all paid off: in the Divisional meet, he came in 2nd in back stroke, 1st in breast stroke, and 1st in 100M IM (a 25-meter lap of each of the 4 strokes).  He killed it. 

Despite the fact that we don’t swim in the fastest division in the league, his times were good enough to get him into All-Stars, not in just one, but in two strokes. 

This past weekend, he swam in his first All-Star meet. 

We are so proud of him.  And, even better, he’s so proud of himself.

Sometimes, the universe hands you a perfect teaching moment all wrapped up with a bow on top.  Look, my son:  HARD WORK PAYS OFF!

The Important Stuff

blank spaceAll the trimmings and trappings of our daily lives are packed up and gone, and we’re staring at blank walls and empty rooms.  Our voices echo with each conversation and the boys run endless laps through rooms devoid of stuff.

A lot of people have kindly asked if I’m okay with seeing all my things packed up and shipped off, with moving out of the house I’ve worked so hard to make a home for the past 8.5 years.  The answer is yes!  Maybe it’s insensitive of me, but I’m seriously, totally fine.  I am not sad. 

After the movers left last week, the kids asked where our things were going.  I explained the process.  B asked what happens if the ship carrying all our stuff sinks, and the kids all looked horrified at the prospect. 

I told her, though, that we just get new stuff.  It’s JUST STUFF, things that fill our house, make our surroundings more comfortable, our rooms cozier.  It’s stuff we’re so used to seeing that we’ve grown attached to it’s appearance. 

But it’s not important.  Not one item of it matters.  The things in this house that matter — the things that are really, truly important — are the people. 

As long as the six of us are together, healthy and happy and living our lives, whether it’s in this house or the house we’re going to rent in England or anywhere else on this great, green earth, we’re home, and we have all the important stuff, the stuff that matters, right there.