Unsettled

People keep asking us how we’re settling in and I keep saying really well.  It’s all going good, I say.  Still boxes to unpack of course, but we’ll get there.

But that’s not really the truth.

Some days I feel completely unsettled.  About as unsettled as you can get in a place you’ve known your whole life.  It’s disconcerting.

Some days I will be driving down the street (I got my license last week so, yay, I can drive now) and look around at just be so, so excited to be home.  And then on other days I look around and wonder why we ever left England.  I’m not settled.

The kids have been so excited to see their cousins all the time and meet the kids in the neighborhood and on their new teams and in their classes.  But they don’t have close, good friends yet.  And they miss their friends in England.  A lot.  And they really, really miss their school.  (So do I.)  They’re meeting people and they’re adjusting, but they’re not settled.

Matt’s on a new project and works mostly from home now for the first time ever.  He doesn’t know all the people he’s working with yet, he’s still getting spun up on the project, and he’s definitely learning that working from home requires a different kind of time management and that it’s super easy to get sucked into working ALL THE TIME when your office is next to your kitchen.  He’ll get there, but he’s not settled yet.

Our new house is amazing and gorgeous, but we’ve got rooms to paint and lots of furniture to buy because this place is much bigger than any house we’ve owned before and we just don’t have enough stuff to furnish all the rooms.  Almost every room still has at least a few unpacked boxes sitting in a corner while we wait for furniture we ordered to arrive or for us to have enough free time to paint the walls before we unpack the rest of the boxes.  I certainly didn’t expect to have the entire house in order in six weeks, but the unfinished projects and unpacked boxes are starting to weigh on me.

We’ve had three years in England of having a gardener who took care of our yard and now we’ve got a yard three times as big as the last one we had to care for ourselves.  And a pool that we didn’t know how to maintain.  We haven’t quite incorporated yard work into the schedule correctly yet.  It will take time, I know. 

The kids have had about two weeks of school now and while they’re happy, it’s just not the same. It’s not what they’re used to.  There’s a lot more sitting and less changing classes.  They bring lunch everyday, which means that instead of getting a delicious hot meal handmade in the school, they’re eating ham and cheese sandwiches and bags of pretzels.  There’s no sport in school and they only have a single hour a week of P.E., and I feel like they’re climbing the walls a bit when they get home.  

So we’re happy to be here. We’re just not settled.

Fourteenth

On Sunday, the day before your birthday, your new cousin was born: 7lb 6oz of tiny gorgeous perfect baby. Then on Monday you turned 14, and I sat at the hospital that morning holding the new little girl in our family who can basically fit in the palms of my hands and thinking of you, now nearly as tall as me and about to start high school and I could not begin to wrap my head around where the last fourteen years have gone. 

I looked at your aunt holding her brand new girl, exhausted and in love, and with all those years of parenting stretching out in front of her and I can’t lie, even though I know how all-encompassing and demanding and soul-consuming it is to have a new baby, I was jealous — I want eighteen more years with you before you go off and begin your own adventure, not four. I want every minute of the last fourteen years back to do over again because I have loved being your mother for all of it.  I look at you and I look at your beautiful new little cousin and I can exactly picture the moment you were born and I am just overwhelmed with how much has happened and how much changes and how fast it all seems to have gone by.

From the moment you have children, older parents tell you to enjoy every minute because it happens in a blink.  When you’re up four times a night nursing an infant, when you’re chasing after a wobbly toddler just learning to walk, when you’re buckling car seats and cutting up every bit of food into tiny bite-sized pieces and cleaning up toys for the millionth time a day, it’s easy to take the time for granted.  It’s easy to wish for the next stage, for the end of a long and tedious day. The days drag by, for sure; but it’s also true that the years fly.

If I’m being honest, I don’t really want to redo the baby years.  I love where we are now and who you’ve become and how all my kids are old enough that we can do really, really cool fun things all together.  But man, I want it to last forever, and I know it can’t.

Now you are about to start high school.  HIGH SCHOOL! You’ve grown up into this amazingly bright and intelligent person, with opinions on everything that are generally well-thought out and perceptive.  You’ve got a quick wit, a fantastic sense of humor (as long as you’re not the punchline of the joke), and a goofy side that makes me so happy when it appears.  You’re fun and you’re funny.  You’re organized and meticulous.  You’re smart and analytical.  You’re determined and brave.

You’re about to make yet another big transition to a new school, but I feel like the last move prepared you for this one; you know that even when you go in knowing no one, you’ll make friends and have amazing experiences.  I am so excited to see how you grow and change and thrive in this new place, just like you did in England. 

And as you’ve pointed out to me before, it’s easier here – we DO know people, we’re surrounded by family and friends and that makes it feel like home right away.  I really want to make sure that you feel rooted here as quickly as possible so that when you do head off to college in four short years, you know where home is without a doubt.

My girl, as you get ready to start the next chapter, here’s what I want you to remember:

Every place, every experience is what you make of it.  Go into it all with optimism and hope and make the best of everything even when things aren’t great. Speak your mind.  Try new things.  Be nice to your brothers even when you don’t want to be.  Be kind, be kind, be kind and be mindful of how your actions affect other people.  Remember how lucky we all are, in almost everything.   Use your talents for good.  Get enough sleep and exercise, even when it’s tempting to be a lazy teenager.  Be nice to your parents; remember we’re people too, with feelings and lives and ideas and goals.  Embrace what you love, regardless of what other people think.  

And more than any other thing, know how very much you are loved, right down to the core of who you are, right from the moment when you were that tiny baby I could hold in the palms of my hands, and always know how very, very grateful your dad and I are to be your parents.

Happy birthday baby girl.  I love you a bushel and a peck.

Driving

This morning at the Massachusetts RMV I learned that because my Virginia license expired while I was living in England and could not be renewed online, in order to get a Massachusetts license I would have to take the learner’s permit exam, pass it, then schedule and pass a road test.

Like a 16 year old kid. 

I have had a driver’s license since 1995 and yet I was going to have to take the permit test to get a learners permit, which would then mean I could not drive alone in my car without an adult over the age of 21 along with me until I could take a road test.

I laughed out loud standing at the counter in the RMV, and I think the clerk was relieved that I found this hilarious instead of frustrating beyond description.  Luckily the kids aren’t in school yet, sports haven’t started up, and both Matt and I work from home, so me not being able to drive isn’t THAT big of a deal.  I laughed and laughed and paid the $30 to take the permit test that I last took when I was 15 years and 9 months old.

And then I failed the permit test.

I laughed out loud again, but more in shock than in humor.

I failed because I did not know what the punishment is for a first time speeding offense for a junior operator between the ages of 18 and 21 in the state of Massachusetts.  Or whether your license can be suspended for 30-, 60-, or 90-days for being caught using your cell phone while driving.  I also did not know whether the fine for not wearing a seat belt was $15, $25, or $50.  I did not know 8 questions like that and so I failed the test with a score of 17/25 when I needed 18 to pass. 

I wish so much that I had taken a picture of Matt’s face when I walked out of the permit room and informed him that I had failed.  It was a sight to behold.

I went back to the clerk and shook my head and he also looked quite surprised and I asked if they had a book with some of the info on fines, punishments, and suspensions that I could maybe glance at. They provided me with a copy of the book you get in Drivers’ Ed and I found the appropriate section and I memorized as many fines as I could in ten minutes.  I went back to the clerk, paid another $30, and passed the test in the first 18 questions, thank the gods.

And then, at age 39, I received my learner’s permit, which I will literally frame once I take and pass a road test and get a real license.  Until then, hopefully Matt will let me drive while he sits in the passenger seat so I can get some driving practice.   Just in case the last 23 years wasn’t enough.

Double Digits, Eleven Days Late

Eleven days ago, on July 15th, I missed posting about your birthday. I’d like to blame technical difficulties (I did forget to bring my laptop to Nana & Pappy’s cottage), but the truth is that four days after arriving in the U.S. I was just too overwhelmed to write a coherent sentence.  A lot happened this month.  That does not, however, mean we didn’t celebrate your birthday as hard as ever, and it does not mean you don’t get a birthday post (I haven’t missed one in years!), but it DOES mean that, like a lot of things right now, we had to adjust our schedules and expectations a bit. 

So, eleven days later, let me wish you the happiest of 10th birthdays.  I know it was a good one because at one point in the late afternoon, in between you opening presents, spending most of the day swimming and kayaking in the pond, playing wiffle ball with your cousins, and eating a cupcake the size of your head, I leaned over and hugged you and said I hoped your birthday was fun and you gasped and said, “I forgot it WAS my birthday! I was too busy to think about it!”.  Pretty much that’s how birthdays should always be.

This past year was a strange one for you and for all of us.  We knew it was the end of an era – the final year in the grand adventure – so we talked a lot about what we’d done during our time in Europe, what we’d miss when we left, what we were looking forward to when we got back to America, and how it was the “last time” we’d do X, Y, and Z.  Although our focus was often on the past and the future, you managed to concentrate on the present and you made your last year in England your best year yet.  You absolutely killed it.

You got the best grades you’ve ever gotten, hands down, and made a concerted effort to overcome your reserved tendencies and speak up more in school.  I know that’s difficult for you and it makes you uncomfortable, but you did it anyway and your effort marks reflected that; I’m so proud of you for reaching beyond your comfort zone. You worked harder and more diligently than I have ever seen you work, and your attention to detail was better than it’s ever been before.  I know your teacher made a huge difference – he helped your Dad and I understand the you that we don’t see in school all day and he helped you be the best possible version of that kid and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that.

You absolutely thrived on the football pitch/soccer field where you played up a level alongside kids that were often two years older (and bigger) than you.  You were never intimidated at all, and your natural speed and athleticism and inherent understanding of sports strategy made up for your lack of size.  You made it clear that you belonged on that team of older boys and your dad and I were so proud to watch you play and grow as an athlete. 

You did the same on the cross-country trail, running with older kids and making it clear that you belonged right there with them.  I was as excited as I’ve ever been watching a sporting event at your cross-country relay this past spring when you came first in your leg — I screamed and jumped up and down and generally acted like a crazy person as you helped your team win a medal.  Who knew cross-country could be so much fun?!?!

You continued to make us all laugh with your sophisticated palate and ability to eat like a grown man on pretty much every trip we took – from consuming your weight in wiener schnitzel in Austria and Germany to inhaling half the seafood in Spain on our Barcelona trip.  We’ve come to accept that you’re never, ever ordering off the kids’ menu again.  I don’t understand how you’re as skinny as you are when you eat more calories in a given day than I do, but man you are skin and bones and ridiculously strong little muscles and that’s it.

You made such great friends in England and I was so glad to see you have your OWN little group instead of tagging along with Gabe’s friend like you mostly had in Virginia.  I really hope you keep in touch with them all (I think you will) and I hope that you make as good a group of friends here in Massachusetts when school starts this fall.

And, as you always have, you continued to impress me this year with your willingness and openness to try new things, see new places, and really think about how those experiences fit into your life and the world you know.  You make great observations on our trips: comparing and contrasting the canals in Venice to those in Bruges and Amsterdam, pointing out the similarities and differences between Menorca and Greece, and proving to your dad and I that you really were taking it all in on these million trips and that it was changing you in such a positive way.  We love hearing you talk about what you’ve seen and what you hope to see in the future.

So now, as you hit double digits, I just want you to know how very, very proud I am of the hard work you’ve put in over the last year, how much I’ve enjoyed watching you grow and change and mature, and how very much I love the boy you are and the person I see you becoming.  You’re a complex guy, and it’s so much fun to see all the different little sides of you in different situations.  Happy birthday, my bug (eleven days late). I love you to the moon and back.

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