Author Archives: Little Nesting Doll

The End of the School Year

Our second school year in England came to an end on July 5th.  It’s hard for me to believe we’ve already done two years of school here; it has, without any doubt or hyperbole, been the very best part of this move.

I know full well it’s not a typical school that my children go to  – it’s in a castle for goodness sake – and I also know full well that it’s not the only school like this in England by a long shot. 

I know that we are so lucky to have our children go to this school, and I know that we “got lucky” because Matt and I worked our asses off to make it so.

The school day here is organized for the benefit of the children more than any other school setting I’ve ever experienced. 

The days and weeks and academic terms are built with the needs of kids in mind and are centered always around a balance of activity and learning. 

It would NOT be difficult to replicate the school day here at any other school and I am quite sure that it would instantly make school more enjoyable for any child and therefore make them more successful and happy. 

On the last day of school, on the way in in the morning, I asked the kids if they were excited to be going on summer vacation.  To a man, they all said yes AND no – they were excited to be on break, but would be sad not be go to school.  They literally love school that much here.  Never, ever would that have happened before we came to this school.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I’ve learned in the two years we’ve been here:

My kids needed more activity in their school days.  A lot more activity.  Now that they have it, school is a blessing and not a curse.

Having more activity in the school day made my kids better students.  They learn more and enjoy the learning more.

School uniforms make almost everything about my mornings simpler.  The only thing that is slightly complicated is keeping track of all the different things each of my kids need.  But I will gladly take that over fighting with them every morning about what they were wearing to school.

Youth sports IN school rather than AFTER school has drastically improved our family schedule.

The school calendar here – basically 6 weeks of school followed by at least a one-week break – is awesome. 

My kids thrive when they are given more responsibility and more independence.  That rolls over from school into home life. 

It’s incredible to see the transformation my children have undergone since coming here and I’m hopeful that the foundation they’ve built here will carry over when we return home.

We have one year left and we’re going to wring everything we can out of it!

When Your Kids Travel Without You

Bridget is on a school trip this week.  I dropped her off on Sunday morning, waited around with all the other parents, and then watched her and 60 other kids board a double-decker bus and drive away for six days to a different country.

We travel a lot, our family, and I never really get nervous.  But dropping my kids off to travel without me is a whole different thing.

Every time – and this is B’s third international school trip  – I am completely engulfed in fear as soon as she is out of reach.  I’m fine leading up to the trip, albeit slightly obsessive about making sure she’s packed correctly.  But when the bus pulls away I feel terror rise up in my throat.  Horrifying scenario after more horrifying scenario plays in my mind and I actively have to push them down, force myself to breathe, pretend I’m calm even though I am in full panic mode.

The forced calm eventually gives way to actual calm.  It only takes me about a half hour to compartmentalize that anxiety, reason with myself, accept that everything will be okay and that I have to be able to let her go.  But for the entire time B is gone I will feel her missing presence like a phantom limb.  It won’t be until she’s home safe that I truly relax.

It does get somewhat easier each time.  I know these trips will become more frequent the older she gets and I’ll get more and more used to it.  I’ll panic less each time until finally someday I’ll be able to hug her goodbye and wish her bon voyage without simultaneously covering up my surging terror.

And eventually I know that all my kids are going to leave.  One day, each of them will leave my home for good to go off on their own and live their lives.  It’s the exact thing I’ve been working toward since the days each of them were born: it’s all been prep-work to get them ready to go.  I know this.  I accept this.  I look forward to the day when I can look around, hopefully, and say, “That’s it.  I did it.  I brought up these four great humans and they are happy and good people and I have successfully done the only thing that really mattered I do well.”

It will come with a piece of heartbreak, I know.  But I have to hope it also will come with an enduring sense of satisfaction. 

I’m not there yet though.  I’m still smack dab in the newness of letting her go, years away from the day it will be anything like easy.  So until then, I’ll be sitting here counting the hours until tomorrow when my girl is home with me.

Politics and Religion

Religion and Politics.  The two topics you’re supposed to avoid, right?  Because everyone feels so strongly about them, because no opinion on either of those topics is lightly held.  So don’t talk about it!  People will take offense!

Bullshit.

We should talk about the things that matter.  You – me – we all should talk about the things we’re passionate about, whether that’s religion and politics or underwater basket weaving or cooking or fashion or international relations or cars or computer coding.  Whatever it is you LOVE, that is what I want to talk to you about, what I want to hear your opinions on.  The things we care about are the things that make us interesting.

I can talk for HOURS on the merits of traveling with your children.  Or on schools and education and how a good school can change your whole life.  Or about home decorating and why I believe it matters that your surroundings are both beautiful and functional.  Or food and why it’s so important to eat real food and cook real food and teach your children to do that.  Or why it’s absolutely vital that kids have chores. 

And I can talk for days about politics, government, the role of a free press, why our institutions matter.  And about religion and it’s many blessings and curses and why I’m not religious even though I believe in God and how I try to teach my children to figure that out for themselves.

Those are the discussions I want to have.  That’s what connects us, what builds relationships, what makes life interesting.  That’s the good stuff.

So tell me what you love, what you’re passionate about. Teach me why I should care about that thing, teach me something new, give me your opinion. I’m all ears. 

Nine Years Old

Whenever I sit down to write my birthday posts to you, I always go back and read the last few years’ posts to see what I said and what I think has changed.  What strikes me when I read the words I wrote about you at six, seven, and eight is how little has changed – you are, as ever, persistent, determined, mischievous, quiet in public and the opposite of quiet at home, and the child who challenges me in ways I never imagined (most of them good). 

But this, I think is what makes you so amazing: your personality arrived fully-formed practically from birth and you are now and always have been exactly who you will be.  You are my Owen, and I know you ever shall be.  Fierce and adventurous, unexpectedly loving and consistently active, capable of amazing things and a little bit uninterested in proving that to anyone but yourself.  You set your own very high standards for the things that matter to you and you reach them always.  The things that don’t matter as much to you? It’s still a challenge to get you to fully engage on those.  I won’t quit though.  Your potential is boundless and it’s my mission in life to get you to realize it.

This past year I saw you find your stride in so many things.  You came out of your shell to perform in the school play, where your monologue as Colonel Sparkington was brilliantly done and so out of character for you, my little introvert.  You nailed it though, and I had tears in my eyes watching you stand on stage in front of all your classmates and all their parents and your teachers and the headmaster and deliver your lines clearly and with feeling.  I don’t think you hated it either, despite your general reluctance to speak in public most of the time.  In fact, I think you kind of loved it.  I know I did.

You’ve solidified some really good friendships this year, and that makes me so happy.  In your younger years, you tended to rely on your older brother to pave your social path and you just befriended the people he was already friends with.  Now, though, you have your own little group of friends, completely independent of your brother – a great group of funny, smart, good boys – and you are so happy.  That makes me so happy. 

You are also still a part of this insane gang of three that makes my house loud and smelly and full of sports equipment.  I love this gang a lot.

You have, as you always, always do, continued to excel in sports.  It’s just fun to watch you play, no matter what sport it is.  But my favorite now is watching you run.  You are just good at it, and while you’re running you look like you’re in your comfort zone.  A comfort zone that includes a sub-7 minute mile.  I will be forever grateful that we moved to England if only because of the cross country program at your school that revealed to us what a good runner you are and how very much you enjoy it. 

Your love of travel hasn’t dimmed, even though I worried that at some point you (and your siblings) might grow weary of it and blase about yet another castle tour or museum.  You have embraced the travel with joy and excitement, though, and there is very little I love more than hearing you compare your trips to Italy and Ireland and Germany and France, debating what was better where and how those places are similar or different. 

One of my favorite things about traveling with you is your appetite for trying new foods.  You have absolutely graduated from the children’s menu; we don’t even pretend anymore that you would be satisfied with chicken tenders or a hamburger.  You particularly liked the curry wurst in Germany.  And the cheese fondue in Chamonix.  And the fish croquettes in Ireland.  And the giant pots of mussels in Normandy.  Seafood seems to be your most favorite, in fact.  Watching you inhale plates of octopus, grilled and fried squid, clams, swordfish, tuna, and whole prawns with the heads and legs still on is almost comical.  More than one waiter or waitress has double checked to be sure they heard your order correctly.  I love your appetite for adventure of every type.

At nine years old, you’ve had more adventures than most people have in a lifetime.  You have skied in the French Alps and ridden a gondola to the top of the highest mountain in Europe and stood in a glass box 1000 meters above the ground.  You’ve toured the Guinness Factory and visited the home in Galway where your great grandfather, and his father – your namesake – lived.  You have climbed the Eiffel Tower and toured the Vatican.  You have gone swimming in Capri and snorkeling in Menorca where you found an octopus as it slid around on the rocks below you and without fear, you followed him and watched him.  You’ve toured more castles than I can name, and thankfully you’ve been excited about at least something you’ve seen at every single one.

I am grateful too that you and your brothers and sister have had all these adventures together and will share the memories forever.  You are close and love each other and get along well – at least most of the time.  It is the single greatest joy of my life to see you all happy and laughing and exploring and learning about new places. You share something unique with each of your siblings, and that is something I hope holds true forever.  You and your sister seem to have a mutual love of the daring and scary and a willingness to try absolutely anything; you and your older brother have an obsession and adoration of sports of every single kind and will spend countless hours together playing football, baseball, cricket, or any other sport you can think of; and you and your younger brother – with whom you share a room and, most nights, a bed – have a relationship built on nighttime chats and early morning Legos and games of cards.  When you’re all grown up with families of your own I hope you still hang out and do the things you love together.  I will consider myself a successful mother if my children all wind up not just family members but lifelong friends.

On your birthday this year I want you to know that your father and I are more proud of you than we could ever describe, that we love every single thing about you, and that we are so glad to be your parents.  Thank you for being you – always.  Happy 9th birthday my blondie baby! I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.

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