Tag Archives: moving to England

School Update

This morning at school drop-off, I almost cried.  This is our last week of the term and then we head into the long Easter break (3.5 weeks off!).  When the kids go back to school at the end of April, it will be their last term in England.

While I knew that was going to be hard to handle, I thought I’d make it until June at least before I started crying about it.

Turns out?  I was wrong.

Last week was the sign-up for extracurricular activities for the coming term.  Instead of jumping on the laptop that night and waiting for the activity portal to open, I didn’t manage to sign the boys up for their clubs until the next morning.  When I checked the activity board at school this morning, I saw that Quinn didn’t get into Athletics club, the number one thing he wanted to do this coming term.  He’s on the waiting list, but who knows if five children will drop out in the first week so he can participate.  I haven’t told him yet.

When I realized what had happened, and that it was 100% entirely my own fault, I felt the tears start to well up.  You see, it’s more than him just not being able to do Athletics club (which is basically like track and field – all kinds of running and jumping and throwing).  I realized that if he doesn’t get to do this club this coming term, he never will.  Cause this is our last term here at this amazing, incredible school that offers multiple free after-school clubs every day of the week.

I made it to my car before I cried, thus successfully avoiding embarassing myself or the children.  I’ll save that for later in the school year, as the end truly approaches, when I doubt I’ll make it a single week without crying over leaving this school.

I am so happy to be moving home, truly, in every way.  Until I think about schools. 

I know there’s no school like this in America.  Even the private schools that charge twice as much as our tuition here aren’t as good.  And I just want to scream because I can’t give my children everything I want: this amazing school, but in the location where we want to live permanently.  I want to pick it up and drag it across the ocean with me and plant it in the town where we’re going to live and go on enjoying the fantastic teachers and interesting curricula and amazing sports programs and afterschool clubs and school lunches better than what I cook for myself at home.  Now that we’ve had this, now that we know it exists, how do we leave?

The answer is that we have to, so we do the best we can.  And we go to our new schools with optimism and open minds and hope.  And a plan to join the PTA and run for school board. 

Six Months

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Six months ago today, we arrived in England. 

Time is a funny thing; depending on my perspective, I feel like the last six months have flown by OR I feel like that first day in London was practically a lifetime ago.

One thing remains true: I am so, so glad we took this chance. 

We expected to be forced outside our comfort zone when we moved to a new place; we had all the normal moving-related fears about making friends, finding our way around, starting at a new school.  I also worried about learning to drive on the other side of the car (on the other side of the road), about finding doctors and buying appliances and settling in to a new house and getting the kids ready for school.

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Looking at the last six months, I can see now that some of my concerns turned out to be not that big a deal — the driving, while certainly terrifying at first, became second nature so much more quickly than I expected.  We muddled through the first few weeks on absolute clueless determination, but we got it done.  What other option did we have?  We spent three days driving around in an enormous rental van from used car lot to used car lot with all four frustrated kids, not knowing where the hell we were, until we found two vehicles that worked for our family.  Every day we’d have to go out to find and purchase the million things we needed that we couldn’t bring: a washing machine, dryer, fridge, freezer, microwave, coffee maker, toaster.  We spent three weeks with no furniture, sleeping in sleeping bags on blow up mattresses and eating microwaveable food off of paper plates.  At the time, it just seemed like what we had to do.  Looking back now I feel pretty proud that we did it with no serious issues because it was a lot to handle. 

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And you guys, that first night when we got to sit down at a real table set with proper plates and silverware and eat a meal in this house that we were able to cook because we had pots and pans finally, that was a good night. 

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We did not anticipate other things that turned out to be some of our hardest challenges.  Grocery shopping, something I never anticipated being an issue, turned out to be one of my biggest obstacles.  I cried, literally cried, almost every time I had to go food shopping in a British store for the first three months.  It took me twice as long to shop as it did at home, at a minimum.  I’d wander the aisles for ages, confused and frustrated.  There were so many items I couldn’t identify and so many items I wanted that I couldn’t find, either because they don’t carry them here or they call them something different.  It took me weeks and weeks to figure out the proper check-out procedure.  And I felt every trip, for the entire time I’d be in the store, that I may as well have had a neon sign blinking above me that I DID NOT BELONG.  It was weirdly disconcerting.

Six months in, we have made new friends.  We’ve traveled a lot and we’re getting pretty good at it.  We’ve tried new foods and found new favorites.  We’ve adapted to a school system that could pretty much not be more different than what we were used to.  We’ve learned to speak British

In those first two or three months, when we didn’t truly know anyone, we were forced to get closer and stronger as a family.  The children relied on each other, completely and solely, for playmates.  We had no distractions, no friends calling one or two kids away, no baby-sitters to take the children for a night while Matt and I went out.  We had no one but each other and we all felt out of place, so we turned in and held it together, together.  I am grateful for that unexpected blessing. 

We have so much more to learn and look forward to while we’re here, but I know it’s also important to look back and realize how much we’ve already accomplished.  We’ve done it, we’re doing it, we’ll keep on doing it. 

Here’s to the grand adventure — long may it continue!

Unwritten Rules

IMG_4914You just don’t have any concept of the number of unwritten social mores that are simply understood in a culture until you are in a culture where you don’t know all the rules.  

Small things, like a trip to the grocery store, become an exercise in sociological discovery: do the lights on the checkout lanes mean that lane is open or closed? Do I provide my own bags? Do they charge for plastic bags if I don’t have enough of my own? Do I pack my own groceries, or will the checker pack them for me?

All these things that I don’t know are running through my head as I lay my items on the belt. It only takes a single comment between myself and the checker, though, for her to realize I am not a local — my American accent betrays me. And then I’m free to ask all my questions and we sort it all out, and I’m on my merry way with plenty of newfound knowledge about grocery store conventions in the UK.

It’s bad enough being clueless on your own, but when you add children into the mix, it complicates things even further.

For our first days in England, each restaurant we entered was a minefield of deciphering social conventions. Do we stand at the entrance and wait to be seated or can we pick a table ourselves? (We encountered both types of places in the first few days.) Will there be a children’s menu? (And will it have any items that don’t come with peas?) Do we wait for a waitress to take our order, or do we order at the bar? (Depends on the establishment, the time of day, and how busy the restaurant is apparently.) Do people in England really eat burgers and fries with a knife and fork? (Yup, some of them do.)

Matt and I spent each meal watching the people around us, explaining things to the kids, trying to decode menu items we didn’t completely understand, and wondering if everyone else in the room could tell we were foreigners just based on our restaurant behavior.

Now, two months in to our stay in England, we’re slightly more familiar with the way things are done here. We’re finally comfortable with grocery shopping, we’ve got restaurants basically down, and we’re slowly learning the nuances of the British private school system. But that doesn’t mean that surprises don’t pop up, like when we arrived at Back to School night and were offered glasses of wine. Or when I had to drop my car at the mechanic and instead of giving me a loaner car to take home, the mechanic drove me back to my house in my own car and then took it back to the shop to fix it.

Every new experience broadens our horizons, though, and makes it easier to take on the next challenge with a little less fear and hesitation. Each time we learn a new way to do things, we expand our understanding of our new home, and we equip ourselves to deal a little better with the changes we face each time we travel somewhere new.

It’s hard work learning a new culture, but it’s worth every minute.

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.

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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. 

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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.

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