Winters in England aren’t terribly cold temperature-wise, but the damp and wind seem to creep in and settle in your bones sometime in November and there they remain until June. I never can seem to get warm, even though the temperatures rarely dip below freezing.
I don’t mind the cold really, never have. Anyone can find happiness in a sunny warm afternoon, but it takes creativity and resourcefulness to be content when the cold takes your breath away. Maybe growing up in New England thickened my blood, maybe I just have ice in my heart, but I’ll take freezing temps and mountains of snow over a hot, humid summer every day of the week.
English winters, though. They’re hard to bear. The wind never stops blowing. The air is just never not wet, even when it’s not raining. The nights are so long and the sun so scarce. They wear on you, make you cranky.
Until it snows.
It doesn’t happen often here, but when it does, it makes up for a lot of dark days, grey skies, and damp winds.
You wake up to a world transformed, white fluffy snow dusting 800-year old churches and smoothing out the stark edges of bare wet trees, acres of rolling fields blanketed and quiet, still dotted with sheep that are harder to pick out against a backdrop no longer painted with mud and sodden hay. The air is crisp instead of damp. The light is brighter.
It was almost 60 degrees here Sunday and the respite from the damp and windy cold of an English winter was most welcome.
Matt and I have taken to going on walks on the weekends, although unlike our British neighbors who trek out rain or shine, we mostly stick with shine. Cold we can bear, but Americans don’t embrace the rain the way the Brits do.
Yesterday, though. So good.
We figure out a lot of our plans for the future while we’re walking. Lots of parenting discussions and chats about selling our house and where we want to live when we move back to America in the summer and where we still want to travel before we leave Europe. Long term plans about work and retirement and bucket list dreams get sorted out on these long walks.
This little church is just over two miles from our house. We walk there and then turn around most days, although sometimes we keep going.
It’s enough to get to walk and talk without distractions and phones and kids and chores, but when you get to do it on a sunny warm day at the end of January when the air smells like spring might actually be on the way, it’s just that much better.
(Spring is NOT on the way in England, but it’s nice to pretend for an afternoon. It’s back to freezing today.)
There are really and truly few things I enjoy more than spending time with my children. But they have been on school break since December 15th and we still have five days left before they go back and hoooo, boy am I ready for them to be at school all day for a few weeks.
My kids, at ages 13, 11, 9 & 7, are pretty self-sufficient in terms of entertaining themselves. Because there are four of them, they always have someone to play with. But having four kids in the house all day, every day ALSO means they always have someone to annoy and argue with. Always. Like, every hour of the day. Which makes me abso-freaking-lutely insane and despite the fact that I know I should let them solve their disputes themselves, I end up mediating and then losing my patience and shouting at them to stop bickering over and over.
The kids get up before me most days on school break and make their own breakfasts. Five years ago I could only dream of the day that would happen, and make no mistake, I appreciate it. But they eat like locusts. We’re going through food at a rate so alarming, I am almost afraid someone is hoarding it in a cupboard upstairs somewhere. And although they are reasonably okay at cleaning up after themselves after making a meal…actually, no. Not true. They’re generally rubbish at cleaning up and I end up reminding them kindly and patiently several times a day and then screaming and yelling like a lunatic to just put the bread away already, goddammit.
Luckily it’s not as cold here in England in winter as it was in D.C. (or is on most of the east coast of the U.S. right now) so the kids can still play outside for a few hours almost every day. But it IS wet and rainy and that means it’s muddy and I don’t mind them playing in mud and getting dirty until it’s time to do laundry and I discover that they’ve actually worn three different pair of warm-ups and two different pair of socks each in a single day because they kept getting wet and dirty and then changing and leaving their dirty, wet clothes on the floor. Then I give long lectures on making unnecessary work for other people when you could just wear one outfit a day or two AT MOST and not go back out once you’ve already changed into clean dry clothes. And then I spend twenty minutes teaching people how to do their own laundry. And then we all spend an hour every other day folding and putting away clean clothes while I threaten the lives of the children if they don’t stop changing outfits multiples times a day.
So. Winter break has been fun. Lots of fun. Lots of movies and baking and cooking and board games and reading and laughing and good times.
Yup, that’s a House of Pain blog post title. Things can only get better from here.
This week I took all the snow pants, coats, gloves, scarves, neck warmers, hats, and other various winter paraphernalia out of my kitchen. It looks nice in there now without a giant clothes rack covered in wet clothes dripping dirty water onto my floor.
I washed all the washable snow gear. And I packed it up and put it away into the ginormous hockey bag where we store all that stuff. The bag is now tucked safely into the spare closet in my bedroom where it will sit until next year (or until we move).
(So it will probably snow at least once more in D.C. this year. Sorry. I just couldn’t take the mess anymore and it was 62 degrees outside.)
I have loved this winter, I cannot lie. Matt and I skied together for the first time and the kid learned to ski and they loved it. They just rocked it. We got to play in 2′ of snow with our Massachusetts cousins and see my nephew in his first play and then we got a few good snowstorms in D.C. too. Unlike last winter (which SUCKED), we did not spend the entire span of Thanksgiving to Spring Break with at least one sick person in our family at all times. Although Matt did get shingles, it was the mildest case I’ve ever heard of, so all that happened was that he was home for the kids’ whole winter break. We ice skated in NYC and D.C. at cool outdoor skating rinks and saw our California cousins too. We went to the Train Show in New York and had a great weekend there with great friends. We had a New Years Eve get-together with some of our neighborhood peeps. I have just loved so much about the last few months.
And now spring is coming and the kids are back in sports and we will have an insanely busy few months just FULL of sports practices and games and crazy schedules. And no matter how much I’ve loved this winter, I can’t wait for spring.
Packing up the clothes made me a little sad: such a stark symbol of the end of a season of fun. But then yesterday the kids were out in the yard, which is still covered in snow, wearing shorts and t-shirts and riding bikes and skateboards up and down the driveway and I all I could do was smile.