Year End 2015

This has been the most outrageous year.

Full of highs and lows.

SO much stress and SO much joy.

We began the year finding out that we were having a girl. Our fourth child, after three boys, was finally going to be a little girl. We were over the moon. We just absolutely could not believe it. Even though this was our fourth child, we found ourselves feeling a little like first timers.

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Even though our lives were very busy, we were still planning several upgrades and projects in our new home. We went through 22 samples of grey trying to find the perfect shade for the living room, and 13 yellows for the kitchen. We designed and put up a plank wall. We re-tiled our kitchen back splash. TWICE. We had plans for upgrading our back hallway into a functional mudroom.

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Harry was in preschool and floor hockey, and Rich was chugging along at DRW. Finn and Theo were in a nice routine staying home with mom and having playdates with our friends. The big boys took swim lessons at Goldfish swim school, and the played baseball at the park district. As a family we were building great relationships with the people in our small neighborhood. Rich co-managed a neighborhood softball team and the boys were getting comfortable walking just three doors down to our best neighbor friend. It was a busy, but very enjoyable spring.

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Then in June, a special opportunity came up and we decided to pick up and move to London. From then, our life went into hyperdrive. But as usual we embraced the chaos and made it happen. Rich continued to play softball through the summer. We sold the house in ONE SHOWING the week before Viv was born. This forced us to move the kids and I home to Casey before moving to London, because our London home wasn’t ready yet. This turned out to be a perfect 8 weeks, spending lots of time with all of our families before moving. We snuck in photo-shoots with both sides of our family, just to take advantage of being all together.

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Then we moved. We still, now, look back and can’t believe we did it. It’s so huge. And crazy. Sitting here typing this, I still can’t believe it. Looking at the kids passports, I still can’t believe it. We didn’t need to do this, but we did. We were happy living in suburbia. We were really so happy. And we could have stayed there long term. But, we choose it. We choose to take this adventure with our kids. It’s certainly been challenging, but so far there are absolutely no regrets.

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the babies

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Harry

Age: 6

Height: 4’2″

Harry is thoughtful, curious, imaginative, somewhat serious, and very typical-first-born-type A. We love how much he loves and adores his siblings. He has loved every one of them from the day they came home and has never been jealous. He is so generous with them and protective of them. When he goes to a birthday party, he sneaks a piece of cake home for Finn. If Viv is crying, he’s the first to her side.

He is my rule maker, follower, and enforcer. He shines when he has made us proud and crumbles if he disappoints us. He loves to be home. He loves to be right, and loves to learn.

On a daily basis he amazes us with his creativity. He loves to draw and write stories, or cut up pieces of paper and construct a bad-guy. He is our master builder. He can build anything, and everything out of Legos. Creatures, animals, restaurants, Airport Security checkpoints, vehicles, zoos, anything.

He can be very tenacious and competitive when he wants something. He’s a very logical thinker and an excellent problem solver. He has always struggled managing his emotions in a new situation and this year we saw improvement in this area. He became much more resilient and flexible this year.

This year Harry’s mental and emotional growth has been outstanding. He started this year in a preK classroom in Oswego and ended it in a Year 2 classroom in London. His graduating preschool class prided themselves on knowing a few sight words and being able to count to 100. At the end of the year in London, he is reading simple books, writing stories, and doing basic multiplication. It’s amazing what their little brains can absorb. We feared that the curriculum gap would break him, but it didn’t. We thought we’d have to hire a tutor to work with him every night, but we didn’t. He has risen to the challenge and he very rarely gets frustrated. He’s not alllll the way caught up to his peers, but he’s not needing supplemental support to keep up either. We are amazed and proud.

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Highs:

Learning to do several things on his own: make a snack and a simple breakfast, make his bed, fold his clothes, take a shower, change a (non-poopy) Theo diaper!, change Theo into pajamas, brush his own teeth.

The end of the season of floor hockey and swimming

Lows:

The beginning of floor hockey and swimming

Having to switch schools.

Homeschooling and making up the curriculum gap in the UK.

Favorites: Legos, Ninja Turtles, anything animals, anything dinosaur or Jurassic World, anything super heros, writing stories, drawing and coloring, sausage and bacon, grilled Cheese, trail mix, chocolate, yogurt raisins, video games

Birthday Questions:

  1. Now that you’re 6, what’s different?

Hum… You go places like Chuck E Cheese and the Lego Store.

And I can run faster.

  1. How tall are you? 6
  1. What are you really good at? Legos
  1. What’s your favorite thing to do?

Build legos… mixels and a couple more like ninja turtles and transformers.

  1. What’s your favorite thing to eat?

Eggs, cheese sandwiches, and quesadillas

  1. Where’s your favorite place to go and why?

Lego store… so you get legos there and you ride on a roller coaster.

  1. Who’s your favorite friend?

Finn!

  1. What do you want to do when you grow up?

Just be Harry

  1. How old are mom and dad?

Mom is 38, and dad is 32

  1. What does Daddy do at work?

He buys money

  1. What do you like best about mom and dad?

Daddy gets us (plays chase), and mommy tucks us in bed

  1. How strong is Dad?

He’s strong 100!

  1. What’s mom’s favorite thing to do?

Clean up the house… like vacuuming and cleaning up the floor.

  1. What’s your favorite thing about your brothers?

They play with me. Finn, that he plays with me and Theo too.

  1. What do you think of girls?

They’re beautiful….?

  1. If you could have a super power, what would it be?

Clean-up-your-toys super power.

  1. What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?

All the new things I can do like reach tall things.

18. Are you going to get married someday? To who?

No – kids can’t get married. I can’t get married – that’s why.

19. How long does it take to make dinner? Hum…..A little bit.

20. How do you make cookies?

You use chocolate chips, and bananas. Then you scoop them out and put them in the    oven. I don’t know what else.

21. How much does a car cost? 20 dollars

22. What’s the healthiest thing you can eat? Eggs

23. Can you give me an example of a good deed?  Share.

24. Can you tell me a joke? Yes!

Knock knock? – who’s there

Fish – fish who

Hello I’m a fish!

25. What do you know about God and Jesus?

He loves us very much. He died on the cross. He lived in a cave, when he was still alive.

 

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Finn

Age: 4

Height: 3’10”

Finn is SILLY. Ever since he was little I would catch him doing just silly weird little things when he’s left on his own or with his brothers. Finn is our early riser, and our sunshine baby. He’s NEVER ever, ever in a hurry. He daydreams. And he chases butterflies. But despite his wanderlust nature, he is surprisingly and incredibly smart. He’s the one, who at 2 years old, could do a 48 piece puzzle completely on his own. And at 4, he can follow directions and complete a small Lego set completely on his own.

His imagination is equal to Harry’s, which means they spend the majority of their time together doing imaginative play. Finn is our best player with Theo – being able to navigate around Theo’s tricky toddler stage. And although he’s not always the most compassionate, he fights for Harry when he needs to.

Finn is also very coordinated. Even though he was our biggest baby, he hit all the milestones first. He rolled, sat, crawled, and walked first. He can throw and kick easily, and he expertly races his scooter to school and back everyday.

This year, Finn talked in third person for a solid 2 months. At first we thought it was funny – and it was – but then it didn’t quit.

He named his fish ‘swimming.’ Swimming the fish.

He is easily impressed and finds himself full of wonder at the smallest thing. So many things, like a spider on a thread in the breeze, are SUPER AWESOOOOMEE!!! When he says things, he says them with such genuine feeling. It’s like everything he says has an exclamation point after it.

He has always marched to his own drum, and sometimes that drum is on a different planet. And this sometimes means he blatantly defies us. He’s never been afraid to break our rules or not listen to us. He didn’t pick up his coat off the floor because he “didn’t want to!” It doesn’t matter if that’s mommy’s rule.

And we definitely have had the most discipline lessons with him. We often have to re-think our approach with him, and give him extra one-on-one time.

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Highs: Seeing anything that he thinks is awesome. Getting to see his favorite people. Getting to go… anywhere.

 Lows: Finn doesn’t really have any lows. When he’s tired, he’s pretty grumpy – that’s about it.

Favorites: animals, bugs, snakes, anything outside, running, his scooter, following Harry’s lead on imaginative play with ninja turtles, super heros, and dinosaurs, pizza, ketchup.

Birthday Questions:

  1. Now that you’re 4 what’s different? Look how big I am… look at my BIG feet!!!!
  2. How tall are you? 60!
  3. What are you really good at? Jumping – “see look how big this is!!” (Demonstrates jump)
  4. What’s your favorite thing to do? Um.. RUNN (while running)
  5. What’s your favorite thing to eat? Big pretzels and cheese pizzas!
  6. Where’s your favorite place to go and why? Lego Store, for I like getting the old guys (mixels)
  7. Who’s your favorite friend? Jordi
  8. What do you want to do when you grow up? House cleaner
  1. What does Daddy do at work? Gets money
  2. What do you like best about mom and dad? Mom – that you make my food, Dad – getting money for us…
  3. How strong is Dad? 100 strong
  4. What’s mom’s favorite thing to do? Get dresses for the baby sister!
  5. What’s your favorite thing about your brothers? Harry – that he plays with me, Theo – he plays with us.
  6. How old are mom and dad? Mom is 18, and daddy is 60, 82

15. What do you think of girls? umm…. They marry boys.

16. Where do you want to go on vacation? Ummm…. Go camping?

17. If you could have a super power, what would it be? To be a million strong!!!

18. What’s the best thing that happened to you this year? Umm.. I got sick.

19. How long does it take to make dinner? 14 for making dinner

20. Are you going to get married someday? To Who? Ya, when I’m 16… to Avery.

21. How do you make cookies? You use oatmeal and cookies, and then you use a banana… and then that’s it. That’s how you make em!

22. How much does a car cost? 16 monies.

23. What’s the healthiest thing you can eat? Carrots and apples

24. Can you give me an example of a good deed? Play with somebody

25. Can you tell me a joke? I don’t want to say a joke.

26. What do you know about God and Jesus? They make people.

 

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Theo

Age 1

Height 2’7″

So, Theo was HANDS DOWN our easiest baby. Oh my gosh. He slept through the night at 7 weeks and never looked back. All the way through… like 11 hours. He would happily play on the floor, and then just… roll over and take a nap.

Like, what? Not only did he sleep great, he ate great too. So that was super weird. He was happy and very very easy going, also kinda weird, right?

He was incredible. And part of me knew that we were going to pay one day for his good behavior. This invoice was adding up. He was such a dream baby and it was too good to be true. Yes, that dream baby was just adding it up. And it was expensive, very expensive. And we had to pay the invoice this year. Wholly moly.

Of the three boys, he was without a doubt our hardest one year old. So many times, we didn’t know what to do with him. He’s stubborn, he’s temperamental, he unpredictable. He bangs his head, and likes to sleep with his blanket completely over his head…

Sometimes he would just walk around and cry… or go from crying to laughing and back to crying again. Sometimes he would eat toast, sometimes he would cry and rub the toast in his hair. Some days he was never happy… all day. He’s really attached to me one day, then really attached to Rich the next. Somedays, he would just follow me around. Literally, like a little tail wherever I went, crying. Until I would either pick him up, or sit down with him. It seemed like everyday I was just walking on eggshells around him. Or – as we started calling it, cutting the wrong wire. You cut the wrong wire and the bomb explodes.

For example: He liked the green cup yesterday, and he wanted his granola bar cut into pieces. But today he wanted the blue cup – which was fine. But then I cut up his granola bar into pieces and now he’s crying face down on the floor. I guess he wanted his granola bar as a whole today. And stupid me didn’t know. Cut the wire… bomb exploded.

I felt (and sometimes do still feel) like I was working for a highly demanding, completely irrational, bi-polar boss. At this age, both of the older boys certainly had bad day, or a bad spell for a little while. But this has truly gone on almost the entire year.

Also, a little after his birthday he started rhythmically banging his head on the side of crib every night before bed – sometimes for an hour, off and on. We researched, talked to two doctors, he’s fine. It’s just one of those weird things, and a soothing mechanism for him. We notice it gets worse when he’s cutting teeth. We hoped it would pass, but he still continues to do it today. Some children do it until age three… so, we’ll see.

For whatever unknown reason, he finds the banging of his head soothing. So, when he is having a tantrum you’ll get the standard limp-noodle bit, but you might also get a head bump right in the nose. It’s hard to say… Just watch out.

Now – I know, we threw a lot at him this year. He was replaced as the baby of the family and then he had to change homes, twice, within a few months. All while cutting teeth, and trying to grow and develop. He is also stuck in sort of a no-man’s land. The big boys take off without him, and mommy is always taking care of Viv.

So, we’ll cut him some slack and let him slide…. This time.

Despite the drama, he has an incredibly sweet side. And we can’t get enough of his cute little face. Per the toddler instructions, he is completely ruled by the right side of his brain. His lows are low and his highs are high. We can grit through the lows with tricks of distraction and snacks. And then enjoy the highs… and the middle ground.

He loves to cuddle with Viv, and laugh with daddy. He loves to dance to Justin Bieber. He loves to see how many potato head pieces he can jam in his mouth, and he’s never met a meat he didn’t like. He loves a truck or a car more than the older boys ever have.

He is happiest when he is included in whatever the big boys are doing. Whether it’s just sitting on the floor, or coloring at the table, or playing ninja turtles, or reading books in bed. If they are doing it, and he is also doing it – he is the happiest man in the house.

 

 

Highs – Learning how to walk and talk, and climb up the stairs. Being able to copy his brothers. Cuddling.

Lows – just about anything, and then something different tomorrow

 Favorites – cars, oatmeal, ketchup, meat, his brothers

 

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 Vivian

Age Newborn

Height 22″

Our sweet and long awaited princess entered our life at the end of July. With all of the other pregnancies, we’d always thrown around girl names at the beginning. And we surprised ourselves landing on Vivian, as it was never on the list before. But, it is perfect, and she’s perfect.

Her birth was the hardest of the four babies. Something weird happened to me and I decided it was a good idea to NOT get an epidural. Don’t do that! It was a huge mistake. Labor and delivery was… rough. However, she was born healthy and beautiful, so it’s all the same in the end.

She is just…. So… great. We love having a girl after having three boys. It’s so fun to finally get to buy pink. It’s so fun to have new possibilities for toys and outings. It’s so fun to get an American Girl doll. It’s so fun to think about dresses and necklaces, and nail polish. It’s so fun to think of special mommy and Viv days. It’s so fun to think that Rich might get to walk someone down the aisle.

We finally have a girl of our own and I can’t wait to braid her hair. We try not to be biased towards her, but how can we not be? She barely cries, because someone is always there to tend to her. When she was first born, I barely set her down. Not because she was fussy, but because I just didn’t want to. I strictly never slept the boys in our bed, but with her – anything goes.

She was born with a thick, luscious head of hair. As it grew, it stood straight up and continued to grow and stand straight through the end of the year. Her hair attracts so much attention everywhere we go.

So far, she’s been sweet and smiley and good natured for the most part. She has a serious, thoughtful side and spends lots of time watching and observing. She loves to roll around and kick her legs out the side of her crib. She hasn’t been the best sleeper, but not the worst either.

She’s very attached to mommy, and doesn’t take a bottle very well. Usually just the SIGHT of mommy calms her down if she’s upset. And she doesn’t like to be left alone or out of mommy’s sight for very long. Ask me if I care if she’s attached…

She giggles the most for daddy, but is completely captivated by all of her brothers. She loves them and they love her

 

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Highs – learning how to put herself to sleep, roll over, and sit up, sleeping through the night (on occasion)

Lows – having trouble sleeping through the night, only pooping once a week… leading to weekly diaper blow-outs

Favorites – anytime her brothers are in the room, riding in her stroller, teething toys, spoons, cell phones

 

day in the life 2015

6/6:30  The kids start waking. We’ve trained them to stay quietly in their rooms and         play nicely until we come get them.

7:30ish Help boys get ready for school, change Theo, change Viv, bring everyone   downstairs and make breakfast.

8:00 serve breakfast

8:30 get the big boys out the door for school (papa or daddy takes them)

8:45 clean up the kitchen, start laundry, vacuum, play with Theo and Viv

9:45 nurse Viv and lay her down for first nap

11:30 feed Theo lunch

12:15 clean up and lay Theo down for nap

12:30 Viv is up, nurse

1:00 eat lunch

2:30 nurse Viv again and lay her down for second nap

2:45 Theo is up

4:00 big boys are home from school (papa went and got them)

4:30 make dinner for the boys

5:00 boys eat dinner, Viv is up. Nurse, boys play.

6:30 bedtime snack for boys, followed by baths, brushing teeth, reading books, and then getting in bed at 7 – if we’re lucky. And if we are, then they are thrilled to get to watch a show in their beds.

7:00 Put Viv to sleep for third nap, read with Theo and put him to bed

7:30 Boys show is over, lights out!

 

 night in the life 2015

I want to include a night in the life, because the night is just as much a part of our life right now as the day. And because if I ever feel a little twinge to have another baby – I can go back and read this part. As if the day wasn’t enough…

7:30p – all boys lights out. Mommy and daddy eat dinner, and sometime in here Viv wakes from her third nap and wants to nurse, play and hang out downstairs

10:00p – nurse and lay viv down for bed.

10:00p – 11:30p the no kid time. Sometimes Rich goes straight to bed. But if he doesn’t, we can talk to each other, maybe shop online, fold laundry, whatever…

11:30/Midnight – mommy bedtime

3:30am – Viv is up and wants to eat. Nurse her and put her back to sleep (hopefully).

4:00am – Theo is awake, banging his head on his crib. Maybe his teeth hurt? He’s not crying, just banging. So, I leave him alone but I can’t go back to sleep when I know he’s up.

4:45am – Theo is back asleep

5:15am – I’m back asleep

6:00am – Finn, our early bird, is up and has to poop. Rich takes this one, gets on up for work, and sometimes lets me sleep if his schedule allows. Sometimes he has to leave early, then it’s me who is up for this. Finn is supposed to lay quietly in his bed until Harry wakes up. He does this sometimes, but other times he makes multiple trips to our room whining, or he wakes up Harry, or both.

6:30/7:00am – Theo and Harry are up. I’m still sleeping in our room with Viv, if I don’t have a boy or two coming in. If Rich is home, he gets up and ready for work then makes breakfast for the boys and gets them ready for school. I attempt to sleep through the chaos.

8:00am – Viv is up, I’m up for the day. We have to leave for school drop off at 8:40.

 

Now, this is not the case EVERY night, but it definitely is the case sometimes. Our night schedule was some variation of this from October to December. If you’re keeping track, that’s only about 5 hours of sleep for me a night and it’s not even continuous. And also, I was doing this at night and then getting up and homeschooling for a few weeks. So… ya… I’m definitely glad to be moving further away from this season of our life.

 

kid words

Harry: I’m awesome

Finn: I’m a nice boy… and funny.

 

Harry: We need a sister!

Me: What? Why?

Harry: We have three boys! It’s too many!

 

(Harry is learning to cough in the crook of his arm at school, and Finn was coughing in the car)

Harry: Finn! You have to cough in your arm, like this….

Finn: Na, I’ll just cough on my teeth.

 

Finn: I love my hot pants!

Finn (running): Watch me mommy! I’m making the wind!

 

Finn’s responses to mommy during a bedtime meltdown:

You have to go to bed because I said so – ‘I don’t want you to say that!’

You have to go to bed so you’ll feel good – ‘I don’t want to feel good!’

You have to go to bed so you can grow – ‘I just want to be smaaaalllll!’

 

Harry: Why does daddy do everything you ask?

Me: Because he’s a good daddy.

Harry: And because you’re the queen?

Me: Yes, and because I’m the queen.

 

Finn: We need sticky shoes to climb up the mountain!

 

Harry says hummer instead of hammer, curtain instead of cape, shocks instead of socks, domin-yo’s instead of dominos

Finn calls cashews cat shoes and refuses to say it right.

Finn (after throwing up): The germs got me, mom.

Finn: these pretzels are SUPER AWESOME! Chocolate soy milk is my SUPER FAVORITE!

 

We got a new coffee table. Immediately upon it being plopped in the living room, the boys climb on top of it.

Me: get down please. The coffee table is not for climbing.

Harry: what’s it for then??

 

Harry: quit switching movies mommy, and just pick one!

Harry: Theo is cute 1000, and other babies are cute 0.

Finn: I’ll like green when I’m older.

 

Finn(on the toilet): Mom! If I say fish, then I’m done. If I say door, then I’m not done.

Me: ooooookkay…. So.. is it fish, or door?

Finn: Fish!

 

Finn: I’m hungry. Ahhh… I don’t see ANYBODY making DINNER!

 

 mom fails

– went to parent teacher conference on the wrong night
– sent a card to my grandma with no stamp
– sent Harry to school with no back pack, twice
– was in a hurry to clean up the kitchen and leave the house, so I spilled orange juice on the floor, and feta cheese throughout the fridge and freezer.
– thought I needed a bigger size in some new shoes I bought, so I went to the store, found the shoes, determined that I needed a 9.5. Brought the shoes up to exchange, to discover that the ones I brought to return were size 9.5. – I also did this with a pair of Harry’s shoes.
– went to the farmer’s market and majorly splurged on all organic ingredients for soup. Made the soup. Ate the soup. Looked forward to at least two nights of leftover soup. Left the soup out on the counter to cool and forgot about it over night. Ruined delicious expensive organic soup. Had to make dinner again the next night.

 

what I learned this year 

This year I learned a lot of things, small things, big things, smart and dumb things… but I think what I’m most proud of is that I learned how to EAT OUT WITH KIDS.

That’s right. I learned it.

Most of the year I was pregnant. Which meant that I was tired, and also hungry. In addition to being pregnant, I had three boys under 6 and it was summer. Which meant that I was desperately tired and extremely hungry and very hot. I was starving, but too tired to do anything about it…. This lead to us going out for dinner quite a bit.

Before this time, eating out with the kids was only something we only did on accident or during trips downstate. We always avoided it. Always. Because my feeling was “why would I pay to go out to eat, and then sit there trying to get my children to sit and not act like animals.”

Behave! For goodness sake.

If the kids are with us, I can’t even talk to Rich, like, at all.

If we go out to eat, it needs to be quiet and peaceful. I need to eat my food while it’s hot and enjoy every bite. It needs to be worth it. We’re paying so much more than just staying in, I want to enjoy myself.

So, in an effort to meet my expectations I would constantly be annoyed that the kids were bothering me. We are sitting at this table together and the kids know I can’t leave. So, they’re taking advantage of it and bombarding me with everything they’ve ever wanted to tell me. (Similar to being in the car)

They are being too loud or too fidgety in their chair, or they won’t quit whining about how hungry they are or how long the food is taking. And then the food comes and I have to chop Harry’s into rectangles and Rich has to cut Finn’s into squares. Theo needs more Cheerios with his and then we eat our food nice and cold. I would then watch most of the kids’ food go uneaten because they filled up on chips, or they can’t stop staring at the neon sign in the corner. All of this, just ruins my exquisite dining experience at TGI Fridays.

So, why bother.

One day, I just realized. It doesn’t need to be a struggle. First – I needed to change my attitude and shift my expectations. If we’re going to be doing this more often, it’s got to quit being a source of anxiety. It’s not practical for me to expect the kids to sit and be quiet. If they did that, we’d be worried they were sick or something.

Secondly, yes, I CAN appreciate ANY dining experience that does not involve ME prepping, cooking, or CLEANING.

Guess what?

You didn’t have to plan for this meal, shop for this meal, or prep or cook this meal with noisy children pulling at you.

At guess what else?

You don’t have to clean up.

It’s like a dream. The perfect situation. I sit, you bring my food, and then I leave.

This is awesome.

Neither Rich or I ever feel like we get enough direct communication time with the kids. This is the perfect time for that. I realized I could take advantage of us being required to sit at this table. Instead of fighting them and handing them terrible crayons and ipads, I try to think of a game to play together or something to talk about. You guys want to talk about dinosaurs? Ok! Let’s do it, and let’s draw some too. You guys want to tell me how long your arms are? That’s awesome. Maybe we can measure them with these crayons. Let’s go around and say our favorite thing about Harry, and then our favorite thing about Finn. If we engage the children, instead of being annoyed by them, sitting ‘still’ and waiting is suddenly EASIER… for everybody.

At one point, I think I even brought a book to read together. I also looked up “waiting games” on Pinterest. I noted the ones that were age appropriate, and I always have one on my brain. And now, generally, we can sit together and have a great time eating out together. We talk with and enjoy the children. I still bring the ipads, and they go to the kids at the point when they get bored WITH US. Which does happen. And for the Theo and Viv – I usually still bring cheerios or whatever.

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Do Rich and I get to talk to each other? No. Not really. Unless, like I said, the kids get bored with us and request ipads. But if that doesn’t happen, we can talk to each other later at home. Because after the kids are in bed, we don’t have to clean up the kitchen. Plus we both agree that we really enjoy the kid time at the restaurant table anyway.

Do I still eat cold food? Sort of, yes. We help the kids, if they need it, and then move on to our own food, alternatively. Not much to be done about that.

Do I worry if the kids ate?

NOPE.

Do they get to eat again at home?

They certainly do not.

 

I know this is silly, and everyone else figured this out a long time ago, but it was an important milestone for me this year.

Think of all the dinners I would have spent mad at my kids?

That little part of life is that much easier now.

 

 

 

 

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First Impressions

Let’s face it. We all know that I was just using London. I was. I was using London to get Paris, and Rome, and Prague, and Bruges, and Amsterdam, and Munich…. blah blah blah.

Yes. Sadly, it’s true. I wasn’t in this for London. I wasn’t.

But London and I have been dating for a few months now, and I have to say… I think I’ve changed my tune. London is really growing on me. It’s beautiful and charming and complicated and mysterious. It’s casual, but sophisticated. It likes to be fancy, but it likes to just chill out in the pub too. It’s old and wise, and young and hyper. It’s lazy, it’s active. London and I might be a better match than I thought.

I mean… there is serious potential here. I feel terrible that I didn’t realize it before and I’m sorry. London has completely impressed me and IT didn’t even try. I like London for London, all on its own. And I hope it can forgive me for being so stupid.

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WHERE WE STAND

We’ve been lucky enough to get out a little bit, between having Rich’s dad with us, and then my mom. We’ve seen quite a bit of the city, and talked to quite a few local strangers. We’ve gotten to know several of the neighbors, and Rich is integrating well into his new office.

When we first arrived I felt like the alien that I was. I felt like I would stick out solely by the way I (or the kids) looked. But that wasn’t true. We fit right in. Like, not perfectly. We weren’t wearing the same clothes and shoes as everyone else, but no one seemed to notice that we didn’t belong…. until one of us started speaking. As soon as you open your mouth everyone knows you’re from out of town. More so, they know you’re American. They get a little curiosity in their eye, and as the conversation goes they politely ask where you’re from. But you both already know what you’re going to say. They knowingly nod their head.

Often, when I tell people that we moved from Chicago to London, I got a lot of “Why on earth would you do that?” and “You moved HERE? From there?” This has been putting doubt in our minds. Did we make a huge mistake? Why are all these Brits confused by our actions?

Honestly, we still haven’t figured this one out. They seem to love their country, and their city… but I think maybe they are a little self-deprecating? Or can appreciate some of the more American conveniences? Either that, or they have a very idealized view of America. I don’t know. When I ask them this follow up question they mostly just say “Oh, it’s just so nice over there.” It does comfort us to know that even though the US certainly has some unflattering sides, the general image of living in America is a good one over here.

Every once in a while, though, they do take a stab at us.

For example; when Mom and I were at a Christmas lights show at Kew Garden, there was a little show at the front of the walking path. It was a Mrs. Claus, up on a stand with a microphone, welcoming us to Kew Gardens and “letting the show begin.” But as part of her show, she wanted us to see her tree first. It was the first thing that we saw on the walking path and it was all lit up and blinking.

She goes “Don’t you love my tree? It’s soooo over the top and flashy! I love it! It’s so… It’s so…. American! Haha haha ha!”

I think in general it seems like their relationship with us is a little complicated. They love us and hate us at the same time…. Maybe? I don’t know. I’m not really that worried about it.

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SIGHTS

After taking care of the essentials, we could not wait to check out some sights. Big Ben, Westminster, the Eye, Buckingham Palace, The British Museum.

MAN, was I impressed. Movies and pictures don’t do these types of places justice.

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buckingham palace
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big ben

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win!
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how we roll

 

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Green park, where you can grab a lounge chair and take a nap!

And once the Christmas lights were up, it was game on. This city is incredibly beautiful and I had no idea.

Mom and I went on a Christmas Lights bike tour.

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covent garden
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covent garden
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covent garden
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covent garden
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kew gardens
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kew gardens
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st.pancras station
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st. pancras station

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We went to the Circus at Winter Wonderland. At first they were all like this:

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And then the show started and they were like this:

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CULTURE and PEOPLE

When Rich and I were running around taking care of essentials, like completing the Visa process, setting up a bank account, registering for school, and signing up for internet, we were impressed over and over again with how FREAKIN nice everyone was to us. Patient, polite, and kind. After a while we got the feeling that we were slightly annoying everyone (see complicated relationship above), and then I was even more impressed with their patience and kindness.

Total strangers, working in mundane offices, could easily be less than friendly.

All over, all the time.

Nice, nice, nice.

People in the city, on the Tube, on the bus, at the coffee shop, at the mall, at school.

Polite, nice, polite, nice.

And you know what? It never fails, people always ALWAYS offer to help us up the stairs at the tube station with the stroller, even when the stairs look like this:

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Someone seriously almost always offers.

It’s like an epidemic. And you find yourself suddenly being a little more polite too.

I’m not saying people in America AREN’T nice. This isn’t a comparison game. We just noted that everywhere we went, it was the general feeling and I hope it never goes away.

This is a very diverse, huge, international city. There are alllllll kinds of people here. But, so far, my favorite kind are the very “Londony” looking ones. The ones I see on the tube when we’re heading into the city. I’ve never seen anything like these people. They are SO PERFECTLY pressed and put together. They wear all these completely put together perfect outfits on their slim bodies with perfect jackets and perfect shoes. They sit down and don’t get wrinkled. When they stand up their outfit looks like it’s on a hanger instead of somehow on a person. They smell great. They wear tweed and suede, and Burberry plaid. The women have nude eye shadow and red lipstick. They read the newspaper or hold onto their leather bags. They are a sight in themselves. And when you see them, you automatically feel like the frumpiest slob ever. Even if you had lots of time and money, and a full glam squad could you pull it off like they do. Sigh… They were born like this, and raised like this. They couldn’t be a slob even if they tried.

We live in the family friendly southwest boroughs of London.

The people where we live… they are real. They are real moms and dads. They are not the ‘Londony’ people that ride the tube into the city to work. In fact, fancy clothes and make up are hard to spot. One day, out of curiosity, at school pick up I tried to spot someone wearing mascara or lipstick. And I only found 2 women. The standard uniform for moms is UGGs, leggings, and a parka.

These are my people.

To top it off, they’re all very lovely and pleasant, and have been nothing but extremely NICE and POLITE.

As far as I can tell, the general attitude here is more laid back than we’re accustomed to. People don’t get all worked up over a Starbucks cup or a bad photo or the wrong words. It’s not to say that they don’t have opinions or things they feel passionate about – I think they’ve just gotten better at accepting and respecting each others differences. They disagree, but it doesn’t get hateful. It’s a good example for us to follow. In fact, part of the motto of the boys’ school looks like this:

“to create and enforce a clear and rigorous expectation on all schools to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”

And while we’re talking about the boys… they haven’t picked up an accent at all but they have definitely picked up a few little British sayings from school. They say things like “That was quite nice.”

And “Daniel was being rude.”

And “They told me off.” (I think this means to tell on someone)

And “You’re right, I didn’t look properly.”

Things move at a slower pace (see school post). When we called to get the internet, we were told that we were ‘high priority’ and they would get to us quickly…. in 13 DAYS. 13 days is high priority? Oooookaaaaay….

And after waiting 10 minutes at the doctor’s office, our name got called but then the nurse excused herself to go grab a cup of tea before she walked us back….

Stores close early, and some aren’t open on Sundays…stuff like that.

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FOOD

The food, like any major city, is diverse and plentiful. We have many great take out options near the house ranging from Sushi, to Peri Peri, to Pizza.

And when we want “English” food, we can go to the pub.

THE PUB.

Me like Pub.

Pub make me happy.

It really is like you see in the movies. We have nothing even close to a real pub in America, not to my knowledge anyway. Because a Pub is old. A pub is original.

A Pub is warm. A Pub is cozy. A Pub has good food.

They are everywhere. And despite what you might think, most are kid friendly!

Pub is short for public, and its thought of as an extension of your living room. They have great names like Park Tavern, Clarence, The Slug and Lettuce, The Ship and Shovel, The Crown and Anchor, The Porcupine, and our local favorite: the Pig and Whistle.

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Pig and Whistle has a fireplace, low ceilings, thick wood tables, built in bookshelves full of books and games, comfy couches, and most importantly, delicious food and… beer, for those of you who care. Now – listen. Not all pubs are created equal. If you go to a pub and the menu is all perfect and chain-like with pictures and laminated, turn around and leave. Your food will not be good here. If you walk in and everyone turns and stares at you, because you just literally walked into their house – STAY. This is where you want to be.

FOOD SHOPPING

So, I order and have delivered 85% of my groceries and IT IS GLORIOUS. There are many grocery delivery services here. Prices are competitive, delivery is free, and the selection is great. When my first delivery came and was deposited straight into my kitchen, I knew this was going to change me. I can have, and do have everything delivered. On my delivery site I can order everything. Everything from body wash, to matches, to tomatoes, to steak. It all just shows up at my door.

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For in between grocery deliveries, we have a small grocery store near the house, called a Local. I can walk there in about 5 minutes and they have all the basics.

If I’m feeling adventurous, we have a mega grocery store I can muddle around in. But remember – I’m restricted to whatever I can carry, or load in the bottom of the stroller:

 

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I can come here and find a good variety of choices, learn about ingredients, and check out items so I know what to order on my grocery website.

I underestimated how different buying food would be. In fact, I was so intimidated and short on time that I literally and completely truthfully did not make dinner for the first two months we were here. I made chicken nuggets and pizza for the kids, and we ordered take out for the adults for every meal.

Like… hhh… food is sort of the same, but it’s usually called something else. Or, most often it’s similar but it’s packaged in a different way or shape. In other words, I can’t just run in and grab stuff. I have to look… and read… and google. The grocery store is organized slightly different too. There’s entire aisles dedicated to pudding and yogurt. There is, of course, an entire aisle of tea.

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cookies.. or as they are called here: biscuits
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butter, mostly
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a little bit of produce at my local

 

THEN there’s these: my familiar American brands, but they’ve changed slightly. Whyyyyy?

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Other things just flat out have a different name. Eggplant is aubergine, zucchini is courgette, cilantro is coriander, hamburger buns are baps, tomato sauce is passata, and flashlight is a torch…. stuff like that. And there are new things to explore like crumpets and sultanas.

In addition, England is stricter on their food standards so most packaged goods have less salt, less sugar, and less preservatives. This makes the expiration dates much shorter than I’m used to – which is fine, because my fridge is small. Also – when you get to the check out they ask “Do you need bags?” Because bags are not included. You either bring your own, or pay for theirs.

Things I absolutely cannot find: applesauce, fruit snacks, cheese sticks, spaghetti squash, hand sanitizer, garlic powder, and borax.

Oh – and, looking for eggs? Don’t waste your time in the refrigerated section.

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BY THE WAY – Do you know how ridiculous a person looks taking pictures in the grocery store? I will never make fun of a person taking a picture ever again.

At the risk of looking like a weirdo, I took pictures at the grocery store. For you. I shouldn’t even say “at the risk” because I totally and completely did look like a weirdo. No risk, it was for sure that I looked weird.

Honestly food shopping has been a real struggle. I have felt frustrated, confused, and inadequate. My only food shopping related high happened one morning when I was out for my coffee run. I stumbled on our local farmers market. Oh, man. It is just the loveliest damn thing. It takes place right in our local school yard, a 4 minute walk from the house. I just want to live there and/or throw all my money at it. Everybody is happy there. The vendors are happy, the shoppers are happy. There’s fresh cheese, bread, and baked goods. There’s beautiful flowers and produce. There are fresh eggs and fish and chicken and everything. Organic, local, grass-fed, free range, whatever. It goes on every Saturday all year long. You feel like a winner just being there.

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All the other worries aside, I’m finally learning the lingo and slowly regaining dinner time.

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OTHER ADJUSTMENTS

Shopping -I was so ridiculous. Everyone kept telling us how expensive everything was going to be in London. Even just clothes, outrageously expensive. And so I had in my head that I might be shopping only at little boutiques for all of our clothes, things would be very pricey, and I would only be allowed to buy one pair of pants for each kid. I didn’t know, OK! While things are admittedly more expensive (like, I shipped over a big order from Carters. Even with $40 in shipping, it was still cheaper than what I could buy for Viv here), the shopping is great. Like, duh. Of course. It’s a very familiar scene, and I’ve had noooo trouble navigating it.

We had also heard about the Brit’s being notoriously iron obsessed. I think this picture clearly illustrates that:

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I mean, the last time I bought an iron in America I think I went to Walmart. There were two, maybe three, and I had to dig around in the shelf to get to it because there was probably a Keurig or something in front of it.

Then, of course, the tea kettles.

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Not having a car – The public transportation system here is incredible. The underground rail is called the tube. It is extensive and runs smoothly and efficiently. The buses do as well. There are frequent stops by train or by bus all over the entire city. We live right by a bus stop and a tube station, so we can get to almost anywhere very easily. The boys LOVE the tube and the bus. Their favorite spot on the bus? The top, of course, in the front. It was weird, and slightly scary, to think about us not having a car. But now that we’re here I can’t imagine having one. I don’t know what I would use it for, and both of us are honestly intimidated by the thought of trying to drive here. It’s nice not having a car. It’s one less worry, and we haven’t wished once that we had one…. Not yet anyway. We’ve barely mastered crossing the street, let alone trying to drive.

 

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LOOK RIGHT!
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all in the underground
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underground
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top of the bus!

 

 

Weights, temperatures, and measures – Celsius, kilograms, milliliters. Basically, we use Google a lot. Reading food labels and British recipes is STILL very challenging for me. It took us forever to figure out how to use the oven…  and the stove(or the hob, as they say)…and the washing machine…

 

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the stove top controls. we have now fiured out how to light them, but I have yet to master which goes to which
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this is all I get on oven controls
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how we control the hot water and radiators
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washing machine
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dryer. what’s iron dry?

 

 

Coins –  They are still a thing here:

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Green Space – Have I mentioned how lucky we got with a house in a great location? Lots of green space within walking distance.

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A New addition to the family – No, we aren’t having another baby.

After much consideration about various aspects of our new lifestyle, we decided to hire and host an Au Pair. We did three interviews. Shortly after making an offer to our favorite candidate, we found out that Harry was going to be switching schools. This only confirmed how much we were going to need her, because having Harry and Finn in two different schools is obviously logistically challenging.

It’s hard at first to know if you can have a complete stranger live in your house full time. Turns out, I can. I totally can.

At first there are a lot of unknowns. But when it comes down to it, you just have to trust. You have to trust them and they have to trust you. And both of you sort of have to take a leap of faith.

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Her name is Rica, and she is from a small town in Germany. She ‘works’ for about 28 hours per week. She helps with the school runs, watches Theo and Viv while I work out, feeds breakfast to Viv, lunch to Theo, and dinner to the big boys after school. Then every other weekend, she watches them in the evening so we can go out.

She’s a smart, fast learner. She’s clean and quiet, and most importantly she’s a natural with the kids. She does the dishes, sweeps the floor, and keeps the laundry going.

Basically, I love her. She’s my second, and she’s part of the squad.

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This is the best I can do to adequately describe our first few months here. I’m not sure if I’m being fair or if I’ve formed a complete or accurate opinion just yet. I know I probably forgot something important. Even after these few short months, I find it hard to remember what it felt like to ‘arrive’ here, because it’s really began to feel like home.

 

 

 

 

 

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The School Saga

I’m going to apologize in advance for the length of this post. To be fair though, I did call it a saga.

By definition, a saga is: a long story of heroic achievement. And that’s what I feel this is.

The upside of living in a great area = great schools.

The downside of living in a great area = everyone else also wants good schools, so all of the schools are full.

It’s not like in America. In America, you live somewhere, and that’s where you go to school.

It’s not like that in London.

Nope.

In my basic knowledge of the London school system, I have learned this: it is very densely populated here, the schools are small and sprinkled all around, and full (if they are good). If your closest, most desirable school is full then the council has to find you a place at the next nearest school. But, it’s probably also full. And the search goes on. Oh, and also – there’s no such thing as a school bus. So you walk the kids to school, or drive if you have a car AND the school has parking.

There are private options, but they are EXPENSIVE. Expensive to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars PER year PER kid. And that. That doesn’t work for us.

I’m sure there’s a few different ways to get your children into school in London, but here is the bumpy road we took:

We began researching the school system in the summer. We found out that they may expect Harry to go into Year 2 because he is 6. And they may expect Finn to go into Reception, which seems like Kindergarten.

So that means, according to England, Harry is a second grader….? Wait.

We held him back here in Illinois. He hasn’t even gone to kindergarten yet.

Time to freak. Will they really do that to him? What will we do?

Homeschool… ?

Apply for the international private school… ?  $$$$$?

Beg for deferment in England….?

To make it worse, we found out that we wouldn’t be moving until after school starts because we have to wait on baby to be born and get a birth certificate, in order to start the passport and visa process. In August we secured a house and then we had a school to shoot for. We emailed, they told us we couldn’t do anything until we were here in person…. Fine.

Meanwhile, I looked up the Year 2 curriculum as much as I could. They’re like writing poems and doing fancy math. Harry won’t even know what they are talking about. At this point, I had no choice. I decided to TRY to home school and make up the difference as much as we could before we moved. We also hired a lovely tutor to help out while we were still living in Casey. I still held out hope that they would understand how far behind he would be and maybe let him defer to Year 1. I had images of Harry sitting as his desk crying because he has no idea what’s going on. If I could just talk with one of the teachers!

The only thing I could do at the time was work with him as much as possible and maybe we can meet in the middle and he’d be okay. And so we began with that.

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**Side note on Homeschooling – I totally respect home school people and I always have. When I was in college, I did lots of research on it and discovered that with the right situation it’s just as good and in many cases, better, than a regular school education – even considering the social aspects. Ever since Harry was little, part of me has seriously wanted to home school. But I was too afraid, or too lazy… or too busy having other babies. So I concluded he would be fine entering regular school with all the other kids. But when this WHOLE THING came up, I went back into it and bought a curriculum. When it arrived, I was so excited. It was all laid out in these nice little books with idiot-proof instructions and it all looked so doable and peaceful and pretty. And I was all like “Wow! I can totally do this. I GOT this. I might really like this and decide to just continue on with this instead of doing any public school, ever. We can all just sleep in, and travel at our leisure, and do things on our own schedule, and incorporate the bible, and avoid the germy classrooms at school, and I can cater to the boys specific learning styles. I’ll protect them from all the mean kids. We’ll stay home. We’ll never go outside and I can keep everyone safe all the time! This is such a great idea. It’s gonna be great. ”

And I have to say….. I’m soooooo glad I tried homeschooling for myself. So that I could find out how much I HATE homeschooling. I totally CANNOT do it. I don’t have it. Not even a little. It is such NOT a great idea.

This is the scene:

Me, Harry, and Finn sitting at the table.

Me – nursing Viv, of course. Running on a few hours sleep and coffee.

Finn – happy as a lark, doing whatever activity I’ve given him. Flying through it with ease and joy and then shrieking at me ‘look mom!’

Theo – walking around, crying.. usually. He’s really been unhappy most of the time lately. We hope it’s a multiple-transition-related phase. Fingers-crossed! Anyway – he’s not happy, so I put him up on my other side, opposite Viv.

Harry – crying. Because he doesn’t ‘understand’ what I’m saying, and it ‘doesn’t make any sense’ and he can’t hear me because Theo’s crying. And he’s jealous because he can’t get his work done as fast as Finn and his work isn’t as fun as Finn’s, and he’s hungry, and he wants to go play… and on and on.

Me – holding Theo, nursing Viv, nodding at Finn, begging with Harry, pushing Harry, snapping Harry back into focus, reading what we need to do next, nodding at Finn, pushing Harry, consoling Harry, bouncing Theo, burping Viv, giving Finn a sticker, helping Harry, Finn needs a new page, Harry’s crying, Theo’s crying….. I’m crying….

You get the idea. Obviously, this whole deal drains my batteries as fast as you can imagine. There IS nap time – we could work during nap time. So, at least we could take Theo out of the equation. And sometimes we did. But generally we didn’t. Because I can’t give up my precious. If I have to give up nap time…. I can’t even. I can’t. I will walk out the door and never return.

And here’s the thing… I know lots of people who home school. I know lots of people who home school with 4 kids under 6. How do you do it people? How? Actually how? Are my kids that much terribler? Are you that much more patient? Do you take something? Do you survive the day and make dinner and are still able to carry on a conversation with your husband when he comes home? Like, a normal conversation with complete sentences and rational thoughts that doesn’t involve you all twitchy and red-eyed with veins popping out of your forehead?

You are better than me. I tip the hat.

Just typing this, and thinking about the past two months that I’ve endured of table-cry-time is raising my heart rate. I love my kids. And, I love teaching them new things. But I will never home school again unless times are dark. ***

Okay, now that THAT’s over with: I did more research about the school and the council, which is where you have to apply. It appeared on their website that all of the schools are ‘over-subscribed.’

Over-subscribed = you’re screwed.

October 2nd, we moved and then promptly applied at the Council in person. The lady at the council tells us that our suspicions are true. Most of the schools are over-subscribed. They will do their best, and we’ll hear from them in about two weeks!

What! Two weeks! British! Is that really how long it takes to call a few schools? Can I work for you guys and do it myself? We’ll knock this thing out in a day…

Oh? That’s not the way it works… I guess I have to wait.

FINE. But I’m NOT going to like it.

And I’ll call you guys every day.

You know, just to check in.

And I did. I literally called them everyday. “Hey guys! Just wondering on the status of Harry and Finn Norman. Oh, still nothing? Like, you guys didn’t call anybody or nobody answered or nobody has openings….? Or what? The person who deals with this specific school only works on Mondays from 1-3:30 and then on Wednesday from 10-11:18? And the other person works the third Tuesday after every full moon from 6am – 7:42? Got it. You’ll be hearing from me again tomorrow.”

On October 12th we got a surprise call from our third choice school. They have an opening! But only for Harry. So, I schedule a visit for the next day.

On the day of the visit, we had a hard time getting there and getting back. I may have cried a little at the bus stop because I was like “Is this how it’s going to be? This long, hard trek to school? We can’t walk this everyday. They don’t even have a place for Finn. Will I have to be two places at once, while I push two other babies in a stroller? Sometimes the bus doesn’t let me on, if there is already a wheelchair person in the accessible area of the bus. What if three buses come and they’re all full? And I can’t get on with the kids and we can’t get to school?? Okay – I can just continue to home school. AHHHH! No I can’t. I won’t survive it. I won’t.”

See?? Cry a little. Despair is maybe a good word.

I decided that the cure for my despair was coffee, and I’ve made friends with the owner of the little coffee shop by my house. Her name is Angelina and we’re besties! I feel like we’re besties anyway. She remembers me and we talk and she makes me iced coffee. Anyway – when I walked in she asked about school and I told her all the stuff. She tells me that the school we put as our second choice (Bishop Gilpin) has a three year waiting list. Great! Not getting into that one! And I know, from previous research, that our first choice (the school closest to the house) certainly doesn’t have any openings either. What will they do with us? Put us at two different schools 3 miles away? Will I really have to resort to homeschool all year? My despair increases and I feel a crushing sensation in my chest. Angelina then suggests applying with another council. We are on the edge of our (Merton) council and the second closest school after our first choice is actually a school in Wandsworth council that’s down the street called Riversdale. It is easy to get to, I know right where it is. I’ve seen it(on my way to the shopping mall). Angelina says that it’s a nice school.

This is getting a little confusing. Here, this will help:

Keep in mind, distance is a huge factor because WE DON’T HAVE A CAR, there is no school bus, and I have to make the trip twice a day. And the boys have to be able to walk it in the event that the city bus is running late or doesn’t have room for the stroller.

(Choice 1= Merton Council = Wimbledon Park Primary) .2 miles from home

(Choice 2= Merton Council = Bishop Gilpin) .9 miles from home

(Chioce 3 = Merton Council = The Priory) even farther

(Dark Horse Surprise Choice 2 = WANDSWORTH council = Riversdale Primary) .6 miles from home.

.6 of a mile is totally doable if we need to walk it. But there’s also a city bus we can take right by the house. A few stops and it takes us right to the school, it’s even on the same side of the street. After my talk with Angelina, I decide that I will try to apply with Wandsworth. Wimbledon Park is obviously our best choice, but if Riversdale has an opening it would be very doable. It doesn’t hurt anything to try. It’s not like we’re getting anywhere with Merton. I get back home and call Wandsworth Council.

* Side note on talking to British offices on the phone. At the suggestions of my neighbor, you must be pushy, I guess. They will not offer any information or tell you any additional things that might be helpful. You have to ASK and force the issue and call everyday. *

That’s what I did anyway….

On the phone with Wandsworth, I force the issue and make them tell me if there are any openings at Riversdale. And you know what? There is. Yep. They are within easy walking distance, and they have openings for Harry AND Finn. WHAT???

The sweetest words anyone has ever uttered to me: Riversdale has openings for both of your boys.

Just thinking about the moment now, still gives me goosies.

I went from such a low that day to such a high.

The normal process is for them to mail me (in the real mail) the forms, then I mail them back, then they review and mail me back, then I accept and mail them back, then they call the school, then the school calls me…. Blah blah. For my desperate-mom-American self this was not good enough. So, again, I forced the issue, and they agreed to fast track things over email. Whew! It appears that we are in a school. And, I want to throw a party. But until we get all the papers worked out, and actually go to the school, and they confirm will I feel complete relief. Since we don’t live in their council, they are not obligated to give us one of their spots. Things progressed anyway. We visited, we loved it, we sped up the application process and we were in. This happened the Thursday before mid-term break. Mid term break is a whole week off the week of October 26th! That’s fun right? So, my boys will start after the break on November 2nd. Or – as it was known to me, 6 more days of homeschooling.

I would like to briefly summarize our visit to the school: we toured with 6 other parent couples. Two of which were pregnant. As in their babies weren’t even here yet. Because apparently that’s how it works here? I don’t know. Angelina did tell me about the massive waiting lists at all the good schools. She also told me that people go to a certain church for years in order to get their children into the church’s school (church schools are public here), and we know that one of the guys that Rich works with has a four month old daughter on a waiting list for school.

This all seems preposterous to me.

But… maybe I should just admire their dedication and commitment.

Our school, Riversdale Primary, is *quite* lovely in my opinion and is complete with a real-live secret garden. Each grade has two classes of about 25 students each. There is a fall term, a spring term and a summer term. Each term has a WEEK OFF in the middle. Then there are two weeks off for Christmas between Fall and Spring, two weeks off for spring break between Spring and Summer term. Then after summer term, there is six weeks off until the start of Fall term in September. I think I’m really going to like this format. Giving everyone more frequent, solid breaks seems more conducive to learning.

We found out that the school had recently expanded and that’s likely why there were openings for us. It went from one class per grade level to two. Lucky, lucky us. Besides all the regular school-y stuff, they get a swim lesson once a week. Love that.

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The lunch menu is interesting. Take a look:

Riversdale Primary Lunch Menu

Be warned. If you want to pack a lunch, there are rules:

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And if you don’t eat your lunch, school tells on you:

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The down-low on the curriculum gap. Turns out it’s not as big of a deal as I had imagined.

Can you believe that?

Me imagining something to be a bigger deal? Never.

I looked around the classrooms and talked with the teachers. They were not concerned. The stuff on the wall is the stuff Harry and I are working on. The things they are doing in class aren’t that much ahead of where Harry is. He’s going to be just fine in Year 2. Crisis averted. Year 2 seems to be a mix of first and second grade concepts and we’re working almost right along with them. I think he will be prepared enough to step in and not cry everyday. Not cry is the goal for him.

Thank goodness I had the thought to home school him.

Thank goodness I was able to survive the 8 weeks of it.

It was just what he needed to make up the gap, and he’ll only be a tiny bit behind.

Pretty good, I say. Worth it.

And in my conclusions, Reception is a Kindergarten-Preschool hybrid.

So, Finn is totally good. Smarty pants. Harry is a smarty pants too, but his emotions sometimes get in his way. Hence our decision to ‘hold him back’ when we were in Illinois.

During the school break, we continued to do school work.

I bought, labeled, and ironed their school uniforms. We bought the PE pack, we got their trunks and swim caps.

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We coached them on eating lunch at school, which neither of them has ever done.

And we practiced getting dressed in full uniform with shoes, then into swim trunks with caps, and back again.

The day came, and we sent them off. Rich walked Finn to his room and I walked Harry to his. The only thing I could think of to say was “try to eat a good lunch” then the sweet teacher practically pushed me out: “Okay! We’ll see you at 3:30 MUM!”

I wanted to stay SO bad. You can relate, I’m sure.

I walked out, Rich held my hand and laughed about the words I said to Harry, and I had to cry a little. Relief, sorrow, elation, worry, happiness. All the normal mom-first-day-of school stuff.

It got me. It did.

We did it.

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We moved here and we got them into a good school.

In my mind, with this move, there were four major hurdles we had to jump:

1 – sell our house and get a new house

2 – move out of our house and into my parent’s in Casey

3 – the travel day

4 – school in London

We cross the last hurdle off the list and things can now continue on at more normal rate. Our home school days are over for the foreseeable future and I get to go back to just being mom.

How great is that?

 

****UPDATE**** (January 25th 2016)

BIG news.

In late November, we got a call from the council that our first choice, Wimbledon Park, had an opening for Harry.

Did we want to take it?

This would require separating the boys.

Harry just got settled in at school.

He loves his teacher, and is making friends.

He’s catching up on the school work and really thriving.

But, Wimbledon Park is where we want to be…. It’s super close and it’s super great. If we switch Harry, it would move Finn to the top of the waiting list. If we don’t take the spot, who knows when the next opening would come up? But it’s going to destroy him to switch. He’s never been easy-going, and change is hard for him. He’s going to hate it. He’ll have to start all over after he’s just gotten used to everything. I really didn’t want to put him through it.

But we decided that we couldn’t pass it up. We told him he would be switching and he literally cried about it for days. He was sad and angry. He begged us not to switch him. He would tell me that he was going to be mean and RUDE at his new school. Then in early December we went for a visit to Wimbledon Park, he stayed in his new class for the afternoon. Afterward, he had to admit that he liked it ‘a little bit.’

Nevertheless, his last day at Riversdale looked like this:

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And I still had doubts if we’d made the right call. It’s not like I’m not happy with Riversdale. It’s purely about location. Wimbledon Park is a 4 minute walk, and Riversdale is a solid 16 minute walk (20 minutes with Finn in tow). During Christmas break, he warmed up to the idea and I helped soothe him by telling him that if he really hated it after 20 days then we could think about switching back to Riversdale.

It is currently day 18 and he is doing awesome! He talks about Riversdale with happiness, but doesn’t ask to go back. They’ve made him feel incredibly welcome. Everyday, he tells me about his day. He’s excited, involved, and thriving. He’s learning and growing. He’s making friends. He got invited to two birthday parties.

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We had some real lows with him, worrying about this transition. It was scary for him, I know it was. And I’m proud of him for being brave. Starting over again in a new place is always hard. Being the new kid is always hard. We loved him through it and told him it was okay to be sad. I hated to put him through it, but it had to be done and it’s turned out wonderfully. Next up…. We need a spot for Finn!

 

****UPDATE**** (May 2016)

Sometimes I have a sense about things and I can’t explain it. It occurred to me one day in early May to call the school and check on Finn’s status on the waiting list. I don’t know, it just popped into my head that I needed to call that day.

I call Denise, one of the school secretaries, who I’m a little friendly with. And I say “Hey, it’s Emy Norman. Just wanted to check on a spot for Finn, in reception. Just check in. Make sure he’s still on the list and everything.”

And she says “Well actually I just heard today that there is going to be an opening, but it is unofficial.”

And that’s the end of it.

We went ahead and did the paperwork that day. We had to wait for the child to officially transfer out, and then wait and make sure we were officially offered the open spot. He was supposed to be first on the list, but there are always other factors.

Anyway, it was there and I knew it.

We started the year in green uniforms. Half way through we switched Harry. Then we had one red and one green. Now – we are finishing the year together again in two matching RED uniforms.

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It takes a huge weight off of my shoulders to have them back together because it now means that I can do the school runs by myself. With Finn at one school and Harry at another, the drop offs and pick ups had to be done by two people every day. We had to RELY on our Au Pair or a friend. It really forced us to host an Au Pair. But now, it’s not as necessary which is great for us moving forward.

We’re al together at the same school, and everyone is happy and awesome.

Full steam ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome Home

Welcome Home:

WE GOT SO LUCKY.

Similar to the sale of our house in Oswego, this house feels like it came straight to us by divine intervention. It wasn’t easy to find a home for our family of six in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And at times, we didn’t think it was possible. But FINALLY, with the help of Rich’s HR department, we found a great house and secured it in August while we were still in America.

Before flying over we were able to see detailed pictures and descriptions, but neither of us had ever been to the house or the neighborhood. We were both nervous. When our airport taxi pulled on to Stroud Road and I saw our street for the first time, my nerves subsided. I knew we were going to love it and I was right. It’s on a beautiful tree-lined street, in a great family neighborhood. It has everything we asked for on the inside, plus it’s close to the train, the bus, a small grocery store, and good schools.

It’s OLD. In the best way. The ceilings are high, the walls are (boy-proof) plaster. Everything is real and solid – like the floors, the doors, the trim, and the doorknobs. It’s already furnished with nice, new things. It’s super CLEAN. It’s charming, and it’s got plenty of space (by European standards)!

There are many things that come standard in an American home, like: a dishwasher, a window in every bedroom, a dryer, a yard, and a freezer. But if you’ve ever seen House Hunters International then you know that most of those items ARE NOT a given over here, even in a really expensive house. We looked at so many places online that didn’t have several of those. So, I couldn’t be more grateful to have THIS home in THIS location. We got lucky… Or we’re just supposed to be here.

Sooo…. Here we go. We are not very pretty yet, but we are functional. Would you like to take a peek at our London home?

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A washer AND A DRYER. In their own room! Not in the kitchen!
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Half closet/half bathroom

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reception room
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front to back
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second floor landing
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the gaming that followed us
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the big boys
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second floor bathroom
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viv’s current room
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master bedroom
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theo’s current room (viv’s future room)
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current playroom (possible theo’s room)
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guest room
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third floor bathroom

 

 

Travel Day

Travel Day:

 travel day, marathon day. same thing.

Our travel day lasted a full 24 hours and it started at 6:30 in the morning. We had to pick up, then load up our super van. Drive four hours from Casey to O’Hare, then fly 8 hours through the night and take a one hour taxi ride to the London house. Add in all of the waiting in lines, the stops to pee, and checking people and luggage in and out of everywhere.

We load up the van at my parents’ house in the morning, and they are seeing us off.

Rich says with a shrug: “Well, we’re going to London now.”

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Rich was in love with our super van. He was like a happy little boy. Him as we’re driving: “We’re definitely getting one of these when we come back! It’s so big, and comfortable! We can fit MORE kids. It’s so awesome!”

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Quick tid-bit – Something I like to do when we’re going anywhere with a massive crowd – I put the boys in neon. That way, they’re easy to spot!

We stop to pick up our life-saver father in law, and then stop for lunch. Then head to the airport get all the people and all the luggage checked in. Rich returns the van, we go through security without any trouble and wait to board the plane.

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It’s on time.

Good, good, good.

Check, check, check.

Nothing disastrous has happened yet.

We’re doing it.

Ok… so….slight digression – Since having Viv, we get stares almost everywhere we go. Having three kids is still normal by today’s standards, but when you have four kids it’s very confusing for people. So, ok, whatever. We’re used to the stares. And I was prepared. Smile, I told myself. Smile. Because I’m sure the type of stares that we’re going to get when we take this circus on the plane is going to require a special type of shield. The smile shall be my shield.

And I needed it.

Nobody was happy to see us.

Nobody.

We were those people.

I take that back – there was ONE nice woman, about two seats back. She complimented us on our family and told us how great the kids did. But, that was it. Theo did cry. We knew he would. He cried because he didn’t want to be in his seat. Like, duh. We knew that would come. The stares intensified for the forty five minutes of his problem. It has hard, but then it was over.

The big boys did incredible. They were just SO thrilled about everything. And they weren’t scared or whiny or nauseas or having trouble with their ear pain! They loved being at the airport. They loved finding their seat on the plane. They loved getting to put on the headphones and pick out a movie. They couldn’t wait to eat the food. They couldn’t WAIT to turn their seats into a bed. And when it was time, they did their best to go to sleep without complaint. The airline had given everyone noise-cancelling headphones. So, naturally Finn sticks them on his head and yells at the top of his lungs with a huge smile “MOM! THESE ARE REALLY COOL!! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Neither one of them could master pulling one side of the headphones off before trying to talk, so this yelling took place sporadically throughout the flight. Even though Rich and I were very tired, we still laughed every time.

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As we took off, the overwhelming thought in my mind was:

We can’t undo this now. Like… this is it. SERIOUSLY the point of no return. We’re flying over. We can’t go home. We cannot go back home…”

My thoughts required a few deep breaths, and more than a few glances at my beautiful happy children.

When we arrived in London it was 9 in the morning, or about 3 in the morning Illinois time. The boys did the best they could on the flight, but none of them slept more than a couple hours. Viv, who usually loves her bassinet, only wanted to sleep on my chest. So, her and I both also only got a few sporadic hours of rest.

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We land. We de-plane. We wait on the stroller to be brought up gate side. We go through customs. We head to baggage claim and I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We took so long doing all of that other stuff, that when we got to the baggage carousel, no one was there and our bags were the only ones going around. On the plus side, that made our bags super easy to find! Our heaviest, most valuable tub had fallen over and spilled open on the carousel. When Rich caught sight of it, he dropped his bags and ran. It was all of his precious wires and things-with-buttons he loves so much. Thankfully nothing got broken or stolen. We hired ‘porters’ to help us get all of our STUFF to the cars and the cars took us to the house.

Rich took one car with Harry and Finn, while I rode in another car with Papa, Theo and Viv. The littles fell asleep while Papa and I took in the sights of our new home.

We pull up to the house and there was a lovely young English man waiting to show us inside.

My thoughts:

We made it.

We    made      IT.

The kids. The luggage. All in one piece.

We kept track of all of our luggage AND all of our kids. We made it through customs. We were able to fit into the airport taxi cars. The drivers WAITED for us even though we were late. The agent WAITED for us at the house even though we were late.

We did it!

We MADE IT.

Thank the good Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Move to London

Okay, so… I’m starting a blog.

It’s for me. It’s for you.

Here we go….

Something extraordinary happened.

We moved our family of 6! from Chicago to London and that’s where this story starts. But I would like to first take a step back and catch everyone up, including myself. Since the beginning of the summer, my brain has sort-of disappeared and I can only remember emergency items and the last 20 minutes or so. My poor husband, bless him.

In June, it was brought to my attention that Rich might have an opportunity to work in London. I happened to be 32 weeks pregnant with our fourth child, we just built a house in a great neighborhood, our oldest was getting ready to start Kindergarten, and my sister had just gotten diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was not an ideal time to pick up and move across the ocean. I let the idea sit in my brain for a half day. I knew that if I told Rich I was up for it, we would move. I just knew… if I said the words out loud to him that he would start the ball rolling and there would be no stopping it. So I held the words for a little longer until I was sure. I said to Rich, “What was that thing you said about the position in London? I kinda think we should do it. Like, let’s not overthink it. Let’s just do it.” I think for the first time ever, or at least since the ice cream incident on our first date (which only a select few people know about), did I completely and totally shock him. He was anxious and jittery while texting his potential new boss. I think he knew, too, in that moment, that we were going to leave everything we know and make this happen.

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON

STEP ONE: Decide to do it.

Over the next couple weeks, we were in contract negotiations with his company and in conversations/pep talks with our close family. I needed Erika’s opinion first. With her being sick, I didn’t really want to pick up and leave unless she was on board. One really important benefit of Rich’s contract was our ‘home-leave’ budget, which we can use to fly all 14 members of our immediate family over to see us. This was the most important part of the contract to me. Deal-breaker type stuff. I couldn’t take the kids that far away from our family without making sure they would get to visit. Also, we couldn’t expect our family to pay for expensive international flights every year. So, I told Erika about the home-leave and we discussed other aspects of the move. By the end of the conversation, she was the one convincing ME to make the move.

When all was said and done, Rich’s company was more than generous with their offer and we could not refuse. Rich signed the papers and there was no going back.

take a deep breath. we. were. doing. this.

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STEP 2: Logistics.

Passports, Visas, bank accounts, taxes, flights, moving our STUFF, timing, mailing addresses, pediatrician records…. All of this is no fun. Like super no fun. And it’s only made worse by the addition of moving to another country. I don’t even want to go into it. It’s the most PAINFUL part of any move. But, if you’re reading this and considering a move to the UK, I might be able to answer specific practical questions.

Most importantly in this step, we decided it was easiest, safest and most cost-effective to sell or store our “things” instead of trying to move them. We didn’t have a house full of super valuable furniture, and we had no idea the type of housing we were going to be dealing with. Our American furniture may not fit in our London house. Then what? Leave it outside? An average cargo bin on an ocean liner costs $12,000 and takes 5 weeks to arrive.

No thanks. We’ll figure something else out.

I think Viv’s face in her Visa picture reflects how we all feel about STEP 2:

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STEP 3: Housing.

The second most painful part of any move. Trying to find a place that will suit a family of six, with good schools, in London, near the train, preferably furnished, preferably with flexible lease terms, that’s NOT a million dollars a day, maybe with a garden? and possibly a washing machine? Maybe a DRYER? or dishwasher? (pretty please)… is NO SMALL TASK. Not to mention – oh ya, we’re coming from America and you can’t really call us overseas or easily check our references. And we can’t come and see it or fill out any paperwork or give you any cash right away. Eventually with the aid of a wonderful HR employee named Kay – we found ourselves blindly signed up for what appeared to be a nice house.

STEP 4: SELL YOUR HOUSE.

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This one is scary. Really scary. And there is no explanation, besides that it came straight from Jesus himself, about how we sold our house. First day on the market, ONE showing. SOLD. I’m not even kidding. One showing, in which I cleaned like a mad woman then packed up the boys and camped out at the neighbors and watched the potential buyers go in. We sold the house the Thursday before Viv was born, and that’s all there is to it. Jesus, right?

STEP 5: (exclusive to me) Have a baby.

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Oh ya, just gotta squeeze that whole thing in. And if you’re me, when you go to the hospital to be induced it’s not a big deal if daddy is playing in the neighborhood softball playoffs. Fourth kid, old hat at this point. I got it. I went in at 5pm accompanied by my mother, and didn’t have Viv until the next day. Needless to say, he made it in time.

STEP 6: part with all of your THINGS.

This one’s a tough-y. “Things are just things” and you’d be amazed at how much you don’t need.

We sold everything. Our cars, our furniture, most of the kids toys, baby gear, most of my kitchen, electronics, everything. We sold online, we sold to our neighbors, we sold to our family. We had an epic garage sale where people came in search of exactly the things we were selling. We had a very nice little family come back three times, and then come back the weekend we were moving out and take more. We got to know them, of course. The mom was Taiwanese, and the dad was American and they were just moving back to America from Taiwan. The mom says to me “We came with almost nothing and we have four kids.” And I’m like, “Well we’re moving to London with four kids and we can’t take anything!”

See how things work?

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I’m a natural throw-awayer, so this process felt good to me, and oddly freeing too.

At first it was like “wait wait wait…. Uhhh… I don’t know about that. Uhh, hum… Should I sell that? I’m not sure…ahhhh hum.” and by the end it was like “a quarter? You take it for a quarter? Alright cool. Thanks!”

I only got sad two times. Once when I was pricing some of the boy’s favorite toys, and then again when we sold the van. The toys because they had natural sentimental value and I felt like the meanest mom ever. And the van, because it was my best friend. In general, it felt good. Really good. And we didn’t even have crap like some people HAVE CRAP.

But I can tell you this: from this time and forever onward I will live with less.

It’s just better.

* side note on the boys: I told them that we were going to have to sell most of their toys and only keep their ABSOLUTE favorites. I told them we would make money on the toys we sold and we could use the money to buy new toys in London. And then… they were the best sales-men ever. They were out at the garage sale, showing people how their toys worked and what went with what.

Then, as promised, our third day in London we went to the biggest toy store we could find. The biggest toy store in town also happens to be the biggest and oldest toy store on the planet – Hamley’s of London. There were like no kids there, and it was so quiet and calm. But here’s the kicker. We only bought a couple small things. We, IN NO WAY, replaced all that we sold. The boys are totally great ‘living with less.’ They haven’t noticed or complained ONCE that they have a tenth of what they used to have. Just saying…

STEP 13: Move into temporary housing.

Or, as I like to call it – mom and dad’s house. Am I losing track of the steps? Oh well. There’s a lot to do.

Because your house sold and your London house isn’t available yet, you do this step.

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STEP 19: Pack.

After selling all non-essentials, what you have left is either very sentimental, very valuable, very useful, very expensive to replace or didn’t sell at the garage sale. At this point you have to decide what is going to London, what is going into storage, and what is trash/donate. I was lucky. Because Rich’s company paid for our first class airline tickets, we were allowed extra luggage on the plane. We had seven ticketed passengers, because my father-in-law came with us. So that meant I had 18 checked bags and all of the carry on items we could handle. I made a priority list and started packing. I used 12 army style duffel bags because they could be rolled up or folded flat once we got to London, and 6 Rubbermaid tubs. That’s right! You can check tubs!

Oh – and by the way, when I say storage, I mean our parents’ houses.

We planned to CARRY four rolling bags, five pack packs, one duffel, the best portable crib ever: the Guava Lotus, a car seat, a double stroller, a boppy, and a diaper bag. WHEEEW!

If you are wondering how to pack a massive amount of luggage for air travel, this is what I did:

I numbered my tubs 1-6, then numbered my duffels 7 – 18. As I packed, I kept a list of what I put into each bin or duffel.

I did this for a couple reasons:

1. We weren’t sure if customs would ask us to put a monetary value on each bin.

2. If one got lost, I would know what was in it.

And most importantly 3. When you get to where you’re going, and you’re looking for a specific item that someone needs, and you’re exhausted, and you just want to sit down and be quiet – it helps to have an idea of where you put it. Because when you were packing in the middle of the night, you’re not going to remember where you put it!!

I then emailed myself the list so that I would have it with me. After the duffels were packed I tagged them with regular luggage tags. Then, I took the most obnoxious duct tape I could find, and taped a band around the center of each bag. Enter my mom, who happens to be a teacher and has lots of duct tape on hand! This made the bags easy to spot.

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Then I made label for the bins that looked like this:

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We were worried about how roughly the tubs would be handled and making sure the lids stayed on. But you can’t just tape the crap out of them because there’s a good chance (especially if you’re going international) that TSA is going to open them for inspection. You don’t know ahead of time if your items will be inspected and there’s nothing you can do – it is completely within their rights. And then, if TSA opens your bin, do they tape it back? No one could answer that question for us. We did a light taping around each bin.

And when we picked them up, they looked like this:

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They did in fact, get inspected. And they did get taped back. How nice! But one of the bins did get cracked and broken. It still made it somehow and protected the contents inside. If you pack a tub and check it on an airline, make sure its very strong and that you pack the contents smartly.

STEP 45: You rent a super-van, fill it up with your children and your allowed allotment of luggage and drive yourself to the airport to fly away. And then, in all seriousness, relax. There is nothing more that you can do and the day ahead is going to require every bit of energy that you can get.

And in 10 simple steps, that’s how you move to London.

 

 

 

 

 

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