I have lost my voice, claimed by laryngitis as I sit here in my mom and dad’s house. Should I try to speak, I end up sounding like a yodeling Marge Simpson. We have skipped over the Atlantic to enjoy our summer here in Canada and as I am confined to bed with chills, aches, and shakes (hence the title of this entry borrowed from the Dandy Warhols), I am using the gift of forced time to sit and do digital errands. So, I type and continue this entry that I started a few weeks ago.
I have neglected this portal of my own gibberish long enough but with justified reasons. Settling into London has been lots of work, but good work. Like after labor one forgets the pain, one also forgets the work, energy, and patience demanded when settling into a new home. The smell and dust from cardboard boxes lingered in the air for a while and I felt like I was on a self-appointed scavenger hunt as I searched through random boxes looking for specific items. The house is still an on-going project though it is now ninety-five percent complete, and in my signature organizing style, I filed all the ‘miscellaneous’ items into our spare room. Understandably, that room took on a life of its own and consequently, I didn’t even know where to begin when I stepped into it. I abandoned it long enough which was easy to do because furniture delivery deadlines kept being pushed down, and so I didn’t feel the fire under my ass was hot enough to do something with the room. After the kids went to bed and all the daily chores were done, I could organize, or…….. I could sit on the couch with Lumberg who usually gets home late thanks to his lengthy commute, and we could romantically fall asleep almost immediately while watching Modern Family where I have developed a cozy crush on Phil. (And Gloria!). I repeatedly chose the latter.
Finally, notice came of delivery came two weeks ago and so I gave my ass a pep talk, a grunt, and a high-five, and mobilized it into gear. Delivery came and went, but alas, no furniture remained in our house. The sofa bed we requested for our guest room fit through our main door but wouldn’t fit through our stairwell to go upstairs. Additionally, the couches we wanted for our lounge area wouldn’t even fit through the main door. Apparently, houses are smaller in the UK indeed. So, back to furniture hunting we go but at least the guest room is all organized now and can be checked off the list that I compulsively love to compile. But, to keep the glass half full, being forced to organize the room allowed me to host for one night friends who came through London the other day, although they had to sleep on the floor that I miraculously found after organizing. Victory!
We’ve been in London for two months now, and in truth, it’s about as awesome as cozy sweat pants and hot chocolate on a gloomy day. Sheer heaven. London commands your energy and in return it leaves you with a sense of accomplishment because even if you don’t set out to do something in the city, you somehow end up doing something fun and amazing. London doesn’t stop. London doesn’t have boundaries or limits for things to do and see and that’s what makes it stupendous as a city. If nothing else, London’s greatest acumen is its ability to hold your interest, regardless of what you like to do.
It’s hard to imagine that London was once not so cosmopolitan and bedizened with lights, billboards, cars, buses, taxi’s, and all the other signature paraphernalia that we normally associate with it. Back in the day (as in, more than 1000 BC), a prince of Trojan descent fled Troy (ancient Greece, but today’s Turkey) to this neck of the woods. His name was Brutus and the followers that came with him were called Brutons, or Britons. Brutus set up camp on the north bank of the river and called his happy village New Troy, (if I was brazen enough to flee home and start up a new town, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t call it ‘New Krakow’ or ‘New Calgary’. Brutus was courageous, but Brutus was not creative). Years later a successor of New Troy was King Lud. Being a bit vane, (but swanky), he changed the name of New Troy to Lud’s Town, and that quickly became shortened to London. Ta da!
Early London was no bigger than Hyde Park, but over the millennia, London grew and prospered, even if it suffered some significant ‘hiccups’ such as a few memorable plagues and a fire that destroyed most of central London (including St. Paul’s Cathedral) in 1666. With every event, with every leader, and with every year, London’s rich history is stitched in the sidewalks, parks, buildings, neighbourhoods, and streets we all walk on today. Samuel Johnson knew what he was talking about when he said ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’. True story.
Naturally, being immersed in this feast of historical facts, we feel so very lucky and ready to put our dent in what London has to offer. But, first things first-the kids. Little Miss Stubborn and the Albino Hulk are adjusting so well to their new school. They put on their uniforms happily in the mornings and then march on the streets like little gang members who smile and nod in approval at other kids dressed in the same uniform. In contrast, they stare down the kiddos dressed in different school threads with a peculiar curiosity as to why they’re dressed differently. I never grew up with uniforms but I always wished I did. It seems to bring the kids a sense of belonging and unity and erases the whole concept of ‘my brand name jeans are better than your K-mart ones’. In England, King Henry VIII is credited for introducing uniforms into schools. The first uniforms consisted of long trench coats dyed blue, simply because blue was the cheapest dye at the time. Over the years the uniforms evolved to what they are today but they still remain a central point of English academic culture.
The kids are also split into Houses which allows them to belong to one of four school-wide teams, furthering the notion of belonging, instilling attention and healthy competition. Individual pupils accumulate house points for something they did in class or in the school, and those points are tallied towards the entire House to which that student belongs to. At the end of the year, the house with the most points, wins. My only previous experience with the British House system was whilst watching Harry Potter movies and then, I assumed this was something specific to Hogwarts only and their cool non-muggle students. Turns out, Houses, or school-wide teams, are a British thing. Momma learns something new every day.
Our initiation to London has kept us on our toes. In the last nine weeks, we have toured museums, strolled through parks and playgrounds, gotten zoo memberships (the London Zoo is pretty stellar, definitely check it out), gone to play dates, filled in cavities, pulled out teeth, joined soccer and tennis clubs for the kids (the energy levels of the coaches at Teddy Tennis and especially Little Foxes keep the kids giggling and entertained-I highly recommend), joined a gym (for me!), strolled the streets, rode the tube so much to the point where both kiddos have memorized train announcements along our common route. We have waved to the guards at the Queen’s palace, frolicked along the South Bank in the evening, attended a weekend-long reunion with seven other mommas I met in Milan and who all descended upon London for a weekend of chatter, drinks and dancing, gone on family bike rides on the banks of the Thames, sampled great beers, visited the Cotswolds, organized a babysitter allowing Lumberg and I to escape weekly for a few hours to see comedy shows, musicals, pubs, and enjoy London with friends. All this has been coupled with settling the house in, emptying boxes, re-filling boxes with heaps of items being given away for donation, constantly cleaning the house, doing nightly homework with the kiddos (the Albino Hulk is starting to read!) , play time, and recently, start packing for Canada. I have decided to take a page out of Susan Powter’s book and stop the insanity. For the first time in my life, I have hired a house keeper to come by weekly and help me with the major chores. My stubbornness and mentality of believing I can do it all on the home front finally fizzled out because I was exhausted. The kids now keep me more busy than when they were at their younger age, and back then, I thought things couldn’t possibly get any busier. I come from a line of stubborn women who ran their lives, raised their kids and performed all their motherly and domestic tasks, mostly alone. Naturally, I felt I had to do the same. But, I caved, happily, especially since I am going back to school in September to pursue a Masters and I want to be partially involved in the kids’ PTA at school, (yes, I’m ‘that’ kind of mom. Bring on the PTA.). I signed up with a company called Task Rabbit, and they’ve been great. While my house is being cleaned, I am tending to other tasks and getting more stuff done. Having domestic help is far better than chocolate and purses. Or purses made from chocolate. I still tidy up before they arrive because this is programmed in my DNA, and in my WWAD moment, I pat myself on the back when the girl tells me my house is too clean already before she tackles it. (If you haven’t followed from my first blog, my WWAD moment stems from my obsessively clean and organized friend Aneta. She is truly in a state of beatitude only when her salad dressings are organized alphabetically in the fridge, her spreadsheets are tabbed and filled, and her house smells like Pine Sol with a spritz of Mr. Clean. She is organized and motivated to epic proportions and nothing gets past her. Very often I think ‘what would Aneta do’ when I’m in a conundrum and I’m pretty sure her house would never be in disarray before the cleaner showed up. That’s about as sacrilegious as a pole eating dehydrated potatoes with dehydrated dill. Hence, my WWAD moment). Anyways, if you’re looking for various types of domestic help in the London area, give Task Rabbit a try.
I have decided with each entry I will post a few comments on things I have learned about navigating London with the kids and Lumberg, be it excellent hidden bathroom pit stops (which are a gem because you don’t have to queue the tube stations where the loos can be a bit dodgy), great places to eat, products to try, or tourist attractions that will keep the kiddos attracted in attention, and hence keep you sane and leave you feeling cultured too. For starters, if you’re in Covent Garden and your little one starts to do the pee-pee jig, look no further than Steve Jobs. The Apple store in Covent Garden has great bathrooms that were quiet and super clean. Head to the back of the store and follow the stair case on the left to the basement. Should you find yourself on the south side of Hyde Park, head to the Royal Albert Hall and use entrance number 12. This leads you to the ticket office, a coffee shop, and heaps of little bathrooms to access. Use the loo, grab a coffee and also peruse the variety of shows coming to the hall.
If it’s toys you’re after, give Meadow Kids a try. They’re a UK-based company that designs and manufactures toys and activities designed to engage the family and provide an element of learning while playing. We’ve sampled their Emergency Services Bathtime stickers which had the Albino Hulk engaging in fun chit chat whilst bathing. They stick to the wall of the bath when soaked and the creativity flows allowing the kids to focus on creative play, rather than attempting to set a record at amount of water displaced from tub onto floor (in our case). Both kiddos also really dove into their Mini Box of stencils and used the materials to doodle personalized year-end cards for their teachers at school. Little Miss Stubborn seems to gravitate to art, so this entertained her for a while indeed. Heaps of fun!
If it’s an app you want for London, the bible of all apps is City Mapper. Gadzooks, it is glorious. Without it, I’d be lost. Literally. It gets you around London seamlessly using all transport with up to date information, and tells you how much time is left until your chosen chariot arrives, which method of transport is the fastest (and always includes time taken to walk to your destination, with calories burned). It does however drain your battery quick, so a portable charger for your smart phone is a good idea too. And lastly, City Air is a great app too because it tells you what particular zones in the city have dirtier pockets of air, and hence are good to avoid with the kiddos.
That being said, if there is something or some information about London that you covet, enlighten me so I can share with others. I’m always on the look out. For now, Little Miss Stubborn is waking for her nightly cough attack. Eff you, microscopic germs. Eff you!