we live in london?

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living here for two months. The time has gone by so fast and we’ve done so much, and yet we’ve only put a tiny dent in what this city has to offer. But we’ve been so damn busy in this enormous place that I’m exhausted.

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London is massive. You don’t realize it until going a small distance on the tube takes a half hour, and a long distance takes an hour, and when you pop back above ground you’re still well in the city limits. For how huge it is, it’s also massively efficient. Tubes, buses and trains can take you anywhere you want to go. Sure there’s walking involved. Sometimes a lot of walking. But your legs get used to it to the point where they just go on autopilot and you hardly notice anymore. Until you wear your new Boden plimsoles and your little toe starts to blister. Then you goddamn notice.

Nose pickin' and hair braidin' on the overground.

Nose pickin’ and hair braidin’ on the overground.

These two have been troopers. They have learned to walk miles and miles with only a little bit of whining and the slightest bit of carrying. They have scooters now, like true London tots, and glide all over the city like it’s their own. I have had several heart attacks when Charlie brakes too close to the street (those black cabs don’t stop for anything), but she’s getting better at staying close to me. Other than that time when she was still learning to brake and went gliding down the longest hill on earth. I went running after her like a screaming lunatic, yelling to people on the street, “stop her!” They looked at me like I was nuts, and Charlie found her brake, stopped, and turned around and gave me a thumbs up. Heart attack #26 living in London. Little bugger.

Lucy in her proper school uniform.

Lucy in her proper school uniform.

This big girl–my how she’s grown!–is in “Year 1″ at school, and boy that’s different than kindergarten back home. She’s learning to read, spell, write in cursive, add, subtract, play sports, swim, and has joined the school choir all while navigating a new world of friends and culture. She’s done brilliantly. Her teachers are helping us to help her at home since her class learned to read and write last year. We’re catching her up and she’s learning quickly. And by “we’re catching her up” I mean getting super frustrated doing homework with a 5 year-old who has already been in school for 6 hours while all she wants to do is play with her mermaid Barbie.

Charlie on her first  day of school. No uniform required for her...yet.

Charlie on her first day of school. No uniform required for her…yet.

And my baby…is not a baby anymore. She’s in the “Nursery” class at the same school, but how grown up she is with her book bag and lunch, marching right into class hardly saying goodbye. She loves school, has made friends, and I’m sure will be the same Charles in Charge there as she is at home. She just needs to get a bit more comfortable first before she can take over the class.

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And me? When I’m not Mom and Homemaker (i.e. unpacker and cleaner) I wander around in awe of this city. Just simple things like this pretty little pub and its flowers make me smile. At 5:30 it will be swarming with people, inside and out, having their after work pints.

Yes, a lot of things about this city irk me, like bagging your own groceries as the checker stares at you, willing you to get your ass out of there. There’s no customer service–that’s a foreign term. People don’t pick up their dog’s poop. There’s litter everywhere. Out of nowhere you’ll walk into a pocket of the most abhorring stench; that deep, damp fetor that is London’s core. Either that, or someone had sardines for tea and the bin has been sitting uncollected for weeks. Both are equally possible, and probable.

Lucy painted her interpretation of Monet's "Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies" last year in preschool. I sent this photo to her old school: Lucy in front of the painting itself at London's National Gallery.

Lucy painted her interpretation of Monet’s “Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies” last year in preschool. I sent this photo to her old school: Lucy in front of the painting itself at London’s National Gallery.

But then a lot of things I love. You can go see some of the world’s greatest museums, art, and artifacts for free. There is history everywhere you look, even in the house in which we live–it began as a coach house and once hosted the Beatles for a party. People are generally helpful with children, offering seats in the tube and assisting them with the gap (“Mind the Gap” is real, and scary for little feet).

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At Buckingham Palace in the Royal Mews, squatting for a photo (thanks, Sadie!) in front of the Queen’s coach.

I love how people speak. My grocery delivery man calls me “sweethaaart,” the old woman on the street calls me “love,” and though people keep to themselves there is a general sense of taking care of one another. If you drop something, a stranger will pick it up for you with a smile even if they’re in a hurry.

One quick story before I go about our trip to Buckingham Palace. We toured through the Royal Muse and stables, and Lucy got to see the diamond jubilee carriage and meet the royal horses. Highlight of her London life so far, save for the Crown Jewels. After lunch we waited in the queue to tour the Palace itself. Charlie was a little sleepy, and I knew it might be a bit of a challenge. She was wearing her favorite red dress-up dress, to be fancy for the Queen, that’s too big and too long. Our rule about the dress is that we tie it up for tubes, trains, buses, and especially stairs.

A horse fit for a Queen.

A horse fit for a Queen.

We passed the headset booth and grabbed one for each of us. The sea of people started flowing through the palace quietly, attuned to the guided tour on their headphones. As we approached the stairs I had the usual talk with her about tying up her dress and made a knot…and that’s when the screaming started.  “I DON’T WANT YOU TO TIE UP MY RED DRESS!”, over and over again. The Queen could have heard her from Balmoral.

The quiet crowd stopped and stared. I tried to calm her down. I tried untying her red dress. But it only got worse. It turned into a high pitched scream, “IIIIII DON’T WANT YOU TIE UP MY RED DREEESSSSSS!” I could quickly see that it was not going to stop. I picked her up and swooped us over to the nearest guard.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee carriage, plated in real gold. Oy yoy yoy.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee carriage, plated in real gold. Oy yoy yoy.

“Can we get out of here?”

“No, Mum. I’m afraid you’ll have to go through the Palace.”

“This,” I pointed to the red-faced wailing Charlie in my arms, “is not going to stop.”

“Is there something wrong with her we can fix?”

Oh, man, I though. Let me count the ways. “No. We need to get out.”

He radioed for another guard who took us through the velvet ropes and out the back entrance into the garden. Charlie calmed down outside breathing the fresh air and having her dress free-flowing down past her toes. And I had a migraine. But that, my dears, is the story of how we were escorted out of Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace from the gardens, the only real view of the damn palace that I got to see.

And onto the next adventures we go.

xoxo Jenny

the other side of parenting

I realize I’ve been quite polarized in my children stories on this blog; they all seem to be about catastrophes involving poop and shopping carts. I’ve neglected to share the other side of parenting—the one where you have these beautiful creatures in your care. They love you to death and the feeling is more than mutual. They snuggle you, cling to your leg simply because they like to be next to you, and speak spontaneous “I love you”s. The moments where your heart feels so big it could burst into a million particles? Those moments happen everyday along with the poop and shopping carts. Those moments are what make parenting worth it.

I had one of those moments yesterday. Dave was working late and I had been on my own with the girls for 10+ hours, 3 more to go until bedtime. It was a stunning day: 65 degrees, cherry trees in bloom all over the city, dotting the landscape with pink petals like snow. Yes, we’d been out of the house most of the day, but I decided one more trip before bed was in order.

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I tossed some leftover pizza, satsumas, apples and carrots into a picnic basket. In went a ball, a blanket, two baby dolls in various stages of undress that Charlie can’t leave the house without, and a stuffed unicorn night light named Rainbow Happy (Lucy’s must-have). We were set to go to the park for a picnic dinner.

Have you ever had one of those times where the stars align? Both kids are happy, in need of nothing, not complaining or whining or yelling about something? We had two hours of those moments, one after another, at this dinnertime picnic. The girls sat happily eating on the blanket, gracefully sharing their toys with an occasional kid visitor. When they weren’t eating, they’d run and play, then come careening back to our picnic and tackle me in a bear hug. My heart felt so big, and I felt so blessed to have created these two tiny, independent, miraculous people, that I wanted to burst.

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I’m going to tell you something about parenting, something no one told me before I had kids: there will be fewer good moments than tough moments. I’d say the ratio is about 70 tough/30 good. But that 30%–those moments that are wonderful and happy and blissful–are what will stamp your memory permanently. I remember all of the wonderful times and easily forget the struggles. It’s what allows us to keep having babies, expanding our families—we forget how hard it is to be sleep deprived with a baby at our breast for hours on end.

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We’ve been delicately toying with the idea of adding a third child to our family, when only last year I was vehemently against it. I gave away all our baby things. I started getting in shape, working on the house, building a career with my first book release. Everything in my life pointed to no more children, but moments like last night at the park make me think it’s possible. The easy thing to do would be to quit while we’re ahead, but I’ve forgotten how hard a newborn is. How hard it is to juggle a baby and a toddler. How my eyes looked after days of no sleep.

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When the sun was setting and a cold breeze swept across the park, we headed for home. The girls nestled in their car seats, singing along to a song on the radio, as the sun turned the sky pink and purple. They were so sleepy they hopped into bed, hair messy, feet green from the grass. And as I sat on the couch with my tea, reflecting on the day, I realized it was one of those 30% days. They’re few and far between, but I remember them always.

 

charlie vs. target

I had to get them out of the house. Or maybe I just had to get myself out of the house. At any rate, I decided a trip to Target to get the one thing we needed (diapers) would be an excuse to get them up and moving.

I knew in the back of my mind this was a bad idea. Taking two grumpy, possibly-on-the-verge-of-getting-sick, possibly-on-the-verge-of-killing-each-other girls to a bright, shiny store with full of toys and candy and makeup?

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. Everything could go wrong.

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It started in the parking lot. Charlie refused to come out of the car without her million-pound owl backpack, which contained a toy car, a maraca from Mexico, two bobby pins, a deck of cards, a sweatshirt, a bunny, a water bottle, five goldfish crackers, and a crumpled up picture of an ogre she calls Marcus. The backpack was too heavy, and she used up all of her happy energy carrying it from the car to the store. Then all that was left was the evil energy. The Mom-I-want-to-kill-you energy.

So there she was, 28 pounds of malevolence in a cherubic, Charlie-shaped body, ready to tear through Target with a vengeance. But, optimist that I am, decided to take my chances.

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We started on the toy aisle, so Lucy could pick out a birthday present for her little sister. Lucy played quietly with a ball and a baby. Evil Charlie grabbed a toy shopping cart full of toy food. Then a pretend car seat for a pretend baby. She had no energy left to carry these things, but in her mind she was not leaving the store without them. Then, she decided, the toy shopping cart would be great as an assault tank on the animal cracker display. One bash and the whole thing came tumbling down all over her. A nice employee came over to help us clean up.

The shopping cart had to go. But as soon as I tried to take it from her evil death grip, she let out the first Scream. (Side note: our Target is two stories. It’s huge. You could likely hear her Scream, with a capital S, all the way upstairs in the break room.)

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It was at this point that I kicked into survival mode. As in: survive this moment, then get the hell out of Target before someone recognizes me. I let her keep the shopping cart and push it to our next destination: the diaper aisle, maybe ten yards away. 28-pound Charlie was pushing her pretend shopping cart, clutching her pretend car seat, and lugging her 50-pound backpack, and she refused help.

It took us 10 minutes to get to the diaper aisle, because she had to stop at each display along the way and knock everything off at eye level. She set her car seat down to do this. She rested her shopping cart next to her, then grabbed everything she could reach and dumped it on the floor. Then when she was satisfied she’d done enough damage, she picked up her car seat and rolled her shopping cart to her next target (no pun intended). I trailed behind her; picking everything up and put it back as fast as I could. I didn’t try to stop her at this point—I was just trying to get to the diapers and go. I saw the evil churning behind her eyes. She was taunting me: just try to stop me mom, and I’ll the out The Scream again. You’ll see.

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We made it to the diapers. We grabbed a pack and kept moving. We were almost to the cash registers. I could see them: the Holy Grail. But then, to our left, a distraction: girl’s hair accessories. They’re on a giant rack, each one of them shiny and pink and crack-cocaine for little girls. Lucy examined them gently. Charlie rammed her shopping cart into the display and started throwing hair clips and headbands on top of the pretend food.

One item she didn’t throw in the cart: a pack of four rhinestone bobby pins in neon colors. This one she clutched possessively with her sharp talons. This one is mine, Mommy. For the moment, she’d forgotten about the shopping cart (which we’re not going to buy) and the car seat (which we’re not going to buy). She was fixated on the bobby pins, and they’re $3, so I’m just going to go with it and get the hell out. I started cleaning up her hair accessory tornado. I swept the shopping cart and car seat discreetly under a t-shirt rack for some nice Target employee to discover later.

“Nooooooo Mom! My shopping cart!”

This was good. She was only fixated on the shopping cart and the bobby pins now. She’d forgotten about the car seat. Two items—two items I could work with. I could negotiate my way out. And I could tell by the crack-cocaine glint in her eye that she was going to choose the bobby pins.

CharWinter

“Char, you can only have the clips or the cart. Not both.”

Then The Scream came. She threw herself on the floor and started army crawling under the hair accessory rack. But the display rods were too low; she got snagged. She started kicking to get free, and tangled herself even further. One leg got stuck, and her backpack snagged on a rod. I was terrified she was going to impale her eye if she kept flailing. I grabbed her and yanked her free. She bolted to the shopping cart, ran and rammed it against the elevator, collapsing to the floor in a sob.

It’s at this point that Lucy stepped in—my saving grace. She approached her sister gently.

“Char, you can’t have both. You have to pick: the shopping cart or the hair clips. That’s what mommy said.”

Charlie snuffled and moaned. Snot poured from her nose. She looked up to her sister.

“Shopping cart.”

Okay. Shopping cart. We had a deal. I put the toy shopping cart in my own, attempted to repair the hair accessories display, and picked up Evil Charlie. Only she wasn’t Evil Charlie anymore, she was just tired, pitiful Charlie. She surrendered and allowed me to carry her—and her giant backpack—out of the store and into the car. We escaped with $9.99 worth of diapers and $12.99 worth of shopping cart.

It’s their new favorite toy.

Did I give into the tantrum? Absolutely. But it was my fault in the first place; I knew in my gut she would have a meltdown. So I chalked the $12.99 up to a lesson learned and went on my way.  Four years of being a mom and I still don’t have it all figured out. I don’t think it’s even possible to have it all figured out.

11 minutes in the mind of Lucy

This is Lucy. She’s almost 4, precocious as hell, and talks non-stop. Like broken record non-stop.

Lulu

I’m an introvert. I need time and space to collect myself, but I have a yapping almost-4-year-old at my feet most of the time, chiming on about nonsense. So basically I haven’t collected myself in…almost 4 years.

I’ve tried to embrace it. I even tried to record it, but then I realized I’d have to sit and listen to the whole damn recording, which would be like having the almost-4-year-old yapping in my ear all over again. So then I tried to follow her around with the laptop, typing everything that she says. I got to 11 minutes before I gave up. I couldn’t write fast enough. But those 11 minutes were like gold, so here they are, for your reading pleasure.

Oh, and for reference, Char is her little sister.

Char

This girl.

Nudge is our dog.

Nudgles

This guy. Poor muffin.

11 minutes in the mind of Lucy Miller

7:20am

It’s part of a tampon.

Look, it’s a tampon sword.

A tampon sword is what I use. Yaaaaaaar!

Nudge, you say it like this: TAM-PON.

How does it feel like having tampons in your panties?

Nudge what are you up to little doggie? What are you up to Nudgles? I’m going to go see what that is.

Mom, can you find my Merida wig? Oh, there’s my tampon swordie. I get all this yucky stuff on the washcloth. Mom, look! It’s a washcloth! I have to go get Char.

7:27 am

Char, look! A tampon! Do you like it? I traded Char for the blue washcloth for the yellow washcloth. Bluuuuuuuuuuue! Yaaaaaaaah! She wants me. Nudge, I was sitting right there and you can’t stiff me!

Ruff ruff ruff ruff. Howwwwwww! Ow ow owwwww!

Oh yeah? Hey little dog.

Nudge growls.

Okay, just stay there a second Nudge.

Yelling from the other room, then quiet.

7:31am

Can you find the little curl that’s hanging in Merida’s eyes please? It’s ok. It has Velcro! See that little scratchy there? It means it has Velcro. You don’t have to worry Char. He wants his PJ’s on it’s cold!

Char cries, “No, no, don’t want Lulu!”

-end-

For the record: I blame her father.

 

why life with kids is like living in an insane asylum

There’s a scene in one of my favorite books (or films, if you’ve seen it) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the patients are playing Monopoly.

“Not that one, you crazy bastard; that’s not my piece, that’s my house.”
“It’s the same color.”
“What’s this little house doing on the Electric Company?”
“That’s a power station.”
“Martini, those ain’t the dice you’re shaking—”
“Let him be; what’s the difference?”
“Those are a couple of houses!”
Faw. And Martini rolls a big, let me see, a big nineteen. Good goin’ Mart; that puts you—Where’s your piece, buddy?”
“Eh? Why here it is.”
“He had it in his mouth, McMurphy. Excellent. That’s two moves over the second and third bicuspid, four moves to the board, which takes you on to—to Baltic Avenue, Martini. Your one and only property. How fortunate can a man get, friends? Martini has been playing three days and lit on his property practically every time.”
“Shut up and roll, Harding. It’s your turn.”

Every time my girls are doing something that completely boggles my mind, I think of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson, in the film), the least crazy of the crazies, trying to play a nice game of Monopoly that keeps getting marred by rolls of nineteen and disappearing dice.

The other morning, I really felt as if I were in a nuthouse, as both my girls seemed to have flipped their lids simultaneously. It was after breakfast, and I was attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee on the couch while the girls played with their toys in the living room.

“Darzy! Mom, where is Darzy?” Lucy yells out of nowhere.
“Who is Darzy?” I ask, because I have no damn clue.
“He’s a guy! Oh boy. Oh boy.” She jumps around the living room. “We have to find him!” She gets on her pretend phone. “Hello? Hello? Help! We have to find Darzy!”

In first grade I had an imaginary friend, an orange turtle, who lived in my desk at school. I cried when I had to leave him for recess (sidenote: I don’t know why the turtle couldn’t leave the desk because he was imaginary and I made up the turtle rules. I should have been smarter about that.) I’m afraid that Darzy is Lucy’s orange turtle, come like four years too early.

“Lu, what does Darzy look—” But I’m interrupted by Charlie, who has discovered that the louder she yells, the quicker she gets my attention.

“Baaaaaa!”
“Yes Char?”
“Hi.”
“Hi, Char.”
“Mo.”
“More what, sweetie?”
“Baaaaaa!”
“More yelling?”
She grins. And then she turns back around to her play kitchen and keeps making play cookies.

While I was distracted, Lucy has been telling her Darzy-is-lost-sob-story to our dog, Nudge. “You have to find him, Nudge! Use your powers for good!” Because a 13-pound dog clearly has a choice whether to use his powers for good or evil. Lucy is trying to compel his tiny King Cavalier brain to go after an imaginary lost soul.

“Let’s go boy. On a hunt. Sniff this.” She holds a bubble wand under his nose, because imaginary Darzy’s leave a scent of bubbles in their wake, naturally. “Let’s find the trail!” And with that, Lucy straps on Nudge’s leash and they go Darzy-hunting around the house. I put my feet back up, take a sip of coffee, and then promptly get a wooden cookie shoved in my mouth.

“Yummy!” Charlie laughs.
I gag and remove the wooden cookie. “Gentle, sweetie.”
“Mo?”

Yes, of course I want more wooden food pushed down my throat. She toddles back over to her kitchen and I hear some banging around. A moment later she comes back and shoves a felt sandwich in my mouth (you would think that I could stop a 15-month-old child from shoving things in my mouth, but she is freakishly strong).

“Yummy!” She exclaims. We go back and forth like this for a while, she shoving odd bits of pretend food in my mouth and me trying not to 1) gag, 2) spill my coffee all over her naked body (did I not mention both my kids are perpetually naked? All. The. Damn. Time.)

Naked Lucy returns with a somber-looking Nudge on his leash.
“Mom, I can’t find Darzy!”
“Sweetie, I would help you but I don’t know who Darzy is.”
“Darzy is one of the knocks.”
“Well I’m glad we cleared that up,” I shrug.

I get up from the couch and go pour myself another cup of coffee, because I’m living in a nuthouse, but without any of the good drugs: only coffee (booze after 5pm. Okay, 3pm). I’m trying to play Monopoly and all they want to do is eat the pieces and change the rules. And that’s okay, because they’re kids. But it doesn’t make them any less insane.

After a few sips within the quiet walls of the kitchen, I figured: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So I went back into the living room to hunt for Darzy and make imaginary eggplant cookies. At least my fellow inmates are pretty damn cute.