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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
“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.
And onto the next adventures we go.