Tuesday, 31 July 2012

An Emigrant's Dilemma

I am currently facing a dilemma that I am fairly confident nearly every emigrant or long-term expat has faced at some point or another: when to book my next trip home and how to cope with the realization that those trips home are inevitably becoming less frequent. (Getting out of the habit of referring to North Carolina as "home" is another dilemma, which really warrants another post).

When I first moved to the U.K., I promised myself I would go back to the States at least once a year. It was sort of my way of easing the guilt I felt at moving so far away from my family. For the first few years, I kept that promise; a couple of times, I even managed to make it back twice in one year. Now, with two children, that is becoming less and less of a reality -- until we win the lottery, of course (and I'm not holding my breath for that). I suppose it's inevitable, especially when both girls are in school. Holidays will have to be strategically planned around school breaks, which are, of course, the most expensive times to travel. And, not to sound selfish, but sometimes we're just going to feel like using one of those breaks to go on a proper family holiday -- just the four of us -- which is what I am contemplating for next summer. (I'm thinking of a beach somewhere in the Mediterranean.)

Right now I have to decide whether to go back in October on my own with the two girls or wait until February when The Other Half can join us. Both options have their pros and cons. If I go back in October, that means I'll be on my own with both girls on an international flight for the first time. But I don't think it will be as bad as I initially feared. Crumpet is at an age where she can easily amuse herself with a sticker book or my iPad, and (touch wood) Cupcake is much better at getting herself to sleep on her own than Crumpet ever was (or is). Plus, as a friend pointed out, she'll still be relatively immobile, which is good for traveling at this age. If we wait till February, I'll (maybe) have The Other Half's help, but I won't really be able to relax while we're there since I'll be stressing out about going back to work at the end of the month and sorting out childcare (another blog post in the making). So October seems to be the best choice in that regard. But if we go back in October, it's very likely we won't get back to the States at all next year, but I guess that's just an inevitability I will have to face sooner or later.

This may all seem very trivial to some people, but it does occupy a fair part of most emigrants' minds. A former colleague once told me that, as teachers, we're always wishing time away because we're always looking towards the next break; I couldn't agree more, but I think the same can be said for many emigrants or expats. I find myself planning holidays or visits a year or two in advance in order to maximize our time with my family without minimizing our time to ourselves.

My family is wonderfully supportive of me and my life here in England. Sure, they'd love it if we lived closer, but they certainly don't begrudge the fact that we don't. I grew up 3,000 miles away from one set of grandparents and 1,000 miles from another. In those days, long-distance calls were a big deal -- a special treat -- so we were lucky if we got to speak to them once a month. We saw them maybe once a year, if that. Technology has made it possible for Crumpet and Cupcake to see their grandparents (and aunt and uncle and cousin) virtually every day, and my parents' yearly visits (I don't exactly have to twist their arms to come to London) mean we get to see them in person every five or six months. Still, Skype isn't quite the same as popping in unannounced for a cup of tea and a chat.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

American Baby: The Sequel

There's another American in the family. As of last Wednesday, Cupcake is officially an American citizen, just like her big sister. Our trip to the embassy marked a couple of firsts for little Cupcake: her first time on the Tube and her first time into central London. And we couldn't have asked for a better baby: she slept when she was supposed to, and when she was awake she was smiley and content, like she usually is. Even the journey itself turned out to be better than expected. I had strategically booked our appointment two days before the start of the Olympics so we could avoid the major crowds; still, I was convinced it would be a bum fight on the Tube, so I was pleasantly surprised when we actually managed to get seats. And even though Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far, at nearly 90 degrees, the atmosphere under ground was not as insufferable as I expected. At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that I really have been here too long because, like a true Brit, I am starting to expect the worst in most situations.

Wednesday turned out to be quite a memorable day for another reason. On the way home from the embassy, we stopped in Whetstone in North London to catch a glimpse of the Olympic Torch as it made its way through the Borough of Barnet. We had a great spot along the road, so I was able to snap this picture:
We concluded the day with cake and champagne in a friend's garden and a fish and chip supper at home. What a day to celebrate being American AND British.

Friday, 6 July 2012

British Summertime

There is no bigger oxymoron than the phrase "British summertime." Apparently, June was the wettest month since records began, and so far July isn't getting any drier. We've had a few days above 70 degrees since March, but let's just say I don't think I'll be putting away my winter jumpers anytime soon.

I know I shouldn't complain too much. My parents have been experiencing 100+ degree heat and saturating humidity in NC, and the Midwest/Mid-Atlantic has been plagued with severe storms and power outages. I would gladly trade them a few inches of our rain for a few degrees of their heat.
Even Crumpet was bemoaning the soggy weather on the way to nursery school this morning.

"I'm fed up with all this rain," she said.

"I know," I agreed. "I am too."

"Poor Queenie," she continued.

"Queenie? Who's Queenie?"

"Of the country."

"You mean the Queen of England?"


"Why do you say 'Poor Queenie'?"

"Because of the rain."

"I wouldn't worry about the Queen," I reassured her. "I'm sure she's indoors enjoying a nice cup of tea."