Category Archives: Expat

Sweet Nectar of Life

Oh, it took me some time.  And as someone who could take or leave hot drinks, I’ve probably had hundreds and hundreds of offers before I finally succumbed.  I couldn’t quite understand how a cup of tea could be the prescription that soothed all sorts of emotional and physical ailments.   I know Americans love their coffee, but the love that the Brits have for their tea doesn’t compare.  Coffee doesn’t FIX things.  Not like tea.

Balancing out or complementing things like a hearty meal, a good sob, a nasty cold, a chilly day, a stressful day, a relaxing day, the best day ever, a household fire, sitting by the fire, childbirth, and unimaginable grief.

But after 9 years, I think I’m finally starting to get it.

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Bump Update: Week 17 & Birthing Plans

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Today I tweeted a lady who had a bowl of sick in her lap on her drive home because she is 9 weeks into pregnancy and struggling with morning sickness.   That is pregnancy (or one part of it, anyway).  I am SO glad to be on the other side of all of the nausea and am feeling really good, despite some occasional hip pain.

I saw my lovely midwife when I hit 17 weeks and we started talking about birthing options for this little one.   When I was pregnant with The Duchess, The Native and I were pretty relaxed about our birthing plan, opting to use the birthing centre and pool if it was free (there is only room to facilitate one birth at a time there), knowing that we’d likely end up on Labour Ward instead.  We were possibly a bit TOO relaxed about it all because I nearly popped that kid out in our upstairs bathroom – only making it to the hospital in time for the grand finale.   We are talking a Richard Curtis style labor.  Yeah Rich, call me if you want some ideas for your next film.

While speaking to the midwife this week, we got onto the topic of home births.  I was only curious about how many women opt for them.  Genuinely.  It’s not something that I know is commonly done in the States, but we have known a few people here who have gone that route, including our very best friends with their 2nd child.

It was then that my midwife is all, “You would be PERFECT for a home birth.”  And that is when, friends, I got this image of my husband’s face that will be forever seared into my memory bank.  That look he had when I woke him up in the middle of the night shouting, “THE BABY IS PUSHING!”  That is the look I knew I’d likely get if I went home and said, “Hey honey, Let’s do this thing in the family room.”  Because when we nearly unintentionally had The Duchess at home, it was pretty freaking terrifying.

Who knows?  We have time to think about it.  I know planning to stay at home is different than not having the choice.

Anyone reading who can offer guidance/thoughts on home birthing?  Would you or wouldn’t you?

What I Wish I’d Known

We are saving for a mortgage.  We are saving hard.  But I still struggle to predict when we’ll finally be in a position to buy our very first family home.  And that is disheartening.  No matter how long I live here, I will always be a foreigner and that has given me an aching desire to dig my heels in and create our home – our actual bricks and mortar home.  I long for it.  I cry about it sometimes.  And then I create crazy plans.  I have toyed with the idea of going on Deal or No Deal.  I would possibly be the first ever contestant to go out on the first offer.  £6000?  I’ll take it, Mr Banker!

The thing is – when I moved to the UK over eight years ago, I never expected to stay.

My life was in two suitcases.  I made no other plans.  I was always going to come back.

During those first two years, I was surrounded by mostly American colleagues who were in the same boat that I was.  We survived by withdrawing large lump sums from our American checking accounts, by paying bills with postal orders or with cash and by never registering with a doctor.   Looking back, I now know that we definitely did things the long way round, but what did we know?   We were only temporary travelers on this expat journey – why do the research when we found our own ways to make it work?

When I did decide to stay (for love – aaaw!), not only did I have nil when it came to furnishings, but I had no driving licence, no doctor and no British bank account.  In my lounge was a sofa, a table and a TV.  My satellite didn’t work, so I watched DVDs of Grey’s Anatomy for about 3 months straight.   I wish I was joking.

I am so grateful that The Native, in his seemingly infinite patience, held my hand through most of the first few years when my American bubble had popped and I truly had to assimilate.

The one regret I do have is that when coming down to the Southwest to work, my employer’s provided my accommodation, rent-free.  We could have bought a home then – maybe even rented it out while we lived in our little cottage – but swimming out into the deep blue sea of international homeownership, with all of those terrifying unknowns circling below my kicking feet, felt too uncomfortable.

I couldn’t have predicted the recession.  I couldn’t predict how hard things would become for first-time buyers in the UK after it hit, but I do wish that five years ago I would had someone to talk to who wasn’t just trying to sell me something for profit.  I wish I could have asked someone who could lay out my options clearly so I could make an informed decision about whether we were going to dive in or not.

And so we wait.  We wait until that day when we’re able to join the ranks of those who have torn their hair out as sellers dangle on “the chain,” mortgage brokers drag their feet, and removal men wrap your life in cellophane.  And we look forward to it.

Which Offshore is a business which provides free, unbiased information to help expats make informed financial decisions. 

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Take it From Me….

There are some lessons you’ve got to learn the hard way.

Or at least you’ve got to learn them the hard way when you’re in another culture where you just don’t know any better.

It was a warm June day.  I was at a conference.  There were hotdogs.

It was hardly a 5 course meal but a) I’m easy to please and b) I’m an American (upon reflection, perhaps those two things are synonymous.)

It was a British hotdog so it didn’t come with all of the trimmings.  And I say that with contempt and a visible sneer.  It was no cheese coney (I’m an Ohio girl) – there wasn’t even any ketchup in sight – but there were buns and lo! what’s that glimmering yelllow condiment I spot out of the corner of my eye?  Mustard!  That would certainly do.

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I slathered my hotdog with the yellow substance, drooling with anticipation at the processed meat feast that lay before me.

I found my table and lifted the hotdog to my mouth.  And my eyes started watering.

…….

I pulled the hotdog away trying to make sense of it.

But my stomach could no longer wait.  In a state of hunger-induced rage, I lifted my hotdog again.  As I did, my sinuses fully opened revealing Pandora’s Box.  In retrospect, that should have been a warning sign.

It was too late.  I had taken a bite.

My tastebuds reacted like an unsuspecting patient receiving a colonoscopy from a blind man…”What terrible crime have I committed against humanity to deserve this?!”

It was English Mustard and that, my friends, was the day my tastebuds all disintegrated.

Colman’s English Mustard never to be mistaken for American Mustard again.

Buggy Battleground

I’m warning you now – I may be about to have an unfair rant.  A rant about British people.   British people and their manners.

That’s why I’m giving you the chance to stop reading now.

Right here.  Especially if you’re British or adverse to sweeping cultural generalizations because in my mind, this does not happen in America.  In my mind, the people of America clear paths, sprinkle rose petals on the ground and softly sing lullabies when a momma with a baby is coming through.

Clearly this is going to be a rational post.

Well…considered yourself fairly warned.  You made the call.  I do not want to be likened to Prince Philip in the comments section.

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I am not an entitled Mummy.  I do not walk into town to throw my maternal weight around (which you will find in my baby-lifting arm and shoved in the bottom of my changing bag).  I don’t wave my toddler around your face to try and jump a queue or expect everyone to stop and open doors for me (although that does help – thank you.)

Because my daughter is 1, she goes in her buggy when we are walking through town.   When shopping for her buggy, personally inconveniencing you didn’t fall in the top 5 of my pushchair criteria.  It was #9.

But British people, when you see me in a restaurant or public area trying to squeeze past you, I am not TRYING to hit your table.  I am not intentionally getting the wheels of the buggy caught on your chair and in the hangers spilling from your Primark bag.

See.

I smiled at you.

I politely said, “So sorry.  Pardon me.”

And I am met with no eye contact, no attempts to be helpful and at most, an ever so slight scoot of a chair.

It’s a small ask.  I would just like the tiniest acknowledgement the “path” I’m trying to navigate is like trying to drive a small person in a tank through a garden gate.  So, if you could stand up, push your chair in and be inconvenienced for 3 seconds to help a struggling mother out, I’d really appreciate it.

Please and thank you and start being nicer to me or I swear I will drive this buggy straight into your shins.

Dear Little Sister

Dear Little Sister,

When we were growing up, as someone who had 22 more months of life experience, I felt it my duty – no – my God-given responsibility to mother you.   When you were 3 year olds, donning a summer dress, you walked to a neighbour’s house without your underpants on.  I chased after you and brought you back home.  When you were 6, we would hide under my bed and I would cover your ears to protect you from the noise when arguments became too much.   When you were 10 and would recount the dramas of 4th grade to me, with wide eyes, I’d remind you not to speak to people so bluntly.   When you were 14 and you dated a boy that was older than me, I voiced concern about what other people might think.  When you cried from worry after that argument between me and Dad,  I ran to your room and comforted you.

I was there.  Correcting, comforting, guiding, chastising.  Inappropriately and out of love.  I was there.

And now you are in the biggest battle of your life.  Each day is filled with fear.  Each day is filled with sadness.  Each day is filled with worry.   Each day is filled with tears.

But I am here.   In this place.  I cannot run to you.  I cannot wipe away your tears.  I cannot comfort you or take small steps to lift the burden.

The distance and this experience, has shown me that you don’t need mothering. You don’t need someone who is quick to give answers or to protect you.  You don’t need someone who fixes things with a pocket-ready cliche.  I am learning that too often in life people try to sweep away pain by ignoring it or trying to distract you from it because witnessing it is hard to bear.   The truth is, no one can be protected from this type of pain because it is the unique and deep-rooted pain that can only spring from the heart of a mother.

No, you don’t need me to be your mother.

You need a sister.  You need someone who will remind you that none of this is your fault.  You need someone to tell you that you are doing enough.  You need someone to say that your determination and grit has saved your babies multiple times.  You need someone to tell you that even when nothing is okay, I am here with you knowing that nothing is okay.  I am here to cry with you.  I am here to celebrate those babies.  I am here to listen.

I am here.

With all of my love,

Your Big Sister

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Now That It’s Over – Happy Holidays!

We are back on UK soil.  It has been great to exchange work and the responsibilities of life for exploring New York, lazing around in my pajamas in my parent’s house, and eating my own weight in takeaways.   SONY DSC

Time away has been good for me.  It’s been good for us.  Parts of the trip stripped me of all of the energy I possessed, but parts restored my spirit and refreshed my soul in just the way I needed.  We’re honestly pretty sad to be back.   Sure, a little bit of it is post holiday blues (both  Christmas and vacation), but these funny and familiar feelings have reminded me, once again, about the challenges of living this weird expat life.   It’s a longing for a home that doesn’t exist anymore because time and living as a foreigner have changed you.    And yet, the questions still linger.  What if I returned and loved it?    What if it’s exactly where I’m meant to be?

It is never easy, but we are certainly glad to have family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic that make the decision so hard.

Hoping that you and yours have had a very merry Christmas and wishing you a great year ahead!

From our jetlagged family to yours.

From our jetlagged family to yours.