Friday, November 9, 2018

Expat Talk: I Passed My UK Driving Test!


You guys. After three months of lessons, a short hiatus (you know, while I gave birth and raised a baby, NBD), and two more months of lessons ... I passed my UK driving test!

It's probably my greatest achievement to date (besides giving birth).

I kid you not.

Driving in the UK is so hard.

"Oh, because it's on the wrong side of the road?" I hear you say.

No.

Because there are bikes that weave in and out of traffic, big red buses that look like they're heading straight for you, streets that are narrow AF, pedestrians who oh-so-casually just decide to dart in front of you while you're driving through a busy part of town because they can, and ... did I mention the streets are NARROW AF??

They are. (I once screamed during a lesson when a bus passed me because I thought we were going to collide. We didn't. Obviously.)

Not to mention, I was taking my lessons at 9:00 p.m. at night, when I was completely zombified after a full-on day (and night before) of taking care of an 8-month-old.

The first time I took (and failed) my test in London, I was 8 months pregnant. I waited too long to enter a mini roundabout and failed for "undue hesitation". I was so disappointed because I seemed to have the perfect test conditions: relatively empty roads, a sunny (but not too sunny!) day, a super easy route, and the easiest manoeuvre possible (pull over to the right and reverse two car spaces - versus parallel parking or bay parking).

I cried about it when I got home.

Then I went into labor two weeks later and had a baby.

Anyway.

This time, I had less than ideal conditions: heavy rain and heavy traffic. I was so flustered during my "practice run" with my instructor, I nearly burst into tears. Then, when I met the examiner, I was so nervous and disoriented, I started walking in the opposite direction to where the car was parked!

The first part of the test was the "independent driving" portion of the exam - basically, the examiner attaches a sat nav to your dashboard and expects you to follow the instructions for 20 minutes or so (they give you directions after that). You're allowed to ask questions for clarity, etc. but I nearly missed a turn, and thought two turns were much earlier than they were ... so, basically, I was pretty sure I'd failed early on.

At this point, I was feeling pretty miserable and, coming up to a mini roundabout (where I failed the first time around), I whispered, "What am I doing?" which probably wasn't the best thing to do aloud, but my brain somehow comprehended that I had the right of way, so I completed the turn with just about the appropriate amount of slowing down.

Phew.

By the time we returned to the test center, I was a shaky mess. And when the examiner turned to say, "I'm pleased to say you passed", my reaction wasn't one of joy, but of actual concern. I nearly began to point out all the mistakes I thought I'd made, but thought better of it at the last minute and clamped my mouth shut, mumbling a "thank you" instead, as she filled out my pass certificate (I ended up completing the test with only one minor fault).

Having taken nearly six months of lessons and taken the theory and driving exams in the UK, I can say that the standard of driving here is definitely higher than that of the US (though you wouldn't know it with the maniacs driving around where I live). For example, you're taught to check your mirrors each time before signalling, stopping, or pulling away (basically if you're ever changing speed or direction) which - unless I'm mistaken - we were never taught in the US. If you're caught signalling too early or too late (or not checking your mirrors at the appropriate time), it could be (depending on the situation) grounds for failing your test.

And yeah, I haven't driven yet since I passed (especially not with the baby in the back!). But I'm eager to get more practice in and build up my confidence again!

Do you drive? How many times did it take for you to pass your test? I passed my practical test in the US the first time, but failed the theory twice!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mama Talk: Mat Leave


The other day, I came downstairs and John had placed our baby on his playmat sitting in an upright position, where he (the baby, not John) played with the dangling toys he'd only previously looked up at while lying down. John was in the kitchen making tea.

I freaked.

"How long has he been sitting like that?" I asked. "How could you leave him like that? What if he falls?"

John shrugged. "He's been sitting like that since I put him there 15 minutes ago. And it doesn't matter if he falls - there's padding all around him," he pointed out, gesturing at his strategically placed pillows around the (already padded) playmat.

I approached the baby cautiously with my arms open, ready to catch him at any sign of toppling. He smiled a big, gummy grin and stuck a maraca in his mouth (his latest obsession) - still happily sitting with his legs splayed out in front of him.

I suppose I freaked because it's the first time I've seen him sitting unsupported like that, without the safety of a garish inflatable play nest around him, or my hands poised behind the small of his back - millimeters away, in case he fell over (which he did in music class last week, missing the mats and hitting his head on the wooden floor instead - which made me feel like a terrible mother).

I suppose I freaked because we're interviewing nannies for when I return to work in January and almost nine months have passed since he was born and how did that happen?

I suppose I freaked because - although we've enjoyed a fair of blue skies and sunny days despite it being mid-October - the chill in the air and the encroaching darkness is bringing me back to the dim memory of those cold, dark days I experienced at the beginning of his life, when I was discharged from the hospital without him.

Because my maternity leave hasn't felt like a "leave" at all. More like an arrival.

Like a train pulling into a station, these nine months have felt like the arrival into motherhood I have long been (impatiently) waiting for.

And so, I find the term "leave" so fascinating. Although technically, yes, I've taken a "leave" from my day job, I haven't been absent; I've been present in every single other aspect of my life.

I've been right here.

So, when friends ask, "How do you feel about going back to work?" I'm not really sure what to say. The truth is, I'm excited and looking forward to it, and I know that our baby will be in good hands with whoever we hire, but the real answer is ... mixed.

It's not leaving him behind that I struggle with, but rather, leaving these moments behind: the moment when nursing became enjoyable and one of my favorite bonding experiences with my baby; the moment when he sat up for the first time, completely unsupported and without toppling over; the moment he tried a satsuma segment and found it hilariously icky.

To savor these moments is not enough; it's that I have an inability to let them go.

I have loved every moment of my maternity leave - even the scary, dark, and uncertain ones. I've steered this ship through a storm, and I'll see it through many more.

But for now, I just want to soak up every cuddle, every feed, and every music class.

A - I'm so lucky to be your mama.
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Monday, November 5, 2018

What Podcasts Are You Listening To?


Recently, I've fallen into a new morning routine: I put the baby in his highchair, make myself a bagel (and porridge, fruit and yogurt for him), and ask Google Home to tell me the latest news headlines. Then I sit down to feed him and ... tell Google to play me a podcast.

It was an idea that John had long ago, when our baby was much younger and I still didn't have much semblance of a morning routine ... I was an exhausted feeding machine and my only respite was the time I had in front of the TV while I fed and fed ... and fed. I barely had the energy to do anything else. Observing me watching the nth episode of Gilmore Girls (for the nth time), John said, "I know, why don't you listen to podcasts instead? That way you can still go around the house ... doing stuff." I think I wanted to reach over from my position on the couch and - using what little reserved energy I had - throttle him. At that time, television was my only saving grace; it helped keep me sane, comforted, and entertained all at once.

But now as my baby's a bit older and beginning to comprehend the world around him (and I've got a bit more freedom - emphasis on "a bit"), I'm conscious of the amount of TV I have on in the house. Don't get me wrong: when I really need to get something done (like shred the pile of papers threatening to become a trip hazard by our home office door) and every single toy is just not good enough, I have been known to dunk the baby in front of the YouTube channel playing his favorite songs (I like Super Simple Songs, FYI) for 15 - 20 minutes. It happens.

So, I'm loving my - our - new podcast routine. I get to listen to something relatively engaging while getting things done and my baby isn't a TV zombie (yet).

Through Google podcasts, I've learned something new through TED Radio Hour (which takes excerpts from Ted Talks and interviews the presenter) and listened to fascinating interviews via NPR's Fresh Air (like that uncomfortable one with Leonard Cohen's son, Adam Cohen - well, at least, I found it a little awkward when he declined to read a poem on air after being asked to).

I listened to this incredible podcast about Jorge Bracero, who played an instrumental (and truly inspirational) role in Puerto Rico's recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in September 2017. I then found his Facebook page and told him just what I thought ("You're incredible! A hero!"), and he replied to say thank you! It was pretty cool.

One day, John came downstairs and asked me what I was listening to. "I don't know - it's a podcast about mushrooms, I think," I replied, spooning another glob of prune puree into a wide little mouth that resembled an eager baby robin's beak (my child's method of eating involves opening his mouth as wide as his jaw will allow, raising his eyebrows into two inverted quotation marks, and making appreciative "Mmm mmm" sounds as he swallows).

"This is so boring!" John exclaimed. "And this guy's voice is so annoying!"

"Well, kind of," I said. "But I've listened to all the other ones and there's nothing else on that I'm interested in."

So, I'd love to know ... what podcasts are you listening to? Do you have any to recommend? I'm not really into podcasts about politics (because they just make me angry, and I prefer reading articles about this anyway) or finance (because I sort of glaze over), but I do have a wide range of interests ... I'd be up for anything, really. Especially anything random, but interesting.

Please help! I can't listen to another podcast about the powers of psychedelic mushrooms or Miriam Webster's "Word of the Day".

Thanks! And muah. 


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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Interior Inspiration: The Baby Shelfie


As the end to our kitchen renovations draws tantalizingly near, I've shifted my focus to the nursery, where I'm hoping to move our little one imminently (though every night of sleeping next to him in his co-sleeping crib, I think to myself, 'Just one more night!').

It's pretty blank, save for a changing table, a single sofa bed, a rug, and a toy box, but we've ordered his "big boy cot" (a present from Granny, my mother-in-law) and I'm hoping to replace the framed poster on the wall where his cot will go (so not baby-friendly!) with wallpaper and some kind of soft wall-hanging (I've been trawling Etsy, but if you have any links, send them my way!).

So, I was super excited to get this bookshelf from Great Little Trading Company, which I'd pined after for quite a while. 


I built it myself (which basically involved putting a few screws in and using an Allen key once) and basically felt like Rosie the Riveter (though I waited for John to get home and mount it on the wall because I don't trust myself with a drill).

Annoyingly, one of the rods arrived warped, but I've rotated it in such a way that it doesn't show too much (I don't think). I wrote to Great Little Trading Company and asked for a replacement, but since they didn't have spares, they gave me the option of picking out the part I needed from a new set (and then returning that set to them - yawn, who has time for that?!) or opting for a £10 gift card ... I took the easy option, as I can see myself buying something else from them down the line (I love their toy boxes - we have a little pull along one).

Which leads me to the question ... what was your favorite book as a child? We've been reading 'Goodnight Moon' every single night (which my mom and dad read to me when I was small) ... and I keep skipping the same page every single night ('Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush.').

Let me know in the comments below!
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Friday, September 14, 2018

Work in Progress


Week 3 of not having a kitchen.

First world problems - I know.

My dream fridge is in place (and is dispensing water and ice with a merry twinkle) and I've already (impatiently) stocked the pantry with spices, baby food pouches, Cadbury fingers, mango chutney and more ...

... but ...

... it's this view that's been making me smile every time I walk through the front door: by replacing the window that was previously there with this a single-leaf steel-framed door, we're now greeted by this glimpse into our garden instead of a sad-looking washing machine and sink.

And, my neighbor has given me a set of keys so I can use his kitchen whenever I need to ... we've been cooking and eating together, which has been lovely (he holds and entertains the baby while I eat!). I know. What did I do to deserve such amazing neighbors (they also nearly performed a citizen's arrest on John's brother who came to check on the house for us while we were away, as they thought he was breaking in - ha!)?

In any case, this work in progress is teaching me lessons in both patience and gratitude. Patience ... well, that's self-explanatory. But gratitude for the things we have and can hold and can press a button to operate and can open and shut ... but gratitude, also, for the things we can't immediately see: friendships, kind neighbors, beautiful views, and this life. 
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Sunday, September 2, 2018

The End of Summer


It was the kind of end to summer that felt unreal.

The kind where we sat out on the deck and ate watermelon chunks so cold and sweet, they hurt my teeth. The kind where crickets began to sing as the sun descended into the horizon, like an orchestra reacting to dipped lights in the theater.

It was the kind of end that saw us driving miles to Anacortes, stopping at Five Guys for milkshakes and burgers along the way. We packed our car onto a ferry to Friday Harbor; drivers turning their side-mirrors in before meandering up the metal stairs in search of stale pretzels and views of the Puget Sound. Some just slept.

California's wildfires brought a haze to the island that made everything grey and muted. Even the sun. I squinted and looked up, but didn't see blue for days. It was the end of the summer, but could it be the end of the world?

Because if it was, we were enjoying the best of the best: orca sightings just a few feet from where we stood; dolphins teasing us with their fins at sunset; seals doggy paddling to shore. Oysters so creamy, they tasted like nuggets of sweet butter; sandwiches that cost a fortune but were worth every penny. Birthday cake ice cream and spot shrimp and seafood Cobb salad with Ranch dressing and excellent table service.


Mornings spent watching the sun rise outside with a coffee in hand and a baby asleep in my lap, both of us wrapped in a blanket. Afternoons spent casting fishing lines into the water over and over again without success and crabs caught instead. Evenings spent marooned in front of the TV watching Jurassic Park and Disney films.


And because it was the kind of end to summer where I looked up one day and saw a baby I'd never met before - one who rolled from his back to front before looking to me for praise and approval - and I saw parents who looked older and a dad who just looked more tired ... because it was that kind of end, my heart seemed to escape its place in my chest and shoot through my throat, because it had nowhere else to go.

It hurt.

A lot.

But it was also exciting, and lovely, and bittersweet.

And it was the kind of end I wouldn't forget.
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Six Months


Sometimes, I lift you onto my lap to nurse at night - just 20 minutes after I put you down to bed. In the crook of my arm, I feel that damp patch of sweat at the nape of your neck and your hot little head as it nudges forward and back.

I stare at your crazy long lashes still wet with tears, sticking together to form a neat little scalloped pattern.

With my other hand, I read texts on my phone from the other NCT moms - messages exchanged at a furious pace as we all work (seemingly!) in unison to get "you" - that's you, babies - to bed.

Distracted, I don't realize that you've finished feeding, and are now just using me as a human pacifier. I pull you off and gently put you back down in your cot, but you want to hold my hand. I slowly pull it away and replace it with the knotted ends of a soft fleece comforter in the shape of an elephant.

A finger replaced by a trunk.

Downstairs, your father not-so-gently reminds me that my maternity leave is halfway through and I "still" haven't obtained my UK driving licence. I roll my eyes and walk to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water.

But something begins to knot in my chest and it has nothing to do with driving; it's the realization that six months have passed and I can't remember a time when you didn't look like you do now and I want to hold your hand forever and I can't and I want to co-sleep with you always but you'll be in your own room soon.

It's that I still remember the midwives shouting at me to push and the consultant obstetrician shaking her head and me signing a piece of paper in the operating room and whispering that I was allergic to Cyclizine to the anesthesiologist because I was too tired to raise my head and then the pulling and pushing and you weren't breathing.

So, I watch you breathe. Every single night.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

I watch the little fleece elephant on your tummy go up and down.

Up.

Then, down.

You grab my fingers on one hand and pull them towards your chest.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Like you're rowing a boat to Sleepy Town.

And just like that, six months fly by and I've flown by the seat of my pants and every time I look into your laughing eyes, it's like they're telling me to keep up.

I'm trying. (But sometimes, I don't want to. I just want to love you.)
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