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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