Category Archives: travel

And the Indian food

            I have never been what you’d call a heavy drinker, but for most of my twenties I did know my way around the inside of a shot glass.  I am a fun drunk (I think – anyone want to comment on that?), although I do tend towards the literary when I have imbibed too much.  It is safe to say I was fun to party with, not the least because my already low levels of modesty plummet when I am inebriated. 

            However, the past five years have been spent: trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, tired from two small children and working on a book, and then (whoopsie) pregnant again.  Not a whole lotta drinking going on.

            I do, however, recognize that other people like to drink, especially on festive occasions.  The small sixty-fifth birthday party I am throwing tomorrow for my father-in-law seems to qualify.  (I would say “we” are throwing it to maintain a polite veneer of fiction, but I am pretty sure that my in-laws and all invited guests know that J hasn’t had time to sneeze in three months, let alone plan a party.)  It is an intimate event, just a few friends and relatives, and it is midday, so I know we do not need a vast array of bottles with unpronounceable Russian names or worms in the bottom.  We have settled on classy – a couple bottles of champagne so we can raise a toast.

            I went to the store to buy said bottles.  Because I don’t know much yet about the area, I simply went to the upscale grocery store, which did have a lot of bubbly stuff.  Unfortunately, even when I did drink, champagne was not my beverage of choice.  I had no idea what I was looking at.

            I stood in front of the bottles for a good ten minutes, perhaps hoping that if I stood there long enough, I would learn something about champagne.  All I learned, however, is that the cheap stuff – something called “sparkling wine” – lives on the bottom shelf; the middle shelves are dedicated to a mixture of the more expensive California sparkling wines and the cheaper champagnes; and the top shelf has, well, the top shelf champagne that costs about the same per ounce as good cocaine. 

            Finally, I decided to ask for help.  I flagged down a scruffy yet clearly prosperous man.  “Do you know anything about champagne?” I asked him.

            Did he know anything about champagne?  Turns out, the dude was French.  He had the kind of French accent and impeccable English grammar that immediately marked him as a man who never lost his French roots but has spent many years in the U.S. 


            We talked for a few minutes about the varying types of mid-level champagne.  I knew I was not going for the one that made me gasp every time I looked at the price, but there was a wide variety on the middle shelves.  “What about this one?” I asked.

            “That one is very nice,” he said.  “And a pretty good price for it.  You won’t be unhappy with that one.”

            Perfect, but just to be sure… “And these down here?” as I pointed to the bottom shelf.

            “You are better off just drinking something else,” he declared.

            As I picked up two bottles of the one we had chosen and said goodbye, I realized that I do miss a few things about London: our neighbors, a few expat friends, and, of course, all the French people.


The flight back to L.A. on Sunday went almost as well as the flight out, which leads me to believe that perhaps my children’s Stepford behavior is either a reflection of our parenting or of their rare love of sitting still for five straight hours.  Nonetheless, it was not a trip I am anxious to repeat.  Traveling that far with the boys is hard. 

They love their grandparents and relished the time with them.  Benjamin spent the entire time asking “Where Grandpa?” whenever he could not see either grandparent, as he called both of his grandparents by that name.  My mother-in-law was probably relieved because at the beginning of the trip he had called her “the lady,” shortly thereafter upgrading her to her given name, perhaps to differentiate her from the other Grandpa.

And, we got to see some old friends and relatives we have not seen for a long time: cousins who came down from New York just to see us, the boys’ great-grandmother, J’s best friend and his family, and, most notably by Zachary’s standards, J’s brother’s family.  While Zach barely acknowledged the presence of his aunt and uncle, he was completely smitten with his cousin.  He actually has two cousins, but neither boy was interested in the baby, because she cannot walk yet, so she falls away into that category of baby-who-belongs-with-the-adults.  But her sister is just a year younger than Zach is, and all they wanted was to play with one another, with Benjamin hopefully tagging along behind.  It made me mourn for what might have been, were we raising our kids in Philadelphia, less than two hours away from these cousins.

But we are not.  We are raising them here, three time zones away.  By the time the kids adjust to a new time zone, it is time to turn around and fly back.  I, of course, adjust sooner because there are always things that must be done on local time, but it does me little good, because I must also keep the time the boys are on.  This translates to little sleep there, and even less when we return and there are no helpful relatives around, J is back at work, and the boys take a week to adjust.  I end up burning the candle in two time zones. 

To be honest, only one of the boys takes so long to adjust.  Zachary has a strong internal clock, and changes like this are difficult for him.  While we’re going for full disclosure: disruptions of all kind are hard for him.  I spend most of my time with him putting out tantrums before they start.  Others wouldn’t even notice it, as he just seems happy and excited, but it is a song we are familiar with by now.  Zachary’s stress is underneath until it isn’t anymore, and even good things stress him out.  We’ve put him through a lot of changes lately, hard for any child his age, but particularly difficult for him.

So, now we are back, and I am paying the price, both in my sleep and his mood.  He will take a week to get back to normal, just as he does every time we take visits.  Were we living closer, these would be regular weekend trips, and they would be smoother.  But we are not, and so they are not. 

Getting off the plane, breathing in drier, more temperate air, I was glad to be home, although how this can already be home is a mystery to me.  It is a maze of boxes and unexplored side streets.  Nonetheless, it is the closest we have right now, and I am glad we will not be moving or changing or transitioning for a little while.  We need to spend a little time standing in one place – all of us.  Zachary, however, was not so happy.  “Why did we have to leave Grandma and Grandpa’s?” he asked.  “Did they not want us there anymore?”

Benjamin has been moping about, frequently asking “Where Grandpa?” a question that seems to include both grandparents.

They’re at their home, baby.  And we’re…?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

My Stepford Children

            We have what I like to term “Stepford Moments.”  These are moments during which, despite the fact that our children are fully capable of inflicting no end of torment upon us, they somehow behave as though their crazy little selves have been replaced by perfect little robots.  We had one such experience a month ago when we were out to breakfast with a long-time friend of their grandparents who lives in L.A.  She had never met the boys, and we had not seen her in years.  The boys were in a foul mood all morning.  Then, we stepped into the restaurant, the clouds parted, angels sang, and their halos began to glow.  The sat politely, ate (relatively) neatly, and quietly played with the toys she had brought them.  90 minutes later, after we said goodbye, the grey clouds descended once more, and the boys returned to their previously scheduled foul moods for the remainder of the day.

            A Stepford Moment.

            Today, I was granted a seven-hour Stepford Moment.  From the minute J left us at security to the instant Zachary ran to his grandfather’s arms all the way across the country, my kids behaved far better than they ever have before.  It helped that I had them run races for ½ hour before the flight.  And the pantry of snacks did not hurt either.  Nor did the fact that my computer battery held out till the pilot told Zachary it was time to turn off all mechanical devices for our descent to Dulles.  This meant that the one who actually likes television watched it for the entire flight.  But that is only a partial explanation of absurdly good behavior.

            Even Benjamin, who is manic when he is tired, only went insane for about ½ hour before I got him to take a short nap in my arms.  He did enjoy getting the man across the aisle to pick up endless dropped toys, and I sincerely hope that against all odds that man reads my blog, because I really, really want to thank him.

            While we’re giving shout-outs, how about one for the lady who let Zach pee before her and the security woman who entertained one child while I put on the other’s shoes?

            As we pulled up to the gate, I told the boys how impressed I was with their behavior.  I also told them they only had to hold it together for about 20 more minutes and that they were welcome to go insane once they were with their grandfather.

            My kids were so well-behaved (in contrast to children of the same ages in the row in front of us), that several different people stopped me as we got off the flight and told me how good the boys had been.  I could only respond, “I know.  I have no idea why.  Please don’t take it as a reflection on my parenting skills.”

            It was a Stepford Moment, the whole damned day.  It was still one of the most exhausting days I have had in my adult life.

Flying solo

            When my husband’s grandmother turned 90, she knew exactly how she wanted to mark the occasion.  We all flew to her favorite vacation destination to have a party.  In other words, we went to Vegas.  The weekend was evidence enough that my husband’s grandmother is eight times cooler than I can ever hope to be, because I hated Vegas.  I found it completely depressing.  It was about money, simulacra, and despair.  If all of Vegas one night disappeared back into the desert from which it came, it would not bother me one bit (assuming all the, you know, people got out OK.)

            Fortunately, five years later, my grandmother-in-law seems to be mellowing to the level appropriate for, say, a 70 year old.  She is one cool cat, not to mention a very classy lady, so I would be willing to go wherever she wanted for her birthday.  But, perhaps the four great-grandchildren or her relocation to be near her daughter have led her to opt for a party in Washington, D.C., a place that, come to think of it, for the past seven years, has been almost as depressing as Vegas.

            This means that on Thursday, I will be flying out with the boys to D.C.  The party isn’t until the following weekend, but we are not schlepping them across country for only a few days.  Plus, it is a chance for them to spend time with their grandparents in D.C. and their cousins nearby.  Since I won’t be traveling east for some time to come, it means I get to visit with a friend up in Boston, as well.

            These are all good things.  Unfortunately, there is one complicating factor.  J does not get unlimited vacation time.  So, he will not be flying out till the following week.  In case you have not recently flown the entire breadth of the United States, allow me to inform you that this is a five-hour flight.  Those of you who have extraordinary powers of deduction will have by this point figured out that on Thursday I will be taking a five-hour flight with an almost-two-year-old and a not-quite-four-year-old while I am definitely-five-months-pregnant. 

            J can get me to security; my mother-in-law can pick us up.  It is the six hours and 13 minutes in between those two points that I am a little concerned about.  So, if you happen to be flying LAX to IAD on Thursday and you see me in the boarding area before the flight, please consider one of the following options: A) entertaining one of my children for a few minutes while I pee; B) offering to help with my carry-on luggage consisting of forty-seven books and twelve trains; or C) drinking heavily so you don’t notice the chaos coming from our row.

            And, if you live somewhere between Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles (which means about 73% of you), should you head what sounds like desperate sobbing sometime on Thursday, look up.  That’s me flying over you.

The unmaking of Americans

            In Oleander, Jacaranda, Penelope Lively has a lovely passage about travel.  When she was young – an English girl being raised in Pakistan – she knew the distance between the two lands because it took so freaking long to travel between them onboard a ship.  She says it much more eloquently, but I cannot quote her because my copy of her book is in a crate somewhere on a boat taking a very long time indeed to travel between countries. 

            Gertrude Stein (whose work I love, all evidence to the contrary) was inspired by the breathtaking disturbances caused by modern travel.  She saw airplane travel as uniquely American (either because it was invented here or because she liked to figure any group to which she belonged was superior), and so she felt that Americans had a whole different way of viewing land and time, because our perspective was changed dramatically as we zoomed high above.  Stein felt this American perspective created a type of genius in writing (hers, mostly) that was shaped by a totally different and modern view of land and time.  Gertrude Stein said this all much more conceitedly than I can, but my copies of her books are in the same crate as Oleander, Jacaranda.

            This is to say that jet lag is a thoroughly modern invention.  It is the curse upon us that we accept for getting everywhere much faster than we really have a right to expect.  It is the punishment, perhaps, for our willingness to pollute our environment with the weight of all those airplane emissions.

            And did we ever feel that punishment around here for the past week.  J and I could not adjust our clocks until the boys adjusted theirs, which meant we watched with increasing desperation as the mornings got a little bit later each day.  3:00.  Then 4:00.  Then 5:00.  Then the magical jump to somewhere past 6:00.

            The problem, of course, is what to do with two boys in a tiny apartment on Easter Sunday at 4:00 in the morning.  There is nowhere you can go until well past 10:00, by which time they were ready for lunch and nap.  Fortunately, Denny’s was just down the street.

            Unfortunately, this was the day the stomach bug hit.  While J and Benjamin finished off the Lumberjack breakfast together, I held Zach’s head outside while he vomited up his three bites of waffle.  Later that afternoon, it was his brother’s turn.

            And so we sat, watching one another grow tireder and sicker each day.  And I imagine I was not the first person ever to entertain the thought that although Penelope Lively offers up much food for thought, Gertrude Stein is sometimes full of shit.

London with children under 5 (part 2)

Part two of a two-part post.  Click here for part one.


            I won’t get into the general tourist advice.  If you want to know about Oyster cards or what time the Guard changes, there are plenty of places to find that information.  What follows are the sites our family has liked, what we liked about them, and advice on the best ways to see them with children under five.


Battersea Park Children’s Zoo – I am sure that the London Zoo in Regent’s Park is lovely.  Really I am.  But, I will tell you that little tykes, those not yet reading, get a heck of a lot more out of a little zoo than a big one.  And there is no better little zoo than the one at Battersea Park.  We were lucky enough to live a half-hour walk from Battersea Park and so we joined as members, which I highly recommend for those moving to London and living anywhere accessible to it.  If you are a tourist, however, you will need to pay the one-time fee, which is not cheap (although free for under-twos).  They need to charge what they charge to maintain the animals, so I don’t grudge them it at all, and it is way cheaper than the big zoo.  So, get there at opening, especially if you will need to leave for naptime, so as to get your money’s worth.

            The other benefit to getting there at opening is little perks like watching the ducks released from their nighttime hut or watching the little pony still in a blanket.  The zoo is never crazy busy, but it is even nicer when you have it to yourself.

            This zoo is very well laid out and you can easily do a circuit in about 45 minutes, seeing everything.  There is a mouse house, lemurs, monkeys, tunnels to get into the meerkat exhibit (not very pregnant-woman friendly, I must add), and a barnyard area.  I love the otters, Benjamin loves the ducks, their grandfather likes the meerkats, and both of my kids are terrified of the giant pigs.  It is not a petting zoo, but you can stick your hand out and pet the sheep and the like.  Then, once you have seen the animals, let the kids loose on the tractor and in the playground, which is a nice size and well-designed.  Bring a 20 pence coin for the little rides (a car and a train).


The Science Museum – The cellar of the Science Museum has a rockin’ hands-on exhibit – actually several designed for different ages.  GET THERE AT OPENING on weekends or school holidays.  I cannot stress this enough.  It is a madhouse by eleven-thirty.  Bring a change of clothes because the kids get w-e-t.  Child-sized bathrooms and stroller (buggy) parking are in the cellar, too. 

            Then, once they are totally overstimulated, head up to the ground floor.  There are several steam engines, including one that Zachary insisted was the Emily.  There is also a staircase that leads up to a viewing are above the hall with the trains and it has all sorts of kickin’ models (according to my husband – I was manning the stroller that we had stupidly brought back out of buggy parking in the cellar).  There is a hands-on exhibit in the main hall on the ground floor, as well, which is all the way to the back of one of the entrances.  I find this one less insane even once the museum fills up.

            This, plus rocket-ships, bubble shows, and airplanes.  Since it is free, you can go only until your kids are about to explode, and then leave for quieter environs.


The Natural History Museum – Right next to the Science Museum, it has DINOSAURS.  Need I say more?

            Again, a place to go at opening.  It gets very, very clogged as people stand in endless lines to see the animated T-Rex.


Changing of Queen’s Horse Guard  — I’ll admit it: we have lived here almost two years and never been to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  It is too late for nap time.  And, I cannot imagine camping out for good spots with the kids.  We have been a few times to the changing of the Queen’s Horse Guard at Whitehall, which is early enough for us on Sundays.  The kids like horses, and afterwards you can often pet them.  It is really interesting as the horses and costumed soldiers ride in, but it gets frightfully dull after awhile, so position yourself in the back in case you want to slip out.  Since it is right near Trafalgar Square, you can just head over there for some fake lions when the real horses start standing about.


But, then where should I go in the afternoon?  Well, in truth, everything gets crazier in the afternoon.  London is a big tourist destination, and that is the way of such places.  So, assume I think you should hit every place at opening if you can.  That said, here are some things that are less insane in the afternoon than others.


Princess Diana Memorial PlaygroundSet in Kensington Gardens, this is a Peter-Pan themed wonderland.  Little wooden houses to hide in, a giant wooden fort with slides, teepees, small boats to cast out in the sea of sand, and, of course, the pirate ship.  Kids wandering about barefoot as they dig and run and use their imaginations. 

            There are child-sized toilets and a concession stand with decent ice cream.  There is always a line for the swings, and it is madness in the late afternoon.  Nonetheless, we have often had a lovely time there even when it was jam-packed. 

            Just outside of Kensington Gardens, up by the Queensway Tube station, there are lots of restaurants, from waffle houses to a lovely Moroccan restaurant that always welcomed my kids.


HarrodsDid you know Harrods has a killer toy department?  Or that you can play with many displays?  Or that, if you sign up in advance, you can visit Santa there?  Or, that Harrods has a chocolate bar (yes, an entire café dedicated to chocolate)?  (Not that the chocolate bar did Benjamin any good.  He could not figure out why we would suggest we did perfectly good berries into chocolate fondue.)  Or, that there is a whole restaurant (not cheap) dedicated to pleasing children’s palates, yet with decently healthy and tasty adult options, too?

            The children’s changing area has child-sized toilets, but it is a disappointing place to breastfeed because it is stinky.  I used a dressing room.


Transport Museum – We’ve only been here in the morning, so I don’t know what it is like in the afternoons, but it is so well laid-out and spacious that I imagine it would be enjoyable even when crowded.  There are hands-on exhibits, little passports that the kids stamp at stations, ramps, elevators, a simulator or two, and, of course, trains and busses.  Shit – what kid doesn’t like trains and busses?  It is annoying that you have to exit through the shop, but it is worth it.

            That said, unlike many other museums in London, the Transport Museum is not cheap.  It is a great value if you live in London and join, but one-time visitors pay a good chunk of change for the adults.  Nonetheless, it is totally worth it.  I am a bit of a public transportation geek (I thought that a friend was the coolest person I had ever seen the first time we met because she works for public transportation), and this museum has something for adults and kids.


Covent Garden – The Transport Museum is in Covent Garden, which is a great place for little kids.  There are all sorts of street performers.  We like to get there at 10:00 because we like the string quartets (they sometimes don’t start till 10:30 on the weekends), but it is actually better a little later on when all the performances get rockin’.  (I don’t like crowds, can you tell?  I hide in my house in the afternoon.)  There are stalls selling all manner of merchandise (check out Pawprints), a stand with waffles (J is right: they are better without chocolate), a junk market, and sometimes the fastest carousel we have ever seen.  The best part is the ambience is free, although the waffles, sadly, are not.


National Army Museum – Embarrassingly, we did not go here for well over a year, even though it is a short bus ride from our house.  This is because I sort of did not want to bring my kids to a place encouraging war.  I don’t like guns.  But, finally, I went, because everyone told me there is a great play area for kids.

            Even if you are squeamish about guns, you really don’t need to see any (although we did have to discuss the large cannon out front, with Zachary explaining to us that it is dangerous).  Just after the entrance is a soft play area, with a castle for climbing in and costumes and toys.  It is not a London site by any stretch of the imagination.  You won’t leave thinking, “Ah, now I’ve seen London.”  However, your kids will have fun and get very tired.

            Word to the wise – on weekends and school holidays, the play area fills up quickly, and they only allow limited numbers in.  Get there well before ten to get a spot in the morning, or you may have to wait for the next timed entry.  Should this happen, head up to Sloane Square (4 minute walk) to bide your time, unless you want to wander about the actual museum (which does not work for us, since guns also freak out Zachary).  Also, call in advance to make sure there isn’t a birthday party planned in the space.


Hampton Court Palace – After seeing this place, I get why Henry VIII decided to steal it from one of his friends (although, good lord, what a lot of rooms to clean).  The kitchens are endless, the different apartments impressive, and the grounds stunning.  We did not do the maze because Zachary and I had hit a wall (although the toddler and the father were still going strong), but I hear it is great.  It has a full-service cafeteria on site and is well-serviced by trains. 

I would definitely do this before Windsor.  While Windsor is nice for adults, Hampton Court is more free form – there is no set walk to take that bores the crud out of little children.  You can do it ala carte, seeing as much as you can handle and then stopping, rather than being stuck in the middle of the Queen’s Apartments with crowds ahead and behind, as happens at Windsor.  (Or, in our case, being stuck in the middle of the Queen’s Apartments with someone who needs a change of clothes from the waist down while Grandpa has the diaper bag and is nowhere to be found.)


Brighton – If you are hankering for a day trip, do Brighton, which is fun for kids even in the winter.  There is a pier with all the usual amusements (and you’ll shell out for all those damned rides).  Then there are alleys of little shops, which the kids love.  And, of course, there is the Royal Pavilion, which is just the wackiest palace we’ve seen in some time.  I won’t do a whole guide to Brighton, since there are plenty of those out there, but let me tell you what I like about it for children in particular.  It is close enough for a daytrip (our kids always napped in the car on the way back, but you can use the train).  The pier and the beach are fantastically tacky.  Most of the restaurants are family-friendly.  The shops are lovely and the alleys are fun for the kids to wander.  The people are much friendlier than Londoners, so it is a good place to go if you are starting to wonder about the British…  (We have a tendency to head out of London whenever we need a reminder that LONDONERS may be cold and unfriendly, but the rest of the British are perfectly nice.  Big cities, I tell ya.)


Kew GardensHonestly, we don’t get what all the fuss is about.  Creepers and Crawlers, that kids’ area that the guide books love?  Eh.  Our kids were bored, and they can entertain themselves with clothespins when need be.  Kew is a lovely place to visit, but it is enough of a schelpp out of Central London that, with kids, unless you are obsessed with flowers, just go to one of the lovely parks in London.


So, that’s it.  My very, very biased view of London with tiny people.  Anyone have anything to add?

London with children under 5 (part 1)

I realize this may not be of interest to everybody, but if it is up on the web, people who need this information can find it.  Feel free to click away if it is not of relevance to you; my feelings won’t get hurt.  Also, feel free to add points in the comments if you have any ideas.   This is part one, containing general information.  Part two, with information on specific sites, will post sometime in the next week. 

            When we found out we were moving to London, my in-laws started buying us books on things to do in London with children.  Knowing us as they do, they had a hunch that I would enjoy an opportunity to read through several different books, folding down corners and making color-coded marks in the margins.  I am, after all, the woman who reads Zagat’s Guide as though it is a book and then highlights the entries with various colored markers depending upon the location, cuisine, and affordability of the restaurant.  I am not compulsive, really I am not (shut up, PokerChick).  But it just gives me so much satisfaction to be able to break down my leisure opportunities into easily digestible chunks.

            The problem with all those books, however, is that they are not broken down by age.  Book after book told me that the museums in London are very child-friendly because they had activity packs and scavenger hunts.  That’s fantastic, except we moved when Zachary was 21 months old and Benjamin was not yet born.  Zach had only recently mastered walking; he was not yet up to running about the National Portrait Gallery with a pencil seeking a painting of a woman with three eyebrows.

            That’s where these posts come in.  We have been in London almost two years, and we are grateful to be leaving, as life in London has not been easy.  Nonetheless, it has been fun.  We have seen and done almost everything the city has to offer for children under four.  We have taken day trips, we have schlepped about the city, and we have figured out all the hot-spots for the toddler and pre-school sets.  All without interrupting nap-time.  And, now, I am happy to pass it along to any hapless traveler or relocater who is trolling the internet wondering what the hell to do with the children once the thrill of the double-decker busses wears off.  First, some practicalities, later, specific sites.

Busses – But, let us begin with the busses.  As adult tourists to London, you have probably exclusively relied upon the Tube.  Let me tell you something, baby.  Most Tube stations have no elevators.  And lots of stairs.  Which is all well and good when you are nineteen with a backpack and a Rough Guide, but it sucks when you have a diaper bag, snacks, a stroller, a sleeping baby, and a whining three-year-old.  Go for the busses.  If you have two adults, one can take the kids up top to sit in the front and look out the window while the other can man all the crap and the stroller downstairs (I always gun for that job).  As our kids have gotten older (three-and-a-half and nineteen months), we have hit a point where we can fold the stroller and put it on the luggage rack so we can both go up top with the kids, which is such a thrill for them, but less restful for me. 

            Be advised, the busses can be slow during heavy traffic times.  But, they are often much more door-to-door, which is very helpful if you are not staying right by a convenient Tube stop.  Let me say it again: transferring Tube lines with a stroller is akin to the seventh circle of hell.  So, go to Transport for London’s website, put in the postcode (get the whole postcode because the second part is specific to the street) or location from which you will begin, and it will tell you ALL your options.  Anyone out there have more to suggest about getting around?

Breastfeeding – Let me tell you some places I have breastfed.  Walking to the Tube.  Entering the Tube.  On the train.  In Covent Garden.  Sounds lovely, no?  Well, not every mother really wants to show off her swollen ta-tas to a gawking tour group of teenagers from Maine or Italy or wherever.  And, not every baby is focused enough to feed in public.  Like my kids, who stopped breastfeeding in public at three months old because it was way too distracting.  In fact, come to think of it, they refused to breastfeed with anyone else in the room.  Benjamin sometimes got distracted when I turned the pages in a book.  So, even though I have no shame about baring the girls when it is time for my boys to eat, I am an expert on quiet places to feed.  Every now and then, it meant a bathroom stall at the Café Rouge in Brighton.  Usually, however, I was able to fare much better.

            You see, the British women I have met are far more squeamish about breastfeeding than were the women I knew in Philadelphia, which, let’s be honest, is just not one of the world’s most squeamish cities.  So, there are lots of quiet places designated for breastfeeding.  Almost every site you will go to probably has a “Family Room” or a “Breastfeeding Room.”  Windsor Castle, for example, has a lovely one.  Unfortunately, that was all I got to see at Windsor Castle, but my husband says it is an OK place to take kids.  (Skip the doll’s house with young kids – they just get frustrated that they cannot play with it.)  At any rate, most sites have these rooms, quiet places to feed and change the baby (very handy when the two-year-old has an accident in the middle of the Queen’s apartments).  Ask.  Just ask.  They are ALWAYS willing to help, if only to prevent those brazen North Americans from embarrassing everyone by lifting their shirts in public.

Diapers – As I mentioned above, the places for breastfeeding are usually in the same area as diaper-changing facilities (in the case of Harrod’s, too close and very stinky, so I insisted upon being given a dressing room to breastfeed in – more later).  Diapers are called “nappies” in England, although most people know the word “diaper.”  Diaper pails are not common.  Diapers usually go into bins but you are expected to have “nappy sacks,” plastic bags designed to hold the stinkers.  You can imagine how I feel about buying plastic bags just to throw away diapers.

Formula – Because London’s water is a little more, shall we say, alive than the water in Philadelphia, the formula canisters advise people to boil the water, then cool it, before making formula.  This process alone would be enough to keep me breastfeeding in London.  I suggest using bottled water to mix your formula if you cannot boil it.  Please, please, try to find it in glass bottles, which are better for the planet (and make sure it is STILL water).

Lines composed in a Marriott a few miles from Tintern Abbey

I wrote this over the weekend but have just now gotten around to posting it… 



I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity

— William Wordsworth

             Here we are, American expatriates living in London, living the adventure, and I post for you my thoughts on mittens and chicken nuggets.  Where, you ask, are the castles?  Wherefore the museums and cathedrals?  The Tower of London?  And those double decker busses?  Where the hell is the adventure, the romance of our life here in London?

            Well, guys, it tends to be just like a life anywhere else.  School runs, swimming lessons, playgrounds, and laundry.  We change poopy diapers here in London pretty much the same way we did back home.  We just pay more for the clean ones.

            However, knowing that we would be here only for two years has given us incentive to see things.  Lots of things.  Our neighbors say to us “You know, we’ve actually never been to Brighton.”  And that’s fine for them, because Brighton will always be there, and, as far as they can tell, they will always be here, a short train ride away.  Not so for us.  We know we will only once be strangers in this particular strange land with two tiny people.  So, we take day trips.  We have what we call “adventures.” 

            We load the boys into the car, we drive places.  An hour in, Zachary starts complaining and Benjamin falls asleep.  Your typical day trip with children.  Most Americans are pretty familiar with this.  But, at the end of our day trips, there are castles.  There are historic estate homes where they filmed Jane Austen adaptations.  And, oftentimes, there are moats.

              Some weekends, we don’t take trips.  We take the boys to Covent Garden where they listen to string quartets or go to the newly reopened Transport Museum.  Or, we catch a bus down the road, take a quick trip, and end up at the Science Museum or the Natural History Museum.  In nice weather, we head up to the Peter Pan themed Princess Diana Memorial Garden in Kensington Gardens.

            “What shall we do this weekend?” I ask J.

            “I want to go to a castle,” Zachary opines.  Right.  Just what every three-year-old expects to do on Saturday morning.

            And now, we’re leaving.  In a few months, we will pack up.  I will not miss the noise.  I will not miss the pollution.  I will not miss the cold and unfriendly mothers at my son’s school.  And I sure as shootin’ won’t miss the rain.  I might, however, miss the castles.

            We will go to L.A.  There, the beach and the La Brea Tar Pits will be part of the boys’ everyday life.  Whereas once we visited monastic ruins in Scotland as a short vacation or the Royal Pavilion in Brighton as a day trip, now we will decide on a Saturday morning to throw on some flip flops and head to the beach.  Life will be very different.

            J and I are away for a few days.  We have left the boys with their visiting grandparents and headed out to Wales.  This morning, we tooled around Tintern Abbey, just as William Wordsworth did before us.  And, as we climbed around the rather impressive ruins, I realized this would probably be our last visit to a place like this.  Already, we are busy thinking about the next place, the next move.  Life will be very different.

            But we will still be doing school runs.  We will still be doing laundry.  We will still be changing poopy diapers.  Life will be very much the same.

I picked up an extra post card today for you, a blog friend.  The first person to post a comment asking for it will get a Tintern Abbey postcard, signed by me, in the mail.