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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tudoriffic Year

Didn't recognize Big Brother, did you?  Me neither! In fact, when I walked into his class assembly about the Tudors yesterday, I was scanning the actor-filled stage fretfully, wondering what had happened to him. I knew he was so excited about the production and wouldn't want to miss it. His sweet Year 4 class has studied the history, architecture, art, and food of the Tudors. And when his teacher was casting for Anne of Cleves, my little guy was a great sport!

He wore it so well that most of us didn't even recognize him. That it was Big Brother in a wig and tiny dress dawned on his mother and most of the audience at the same time, just before the show got under way. It is also credit to Biggest Brother that he wasn't terribly embarrassed and cheered for his best buddy.

Big Brother got into and stayed in character (Anne of Cleves was apparently very unattractive!) beautifully. He brought down the house, looking positively crushed by Henry VIII's rejection. I have to keep reminding myself that this is not my shy toddler. His friends congratulated his confidence and performance heartily. And rightfully so. He was heralded for his acting the rest of the day and I could see him walking taller for it.

Amen. Literally. While I know I shouldn't bother God with such things, when I saw our little man in his friend's dress front of his whole giggly school, tons of parents, and all the staff, I didn't just hope it would go well, I prayed. Either God answered me in full measure or Big Brother had it in the bag all along. Perhaps a bit of both.

It wasn't just Big Brother that was super. The whole lot of them shone in a 30 minute production about Tudor times that would knock your socks off. And teach you so much. At Our Sweet School, every half term the classes study a topic that informs all their subjects. He might have learned about the hierarchy of food distribution from a royal household in the morning and done maths with mutton in the afternoon and a song and dance number to "Greensleeves" in between.

If you'd heard Bruno Mars' "Marry You" with lyrics changed to be an energetic, romantic and funny song about Henry VIII proposing to Catherine Parr, complete with hand motions: I'm telling you, you would have cried, too.  That's the second time I found myself in tears in the hall of Our Sweet School this week. Tuesday was at Mass for the feast day of our school patron. There's lots of praying and happy tears in that hall.

School assemblies always close with a prayer. All those heads bowed. I was searching for a tissue when I saw one little face pop up. It was one of Biggest Brother's friends. Yesterday was her last day at Our Sweet School before moving. Her hands clasped in prayer, I saw her scanning the scene. Her dearest friends ages 3 to 11 were all there, smushed together, having just learned, laughed and sang together, and closing with a prayer of thanksgiving for it all. I could see her trying desperately to capture it and hold the moment for a bit longer. I know I feel that way whenever I'm in the hall. And I'm not moving to Poland on Monday.

This is already such an amazing year. All my little people and lots of our friends gathered at Our Sweet School. This little Nursery student was so good at her brother's assembly that she got a shiny smiley face sticker. Can you stand this school year already? I'm not sure I can.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sweet Beginnings

This morning on the bus (of the red London, not yellow school variety), Big Sister was showing the goodies she was taking to her teachers. Little bags of caramels, apples and popsicle sticks, tied with yellow ruler ribbon. Complete with instructions to make "Back to School Caramel Apples."

It is a simple but festive treat we've long given to friends to celebrate the new year. On a chilly and very wet afternoon this week Big Sister told her teachers that she was going home to hot chocolate and caramel apples!  They teased her that they wanted to come, too so she asked me to pack up some kits for them.

This treat is somehow so American. Big Sister was admiring the school bus on the recipe. All this talk about the USA got her sister thinking.

"Mum?! Are we Amaracun?" piped Baby Sister, her little voice rising at the end of her query in an unmistakably British inflection. Much to the uproarious delight of the two young women sitting behind us.

Indeed we are, Baby Sister! Is this news to you? Don't you agree with our Greek landlord that our flat looks "like the Ralph Lauren shop" or haven't you noticed our dozens of American flags? (They're still doting our decor from summer. At this point, I'm just holding off until putting out pumpkins and gourds.)

We are Americans in London. I'm already starting to catalog all the things I'll have to explain to teachers in the States (periods are called full stops, the British printed font is different, the kids play shop in pounds with a trolley, and arrange to meet people at half ten instead of ten thirty. When you set that appointment, you're to put it in your diary, not your calendar. And spellings and maths.). The list is long, but it could never detail this precious and fleeting experience.

It seems like so soon but also forever from now that we'll be explaining ourselves teachers and friends in the States. Undoubtedly over a few caramel apples. Which will now always remind me of my friends in London and French, British and Spanish moms trying to explain to each other what exactly is waxed paper. It doesn't always translate, but the attempts are certainly sweet.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dear Dairy: Good Reports from the Home Counties

We got a letter from Biggest Brother in the mail yesterday. Complete with a darling self portrait. Many of you will read your thanks below!

Thank you for your beatiful letters. Please tell everyone who sent a letter that they were lovely. I am having a great time. Here are some things that you might want to know...

- The bus stalled half way up the hill but we were okay and made it to camp on time.

- There is no hot water so well will have to go outside.

Thanks again!  Love you.

Yes. We're equally as baffled as you are regarding the hot water. Made no sense to us either. It hasn't been reported by anyone else and clearly isn't dampening any spirits. Our guy is having a great time and we're equally pleased that the morning tears have abated. Success in the wild and at home, where the welcome wagon is gearing up for his return.

We've heard they built shelters, went rock climbing and attempted a camp fire. We got to see a picture of him kitted out for a ropes course and he posted this cute note on the school website:

Dear Dairy,
This evening, after supper, we all went to the tuck shop (the shop). I got a sweet to have during our giant games and a small stuffed animal. We all had some free time to play football or play in the adventure playground. It was wet so it was a challenge to stay on our feet and keep control of the ball, while you run trying to jump those hard tackles.
After free time, we headed over to the school hall for what we thought was "giant games." We found in the hall that there was giant games. There were 8 games set up for us. We played and played for an hour until it was time to head back to our cabin.
When we got back, there was hot chocolate out for us on the tables. We raced to get our pyjamas on. We tried not to brag to the girls that we had more time to talk before bed. We chatted and made some disturbing sounds before falling asleep.  
From the memories of the top bunk.

Disturbing sounds? I read it a few times hoping that they'd heard disturbing sounds outside their windows. Maybe rustling in the dark, snapping of twigs, the hooting of an owl, or something in the wild that might disturb city boys as they drifted off to sleep at camp. But no. I read it right the first time. It was those very boys making disturbing sounds. My juvenile sense of humor and I'll get over that because getting these notes from him have been a real delight. 

The biggest delight will be getting him home. Disturbing sounds and all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's In the Bag

Biggest Brother left yesterday morning for a 5 day camp out with his class from Our Sweet School. The night before found us packing fleeces and wellies and all sorts of flashlights (torches) and little goodies I'd found for him last week. Biggest Brother is still so much the same little boy who was enchanted with the trinkets and hooks and lanyards he collected as a toddler in his "treasure box."  So I stuffed a bag with carabiners, hooks, pens, papers, and even painters tape, knowing he'd find a use for it all. And because he's the Mister's, he wanted to pack a map so he could follow along on the bus route! He got lovely notes from family and friends and a fantastic call from his Gigi and two uncles (one of whom is a big camper so Biggest Brother sought his counsel on what to pack. Bandanas, of course!).

Thank goodness the Mister took him so the other smalls and I didn't have to get out terribly early on a Monday morning. As it was, Baby Sister has just discovered the reality of school days and has been tearful for a few mornings of late.

I get that, Baby Sister. I've dropped blue 3 year olds at schools before. I am braver now when I know the novelty of the first few days has worn off, and the reality of a new schedule has set in. Sorry, though that I've genetically ensured you're just plain sentimental, too. We all feel a bit that way to be honest, Baby Sister. We do. We're all so happy to be back with friends at Our Sweet School, but we also miss pajama mornings with Colt Seevers. We're just keeping stiff upper lips on your account.  That is until this morning, when Big Sister caught your sadness and started to cry herself.

I didn't even get to kiss Big Brother goodbye this morning as my legs were nailed down by two sad little girls. One clinging to each leg. In the entrance to the courtyard. Our very dear Head Teacher lovingly took Big Sister to her class while I peeled Baby Sister off me and delivered her to her room. Later, after a warm embrace and prescribing a "strong coffee" for me, the Head Teacher said she suspects the girls (and Big Brother, too) are missing Biggest Brother. And she was so right and so kind that you know what I did, right? I started to cry.

Last night, the flat-bound smalls all went to bed (en masse in the bunk beds) with glow in the dark stickers as a little distraction.  Who says the campers will have all the fun this week?  I know they miss their buddy, so I'm determined this will be a fun time for the kids at home. Even if their mornings are a little moist, the evenings will be exciting.

Biggest Brother is such a lovely little boy. He left his siblings notes to find scavenger-hunt style. They were addressed separately and sweetly and all had a variation on a theme: "I'll miss you and will be back soon. Meanwhile, help Mom so you can get to school sensibly!"  I couldn't have said it better myself!  Maybe even better than the notes was how he addressed their envelopes: "To my ladybug," "To my little princess," and "To my best friend." No wonder they were all teary!

Our favorite camper went with lots of well wishes tucked into a big envelope to open when they arrived and a few surprises to discover, too. Everything was in an LL Bean duffel bag slung over his tiny shoulder. That's the very duffel I overloaded while awaiting Big Brother's arrival. Like his brother, he was 5 days late so I had extra time to pack.  The Mister swears the receptionist calling out "Good luck" to us wasn't so much wishing me well on delivering a giant baby, but rather, cheering for the Mister hoisting that absurdly overloaded bag through Fairfax Hospital.

We've already read a darling daily report written on a board at school that Biggest Brother and his friends in Year 6 learned to make their camp beds, went on hikes, and saw a few animals yesterday.  Apparently the boys slept better than the very chatty girls. Making beds, long walks, and chatty girls?  Biggest Brother must feel quite at home.

The Mister wonders what we'll all do when Biggest Brother is off to college. It would be a huge blessing to experience that one day. My plan is to send massive care packages and take comfort that when that day comes, his devoted siblings won't be 3, 5, and 8. That will either make Big Brother flying the nest much better, or much worse, but it won't be just the same as the angst they feel this week.  These are growing pains.

These days are another example of a really good school teaching so much more than academics. Part of why we send our children to school is to try new things, stretch themselves, and to learn to fly alone a bit. And fly with new people. We're getting that lesson in spades this week and our nest will be all the better for it.

Thanks for thinking of and praying for Biggest Brother, his wonderful buddies and dear teachers, too. Since his drum kit doesn't travel so easily, he asked to bring his guitar. So when you picture him, think of him plucking away and belting out a soft tune in front of the campfire surrounded by his lovely friends.  These are the days he'll remember. We're cheering for him and know you are, too. Thanks so much for that!

And one day I'm going to do a devotional about all the places our bags have been. The backpack the Mister bought before our European trip - before we were even engaged*, the briefcase I bought for my first business trip that is now part of their dress up box, and oh the places we've gone with LL Bean's various duffel bags.

It's in the bag.

*had I thought 14 years later we'd live in London with 4 children, I surely would have paid lots more attention to everything. And not just the Walkers shortbread.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back To Business

We're moving right along into this school year, my friends. This replaced our Olympic wreath. Our sideboards still say summer but someday they'll have fall totems. Hopefully before I get out the skulls and Halloween goodies.

But meanwhile, we're easing into a lovely school year. The only one in which the smalls will attend the same school. (At least, until Biggest Brother and Big Brother are toiling away on advanced degrees while the girls are in undergraduate programs, right?  A girl can hope!). Blessedly, neither our after school activities ("clubs") nor homework has begun yet. We need these days just to figure out a schedule and get into a routine.

So far, Baby Sister is in a lovely little routine. I pick her up after lunchtime, we come home to read stories and she sleeps the rest of the afternoon until we go for the kids. Then it is to our favorite park with seemingly the entire population of Our Sweet School. Today Baby Sister went in to the park in a pair of fruit print short pajamas, a cardigan, plaid sun hat of the boys', and leopard print ballet flats. As you may have gathered, it is a casual spot, our park.

My mornings solo have been super in case you were wondering (and don't worry - I've heard it a million times: "What will you DO with yourself all morning?!"). It is funny to me that I've never once heard anyone ask the Mister what he'll do when he's on a 13 hour flight. Or a long trip that includes a weekend. Or even on his daily commute, which is about as long as I'm alone each day. Several of my mornings have been spent at back to school-type meetings, meeting the teachers.

After today's Meet the Teacher morning with Big Brother's lovely teacher, I saw two classes passing each other on the stairs.  What caught my eye was two children stopping in their lines to kiss each other. Would you know it was Big Brother and Big Sister?! So happy to run into each other.

We're getting an A plus so far although I may get demerits for still not having name tags on everything. This is a project I neglected last year, and told myself I'd do when my mother was here in May, and definitely when the last round of new uniforms arrived a few weeks ago. But we're having a slow start and a good one. For which I'm grateful.

The name tags may have to wait because next up is labelling all the thing Biggest Brother will take on the class camp trip next week.  Apparently, he can't take the rest of the smalls!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Still Summer in London

When you live in London you learn to roll with the weather. Be prepared, scout-like. Come what may. I wore a scarf to the school gates today (Thank you, my own Big Brother's lovely wife!). So when no homework came home in 4 tiny rucksacks and the forecast was for hot and sunny, we took the train to Broadstairs Saturday morning. A sandy English beach.  Hooray, the sand. It is somewhat uncommon here. Even more so than a real hot sunshine.

At our destination we found a quaint Victorian seaside village where Charles Dickens stayed and wrote lots. Funny thing about Dickens. In moving here, one of my biggest fears was that we would subject the Smalls to a Dickensonian school life.  Au contraire.  In fact, how funny today that we'd tell our beloved Assistant Head Teacher where we were on Saturday, and he'd light up with excitement! Broadstairs!  Turns out that place is exceedingly special for his family.  His dad (a singer/songwriter) has played there for years!  It is a favorite family spot!  And would you know I looked up from my Saturday newspaper supplements to see the Mister visiting with French friends from school along the shore.  Of course.

This is how you know you're home.  You run into people.  Even an hour or more away from home. You just start to know people. Around Europe. So fancy! But even more, so lovely and normal.

Cabanas. Quaintly vintage kids' play area. Fish and chips shop along the beach. Not quite a chirinquito, but we're still in England, so this was perfect. The sun shone and we came home with pink cheeks.  Hooray, summer still on our island!

Sunday we spent at the Hyde Park Serpentine Lido where we ran into more school friends! Then Big Sister and I snuck away for a date paddle boating. My girl's legs aren't long enough yet to push the pedals, but she's good at steering and even better at chatting in pink glitter sunglasses.  We were solo in the sunshine with lovely views of Parliament from the Serpentine. When you live here you appreciate maybe twice annually getting so warm you're sticky. Warms yer heart I tell ya.

And speaking of warm hearts, don't even get me started on the back to school crushes that have been discussed in the wee hours (which is frankly, anything after dinnertime in my book) of the night here. Be it in kindergarten or Year 6, I have the same words of wisdom (although I'm sure at some point, my counsel will run up against hormones): "If you pair up with anyone - even in selecting a best friend, you risk others thinking you're not open for being friends with them." Are you with me, friends?  My household welcomes lots and lots of friends. But girlfriends and boyfriends?  No. Not happening here. For a while longer. I had my first crush when I was about Big Sister's age, but girls are much more advanced and we had boys first. So. Also ugh.

Also on that subject.  Biggest Brother described his crush as being sort of a girl version of Big Brother in Year 6! To which Big Brother wasted no time in querying, "So. Am I being replaced?!"  Biggest Brother laughed heartily at that prospect! Impossible!  In fact, never, possible, my dear. You two are forever joined. There is no greater compliment than Biggest Brother looking for a girl version of you, but rest assured, I'm fairly certain there isn't nor could be an equal to you in his heart. Ever. You are his first and always very best friend.  I had reason to tell Big Brother recently that he said, "I love you" to Biggest Brother the first and I can still see why.  There's no greater agape than what's between those two guys.

And these two little ladies. The Mister and me. (Although I think we graduate to eros!)  We're all neatly paired. Happily so. Stuck with each other. When the six of us were on these very neat swings (Europe not being terribly litigious is always almost palpable when you're at any sort of playground), I remembered friends advising regarding family size that an even number is just efficient and neat on amusement rides. Indeed. So it was that Big Brother and I swung near Biggest Brother and Big Sister, just down from the Mister and Baby Sister.

The sun shone on us all and we were together. Happy and healthy. Seems greedy to ask for any more.

Today I told the staff at Our Sweet School that this is our last year there. I'm not sure if I should take any sort of pride in making various faculty members get verklempt, but coupled with the exceedingly sentimental notes I gave their teachers on the first days of school, I can attest to the fact that the fabled British Stiff Upper Lip sometimes quivers.  Or maybe I'm just turning them all into Yanks.

I'm not sure of the etymology of "September," but I'm fairly sure it is sentimental.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Happy First Days of School

It was a great first day and second day, too at Our Sweet School for the smalls. Baby Sister was the first bright and smiling face to appear at her Nursery room door both days. Who wouldn't be happy to see this sunny little face at the beginning of your work day?

Big Sister is so happy that her uniform is a darling dress. Perhaps sartorially emboldened, she ran for and won a spot on School Council!  That makes her big brothers (and all of us) very proud.

It won't be every year that we go to school by red bus and scooter combo.

Maybe the biggest cause for celebration was two days of dates for the Mister and me. We toured the British museum and rode Boris bikes while the smalls unpacked new pencils.

Exciting times in London, my friends and a huge relief that the first two days were such good ones. If I ever get through the mountainous pile of uniforms still awaiting name tags, I'll tell you what a lovely and sunny summer weekend we had, too.  But meanwhile, I'll say that Europe became infinitely smaller when we ran into school friends while touring the beaches at Broadstairs in Kent on Saturday and splashing in the waters at Hyde Park today. You know you're at home when you start running into friends - even a few hours train ride from your flat!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Summer's Swan Song

It has been a full week. Most of our meals were picnics, we scootered wherever we could and slept as late as possible. We also bid farewell to our last summer house guests and our beloved babysitter. Lots of late nights and lazy pajama mornings mixed with the inkling of the routine that awaits us.

We scootered to Buckingham Palace today to tour the Royal Mews and play at St James Park. We lingered way longer than we should have and felt a nip in the air, watched the sun begin to dip, and tried to make dinner out of a few hot dogs before heading home. Then we discovered that Big Brother did in fact need new school shoes. For tomorrow. Even still, it was all over too quickly and I'm still stitching a kazillion nametags onto a sea of uniforms that range from size Very Tiny But Still Too Big for Baby Sister to polo shirts for Biggest Brother that I could probably wear.

Their bags are packed and at the door and their breakfast table will be festive. There's nothing I could quite tuck into those little bags to represent all that our summer has been, so I can just hope memories of a great summer will carry them through the first day at Our Sweet School.

These four little people are undoubtedly summer's best company!  I miss them already. And not just because they introduced me to "The Fall Guy."