My family and I have moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England, for a year. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace. In my new series, Brooklyn to England, I’ll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our three-year-old daughter, and my baby-bump (I’m due in September!). Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, diapers to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.
Last week’s family holiday (aka vacation) started out with a bang when I awoke thinking I was in labor. As we packed up and drove toward the West Midlands (rural Shropshire), I grimaced and gasped as sudden and intense cramps rolled through me like a wrecking ball. Could this be it? I wondered, gripping my seat cushion as I grunted Do You Want to Build a Snowman? to Trixie in the backseat.
Ultimately, thankfully, the answer was no. My labor pains were a false alarm, though perhaps they were also a blessing in disguise. See, when you’re a month from your due date and staying in, several hours from a decent hospital, it makes for a great excuse not to overexert yourself. “Relax,” everyone ordered. “Sit down and grow the baby!” In fact, I even got to take naps!—not a luxury that is often afforded to second-time moms.
But my false labor was merely the icing on the cake. The entire trip embodied everything I’ve been wanting out of our move to England: Trixie got to spend some quality time with her cousins while experiencing a truly “English Holiday”. And, now that I’m an expert, I can tell you a few ways your typical family holiday in England might go…
1. Wait for it to stop raining.
2. Realize it’s not going to stop raining, and go down to the river to build a dam.
This was a popular option for the 8- and 13-year-old boys (and my husband, who is clearly 12 years old at heart). While they became engrossed in the procuring of rocks, bricks, and logs to create a mammoth embankment in the river separating Wales from England, Trixie picked up stones and threw them in the water, occasionally cheering for the dam builders, and—oh yeah—completely falling into the river once or twice. (I was napping, so point all fingers at Daddy, please).
1. Wait for it to stop raining.
2. Realize it’s not going to stop raining, and rope your cousins into playing zombies.
How does my 3-year-old even know about zombies? No idea. She said her cousins taught her, but her cousins said it was all Trixie’s idea. To be fair, her Dad and I are quite into horror flicks, so maybe it’s learned by osmosis. In any case, I was thrilled to sit back on the couch and read my book while they chased each other through the house screaming, “I want your BRAINS!” for hours on end.
1. It’s not raining!
2. Go on a hike (but a leisurely one, factoring in the bulbous pregnant lady, the short-legged toddler, an aunt recovering from ME (aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), and an 11-year-old with an aggressive aversion to walking uphill).
3. While on the hike, take turns getting attacked by stinging nettles (vicious, spiky plant leaves that cause an excruciating 5- to 10-minute bumpy rash), and then searching for dock leaves which are the supposed nettle cure (I remain skeptical).
1. Take heart in overcast but rainless skies.
2. Drive to a castle, only to discover it’s raining once you get there.
Dreary weather aside, the kids went bananas for the castles. We even stumbled upon an annual Heritage Cup, a slightly gruesome but entertaining long sword fighting competition complete with Ren Faire types in traditional regalia. Honestly, though, the kids all preferred exploring the castle ruins and discovering the medieval toilets. In fact, ask Trixie her favorite part of the trip, and she will probably show you that she learned to plug her nose because of those stinky toilet chambers.
No matter what the scenario, the day always ended with exhausted kids, lots of laughs, and dinner looming on the horizon. Feeding a party of 8 can be tricky under any circumstances, but when your group consists of 2 gluten free, 1 lactose free, 2 vegetarians, 1 seed allergy, 1 egg-hater, and 1 very fussy toddler, well, let’s just say we spent a lot of time at Harry Tuffin’s—a mega-supermarket selling everything from granny panties to animal feed and great deals on rice cakes.
And so, after six fun-filled days, we left Shropshire with Trixie feeling closer to her cousins than ever before, and full of new and wonderful memories. My husband and got to spend some quality time with his sister and her husband, and, luckily, I never went into labor. But I gotta say, I’m already missing those daily naps…
Photo: Alex Richards