I’m here now.
Things did get easier once I’d actually left. Having the birthday party the day I left turned out to be a good idea as we were so busy in the morning prepping food, and then having a blast at the party, and then watching E. open his presents after his nap, that before I knew it we’d eaten dinner and it was time for me to get E. ready for bed. I spent a long time telling him again about what would happen- how he would play with Daddy and the cats and his grandparents, how Mummy was going on an airplane, how in a few days he and Daddy would come on an airplane too. When I left the room, the last thing he said to me was, “Mummy, airplane. E., airplane!”
The worst point was just then- when I’d said goodbye, but the journey hadn’t started yet. I don’t think I can put into words what it felt like. I cried a lot.
Q. took me to the airport while the grandparents stayed at home to listen to E. sleeping. The flight was uneventful and very quick (nearly an hour early- we must have picked up a crazy tail wind). I knocked back a bottle of red wine as soon as it was offered to me (that is a flight-sized bottle, not an actual bottle) which had the desired effect of causing me to no longer care all that much about turbulence. I watched three movies without being interrupted (I don’t sleep on planes). I was aware as I did this that this was now an almost unimaginable luxury whereas the last time I moved to the U.K. I would have taken it completely for granted.
I got myself and my ridiculously large bag onto a bus and settled in for the ride to my new city (more of a university town). It was on the bus ride that, for the first time, I really began to think this had been a good idea. It was bright and sunny outside. We drove past verdant pastures and through quaint towns. The daffodils and cherry blossoms were out. I saw cattle and horses and sheep. I began to get excited at the thought of spending a summer away from our big city. I am a country girl at heart. I need green spaces and open fields and I don’t get a lot of that where we live.
The flat we’ve rented is perfect. There is a back garden with a patio and a low long wall along which E. will (I am certain) spend many happy hours driving his cars and trucks. There is a tree in which English robins sit in the morning while the rising sun cascades in through the wide glass doors that we’ll be able to open wide come the summer months. When I step outside my front door I can hear roosters and cattle. On the bus ride back from town the first day the number of rabbits I spotted in the fields (ten) was almost outnumbered by the number of pheasants (seven). In our village there is a duck pond and a pub and a butcher that sells British meat. There are public footpaths and cottages with thatched roofs.
Taking all of this in I had the chance to remember that this really is an adventure, a new opportunity, an escape from our ordinary lives, rather than just one enormous organizational hurdle that eats away my time and separates me from my son (as it had seemed to be for much of the last couple of months).
Yesterday I went into the university town and explored it. I took the day for myself- I didn’t try to get any work done. I had no one to look after other than myself. No responsibilities. I can’t think of the last time this was the case. It certainly would have been pre-E.
The day was brisk, downright cold by the late afternoon, with largely overcast skies- no rain though. I wandered the streets with my map, intrigued by how a place which I had only ever visited once before for an afternoon could both somehow seem so familiar (because it is much like that Other Place, where I spent two years as a graduate student, and because I already know the U.K. shops) and yet be so different and utterly disorienting.
It seemed to be utterly full of strollers and babies and toddlers. I can’t say I ever remembered noticing small children when I last lived in the U.K. Is my new town that much more child-friendly than my old, or is it simply that I have changed and now see things through different eyes? (I did, after all, end up in a toyshop at one point yesterday, and my eagle eyes spotted a fabulous park area filled with play structures while on the bus. Even though I was enjoying my rare freedom E. was never far from my thoughts.)
My new town seems to be astonishingly undiverse. Again, I don’t remember being shocked at the whiteness of the Other Place, but again I had come to it from a relatively small (and undiverse) Canadian city. I probably didn’t notice that everyone pretty much looked like me because that had been the case where I was an undergraduate as well. Five and a half years in a truly cosmopolitan city has changed my perspective.
I’d forgotten how much the English like their sweets. Everywhere you look there are cafes serving bits of cake, or sweet shops, or chocolate biscuits and lollies in corner stores. On my tour of my new faculty today the secretary took me around and showed me all the various places that served food and drink, ranking them all on the basis of whether or not they served good cakes, before looking at me and saying, a touch mournfully, “But you don’t look like you eat all that much cake”.
I’d forgotten how ridiculously small the English like their produce to be. The apples are literally half the size of the ones we grow. Everything’s packaged to the nth degree, and I try very hard not to think too much about the price. I used an online grocery service for the first time and it was brilliant. Did all the shopping from the comfort of my own home back in Canada, booked in a delivery date for the day after I arrived in the U.K., and had all my groceries delivered by a chatty driver named Michael who explained how their delivery vans work (separate fridge and freezer compartments- the frozen food packed in dry ice!), the colour coding system on their bags (to identify whether the contents need to go into the fridge, the freezer, or the cupboard), and how to arrange for a refund (which I had cause to do once I discovered three of the eggs had been cracked). It would never work in Canada- the economies of population and geography simply don’t allow for it. But it’s a superb idea here and I’m loving the convenience.
Today I sorted out a mobile phone and got access to my faculty and the university libraries, so tomorrow I’ll be able to start work in earnest. Q. has been doing a good job of keeping me updated on E. Apparently he woke up on Sunday asking to see Mummy like he normally does, but Q. was able to distract him by telling him that Grannie was downstairs waiting for him. When asked if he remembered where I was, he told Q. that I was on an airplane and that he would be going on an airplane too, so something of the itinerary has sunk in. We skyped last night and E. seemed mainly confused as to why I wasn’t on an airplane, although he became quite upset when I took the computer on a tour of the flat to show Q. and I wasn’t on the screen any more. He’s doing really well, but I’m a little worried about how he will go as the days continue to pass and there’s still no Mummy. My Mum and stepfather left yesterday morning, so today Q. was on his own. Late tomorrow afternoon my Dad will arrive and he’ll be there until Q. and E. leave for the airport. I think my Dad is more excited to play with E’s new train pieces than E. is!
I’m still enjoying my solitude (waking up when I want to and not because E. is chirping in his crib! Reading in bed before getting up in the morning! Not having to rush through breakfast so I can read Cars and Trucks and Things that Go!), but I can tell already that it will wear on me before too long. Once I’m into a routine at the library the flat will feel empty and lonely when I come home at night, mentally exhausted (and physically tired once I get a bike organized). But for now I’m going to try to enjoy it as much as I can.