London. One week in.
We’re here. Wow. It’s been quite the week. First things first, the boys were amazing on the flight and we avoided the horrid closing of Heathrow airport due to a snow storm by just 24 hours. It’s one of those serendipitous occasions of choosing the right flight on the right date. We missed our dear friends from LA who tried endlessly to figure out a way to land here, but to no avail. So disheartening. But for us, we landed and from the car ride home, it was as if our lives here were only briefly interrupted by a few days abroad; somehow arriving in the middle of a story.
Day one and a dinner was had in our honor with loads of friends – a perfect beginning. Day 2, jet lag overtook all of us and we only managed three hours of actual daylight. Day 3 was a Sunday lunch at ours for 30 with family friends – in London that means our friends with their children, not friends of my family. The snow was so bad that we nearly couldn’t get up our hill to pick up the food, which would have been a disaster as my true cooking skills would have been revealed in a most stressful way. I hate driving on ice – bad experiences of days gone by with my brother that still haunt – but after a massive scream fest with no one in particular, I released my nerves and realized that getting to the deli was more important than dying. Eyes nearly closed and heart screaming, we conquered the drive, and my secret of how I make such a delicious beef stew remains.
Our house. I truly love our house here but it has lots of little annoying bits to sort out. It’s a huge luxury to have two homes, but the reality is, it’s not a holiday when you stay in them as there is always something to fix or sort. I have vowed to take a DIY course in the new year as I seem to be the plumber/electrician/carpenter around here anyway; literally as I sit here I can hear the toilet running beyond its cycle and it’s only a matter of minutes before I’m called into action! We would normally leave these problems till ‘the next time’ as it’s a holiday week, but we’re thinking of renting so suddenly the clock is loudly ticking and the boiler takes the main stage.
Inevitably, a pace mixed with adrenaline, endorphins and jet lag kills and I found my heart racing each time my head hit the pillow…so far never earlier than 2 in the morning. So many thoughts swirling around. I can’t believe I’m in this bed, here in this life when last week I was shopping at my local Trader Joe’s with my Peet’s coffee. I went for a run in the snow in Richmond Deer Park and it strangely has the same consistency as the sand does on Santa Monica beach. I can get lost in the natural beauty of both landscapes as the spell-binding snowy park with its green parakeets meets the rippled waves with dolphins dancing in an endless coastline in my mind.
The build up to Christmas is so much fun, but equally involves life having to come to some sort of equilibrium, in order to actually stand still harmoniously for a few days or so. The wish is to have a balance in one’s life and to categorize the year’s end into what’s worked and what fell short. New Year’s resolutions are waiting to be made, but they’ll have to wait a bit longer as the Christmas three day extravaganza stands before us at my sister-in-law’s. Thank God she is so excited to have us here she decided to do the whole lot!
Day 7 was marked by little one’s 6th birthday. We all traipsed over to Hyde Park to experience Winter Wonderland. I was expecting a small fun fair with a few xmas lights, rides and stalls. What we found was an enormous display of major rides – big enough to get sick on – tons of roller coasters, exploding lights, talking trees, candy stalls from the imagination of the likes of the Wonka factory and more and more and more.
True to an English winter, it was absolutely freezing. Gorgeous though, and even though Husband nearly threw up after the twister ride, fun was had by all. 6 year old is still playing strong now, like a Viking – a noun my friend Sophie used recently to describe him and it fits quite well.
I’m constantly asked how the boys are adapting, if they’re happy to be back. And quite honestly, it’s a question we as a family never ask each other. Being in London is part of who we are and so the questions instantly involve ‘are you hungry?’, ‘cereal anyone?’, ‘what’s for dinner?’, and ‘what are we doing today?’. Having the kids ride this wave of a lifestyle the way Husband and I do makes it all normal. I’ve worked so hard over the years, getting it wrong, getting it right, moving here and then there, that to have it all exist simultaneously with such smiles is incredibly fulfilling.
Week 2, Christmas and beyond
Like most of these trips, life becomes a whirlwind where I can only focus on what is in front of me and there’s not a lot of room for analysis. Which is fantastic. I live by the feeling of that day and these holiday weeks are an oasis of time for us as a family to simply ‘be’ without the crazy schedule.
Boozy’s house – Husband’s sister – with all the trimmings. I have the most gorgeous niece, Livi, and nephew, Ben, in the world and with Husband’s brother in from New York…barely…and my FIL (father in law), it was a complete table for the Hamm’s. The snow still enveloped the landscape around so it was sledding most days with meals on either side. Christmas is actually a very funny holiday for me as I didn’t grow up celebrating it. My first tree nearly threw my father over the edge, and my second did the same to my mother.
It’s not their fault, really. I decorate xmas trees in the most kitch and elaborate way, holding back nothing. I nearly believe in Santa and know the words to every jingle bells song ever written. So, to finally get to put up the lights that represent Rudolph more than the sacred Baby himself, is ridiculously exciting to me and I get as consumed as the boys.
A London Christmas is log fires, gallons of wine, traditional television programs, Radio 4, turkey without cranberry, crackers that you pull with the paper crown inside that has to be worn throughout the meal, a drama or two in real life, cheese, more food, Charades, presents, more wine, sausages and bacon, soda bread and whiskey, all in no particular order. It is a time for my greater Hamm family to remember everything about Nana – Husband’s mom – laugh a lot and sometimes cry in equal measure. We hold onto the same menu for the big meal as if cooking Nana’s stuffing brings her closer to us. And it’s worth it, because it does.
Week 3 – Down time before the New Year
I feel at home here. No more and no less than I do in LA, but I have realized that I have most definitely created another homestead. It is so strange and wonderful to be back and week three brings with it what my mother always professed; a sense of being settled. It’s so true and by week three, I do feel totally immersed. This time, however, the suitcases never quite made it back into the cupboard as if to remind myself that I’m here to soak it up, not settle back in.
The week between Christmas and New Year is the only week in the year that Husband fully relaxes. The movie industry is totally shut down and so it almost forces him to let go, stop checking emails and simply hang out. We eat and drink far too much, but the LA regime in us remains as the workouts still infuse our days with energy. I love making one of the boys go on a run with me. I think, at first, they are impressed that I’m kitted out and rearing to go in such cold weather (go mom!), until they soon pass me by on the path and wonder why it’s taking me ages to catch up. One son had the nerve to ask the other day if I fell because I took so long! Little focker!!
The sun hovers at a very low angle all throughout the winter here, so daylight hours are short. It starts to get dark at 3:30 so our attempts to do anything during the day result in one main activity before hunkering down in front of the fire once more. I can tell my boys have been a bit bored but I know that there’s a chance that boredom can translate into creativity for them. So I let them be bored and I let them stay up way too late and wake at near lunchtime. I allow myself to sleep in and Husband to switch off. And although we didn’t do much this week, no one looks wrecked anymore.
Until New Year’s day, that is. We partied as a family till 3:30 in the morning and boy do we look exhausted. All that rest and relaxation gone in one night of dancing on the table tops. Well, not quite the tops of tables, but glass was broken is all I’ll say! Auld Lang Syne (yes, it is spelled that way) was sung with a roar at midnight, hands crossed over, all standing in a circle. No one knows the words, no one ever does, but we always sing it nonetheless.
The one consistent activity I have engaged with this week is the making of a video for my eldest son’s Bar Mitzvah. I’ve never made a proper video but I had an idea and I needed some footage from here. I filmed my FIL today. He arrived dressed up and rehearsed and it was beautiful. He hasn’t been well and therefore won’t be able to make the journey over. Half way through the filming I had that awful foreboding feeling like I was videoing him for posterity sake. Partly because he was talking of our family’s heritage and partly because of the reality that he won’t live forever. What truly ties us here, and there, is that. Family. Not wanting either family to radically change in any way. Not wanting to miss important events, however wonderful or difficult, and not wanting anyone to die.
And then we wake up to find that Husband’s dear dear friend passed away last night. He was the actor Pete Postlethwait and he was a lovely, warm man. Strange how you just know when that phone goes a bit too early in the morning something’s not right. Husband then spent the day writing articles for the papers, being proactive in making sure all of his friend’s talents and attributes are properly represented and gathering his strength to be filmed by tonight’s news team. The loss, like any loss that grips one’s heart, is deep and hugely meaningful. You can rarely ‘be there’ when someone dies. We destroy ourselves for not having the final final; yet goodbye’s are not natural and they are not often necessary. Expressions of love are vital, but those hopefully happen over a life time of a relationship. However, I understand his desire to have wanted to be standing nearby and not at the end of a phone miles away. Thank goodness we were at least in the right country at the right time.
That is the hard part of leaving. Along with the emotions of stepping slightly away from friends and a landscape that has brought me so much, leaving again with the desire that nothing around me changes feels like a prayer more than a wish. I have certain pangs for things, again smells and visuals. But I have learned this trip that my life here is very much alive and kicking, even when I leave it for a while. It’s a natural time to depart as everyone around me shifts into a different gear and leaves the holiday rhythm behind. What is normal for me right now is to step into basketball season instead of rugby and return to some greatly needed sunshine.
Up up and away.