My mother in law once told me that she and my father in law were scheduled to attend what she described as a "Tea and Dick Party". Having not long been married to my husband, I was wondering if perhaps I would have to re-evaluate what I believed that I knew about my in-laws. The British are certainly not alone in their penchant for perversion, but the quaintness with which they endow it often makes it seem all the more sordid. It turned out that it was a party being thrown by two friends called Theresa and Richard, which was vaguely disappointing.
At one of these parties, one of the male guests related the story of his first sexual encounter, which took place in a rather picturesque wood. Apparently, at the Moment of Truth, the gentleman in question suddenly experienced an excruciating pain in his feet which he took to be par for the course for The Nasty. It was not until several moments later that he realized that his legs were sticking out onto a public footpath and he had, in fact, been run over by a bicycle.
I always think of this story when I venture into the bluebell woods on the nearby Ashridge Estate. (Not only do I have this lovely anecdote to draw on, but during one of Mr. DD's and my trips to the woods while dating, we encountered a couple who obviously had the same idea, making the sightseeing slightly awkward.) Luckily, when I stopped by to take in the sights last month with The Squidlette, our fellow wood-goers were more likely to be worried about the state of their sock-suspenders rather than whether or not anyone could see their bare ass rising above the flowers.
The arrival of the bluebells every year has always filled me with hope. Although I've spent many seasons trotting amongst the blooms in heavy sweaters, they've always heralded the start of warmer weather and long, light evenings. This year, the sea of blue filled me with a slight melancholy, knowing that it may be the last time I see them, for who knows when I may next be in England during bluebell season.
Although Mr. DD and I have always known that we'd someday be leaving the UK for a life in America, now that it is only weeks rather than years until we go, it's brought little things into sharp focus. Like how much we'll miss family and friends. How we'll explain the dramatic life change to the Prawn. And how, in three years, we've gone from having precisely SQUAT to having an attic groaning under the weight of our belongings.
One of our tasks of the past weeks has been to cement both the Prawn and Squid's claim to US citizenship which, of course, meant a trip to London to the US Embassy who's security and imposing nature make it the ideal place for a fun day out with a toddler and newborn. (Not to mention the extremely child friendly appointment time of 9 am.) Squidlette got the morning off to a roaring start by staging a total meltdown in the car in some of worst London traffic I've seen since it took us 3 hours to go 2 miles once while taking my parents to visit the Tower. The "Bucket" (the word we use to refer to her carseat) was a magical device for the Prawn; pop her in and all was right with the world. It's spell would lull her to sleep and keep her that way until she was unceremoniously removed upon our arrival at home. The Squid, however, merely tolerates The Bucket and a traffic jam on the M1 pretty much tested her tolerance to breaking point. Said meltdown required me to unbuckle my seatbelt, lean over into the backseat and try to stick a bottle into the orifice that was creating the noise, all the while enduring funny looks from slowly passing fellow motorists and a barrage of "WHATCHA DOIN MUMMY?" from the Prawn.
After arriving nearly 45 minutes late for our appointment, a fairly long spell in a hot waiting room that has apparently remained unchanged since the Eisenhower administration was enough for the Prawn's patience to wear paper thin and on the way out she chose to become an immovable object on the subjects of a) wearing shoes b) holding hands and c) remaining vertical, necessitating Mr. DD to carry her, screeching, across several busy intersections while I crossed at pedestrian crossings with Squidlette and for a few brief moments was able to pretend like I had nothing to do with the wailing banshee across the street.
Our pain, however, was not all for naught and has yielded two small, blue books that now declare both Squid and Prawn to be US citizens, entitled to all of the rights, privileges and opportunities to buy cheaper products imported from China that goes along with it.
Mr. DD's visa process has been substantially more complicated. While it has NOT, in fact involved a Hollywood style simultaneous questioning in two separate rooms to determine whether or not we are aware of the other's favorite colors (after nearly 11 years and two children, we would have the least convenient marriage of convenience EVER.) it HAS entailed rather a lot of complicated paperwork and and a not insubstantial sum of cash. However, we are now down to the last hurdle of his interview which is booked for mid-July and we are at least marginally certain that it won't involve any probing beyond those questions that the embassy official will put to him. We hope to be re-united Stateside in early August.
The reason for the girls and my early departure, (apart from the fact that packing everything up will be much simpler without a small person questioning why all of her toys are being sealed up inside a cardboard box) has a lot to do with an unpleasant dispute with our downstairs neighbor; a woman who is sadly afflicted with cancer of the personality. While I don't wish to go into extreme detail, suffice to say, she has become only the second person my enormously mild-mannered husband has ever had a shouting match with in his life (the first being a stripper on my brother in law's stag do) and that existence in this apartment has become rather like living above a bridge with a troll underneath; a grossly overweight troll with a hatred for children and a propensity for revealing clothing, door slamming, sleeping til 4 in the afternoon and drinking heavily during the day.
Neither Mr. DD or I are fans of conflict, so despite the fact that we're not in the wrong, we're simply removing ourselves from the situation. I learned long ago that there is no "winning" against a thoroughly unreasonable personality and the only way to resolve the conflict is to walk away. Although it may give her pleasure to see us go, it is unequalled by the pleasure that I will gain in never having to see her face again in my life and the knowledge that just being her is punishment enough. Mr DD is rather anxious for us to leave on that account as we're fairly sure she is unaware of the fact that there's a guitar amplifier up here that could put cracks in the foundation of the building.
It's weird to think about going home after 11 years overseas. There are overtones of "leaving home" that I've not experienced since I was 18 and it occurs to me that repatriation is going to carry some of the initial challenges that I faced in 1999 when I relocated to the UK shortly before Mr. DD and I got married. Being American doesn't automatically prepare you for life in America, especially after over a decade abroad. When I think of the naive and easily offended creature that appeared on these shores all those years ago it is hard to believe that that same woman is returning to her country of origin a) with 7 more tattoos and two more children than she left with b) a far more cynical approach to everything and c) vaguely concerned that she might say something wildly offensive at any moment. It's all going to be about re-learning how to fit in. (and trying to keep the word "wanker" out of my vocabulary)
I've thought for years about "going home". While I still know that America is where we want to be, I realize more than ever that the UK has been just as much a home to me as the US ever was. My children were born here. Half of my family is here. THAT'S what makes a home, more than borders or nationalities.
And I will miss it deeply.