If you had asked me several years ago if I would take three kids, all under the age of 10, on an international flight to England for a week I would have told you that while I loved the idea of doing such a thing, that in theory it sounds really great, that I'd like to be the kind of person who would do something like that, really at the end of the day, with the 5 hour time change, it might just be easier to stay home and go out for ice cream. Maybe we'd pull up some pictures of Big Ben on the I-pad from the ice cream joint.
So, when this idea slowly became a reality about a year ago (when Scott's twin brother Mark formally proposed to his English finance and announced that they would be getting married outside of London in the spring of 2016), I had it in my head that of course Scott had to go, but that if I wound up going it would be only if we could find someone to watch the kids, which I knew was going to be a challenge because the only person who has ever stayed with the kids for an extended period of time (Scott's mom!) would also be in England.
Ahh well...we'll figure something out, we have time, I kept thinking. But as it turns out, there wasn't anyone who could really watch extra kids, even though they're super cute. In the end the question came down to, "Do I stay home with the kids while Scott heads off to the wedding (and get crabby while I'm cooking chicken tenders in the kitchen...again...and he's sending us selfies in front of Big Ben!), or do we embrace the adventure and all go as a family?"
Scott was pro-family the whole time.
I, on the other hand, was thinking about a 2-year-old on a plane for seven hours-- knocking over juice cups, shrieking, refusing to put her seatbelt on, obsessively putting up and pulling down tray tables, needing to constantly visit the minuscule airplane bathrooms (EWWW!), and many kicks to the back of the seat of whomever the poor, unfortunate soul would be sitting in front of her.
I wasn't sure I was pro-family on this one.
But then I started to think about our big girls, who are 8 and 7, and realized what an amazing opportunity this would be for them to see the bigger world. How it would likely shape them, at some level, for the rest of their lives. I thought about them getting to see a real, brick and mortal, 800 year old castle. Not the Disney kind, but the kind you read about in ancient legends.
I thought about us all being offered a 'spot of tea', biscuits, or even just pizza (anything, really!) by someone with a real British accent.
When I considered all of this, and also the idea of the girls getting to be a part of their Uncle's wedding (a special day indeed), I found, that despite my fears of flying and traveling and all of the other things a mom thinks about, that we couldn't say no.
So, off we went. This momma, who has needed xanax to get through international flights in the past, armed herself with prayers (lots of them), no pills of any kind, and walked forward in faith that we were going to embrace this journey and enjoy it every step of the way.
My grandmother, who is 87 and who has never flown on a plane in her life, alluded to the fact that our choice was ridiculous. "That's an awful lot to take on, don't you think?"
"I don't know, Gram. I think it might be fun."
"Ok, well I hope that all works out for you," were her parting words.
And, so besides wanting to embrace the adventure, I think there was a little piece of me that wanted to buck the generational perspective on sticking close to home, and living a lifetime full of conservative and "safe" choices.
So we went and returned, and we're all safe and sound, tucked back in at home. We created amazing memories, took lots of pictures (over 600 to be exact), had a blast, and feel like we all grew a little bit as a family.
Guess what? God was absolutely, positively with us all along the way. I felt his presence, His safety, the confidence of moving forward and enjoying this journey as a family without much of the anxiety that these kinds of trips can often cause. Praise God for that!
Below is a bit of a round-up of our trip. Just a few short summaries of the highlights. Feel free to skim through and check out the photos. I hope that in doing so you might be inspired to consider where, if you could, you would take your family. Start dreaming it up...and leave a comment, if you have a chance, about where that place might be!
The airport and flights to and fro:
Ahh, a seven hour plane ride with a 2-year-old...It went just about how you'd think it would go. Apple juice and water bottles spilled, crackers were crushed precariously into the seat, tray tables moved up and down faster than I could say...well, anything. I visited the minuscule bathroom more times than I'd like to count and tried to lay down as much toilet paper as possible to make the seat acceptable.
Fortunately, the big girls were completely entertained by the on-flight television, their Nooks and the frequency of flight meals and snacks. They were great big sisters, helping Aubrey from time to time and acting very "big girl" and independent. I didn't read any of the books or magazines I had stashed in my bag, but I did have the chance to watch Nigella cook up some fabulous fare, and the newest Jurassic Park movie.
Being a tourist:
Yes. Yes. We did all the touristy things. The red busses, the London Eye, Windsor Castle, dinner in pubs, Trafalgar Square, Kensington Palace, taking photos next to stately dressed guardsmen and more photos in red phone booths. We ate french fries (oops, chips!) next to the Thames and watched a handful of guys whirring around a skateboard park. We watched street performers and put money in their hats. We tried to blend in, but that's hard to do with three kids, cameras, a map, and heavy American accents. Ah well. We played the tourist role well!
The food in England, fortunately, is not too far off our beaten (American) path (this was helpful for the kids, I must say!). I could try good Indian food, while the kids ordered chicken tenders. The girls tried hot cross buns, and stripey pudding, welsh cakes and "flake" (the yummy flakey chocolate that goes on top of desserts or can be eaten on its own). Scott, of course, enjoyed trying the many English beers, and I enjoyed, well, not having to cook as much. Honestly, I think you could have stuck any hot meal in front of me and I would have been wholeheartedly praising its culinary excellence!
There are lots, and lots of pubs. Some from the 1600's. Some that look like you're walking into someone's dank, stone basement. Cool and secretive. Some on street corners serving decent food and lots of beer.
Some that don't let children in after 5 p.m. (leaving you and the rest of your mostly adult crew wandering around London at dinnertime looking for a place to feed three small kids!).
Some that say children and dogs allowed!
All of them with copious taps and pints flowing, many with beautiful hanging baskets, and always full of an eclectic group of people, mostly with British accents to fulfill my people watching quota for the day.
Lots of tea:
Let's be honest, you can't go to England and not drink lots and LOTS of tea.
Quite frankly, sometimes finding a good cup of tea was far easier than finding good coffee. And the tea, is very, very good. I once remembered an elderly British woman telling me that American tea was like cloudy water and thought she was being just a wee bit coy.
Guess what? She was right. We are accustomed to drinking murky water and calling it tea.
We brought a big box home, and even Scott, one of the world's most avid coffee fans, enjoys it. Fortunately, you can order just about anything on Amazon these days, including British tea (;
The churches. Oh, the churches. They are just stunning. Take your breath away stunning. And old, old, old! Like a thousand years old. And yet they stand, with their spires and turrets reaching high into the sky proclaiming their prominence, beckoning you to see them, and making you feel more reverential just by walking through their doors.
While I love my contemporary church here at home, there is something about the commitment to building these cathedrals, at a time when everything was carved by hand, and made of stone. I know that God doesn't ask that we build alters, or require large buildings for us to meet him in, but I couldn't help thinking that the decades long act of crafting some of those churches, one stone at a time, must have felt like a job honoring God for His beauty, creativity, and sovereignty over all things.
The wedding was lovely, delightful, a total blast. Ava and Ella danced their socks off until 11 p.m. (an evening when we had the time change working in our favor) and Ava asked, "Are all weddings this fun?"
"No, Ava, many of them are fun, but this one was special for sure."
The ceremony was held in a small country church that was reportedly, hundreds of years old (or parts of it were anyway). Scott was honored to be asked to play the song Iris (Goo Goo Dolls) on an acoustic guitar as Anna walked down the aisle, and joined his mother in a beautiful acoustic duet singing Amazing Grace towards the end of the ceremony. The big girls, in matching blue and white dresses handed out programs to the guests, and Aubrey made it all the way down the aisle to the front of the church and then cried into my shoulder (but she made it!).
The vicar overseeing the ceremony was quite funny as he and ran back and forth between overseeing vows and the ceremonial components, and then played double duty as the organist.
A lot of weddings are fun. But, this one was special. Probably because it was Scott's brother and we are thrilled for him and his wife Anna. Probably because it was in England. And, because, the location was picturesque...something out of a movie, really.
Time around the dinner table and the breakfast bar:
The reality is, that for all of the fun we had at the wedding, in our travels, sightseeing and visiting new places, when we got home and started flipping through our photos, the images that prompted some of the most excited and emotional responses were the one's of us sitting in the kitchen, at the breakfast counter of our most gracious and hospitable guests, Mark and Sarah Wilson (Anna's parents).
For all of the hullabaloo and planning, and everything else they had going on, the Wilson's wholeheartedly welcomed us into their home. They made dinners for us, they made beds for us, they made tea for us. We sat around in the evening eating cheese and crackers, jellies and spreads, and learned more about the land in which we were briefly staying. Thank you Mark and Sarah for your most gracious hospitality.
Our children left England feeling like they had gained not only perspective on the greater world, but friends, who felt as close as family...an extended family of sorts. We joked about sending the girls to their house in high-school as exchange students. Who knows, maybe we will.
I know that they would be in good hands and well cared for, and perhaps they would get to see Miss Sarah's most glorious English garden, which at the edge of an early Spring was not quite in bloom, but which looks like a snippet of a Monet painting, even in the off season. I bet it's absolutely stunning in the summer months.
The girls also urged me to share with you the many words they added to their vocabulary. Learning that a shopping cart can be called a "wheelie", that knickers are in fact women's underwear, that "pants" are children's underwear, (I'm still a little unsure what you call men's underwear!) and that "trousers" are indeed what we know as pants. You should also know that the "loo" is the toilet.
And, just in case you are a potato chip and french fry lover, please be advices that potato chips as we know them are kindly referred to as "crisps", and that if you ask for chips you might just get french fries!
In conclusion, we came home feeling a little bit...different. Stretched, in a good way, as a family. Full of memories, and new ideas. Brimming with laughter and smiles about all that we had experienced and the lovely people we met along the way. It was a good, good trip. The most stressful part of it was the coming home, opening my calendar and trying to re-engage with our daily schedule of who needs to be here, and there and everywhere and how is it going to happen.
Well, and maybe the fact that Aubrey was waking up before 4 a.m. for several days after we got home telling us that she was hungry, because it was in fact breakfast time in England. But, after a trip that great, you hardly mind and realize that even some lost sleep was worth it.
So, yes Grandma, it was all worth the hassle. And, since I know you won't be getting on a great big airplane anytime soon, why don't I come over, make you a cup of tea and we'll wander through my photos together?