Fourth of July State of the Family Address

It’s been three years this month since we moved to London for two years. We just renewed our visas to stay on for a fourth.

I don’t know what it is about Fourth of July that makes me wax wistful and nostalgic (and a bit rambly)… I guess maybe because we moved here in July, so it’s nearly the anniversary of our big move; and it’s our home country’s birthday, and so I’m feeling more patriotic than usual. (I’m not particularly patriotic, generally.)

I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but maybe it’s a tie with the Fourth of July. They have a lot in common, when you think about it. Both are all about coming together with friends and family and neighbors and eating and drinking and enjoying a nice social atmosphere, with no gifts given or received. And they are both holidays that can be celebrated by all Americans, regardless of religion. And, unfortunately for expats, both are celebrated only in America.

We love you, England, but we are still Americans. Despite today being a school day and work day we are still celebrating our Independence Day. I feel a bit envious as I see the pictures friends post of all the fun things they are doing today—Fourth of July BBQs and parades and pool parties, eating watermelon and setting off fireworks, just classic American summertime nostalgia—while we are having only a small family celebration this year.

I have really fond memories of big neighborhood Fourth of July BBQs and fireworks displays from my own childhood. But our kids’ childhoods will just be a bit different than our own.

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Searching for fairy doors on the common today, making their own childhood memories

The girls still loved dressing in red, white, and blue; waving flags and sparklers; and helping me make patriot parfaits for a special dessert.

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It’s hard not knowing how long we will be here, especially for two people who like to plan ahead for things. And this is not just planning ahead for a trip; this is our life, and our children’s lives, and we have to think about future schools and we worry about our children lacking roots and a place they can always call “home” and, and…

But that’s just the way life is right now, and we are sacrificing a little of our intrinsic need for a (false, of course) sense of control for the reward of enjoying this life we’ve made in London.

We really like living in London. We love the area we chose to live in. We love the lifestyle. We love not having to drive everywhere. We have a busy social calendar and lots of tickets to concerts and plays and sporting events and art exhibitions.

I loved that this morning I was riding my bicycle down the high street, ting-tinging my bell and waving at friends I passed along the way. Sometimes this area of London feels like a small village, where everyone is just one degree of separation.

Then I nearly got hit by a big red bus.

And later, as I was cycling my children home from swim lessons in our cargo bike, dodging the busy traffic in one area by briefly cycling on the pedestrian section (I wasn’t the only one!) some man yelled at me to “go in the road!” And then HE got hit by a big red bus.

…In my mind.

So anyway, it’s still city life. But with a neighbourhood feel… most of the time, at least.

Our children are involved in all sorts of activities and love having their mom walk them to and from school and always be there for their various performances and school trips. E has now lived half her life here, which is hard to believe. R knows no other home.

Years from now, when someone asks them, “Where are you from?” I wonder what they will say. Despite having spent most of my adult life on the East Coast, I can still firmly say I am FROM Tualatin, Oregon. And M is FROM Staunton, Virginia. We lived there until we went to college, our parents still live there, that is home. I want that for my children, I want them to have a place to call home.

On the other hand, they are growing up knowing two different cultures. They get to celebrate the Fourth of July AND Guy Fawkes Day. Double the sparklers, hey now! (Speaking of, we had to plan ahead and buy the sparklers last autumn, near Bonfire Night, to save for today.)

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And on Tuesday night we cheered on the American women’s soccer team against England in the World Cup semi-finals.

We even let E stay up late to watch. USA! USA! USA!

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YANKEE SPANKEE

We incorporate our own American culture and traditions into our children’s lives while they learn and experience the English ones here. Perhaps when someday they get asked “Where are you from?” they will proudly brag, “I spent my childhood in London”; which is pretty cool, if you’re in America.

They know British nursery rhymes and songs, and American versions as well. Sometimes the wheels on the bus go round and round all day long, and sometimes they go all through the town. That’s just how we roll.

For an example of the English culture our children are growing up with, take a look at E’s school’s summer fair map. Most of the schools here do a summer fair as a fundraiser each year, and ours is this weekend.

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Adult Tombola, Coconut Shy, Hook-a-Duck, Lucky Dip, Wet-a-Sponge… my brother was quick to point out that most of these things sound like innuendo for indecent acts that should only be performed by consenting adults behind closed doors.

We also agreed that a version of this fair would probably do very well in Portland. Tattoo stall, bar, cannabis-edibles decorating… and, well, who doesn’t love a giant slide? (For Ghana.)

R has developed a proper English accent, while E can still toggle between English and “American.” Perhaps they have a future career as dialect coaches for American actresses playing English women in films. It’s funny to hear my children say “rubbish” and “ice lolly” and “paddling pool,” and “is it Pimm’s o’clock?”—oh wait, that last one is me.

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We weathered a Grey May and some June Gloom and are currently enjoying a week of perfect temperatures and sunshine and just recently discovered that the sunroof windows in our kitchen can actually open(!!!!!). I’m still learning new things all the time here.

Something else I just learned: Today there were flying ants everywhere. Then someone mentioned that it’s “flying ant day,” when all these flying ants come out to mate, which apparently happens on a day in July, sometimes even disrupting Wimbledon matches. And now we have a bunch of drowned horny winged ants floating in our “paddling pool.” Ew.

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Flying ants in your hair, flying ants errrywherrrre

And apparently seagulls get drunk on them? I dunno. Read this article.

{Aside: It’s still better than when those cicadas/locusts come up out of the ground every 17 years in the mid-Atlantic region of the East Coast. That is something I never want to experience ever again. That is some apocalyptic stuff right there.}

I should probably put an end to this rambling post, but I’m not sure what the conclusion really is. I’ll just pass the mic over and let George Washington drop it for me.

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