Even though this adventure happened many years ago, it seems like yesterday. A story of how I acquired new baggage after I had gotten rid of the old. Here is my entry for Sunday Scribblings - With Baggage.
My divorce was final five hours ago, and I am on a plane headed to London with my two young daughters ages 6 and 9, for a month of much needed rest and relaxation, but ultimately to celebrate a new life. After years of a nightmare of a marriage that made me feel like I was stuck in the great abyss, not to mention sucked the spirit out of my soul, I am free at last. No more trying to please someone who refused to be pleased, no more being stuck in an oppressive marriage with a partner who became an authority figure, no more being with someone who would rather be an attorney than a family man. I am scared, excited and feel hope for the first time in years. This trip is a temporary respite from the enormity of being a single mother and a chance to prove to everyone that I can do it all on my own. Haven't my friends pointed out to me that even though I have been married, I have been a single mom all along?
The girls and I left the spacious house with the pool, the view, the status, and will return to a house one fourth the size, but in a neighborhood full of kids. Everything we owned is packed and ready to be transported to a new life while we are on the other side of the world. I am scared to death, full of fear of the unknown but feeling the same emotions I felt when I left home to go off to college in another state. I am going far away from the familiar, but the excitement supersedes the fear.
I would of never had this great opportunity if it weren't for Clare, the twenty something year old English nanny who lives with us and suggested we exchange houses with her aunt for a few weeks. Her aunt Mary is also a single mother who lives in Clare's hometown on the border of Cornwall and Devon in Southwest England and was dying to come to California with sons in tow, to visit her niece. Clare's mom Hillary and father Michael had come to California to visit Clare and stayed with us at separate times, so at least it is reassuring to know two familiar faces. This is going to be touchy though, because they are divorced and are not on speaking terms.
We arrive in Launceston, England after a thirteen hour flight, an hour and a half bus ride and a five hours on a train. We are met by Hillary, who becomes my friend and savior. The house we are staying in is a few blocks from hers and we realize immediately how different this life style is from the one we are accustomed to. Everything is smaller - the house, the rooms, the refrigerator, the car, the clothes closet. This is an indication of things to come for us when we arrive back home. The town is charming and everyone, and I do mean everyone knows one another. We are instant celebrities and people open their arms to welcome us in a way that is touching and sincere. This is probably the only country that I have ever been to where Americans are actually endeared.
After the shock of not seeing anything familiar, we learn to become accustomed to life without McDonald's, fast food, chain stores and traffic. It is like living in a chapter from a history book and everything is charming and takes my breath away. Every day is an adventure exploring the town which includes a castle built in 1100 A.D., a bakery owned by family friends of Clare, a magic store that thrills and entertains the girls day after day. A clerk who actually spends time showing them every magic trick in the place and genuinely loves her job. We go all over the country side with Hillary and get to see the real England and how the common people exist day to day. We visit the beaches, a real farm where we see pigs and goats up close and personal, castles, breathtaking scenery that makes me think I have died and gone to heaven. Since my maternal grandparents were born and raised in England, I feel a certain blood line to the British people and part of me feels at home. It is quite an adventure seeing everything and everyone Clare has been telling us about for the past year. We have grown to love her, and now we really feel a part of her life.
The children make friends with the boy and girl next door and spend time with their family learning customs including having pancakes for dinner. I get to hang out with Hilary and her childhood friends and I am having the time of my life. The surroundings may be different, but friendships and camaraderie are the same anywhere. Clare's father Michael has us over for tea and entertains us quite a bit also. We are on the go every minute of every day for the whole three weeks.
Our last week is spent in London by ourselves and we enjoy all that it has to offer. It is quite a contast to Launceston, but exciting none the less and one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. It is amazing how quickly we take to London and the Tube, hitting the museums and shopping at Harrod's like natives. It is an advantage being able to speak the same language even though our accent causes everyone to ask us if we are Americans. The good thing is they don't look like they want to throw up when they ask.
The flight back to Los Angeles goes on forever and I am dreading what awaits me once we land. I am going home to a new house, one that I have only seen twice, and boxes and boxes to be unpacked and put away. I will have to go back to school and get a job and see if I can survive on way less money than I am accustomed to. I am also nervous about going through customs because I left with basically nothing, thinking I would buy everything new in England with my post-divorce money. For once, I wouldn't have to account to anyone about what I was doing. So shop we did. We bought clothes, shoes, things for the house, books, toys, toiletries, magazines, not to mention the hundred pounds of magic tricks. I guess you could call it retail therapy. I had to buy three extra suitcases to hold all the stuff.
People are staring at us as we claim our baggage and work our way towards customs. One woman takes a look at all the luggage we have and warns me that it is going to get ugly. The kids are having a meltdown, and I am feeling doom and gloom. Out of nowhere a customs officer comes up to me and advises the three of us and our luggage to follow him. Oh, no, can they throw you in jail for a post-divorce shopping spree? The duty is going to cost me more than the whole trip. All of a sudden he opens the gate and tells us we can exit. We not only do we NOT have to wait in the ridiculously long line, we don't have to go through the grueling customs. I look back at all the people on our flight who are standing in line and smile with no remorse. For a fleeting moment, I have a feeling that my new life is going to be all right. Maybe God does have a special place in his heart for single moms.