It was my first trip away in ten years, without wearing my mother and wife ‘hats’. An old University friend in the UK was the carrot and after ten years of at home parenting (mostly as an expat in New Zealand), with only one night away (ever; and that was when I had two daughters, not three), it was a well overdue trip. It took lots of friendly encouragement from friends to give me the confidence, before hubbie gave me the final push – by booking the flight for me! There was no excuse now!
So it was, that I boarded the air-coach at Santa Barbara on a Thursday morning, to travel to Los Angeles and then fly to London Heathrow for a four day stay, wearing only my daughter, sister and friend hats. It seemed easier to fly ‘across the pond’ (the Atlantic) than it ever would have been to do a short trip home to the UK from New Zealand, our home of over fifteen years. Half the cost, half the distance, half the travel time.
The biggest ‘pull’ to living for a year or so in the USA with three children (for hubbie’s work), was knowing I’d be a little closer to my beloved family in the UK; so it was only right that I made the most of the opportunity. Hubbie insisted that they would cope without me (but I still employed someone to help out on the days he would be working from home – knowing full well that little work would be possible with the ever present zest of our wonderful Miss 3 and home-educated Miss 8 and 10!).
Boarding the air-coach was easier than I could have anticipated, with all three children being genuinely positive with their send off. There were no tears, no guilt trips, no desperate pleas to join me. So I stepped onboard with light feet and excitement, feeling instantly free of responsibility. A two hour coach trip, four hour wait at LAX and ten hour flight was ahead of me – time, more than I can remember having in the past decade, for reading, shopping, browsing the latest book releases, eating at leisure, watching movies and staring out of the window for some uninterrupted day-dreaming.
The flight was quiet, with almost everyone in the back third of the plane having a line of seats to themselves. There were hardly any children to remind me of my own (though one did pipe up about the time I knew my brood would be heading off to sleep in California – which resulted in me having a little sob!). I got those tears out of my system, sipped a wine, put on my eye-mask, plugged in ear-plugs and breathed deeply – I’d need all the rest possible – as I was due to arrive in London Heathrow at 11am (3am in California).
My agenda for the four day trip was a stay at my childhood home in Fleet (after landing at LHR at 11am and catching a breath of fresh air at the amazing Wisley Gardens), and a catch up with my best-friend, on the Friday night; a wedding on Saturday, at The Grove, Hertfordshire; a trip up to the Peak District to see my sister on Sunday; a return drive on Monday, from the Peak District in northern England to Hampshire in southern England, an evening watching Giselle, the ballet, at a cinema in Camberley (live screened, globally, from the Royal Opera House in London); before a 6am departure on the last day for my return flight.
I landed in LHR ahead of time and cleared border control and customs before my folks had even arrived at the airport to greet me (it was a lot easier to power walk from the airplane to border control without children trailing bags and needing toilet stops!).
My folks surprised me with a visit to Wisley Gardens, enroute to my childhood home in Fleet, Hampshire. It was just the fix my body needed after a long haul flight and six months of living under Californian blue southern skies, where I’ve only seen rain in two days! I was hungry for ‘real weather’, green grass, air temperatures that make a person feel alive, savoury foods and a proper cup of tea in a china cup! At Wisley Gardens I was immersed in historic architecture and gardens willed with familiar trees from my childhood in Hampshire.
I borrowed my Dad’s camera and turned into an obvious ‘tourist’, finding excitement in what the locals would take for granted: Silver birch trees and pussy willows dangling over a river in flood, holly bushes and snow-drops, grass so green it was luminescent and watered only by nature’s hand, hellebores in flower and even a tree in blossom. I barely had a moment to think about my dear daughters in the USA, as I was so immersed in the moment!
My senses were alive with getting a fix of nature, British style, and the fresh air was fighting off my jet lag with a brisk hand.
Unfortunately the fresh air wasn’t quite enough to completely banish the fuzzy head of long-haul and a nap would be needed if I was going to manage to stay up till bedtime, so it was home to Fleet we went. My dear Mum tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, under instructions to wake me about 5pm.
A refreshing nap and I was ready to catch up with my best friend from school days. I wish I could have stayed up longer, but with a wedding to attend the next day, I needed some shut eye!
To be continued…