Category Archives: UK

D Day

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So, remember that decision we were supposed to make months ago about moving to the UK? Right. We’re still in the process of making it.

And in doing so, we are constantly weighing pros and cons. The biggest pro is that it is a professional step up for The Scientist. And there are other pros, of course, like new cultural experiences and European travel. On the other hand, I worry about not having a job there–about not ever getting a job there. Nevermind the longer term career issues for me, how can we possibly afford to live off of one academic salary? Also, I am also loathe to leave a place where I am quite content. But on the other hand (like Tevye, we seem to have many hands to play the other)–The Scientist has turned down tenure-track jobs before, and this is a really good one. How do we decide? Will a message just appear from the heavens?

It happens there are messages, like Chinese fortunes, but unwrapped and there for all to see, not up in the sky, but below, on the paving stones dotting my college campus. Throughout the semester–and our decision-making process–I trod on two on the path between my office and my classroom. One says “Yes!” (apparently the whole of the letter of acceptance a former dean used to send out). Another says, “Be happy. Never be content.”

It’s hard to ignore the signs.

BUT, there are other signs. Like grapes.

The other day, I’m chatting with my mom on the phone as I’m unpacking my groceries. Crunch, crunch, crunch in her ear. “Mom,” I gush, “I am eating the best grapes in the world. Do you know what I mean when I say the best grapes?”

“I know good grapes.”

“No, but I mean the best grapes. You know–like crispy.”

“I know crispy grapes.”

“But not just crispy. Crispy and –” chomp chomp –“juicy.”

“Yes, honey, I got it. I know crispy and juicy grapes.”

“You know what it is, mom?” I ask.

“What?” asks my mother, whose patience for me is astounding.

“It’s that Whole Foods charges, like, double the price for everything. This bag of grapes cost me $10, but here’s the amazing thing. It’s still a good deal.” I continue to unload my brightly colored organic produce, carefully packaged containers of cheese, and freshly ground peanut butter. “The thing is,” I say, “Their stuff is actually five times better than normal supermarket stuff.”

My mother sighs.

“Oh, princess,” she says, “You are not good at being poor.”

Alas, D Day approaches. In the next couple of days, we need to give the UK university an answer. What will it be? Will we stay on in this princely town . . . or will we go back to our (non-organic) salad days in a new land?

baby in a bathtub

Our former salad days: When Cool J came along, we didn’t have money for a place with a bedroom for him . . . but he survived!

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Best Parent (not really, but whatever)

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Last week, The Scientist and I went to England for six days. Six days. Sans kids. It was spectacular.

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What kids?

But–I worried. I did. Not about the kids, who I knew would be fine. I worried about my parents. Would they survive? Would they be completely destroyed on our return? Would they beg us to never, ever, ever show them the faces of their horrible grandchildren ever again? I wondered/feared/suspected.

Not at all. I was wrong. When I said, “I’m sorry if the baby climbed in your bed 95 times a night,” my mom said, “Huh? He never did that.” There has not been a night in remembered history that Baby MoFo has not shown up in my bed–and when returned to his own room, he comes back. And back. And back. When I said, “Sorry if they wasted all the food you made,” she said, “They ate beautifully!” When I asked, “Did the TV ever get turned off?” she said, “It never got turned on. They love to read!”

The day after I came home, I went to the boys’ school for LL’s “Authors’ Breakfast”–a morning where second graders read from the books they’ve been writing all year (needless to say, LL’s books were about zombies, plants–as they relate to zombies, that is, and Ninjao, and soccer). LL’s teacher calls me aside. “Were you away?” she asks. “Yes, I say. Thanks for asking–.” “I was wondering–all week?” “Yes, we–.” “He was perfect this week. Best he’s ever been.” “Great.”

Of course he was. Because it turns out what my parents have suspected all along is true. They are better parents than us.

But today I decided I redeemed myself. This morning was Cool J’s kindergarten graduation. It was very cute: the kids danced around and sang various songs about being friends and sharing and all that other kindergarteny-type stuff. At the end, our attention was drawn to the mini-people on the wall that the kids had painted and decorated. Each child wrote under the words “After I graduate I” what he or she wanted to be. Our jobs, as the parents, was to figure out which minifig represented our own child. Was mine the own who wrote “I want to be an artist”? “I want to be a cook”? “I want to be an emergency room doctor?” No, I knew right away:

hockey player 2013

I could have picked any of the kids’ pictures. I could have picked the one whose said “After I graduate, I want to be a lactation consultant.” I could have–really. I could have, but I didn’t. And do you know why? Because I know my kids. I might not get them to eat their greens at every meal or stay in their beds or read regularly, but I know them. Because I am the best parent. Well, not really, but whatever.

Bri’ishisms and the Housing Market

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One pro that people keep touting in terms of our potentially moving to the UK is that people speak English, so we wouldn’t have to learn a new language. But this is problematic on two counts:

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1. I don’t see not learning a new language as a pro at all, but a flat-out con. Oh, to speak fluent Español, Français! Italiano! I would love for us all to learn to roll our tongues just so or watch a Fellini film sans subtitles.

2. I don’t understand the English of the English. I’m not just talking about the accents in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. I’m talking vocab. I’ve got boot, lift, and shag down. The rest is a mystery.

To wit, here is a typical property description of a house for sale on a British real estate website:

800px-Buckingham_Palace,_London_-_April_2009

No upward chain! No upward chain!

The details:

Five Bedroom Detached Family Home
Chain Free
Three Receptions
Off Road Parking
Rear Garden

What the heck is an upward chain, why should I be excited not to have one–or any “chains” at all? And why are they going to give me three receptions when I buy their house? My wedding reception was enough reception for a lifetime!

Also, I am so glad this house has a “fridgefreezer,” but why does it not–as none of them seem to–have a dryer? How does one dry one’s clothes in England, when no one owns a dryer, and it rains every day?

In any case, the houses cost too much for us. I’m also skeptical that they’ll give us a mortgage with no UK credit rating. If one needs a “letter of introduction” to open a bank account there, what will they require for a mortgage?? The prices for rentals look, at first glance, quite reasonable. Only £615 for a cute little bungalow? Why, that’s not bad at all–that’s about $930. Even if it’s out in the burbs, and the house is not new or beautiful, still, it has 4 bedrooms and its own personal garage (sheer luxury for us–we have never ever had our own garage). But wait–what is this “pw”? Pretty well £615? Posh washrooms included? Alas, British rentals are listed per week. £615 = closer to $4000/month for a piece of crap. Which is better than any of the listings with prices “pppw.” Don’t you know it–per person per week. At 5 of us x whatever the price is = too much money.

Oh, boy. Housing is going to be fun. I think we’re going to need a translator. IF we go, that is . . .

QEII

This Vagabond Life–Forever???

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All three kids have now lived a good part of their lives in the US, a good part in Canada. Is it time to move on? Are we destined to be vagabonds forever, moving from one country to the next, never settling, never buying that aluminum-siding, characterless McMansion, never investing in any long-term commitments (like phone contracts), never, as they said back in the 20th century, “putting down roots”? Is that, perhaps, not such a bad thing?

Alright, readers, here’s the thing: We have a chance to move to the UK.

S0–should we stay or should we go?

Option A

Option A

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Option B

Put another way:

Option A

Option A

Option B

Option B

Well, this could go on. I will give you the pros and cons for our family, and you will tell me what to do with my life.

Here we go–

The Pros:

* Jewish day schools are state-funded in the UK. That means FREE! (you can give a *voluntary* donation, which is bubkas compared to what we pay on this side of the Atlantic). Not only are they FREE, but they are also multicultural (since they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion for a state-funded school). 

*We would live in Europe! Granted, it’s not the continent, but the continent is a hop, skip, and a cheap Ryanair flight away. Hello, weekend in Barcelona, ski trip in Slovenia, a little shopping in Milan.

*The Scientist would be in a “real” job–an actual faculty member in a strong department with good research. As he moves from mid- to late-thirties, the time might be nigh to play big boy!

*We can vote. Apparently our Commonwealth status is worth something somewhere beyond Canadian borders. Of course, I know nothing about British politics, but it might be nice to get to have a say about the place I’m living in. Can I vote, by the way, for Canada not to be a part of the Commonwealth anymore (I’m really big on that whole republic thing, and do not appreciate being a monarchy with a foreign head of state), or would that be kind of self-defeating? (Would I be voting down my right vote?)

*We love welfare states! That’s so left-wing pinko commie academic of us, too, and sooo Canadian, too. But universal healthcare, you are a beautiful thing. It means the end of the very American kind of mail that arrives at our house and startles the crap out of us: “This is not a bill. Emergency room visit: $1480. Your insurance paid: $260. You owe: $0.” Huh?

The Cons:

*I LOVE SUNSHINE. The Scientist is of the opinion that weather “doesn’t matter,” but I DISAGREE! I might DIE in the grey, dreary, and drippy short dark days of the UK. And does it ever end? Rainy winters lead into rainy springs lead into rainy summers . . . Well, you get the picture.

*I would be jobless, friendless, and colleagueless. English departments at UK unis seem utterly devoid of American literature. I suspect the attitude is something along the lines of, “So, have they produced anything over in those colonies yet? Nah . . .”

*Babi and Zaidy and Gramma and Saba and aunties and uncles and all the cousins will be oh so far away. And phone/Skype conversations might become a challenge once our accents have morphed and we can no longer understand our family or them us.

*At heart, there is something deeply American (aka materialistic) about us. We go on about getting rid of clutter, going all minimalist, etc etc, but the truth is this: we love stuff. When I asked an American in the UK recently what it was that he missed most about the US, this is what he said: STUFF! (I panicked. What? No stuff? No stuff? What will I do without stuff?) He then he went on to point out that in the local Sainsbury’s or Tesco, at best you could find 30 or 40 kinds of cereal. Only 30 or 40! I mean, we’re not going to starve, but–?! (Ugh, if I were a better person, this would go in the pro list. So maybe the more appropriate con is that I have to realize what a bad, materialistic person I am.)

*We will be even poorer than we are now–in a not so cheap part of the world (some would say obscenely expensive, even). I know I’m all, yeah, whatev, I’m used to being a  באָרוועסר פּראָפעסאָר

. . . but can I handle being any poorer?

So–what should we do?