An American Mum in London

Funny fact about me: I spoke with a proper English accent in elementary school. I wore a tie and carried a briefcase- a young lady version of Alex P. Keaton. We lived outside the United States for a few years in the mid-1980's which really informed who I am today. If I ever get the chance, I'd love to do the same thing for my kids. My dear friend Julie Kemp met an English man named Jonathan here in the Bay Area. They fell in love and she hopped the pond.  Now with two young children, Daisy and Charlie, she gets to experience raising children abroad.  I asked her some questions about her experience...

Tell us about yourself, and your life as an American "Mum".

I moved to the UK in 2006, a single girl going to live with her British boyfriend in Notting Hill. It was a split minute decision, one I didn't even consider twice - a no-brainer. We had just finished backpacking together for about 14 months, and he had a house in London while I didn't own a property in the Bay Area. Now, nearly 7 years later, married with two kids and totally engrained in society with no definitive date of ever moving back, I wonder if I should have given that decision more thought?? ;) Nah, I really like it here, even love it at times! The kids have dual nationality and have done since birth. They are British through and through, especially Daisy - my 4.5 year old daughter, mostly because she has started "Reception" (Kindergarten equivalent, which starts at age 4) this year. We wanted her to go to a public school, but being London and everything totally oversubscribed, she did not get into any of our 5 (FIVE!) schools of choice so she now goes to a local private preparatory school where she is being taught to be a proper little English girl - full uniform and all, including a pinafore dress, real tie (not even the clip on kind!), crisp white collar shirt, blazer (complete with large shoulder pads), felt harrow hat (see photograph), etc etc. Basically an 8 piece uniform that takes forever to put on in the mornings. 

How do you find your experience differs from your American friends?

People ask all the time how parenting here differs from "the States" and it's so strange to try and answer that question. Even though I was brought up completely and totally in the U.S., I've never had kids there - and since things have changed so much since I was a small child, I really feel out of touch with how people raise little ones back home. For the most part, by comparing stories with my American friends, I feel like life here and there must be fairly similar - the differences mostly being based around whether you live in a city or in the suburbs in either country. We live here in an area called Chiswick - a leafy subset of West London. It's a great happy medium between the city and the 'burbs and feels very neighborhoody while everything we need is within walking distance from our house. The tube (subway) is 10 minute walk away, the bus at the end of our street goes right into Central London (Piccadilly, Oxford Circus, etc.) and there are tons of shops and restaurants a stones throw away. 

Life consists of working part-time as a graphic designer while hanging out with my kids as much as possible. I have recently gone back to working in an office so I am commuting every other day, but on the days spent with my kids, we do a lot of activities, after school play-dates (where the kids have 'tea' for dinner, meaning tea-time is dinner time!), homework, baby-ccinos (a phenomenon in London which I cannot believe hasn't hit California yet - every coffee shop does these here and usually for free - a mini foaming milk with chocolate powder on top!), playgrounds and parks. That is one thing I do love about London - the amazing amount of green space! It is really incredible to see when you are flying over - exactly how many parks there are dotted throughout the city. Hyde park is an easy 15-20 minute bus ride away and the exploration there is endless.

What has been your favorite thing about raising your family in England?

I love living in Europe. I love that feeling like I am traveling, being abroad and amongst so much cultural diversity that is London and sharing it with my children. For better and for worse however, England is starting to feel less and less foreign every day and just more like home. But I love living in a place that has so much diversity and is such a big, buzzing and bustling city. I love riding with the children on the top of the red double deckers buses (and on a regular basis!), taking the tube all over the city and visiting the plethora of amazing museums London has to offer (practically all of which are free to get into too). Although we haven't done this as much as I would have liked in the past 18 months because of our house renovation, I adore the fact that we can hop on a plane (or drive for that matter) and be in an assortment of different countries in an hour.... it feels like cultural freedom! That will definitely be one of the things I miss the most when we move back to the US - the ability to do foreign travel so easily.

What's it like having kids that speak with an English accent in British English?

My brother coincidentally lives in the UK as well and has three children with very English accents. I used to ask him (back when I still lived in CA and had no kids) if it was weird hearing his own children with accents so different than his own. He told me that he didn't really hear their accents as foreign because they talked the way they talked and always had done ever since they had started formulating words. I didn't quite understand this but now I do. Daisy has recently emerged with a very distinct English accent, mostly since starting school. I can definitely hear it, especially with certain words (tomato for one!) and I am told her accent is "quite posh" (what...?!) but the way she talks is just 'her'. The same as she has always talked and I don't particularly notice it is different from me. Same with my husband as well really. I suppose once you hear someone speak so much, you become immune to any accent! They have all rubbed off on me as well, and I am incapable of avoiding sounded like a "Transatlantic" - the total immersion for 7 years has left me very affected and almost feeling like stuck in between two worlds - people back at home give me a hard time for my faux "British" accent (which I think really comes down to the little sing-song I can't get rid of at the end of my sentences and the English words that are stuck in my vocab) and people here love to tease me about my obvious American accent and vocab - it's a lose lose! 

You became a mother while living in England, what are some differences in your experience compared with your American friends?

Well, the big one right off the bat is the NHS! (National Health Service). Private health insurance exists here, and a lot of Americans do get it - usually either because it is what they are used to or because their jobs cover it. But I chose to go 'native' and follow all care through the NHS until I felt there was a problem, which thankfully, there never was. The NHS provides all medical care and prescriptions for free for pregnant women, and the prescriptions continue to be free for 1 year after the child is born. (After that they are all a flat rate of roughly $12 or so - not bad!) The thing that was different about this care than the treatment in the US, was that I met with midwives throughout the entire pregnancy rather than doctors. Doctors only come into the picture if there is a problem. Even throughout the births, doctors do not deliver unless there is a complication. I never came face to face with a doctor during my pregnancy/birth with my first child and only came into contact with one in the final stages of birth with my second because I came close to having a c-section. Then of course, doctors are available instantly, but again fortunately I did not need them in the end. The care throughout both of the pregnancies and births of my children in England was fantastic....and after everything, I did not pay one penny for either child! You definitely do hear stories of people who did not have similar success with the NHS for the births of their children etc, and I do think I did have some luck involved in the timing of both of my births (hospital space, midwives on hand etc) but all in all, I feel like I had two very positive experiences.

Do you have any European brands/trends that you'd recommend to Poppy Haus readers?

Well for clothes, since I've had too little time to source out interesting places to shop - I frequent all the regulars that have now made an appearance in the US: Topshop, H&M, Zara, Mango, Uniglow, Whistles - and I love Zadig Voltaire and Jigsaw (where Kate Middleton used to be a buyer for before she hit Royal-town!).... When it comes to items for the home, I love (amazing styles for such good prices - you just have to wait a bit for the products after you order), Fab UK, Dwell.... and my new favorite site is - SUCH cute stuff from the UK - a site full of independent sellers with unique artsy products of all kinds. I think they even ship internationally - check it out!

You grew up in the Bay Area, what do you miss the most about "home"?

Oh where do I start! Mexican food. Hiking the foothills through wild orange Californian poppies. The beach. Oh and the biggest thing? The sun! Aw England - I heart you.