Taking Things Slow

slow

When we finally got to Starbucks, the kids chowed down.

The sun has been setting super-early here in recent weeks, which has forced the girls and me to devise new strategies for play sessions after R’s nap. Some days, the girls and I take a bus to someplace fun and explore by the lights of the city. On super-cold days, like today, we stay closer to home, often wandering around the neighborhood, just for the sake of getting out.

These excursions are less about where we’re headed and more about the journey itself. As we wander, the girls jump off stoops, inspect fallen leaves, sing Taylor Swift songs (yes, really) and point at helicopters flying overhead.

And, as you can imagine, with so many activities and distractions, we don’t move very quickly. In fact, we make slugs look speedy.

Tonight, for instance, a “simple” stroll to the local Starbucks, eight blocks from our flat, took 36 minutes. To put that into perspective, in the same amount of time, we could have watched an entire episode of Seinfeld AND made a grilled cheese. I also could have written this blog post.

Some might be bothered by this pace. As for me, I kind of love it. My job keeps me up late every night. I’m up early to get the girls ready and drop L at school. Every day—even weekends—has lots going on.

And that’s precisely why these ambles with the kiddos are so damn fun.

I’ve written posts that touch upon this notion before, posts about the benefit of nothing on a family trip. I can’t stress the importance of slowing down strongly enough. At a time when so many of us family travelers are rushing off to see this museum or that famous landmark, an era when so many of us moms and dads program ourselves to shuttle kids from school to football practice and ballet, having a few hours just to be with the kids is a wonderful gift.

Even if these walks force me to wait for my triple tall Americano, even if they make us human icicles by the time we get home, the aimless strolls I take with my girls are a critical component of bonding as a brood. I’ve got all the patience in the world to move at their pace. After all, who knows how much longer they’ll even want me to come?

 To what extent do you factor in “nothing time” with your family when you travel?

An Open Letter to the (Almost) 2-Year-Old

Parenthood doesn't get any better than this.

Parenthood doesn’t get any better than this.

Dear Little R:

Someday, years from now, you and I will sit back and talk about this fall in London, and we’ll smile. We’ll grin at all the pictures of you pointing to weather vanes. We’ll laugh at the GoPro video from the London Eye (the one where you are chanting, “London Eye” to the tune of Springsteen’s “Empty Sky”). We’ll chuckle while we reminisce about your obsession with Big Ben.

These are the Big Moments that have characterized our trip so far, the ones we tell your grandparents about in letters and on Skype. And, indeed, they are important.

But they’re not my favorites. Not by a long shot.

No, my baby, I prefer our mornings, the three hours you and I get to spend together every day, just the two of us. We drop your Big Sister off at school. We swing by Molly’s (or another café) for a coffee and chocolate croissants. Then we just hang.

Some days we head up the hill to the playground in St. John’s Wood. Other days we take the bus to Hyde Park. Then, of course, there are the days when we do REALLY crazy stuff, like take the Tube to see the Gherkin, or hop a canal boat tour into Camden to check out those amazing locks (you know how much I can geek out over modern engineering).

I love these “dates” because they’re fun. I love them because they’re relaxing. Most of all, I love them because I get you all to myself.

Nothing against your sister, of course; I had similar solo time with her when she was your age and you weren’t alive. But because you came second, and because she’s here too, alone time with you is rare. That means I’m that much more protective of it when I actually get some.

And so, on the eve of your second birthday, my baby, I say: Thank you. Thank you for making every morning so special. Thank you for willingly joining me on these jaunts around the city. Thank you for being cool about the whole daddy-has-to-stop-and-get-a-coffee thing. Most important, thanks for being such a fun and easy-going partner in crime.

Years from now, many birthdays down the road, you may not remember much of our morning dates here in London, and that’s totally fine by me. I’ll fill you in. Because I will cherish them forever. And I’ll never forget.

Love always,
Daddy

Embracing Playgrounds of the Future

Coffee made this (fantastic) playground better.

Coffee made this (fantastic) playground better.

I have seen the playgrounds of the future on the streets of London, and they all have one thing in common: Cafes.

No, I’m not talking about tiny kiosks that sell nothing but candy bars and bags of chips. I’m talking full-on, honest-to-goodness cafes. With fresh food. Ice cream. And, best of all, espresso machines. That make strong coffee drinks. Quickly.

Seriously.

After two weeks on the ground here, three of our four favorite playgrounds have such snack bars. And I’m already spoiled rotten. Heck, the café at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens even sells hot pizzas. Who in his or her right mind wouldn’t be all over something like that?

Specifically, I like the trend for a number of reasons.

First, for parents like me—humans who regularly operate at a sleep deficiency—knowing that you’re never more than a swingset away from a double Americano does wonders for the energy levels (and the patience levels while “negotiating” with cheeky kids).

Second, when you forget to bring snacks from home, the baristas/snack-keepers have you covered.

Finally, these on-site cafés offer a certain degree of flexibility to reward good behavior (or to splurge on lunch away from home). If the kids are being good and you don’t really feel like racing home to eat, you can dash into the café to buy relatively healthy sandwiches and fruit at the playground and chow down there.

I beg of our community leaders back home: HOOK US UP! As an expat who has appreciated the beauty of playground cafes here, I publicly cast my vote. Tens of thousands of parents across our nation would agree if they had the option to do so. Who says we grownups can’t have fun at playgrounds too?

To what extent would you patronize a café at your favorite playground?

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