Sunday, February 16, 2014

Where We're At (and: Four Months Old)

First things first: Col is four months old! Grabbing things! Mastering the /g/ sound! Up to 16 pounds! We're obviously raising a champion here, folks!

"Hands off my little piggies"

Already working on his intense creepy look

Now for the last month. When we left for England on January 1, we had exactly this much stuff:
Deriving grim satisfaction using all of British Airways' luggage tags

I mentioned last time that we were staying in a short-term rental. This amount of stuff was sufficient--even ample--for those 500-square-foot digs, where Tor slept in the family room every night. This is basically the entire living space, plus a small bedroom for us, the kitchen, and the bathroom:

Learning to love Legos

The great thing was its proximity to every kind of service and to Lars's office, so we got to set up our bank account and cell phones, check out libraries and museums, and choose from multiple grocery stores within walking distance. It didn't have any space for guests, though, so when Oma and Opa came to visit, they stayed in a B&B about a mile away and walked over every morning.

While in that rental, we explored campus and nearby neighborhoods on the nicer days. One nearby attraction was Oxford Castle, which featured a mound from the Anglo-Saxon period as well as stocks of various sizes.

Our tour guide had a dark sense of humor
"Look! Opa's in the stockings!"

It may be rainy, but it's green

Double stinkeye

You just have to walk exactly in the middle of the path

Al fresco dining . . .

. . . and a real dinner out (yes, Tor drank ALL THAT MANGO JUICE)
On January 20, we moved into our six-month rental. With three bedrooms and a big living room (by UK standards), it felt palatial. The moving company delivered the stuff we'd earmarked and put the rest in storage until we buy a place (or, less ideally, rent long term). It's a good place for us, with grocery stores half a mile away and close to a main bus route. The strangest feature about the house is that the door opens directly onto the sidewalk, so you get no space to regroup once you're out.

Note the rental agency capitalizing on the free advertising space

The place is furnished, and in addition to all the furniture, dishware, and linens, the landlord family, which is spending the next six months in New Zealand, left their three-year-old daughter's toys out for Tor. The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of discovery, and perhaps the biggest hit is a Duplo castle set. So what if the castle is pink? (I've explained to Tor that there are no boy colors or girl colors. Hopefully all his friends will agree.) The owners also left a bassinet for Col. They have a ten-week-old baby, so we're not the only ones insane enough to move internationally with kids these ages.

"Choices, choices. What shall I play with next?"

Oh, Nipple Head. You've been with us so long.
Lars bought the robes required  for college ceremonies, including a fancy dinner that we'll attend next Friday. He tried them on for us and we agreed they're the kind of robe you DO have to wear clothing under.
Joined by his wife rocking that hip "just-pulled-the-baby-off-the-teat-for-this-photo" look

There's also a park right across the street, which it's been chilly for, but it has seen light use by Tor.
Wellies and Spiderman role play don't mix well

Lars's office is about a 20-minute bike ride away. I've brought the kids over to visit once so far.
Light reading

The city's one huge indoor playground, the somewhat bizarrely named Partyman, is a 25-minute walk/bus/walk from the rental. Oma and Opa got Tor an annual pass so that he can go party anytime he wants, and with the weather as it is, the pass has halfway paid for itself already.

Don't tell him it moves if you put money in it
About a three-minute walk from the house is our local pub, the Cricketer's Arms, billed as one of the most family-friendly pubs in Oxford. Its garden (= back yard) features a big play structure and a seasonal trampoline.

"Tor, your beer's getting warm!"
After Oma and Opa left for Denmark (they later returned for another week), we rented a car for the weekend and headed up to visit dear friends Nono, Ioana, Sonia, and Olivia in Cambridgeshire. Nono's been a postdoc at the University of Cambridge for about six months already. Tor and Sonia had a highly successful sleepover, while Col enjoyed the attentions of two older women.
"Turn out that light, jerks"

That unimpressed look is just a facade
The next day we drove to nearby Ely to visit the Ely Cathedral, and we grabbed coffee and cream scones nearby. The kids held up admirably in the blowing rain.
Quick peek to confirm he's headed in the right direction

The foyer's "maze" held their attention for about 30 seconds

The next week, Col came down with a nasty cold that's now going on its third week. I also just got him drops for pinkeye. Tor caught the cough but not the conjunctivitis (so far). This allows me to comment that I've been impressed with the NHS so far. They even sent a doctor for a house call at 4:00 a.m. when Col's fever spiked so that we didn't have to take a cab or walk.

The English patient in the coziest sickbed ever

"I'm helping Col FEEL better. Shh, Col! Big Brother's here!"

Oma and Opa reprised their visit, to everyone's delight.

Strolling by University College, Lars's employer
Most joyful recycling stomp-down ever recorded

Now that we're in our new place, the kids have started nursery (= day care). Our new routine involves us all walking the 0.8 miles there by 8:00 a.m., me walking home to freelance and job-hunt and Lars riding to work, me walking to pick up Col at 1:00 and walking home (or to the store/library/pharmacy/doctor), and Lars biking to get Tor by 6:00. Then we all have dinner together.

It's nice to know what to expect every day, and the kids seem to like the nursery, which is called Stepping Stones. It has about 25 kids divided into three age ranges: 3 to 18 months (since no one goes to day care until 3 months here, ever--you have to get a sitter if you want to ditch a younger baby), 18 months to 3 years, and 3 to 4 years. Col is the youngest and Tor is the only full-timer, probably because we have different (read: American) ideas about what day care is for than all the other parents do. I'm pretty sure no one unemployed like I am would dream of putting their children in nursery. We hypothesize that more people here either stay home or work part-time until their kids go to school, which would explain all the half-day kids.

Ready for the morning ride

Suited up for the walk
Flipper baby!

The huge news around here this week is that Tor is finally toilet-trained. (Release the doves! Cue the dancing girls!) Last Saturday we just put him in underwear the whole day to see how it would go, and presto--or, as they say here, Bob's your uncle!--he got the hang of it after only six accidents and a painful night of insisting he didn't need to poop. He does demand that he use a potty in his room, but who are we to quibble at this point? He's even going at day care and staying dry at night.

One of his final moments in diapers

Spiderman undies are a crucial component of this whole enterprise

So I got him Super Kid PJs to celebrate (and allow him to pull down his PJ pants, since he can't gracefully unzip his unitard sleepers). He's been pointing out to me ever since that he's not SuperKID, he's SuperMAN.
"I'm SuperMAN though, because I'm a MAN, not a kid."

I think the biggest adjustment for me, other than the very fact of being so far from family and friends, is not having a car. Or a dryer. Both of these have messed with my desire for instant gratification, which is also what bugs me about various bureaucracies I've encountered here. Things that I'm used to getting done quickly--e.g., changing our home address with the bank--require an in-person visit and often a waiting period. So I'm learning to plan ahead and to leave big spaces between activities, and Tor is learning he can't have his favorite outfits right after we wash them. So when the PJs get wet, it's a one-day waiting period until he can wear them again. Maybe that'll help teach him.