One of the perks of being an empty nester is the ability to go out to dinner and a movie without having to procure the services of reliable childcare. Thursday evenings have long been our "date night" although we aren't always able to take advantage of it due to scheduling conflicts. It all started when we lived in the UK the first time (1981-1985) and were learning to live outside of our home country. It was a time fraught with many misunderstandings, much longing for the perceived "familiar", long hours for Mike in London and long hours "in the trenches" with three children for me.
After more than a few mud slinging "conversations" (some of which involved dishware or whatever happened to be close by), we decided we needed QUALITY time to discuss our disagreements. So "date night" was born. Come hell or high water, Thursday nights meant scheduling a "child minder" (which is what they were called then - which I always found a bit backwards - shouldn't the child be doing the minding?) and we'd head out. We might have an argument the entire time, but, by golly, we'd at least have it uninterrupted and get it settled! Now I don't want you to think that we were on the brink of despair or anything. But we WERE only 24 and 26 when we moved to England the first time - with a four year old - and a 7 month old - and soon another one on the way. And for some reason I had it in my head that since ENGLAND was a country that spoke ENGLISH, well, we'd all be on the same page, right?
First of all, it was the Queen's English - not Yankee English. And I didn't know Queen's English. I resisted it with all my might initially. OUR children would eat COOKIES, not biscuits! WE would put our trash in a TRASH CAN, not a rubbish bin. And goodness knows we drink a CUP of coffee, not "a coffee". Everywhere I turned, I was either annoyed or giggling at some different use of the language. "Whilst", "amongst"...other than "angst, if a "st" were at the end of a word it was supposed to be part of an address, right? And "To Let" instead of rent?? I kept thinking there were an awful lot of toilets in London till I figured out it was "To Let" instead. Oh, and a toilet was a W.C. or a Lavatory then. If you asked where the Ladies Room was, you'd get a blank stare. And why did we eat a "TAH-coe" with a "toe-MAY-toe" but THEY ate a "TACK-oh" with a "ta-MAH-toe"?
Then there was getting used to what most Americans like to call "driving on the wrong side of the road". It can be terrifying THINKING about it but once you get behind the wheel, it actually all seems to make sense! The driver is always near the center of the road so once you actually do it, it does come very easily. But, I didn't try driving for about three months - so dwelt on it for three months. I had nightmares of crashing into oncoming vehicles or scrapping the sides of the stone hedgerows usually on either side of the already-too-narrow-for-normal-cars-to-drive-in country lane.
And then there was the house itself - different heating system, different plumbing system, smaller appliances than I was used to - all so, pardon the pun, FOREIGN! I didn't know that a boiler heated not only the radiator water but all the water for the house so you used the water heater only in the summer - when you didn't need to use the radiators. So I put BOTH on and ended up having nothing but hot water in the entire house when the excess of hot water from both sources backed into the cold water storage (up the in attic - another learning curve). I KNEW something was wrong when the toilet water was hot!
Then there was the issue of recognizable food. Today, foods are much more familiar to the global traveler due to increased exports, international restaurant chains, so much travel, food channel recipes, etc. We are constantly looking for new cuisines today but back then, I'd have killed for a typical American hamburger, grilled, using AGED beef. It wasn't to be found and, being pregnant, I was having cravings that only a trip back to Texas was going to satisfy. Believe me, if there had been a chicken fried steak to be had in the breadth and width of the British Isles, I'D HAVE FOUND IT! The dairy aisle was especially fraught with confusion - single cream, double cream, Devonsire cream, cream fraiche, extra double cream...seriously? And bacon - back bacon, rashers, cured, uncured, streaky, danish. Sigh. I'd do a typical American weekly shop which always elicited curious stares by the other patrons. Back then, most British homes had what we'd call a mini-bar fridge and they'd go to their local grocery and buy only what they needed for that day! Our company did provide an American sized fridge/freezer so I was able to do the "big shop" once a week. I had total strangers come up and ask me if I was having a big party - or how many children I had. I felt like a circus attraction! "Come see the GIANT American Lady pregnant with TWINS buying an entire trolley of groceries! You won't believe your eyes!"
All these things were being thrown at us and we were ill prepared for it. Mike was working very long hours (it was his first supervisory position) in addition to a long commute (60-90 minutes each way), I was having morning sickness and trying to navigate my household in unfamiliar territory as well as figure out how the medical community operated, finding an Ob/Gyn in a country where midwives typically delivered babies. So we had some "tense moments". In the course of endless discussions about what was going on, we discovered what we like to refer to today as "truths". I thought Mike had it "easy " in that office where everything was seemingly done for him. Mike thought I had it "easy" being able to be home with the children and enjoy that freedom. I was jealous when he'd go on business trips, stay in an hotel and be on expense account. He was jealous that I didn't have to travel and got to stay home where he'd rather be. We both did our unfair share of blaming the other for not "making it easier" on the other or "understanding". And we both were frightened that we might not be successful at this living overseas things - and we hate defeat. More than once that song from "The King and I" would get in my head - "Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, And whistle a happy tune, And no one will suspect...I'm afraid!"
I did a lot of whistling.
In the middle of all this, I went into premature labor with the twins - three times in fact. The last time, my waters broke and there was no going back - only "holding off" a bit with medication. So on September 22nd, Chris and Ben were born, 3 months early. Within 5 hours, we had lost Ben and things weren't looking good for Chris - so poorly, in fact, that the hospital decided to move Chris to a hospital with a better equipped SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit - a precursor to today's NICUs) in Oxford. We had no family there. I don't think our parents had even applied for, let alone obtained, passports. And we were being ambulanced to Oxford - 30 miles from where we lived and about 55 miles from London.
But as usually happens, our church family came to our rescue. They contacted the church in Oxford who immediately came to us and helped support us emotionally. Phone calls were constantly being made to us by our brethren at the Wembley congregation in London (where we were members) giving us support, telling of prayers offered on our behalf, asking how to help. We had decided to hire a nanny for a few months with twin coming and she had reported for duty ONE day before I went into labor - she had to literally hit the ground running (which she did with great aplomb!) She was "gobsmacked" (amazed) by the outpouring of love from these church brethren - she'd never seen anything like it! (by the way, she wanted to know more about these people and what motivated them. She became a Christian herself later on that year after studying with Mike and now is married to a minister and has two children of her own - but that's another blog...)
We suddenly had clarity. We knew what was important. And we knew how much we needed each other. We were so very grateful to our Christian brothers and sisters as well as the doctors and nurses who helped us, and I started looking at England in a totally different light. I still am in contact with some of the "sisters" (nurses) who were at Wycombe General Hospital then even though they've moved on to other things (one created the National Bereavement Trust, helping parents through the loss of a child - she was interviewed when Princess Diana died). I was able to stay at the hospital the entire time Chris was there. They had "Mother's Rooms" and felt that mothers and children shouldn't be separated - for which I will be eternally grateful. I came to know the staff at Wycombe General in a very intimate way, talking with then in the wee hours of the morning feeding Chris. We started embracing our new home and her culture instead of resenting/resisting it. And in the process found that acclimating to our new environment was infinitely less painful that stubbornly holding onto the old one.
After we got Chris home and life settled down to a low roar, Mike and I decided to institute "Date Night" on Thursdays. Be it a movie, dinner, theatre in London or just time to talk uninterrupted, Thursdays were sacrosanct in our household. And we were known to, on occasion, circle the block a few times until the lights were off in the children's bedrooms upstairs. Those were the nights when we toasted our victories, discussed and analyzed our failures, planned our future, dreamed our dreams, discussed our children and enjoyed each other fully. It was OUR time.
And we still enjoy Thursdays. We try to go out every Thursday when we can. We've been able to discuss how those dreams came true, which ones we're still working on, how we came to appreciate what our family means to us. We can have those talks anytime now - again, empty nesters. But Thursdays just seem "more specialer" as the kids used to say.
So I hope you have a Thursday of your own in whatever form (or day!) it takes. Time for reflection is always good. Time for rejoicing or sorrowing is good. Time carved out for each other is beyond good - it is essential. Hats off to Thursdays for us! Hats off for time with your best friend, your Chief Friend.