A wig, a projector, a kite, a panda and a robot.
Every year on October 23rd, we have a little party. Just the four of us with a cake and maybe a bit of pizza. We celebrate life and we contemplate possibility. We discuss how taking risks is an entirely different thing from being completely fucking irresponsible, and we honor the Scandinavian efficiency of Ikea.
15 years ago this week, Mark and I boarded a flight from the UK to California with our two sons – at that time aged 6 and 18 months old. The plan was that we were going to stay in America for three to six months, maybe a year.
We picked up 6 year old Fergus straight from school, so he was still in his school uniform, when we arrived - with all that we could pack into eight suitcases - in LAX on October 23rd 2008.
Six weeks previously, I’d been offered a writing job at CBS. We lived in London. The job was in LA.
Time was tight. There was just enough time to pack up our life in London and find somewhere to live, but no time at all to organize all manner of other stuff you don’t think about until you need it, like schools, and doctors, and driving licenses, and babysitters.
But sometimes all you really need to do in life is make the decision, and from there on it’s just negotiating details. Admittedly in our case there were quite a lot of details, but details nevertheless.
Because we were so restricted with space, Mark and I limited ourselves to packing one ‘luxury item’ we could bring from the UK.
Mark, ever practical, brought a projector.
Fergus brought an Optimus Prime.
Lachlan brought ‘Panda’.
I brought a wig and a kite. (Yes, I cheated. And yes, they’re random. And yes, Freud might have a had a field day, but Freud could frankly keep his opinions to himself as he wasn’t trying to move two young kids across a continent in a six week time period.)
On Sunday, the day before I was due to start work, we got the keys to the house we’d rented from the internet. It had claimed to be part furnished – but apparently in LA-speak, ‘part furnished’ meant that it had a cooker and a refrigerator: No beds, no sofa, no tables, no chairs, no crockery, no silverware, no sheets, no bedding.
Standing in the doorway of an almost empty house, suddenly 8 suitcases didn’t seem like such a lot of stuff. And that’s where I learned that IKEA do same day deliveries. You know, it’s easy to complain about IKEA with their randomly placed names and their mind-boggling assembly instructions, but as we settled down in our new incomprehensibly named beds in our new uncomfortably empty house on that first night, I announced that I’d never say a bad word against them again.
Mark - ever practical - said nothing. But we both agreed that though we’d just travelled 5000 miles, the largest part of the journey hadn’t even yet begun.
And we were right. The following months were tricky: New job. New bank accounts. An out of state wedding. Then, on December 1st, my mother died.
Then, as if the year wanted to eek out as much stress as possible, the school lost my six year old in a public park after a Christmas concert. Thankfully we found him unharmed. But when we met with the school Principal to discuss the matter, she wanted to talk about my personal feelings - as if the issue was a matter of spirituality rather than safety. I have never felt more ‘foreign’ in my life.
Mark and I were perhaps a little “Braveheart’ bordering on Shrek and Fiona. We explained that we were absolutely people who take risks, but taking a risk is an entirely different thing from being completely fucking irresponsible.
Dignity almost intact, we quickly found our son another school where they at least would know where he was. And we set on with trying to build a life and find sense in a world without my mother.
It really was the wildest white-knuckle ride.
Sitting in our barely furnished house in the last day of 2008, Mark and I could not believe how innocently the year had started, and we were frankly a little terrified as to what 2009 might bring. And then we agreed that we were on an adventure and as with all good adventures, sometimes there are really frickin’ tough bits. And also as we’d dealt with quite a lot of tough bits, surely the good stuff had to be on its way.
And it was. Periodically
There have been a fair amount of times in the past 15 years when something has happened and Mark and I might sigh or shake our heads, or mutter through tight lips, “It’s just an adventure.” And there have been so many moments of brilliance too.
I could never have imagined then, that now I would be settled in old Tweddley Manor here in The Valley, with Arthur and the chickens and the bees. There are so many wonderful people we’ve met whom we wouldn’t have known had we not stepped on that plane. And there are so so many reasons why I’m glad of the decision we made.
And as for our luxury choices: Yes, they were crazy. Yes, they were random. But in that first year, Mark’s projector plugged into a laptop, and meant we watched TV shows projected onto one of our big blank walls. Optimus Prime helped Fergus make one of his first new friends, Panda kept Lachlan company when he first went to daycare, and in my case, the wig had me fully prepared for my first American Halloween and the kite was the perfect thing for the boys when we took them to the beach for the very first time.
So every year on October 23rd, we have a little party. Just the four of us with a cake and maybe a bit of pizza. And we contemplate life, and risks and Ikea same day delivery. It’s a good reminder that even on the right journey, you can still feel completely lost. But home is a place that exists when you know you’ve made the right decision, not a set of rooms that come fully furnished.
It was a lot. And if I’m honest, I still get a little freaked when I think back on it all. But given the chance would I do it all again? Oh Hell, yeah.
Till next week x
Notes From The Valley is a reader-supported publication. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Notes From The Valley to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.