At school, I loved learning English Country Dancing and participating in some dancing festivals.
That's my beloved teacher, Miss Christie, in the background of the picture above. When I was this clueless little American 6-year-old who couldn't read at all (they didn't teach reading in Kindergarten back then) and everyone else in her class had started school at four years old and already had reading pretty much down, she patiently helped me to catch up. Then I lucked out and got to have Miss Christie for a second year because she moved up a grade. Then the third year, I got Ms Sharman for my teacher who I thought was probably the meanest teacher ever in the history of the world (at least to my 8-year-old mind). She screamed so much that I started getting stomach aches and calling home sick because I was so scared that she might scream at me. Thinking back, I often wondered if she was really as bad as she seemed or if I was just going through some anxiety in general or something. But then we lived in England again when I was 16 and my brother Jonah happened to get the same teacher. He had a very similar experience and had such bad stomach aches that my parents took him to the doctor, fearing he had ulcers. I guess she really was that mean . . .
And I loved, loved, loved when I got the special honor of being the angel in the school Christmas Nativity and one of the teachers made me elaborate wings covered with hundreds of tissue-paper feathers.
We loved having elders and sisters from the mission in our home a lot for meetings and dinners (I remember my mom making amazing dinners for scores of people on a regular basis - I so looked forward to those dinners!).
Here are the "Office Elders" and "Traveling Sisters" at the mission home for a special brunch at Christmas (that's my mom on the far left in a smashing patchwork full-length dress and that's my head in the foreground)
My parents always had us sing or play violin or piano for the missionaries at firesides and meetings and my dad often took me with him as a speaking partner to do mission conferences when my mom needed to be home with the other kids. From the age of 6, I learned to be ready to be called up at anytime when my dad was speaking to give a little talk or sing a song. And when the missionaries were over, we often sang together.
Here's a picture of Saydi with one of the office missionaries - one of the few shots I could find that showed a little more of the mission home we lived in.
One year, my mom made us all matching PJ's for Christmas with the Union Jack on them. She had us wear these pajamas to sing at firesides and that sort of thing. We were all pretty proud to be honorary Brits.
Here's my 6th birthday party in the backyard (or back garden as we learned to say) of the mission home. This was right after we moved to England. My mom always made us fun cakes and made sure we had great birthday parties.
For birthday parties, all the girls came in nice dresses and common gifts were underwear and bath things like soap and sponges (but this pink doll Shawni is holding up was the star gift at my 7th birthday party). I was sort of expecting toys. But fun bath stuff and new underwear proved to be very helpful and fun gifts in the end.
We spent so many fun hours playing around in that backyard on the old rope hammock. Once day we found a hole in the fence and climbed through to find a seemingly magical garden behind ours. There were daffodils everywhere and a huge huge tree that seemed so perfect for a swing. We got to know the man who owned the garden and lived in a big old house there - Mr Godwin. He let us build a swing in that huge tree of his and we'd go over there and swing all the time. Mr Godwin's garden and Mr. Godwin's swing were big parts of my childhood. Wish I had a picture.
We often spent nice chunks of the weekends at nearby Box Hill where we'd run and play and wander.
When we weren't in school or involved with the mission stuff, we visited quite a few castles and learned a lot about English history.
Here's my mom and brother Jonah at Buckingham Palace with our mission car (we named it Redy Rosie)
Here's Josh and Saydi at the Tower of London.
Here's the changing of the guard at the Tower of London.
We loved running around and flying kites on the Epsom Downs right near where we lived (where the Queen and everyone who was anyone showed up in fancy hats and lovely dresses and morning suits to watch the big horse race, the Darby, every year).
Here's my mom checking out all the fanciness at the Darby.
My mom had two babies while we were in England. Jonah was born 10 weeks early and was given a 50% chance to live. The whole mission, members, investigators and missionaries alike, fasted and prayed that little Jonah would be OK. I remember so vividly praying so hard for that little guy to pull through. And he sure did. That tiny little three-pounder is now 6'5" and the father of four.
Here's Jonah with the nurses who took care of him for the 6 weeks or so that he was in the hospital.
Here's Jonah when he came home from the hospital.
About a year after Jonah was born, my parents started thinking about whether it might be time for another baby. They were hesitant and a bit worried after how hard everything had been with Jonah. I remember that one Sunday afternoon, Jonah was down for a nap and they sent me and Shawni upstairs to look after Josh and Saydi while they thought and prayed about whether it was time for another baby. After a while they came upstairs to let us know we could come down now and we proudly presented them with four slips of paper, all of which said "yes" on them. Shawni and I had decided to hold our own little kids' counsel and vote on whether we should have another baby while our parents were having their counsel. We'd had to help Josh and Saydi write down their votes. But the vote was unanimous. And my parents had felt the same way. It was time for another baby.
The pregnancy with Talmadge was probably my mom's easiest, the delivery went perfectly, and Talmadge turned out to be the calmest, sweetest baby ever. We were all so delighted with him!
Here we are meeting him in the hospital:
And here we are with him at home:
This is Saydi, me, Shawni, Talmadge, Josh and Jonah (who apparently wasn't happy about being in the picture)
England was all we could remember by the time our mission was done. As we headed home, we were a bit apprehensive about what America would be like. On the plane home, Shawni asked my parents who was the queen of America and we were quite shocked to hear there was no queen. Shawni then asked, "Then who do they put on their pound notes?"
When we settled back into our American life, I remember thinking that American accents sounded so sloppy and was so surprised at how American children treated older children, parents and teachers - there'd been so much more respect in England! And school was SO easy for me and Shawni in America after getting ahead for those three years in England. I think a lot of our good grades throughout the rest of our school careers can be attributed to those years in British schools.
That three years in England was such a formative learning experience for all of us - perhaps especially for my parents (after the mission my dad gave up political consulting and started writing books which ultimately led them to be bestselling parenting authors). And my parents wished the younger children could have a bit of the same experience. So when I was a junior in high school, we went back to England and lived in the old mission home again (the church had just purchased a new mission home and wanted to rent out the old one while waiting for the market to improve - amazingly perfect for us!). I'll write more details later but it was great for us to go to British schools again and reunite with great friends and neighbors while learning a ton more about British history, visiting lots more historic places, and also doing a lot of geneology since our ancestors are mostly from England.
Then I went on Study Abroad for 6 months in London my sophmore year of college, my siblings Josh, Jonah and Charity all served missions in England, and Eli went on study abroad there. We've been back many times to visit. England is still with all of us in so many ways!