We're on our way back to London for our last day there before getting on the plane home tomorrow and I want to capture some of what we've seen and done and felt before it fades.
This has been an amazing trip - amazingly beautiful, busy, interesting, exciting, and fun and also amazingly stressful, tiring, and difficult.
We have seen and done SO much and have been blessed with great weather and so many things working out just as planned or better than planned. There's always some hard stuff on trips - it's almost certain that you'll experience a flight delay or other travel plans not quite working out as planned, not being able to find food when people are hungry, bad weather, not being able to make it work to visit a place you really hoped to see, disagreements about what to do when, or other stuff like that. On this trip, it seems like rather than frustrating things strewn in along the way, we got the vast majority of our bad stuff all in one dose when Eliza broke both her arms falling out of a tree.
Things were so painful and stressful for Eliza and for me and Jared as we worked to figure out what treatment would be right for Eliza while trying to figure out what to do about our travel plans that would need to be adjusted (SO many issues to work out and a lot of unanticipated expenses involved in Eliza's time in the hospital and in changing our travel plans in a way that would work for everyone and allow for flexibility based on what Eliza was up for).
In the moment, it seemed impossibly stressful - seeing our sweet girl's arms bent in ways that definitely didn't look right and trying to keep calm so she could stay calm, trying to figure out where to take her to be looked at, working with doctors and nurses using unfamiliar terms and suggesting treatment we didn't really understand, staying overnight in a hospital room with 3 other parents and their little children who were waiting for surgery the next morning (apparently in England, you pretty much always need to stay in the hospital if you need surgery the next morning - interesting. There was a lot of crying in the night from these little kids who were in pain and could't really understand what was happening), sending Eliza off to surgery feeling pretty sure things would be totally fine but surgery is just scary, working with Jared to figure out lots of scenarios for how we could make the rest of the trip work given that we'd missed our train to Paris (so much work trying to figure out plane and train options with super slow internet connections...), helping Eliza do everything you usually need arms and hands to do and trying to keep her spirits up and look for the bright side of everything and make things as decent as possible for her.
I held it together. Mostly. But it was hard not to let a few tears slip out here and there - so hard to see Eliza in pain and try to make things as good as possible for her while worrying about the other kids and Jared and wondering how I could salvage the rest of this trip that I'd worked so very hard to plan so very perfectly and how much money all this was going to cost us.
But, as always, things worked out fine. We're so very glad that Eliza wasn't hurt more seriously and that the accident happened while we were staying with some wonderful friends who let the boys and Jared stay an extra night and took such good care of us during this stressful time. We're so grateful that Eliza was very well cared for by wonderful doctors and nurses and we have ever reason to believe she'll heal up perfectly. She's been able to see and do a ton and has had amazing stamina and toughness through all this (lots of things are pretty frustrating when you have two casts on your arms and she was sad to miss out on swimming but she still got to paraglide!). In the end, Eliza's accident caused us to miss out on a day at beautiful Audley End where Eliza broke her arm before we'd had a chance to see much, a train ride through the chunnel to Paris, and an evening and a full day that we'd planned to have in Paris - but the kids didn't really care about Audley End, we got to take the train through the chunnel on the way back from Paris to London, and we were able to do everything we really cared about doing in one day in Paris and really had a perfect day there.
Then the rest of the trip has gone amazingly well. Every day it was forecast to rain but the rain just hasn't come and we've been able to do everything we dearly hoped to do. Yes, there have still been hard things - times when things take longer than planned and we have to recalibrate our schedule or inconvenience people who are waiting for us, times when people are grumpy/tired/hungry/ complainy, times when it's been too hot or too cold, times when we decided to do something that just didn't work out to be as great as we'd envisioned. But those hard things are somehow easier to deal with in comparison with the big fat hard thing of Eliza's injury.
I was worried that two and a half weeks wouldn't be enough - there are just so many wonderful places to visit. But now I see that two and a half weeks is plenty of time to see a ton of stuff, get a real sense for a few different countries, have lots of fun times and a lot of bonding experiences and stressful experiences (sometimes bonding and stressful at the same time - sometimes just plain stressful). I think that a trip any longer would simply need to include more time to just soak in the places we visit, not visit more places. I feel like we maxed out the amount of activities and travel and learning and experiencing that we could take in in a 17 day period. And we'll be ready to go home tomorrow.
For the most part, this trip has been really wonderful - all that I dreamed of and more when I thought of how wonderful it would be to take my kids to see so many places I hold dear and experience the places their ancestors came from (England and Switzerland) and the places that are part of the fabric of our society - so many movies and sayings and pictures of London and Paris and the Alps and adorable little fairy tale villages are part of our every-day life and it's so cool to have actually been there in person. I loved seeing the kids' excitement about seeing so many iconic places. It was just so awesome to come around the corner together and boom - there's Big Ben or Tower Bridge or the Eiffel Tower or the Alps!
It's a wonderful thing to visit historic and beautiful places as a tourist but if you can also spend time with people who actually live in the countries you visit, you learn about the culture and you feel like you actually know a country a bit beyond simply seeing and appreciating its landmarks.
I also really hoped that the kids - and Jared - would get a chance to get a sense of what life is like in England as that's a big part of who I am and who Charity and Ian and Moses are right now. Plus I hoped we could all get a sense of what life is like when you live in Switzerland since that will help us understand and appreciate Tal and Anita and Annina more and because it's just cool to understand a bit of what it's like to live somewhere else.
I think everyone did get that - staying right in the homes of friends and family members or in Airbnb apartments in typical neighborhoods/buildings where regular people live, shopping for groceries in each country, and going to church (all three meetings) in England and in Switzerland really helped. Plus our time in the hospital gave us a unique view into an aspect of British life that most visitors don't get to see! We were very impressed with the care Eliza received and learned a lot about how the British National Healthcare system works (very nicely, for the most part). And Eliza and I got to make friends with our hospital roommates - a little boy with a terribly infected baby tooth that needed to be surgically removed (and his mom), a little boy who needed his tonsils out (and his dad), a little girl who got a crayon stuffed so far up her nose that she needed surgery to get it out (and the little girl's mom and grandma). So interesting to get little glimpses into different people's lives and see the loving care of good parents.
I think the kids all absorbed and appreciated a lot plus had a lot of fun. It's sometimes hard to tell - especially with non-communicative teenagers who are slow to express themselves when it comes to thanks and often quick to express themselves when it comes to complaining. There were moments when I felt like Jared and I were "dragging pianos" around (as Saydi describes traveling with her kids and trying to make things really wonderful and exciting and perfect when kids seem intent on finding fault with so many things). But there were so many amazing moments that I hope will become part of our family story and our family culture.
In my next couple posts, I'll share some of my favorite moments from each country we visited. And if you want to see photos of the trip, I documented things pretty well on Instagram. Click here to see photos of the trip.