Doesn’t Everyone Start Their Day Like This?

Driving my husband and daughter to the Tube stop and school, we were having a fun bicker about something trivial when my husband said “Hang on, hang on. Do you think we bicker more than other families, the same as other families, or less than other families?” My daughter was torn between the same and more. I said definitely more, for sure. Husband: “What?! No!! I would say definitely less! Why would you say more? That’s absurd!” And the bickering started up again. 😂

LITTLE LONDON SURPRISES

London can be a very cold, harsh, unfriendly and unforgiving city.  As much as I love it here, there are days when it really does try the toughest of spirits. But as we close out 2017, I can’t help but think of the small acts of kindness, the little gems that occur on a daily basis, the serendipitous events that unfold around this cavernous, brilliant, bustling metropolis. You just have to look.

To start with, there is the “driver’s etiquette”.  This is true country-wide but it’s really a sight to behold in the throngs of London traffic. Perhaps it’s the English tendency to queue politely for everything and anything, but even at the height of rush-hour and impatience, you will see the “zipper system” working efficiently. When two-lanes merge into one, everyone waits for each other and it’s the exception to the rule when someone jumps ahead. Likewise, at 4-way stops, it’s a polite “after you” indication that occurs (to the point that sometimes I wonder if anyone will go!).

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But my favourite is “the wave” and the blinkers “thank you” afterwards. Anywhere in London (and the UK), when someone is switching lanes ahead of you or you need to let the car in, or if a vehicle is turning into your lane from a left or right intersection (junction), you slow down with hands on the wheel and give them the one-handed wave — an indication that it’s ok to go.  Once the car moves in ahead of you,  he or she then “thanks” you by putting their blinkers/hazards on briefly. If two cars are at a face-off on a narrow street where only one can pass through, one will blink the headlights which is an indication that you should go ahead. Once you pass, you give “the wave” as thanks. It’s an absolutely brilliant system that works seamlessly in most cases.  Cars, busses, trucks, lorries, everyone does it.  When I go home now to the States, I find the driving unbelievably aggressive and self-righteous. Everyone just assumes that they are King of the Road and deserves to squeeze in ahead of everyone else. Very unbecoming.

Another present delivered itself to me in a complete stranger’s act of kindness. My girlfriends and I were doing a long 12 mile walk in preparation for a charity event one summer.  We started out in Chiswick, went along the Tow Path to Putney Bridge, turned up the south side of the river past Hammersmith and Barnes and up to Kew Bridge. As we were nearing the end of the walk, I realised I had somewhere along the way dropped my iPhone (don’t ask me how – it’s a bad habit). One of my girlfriends rang it and a lovely man answered. “Oh, excellent, you called! I was hoping you would. I have it here on my desk at work. I went out for a run at lunchtime and saw it on the Tow Path near Hammersmith Bridge and thought if that was my iPhone I would want someone to pick it up for me. So I did!” I know. Very lucky. But floored that in a city 10 million strong and geographically massive, some good samaritan went through the trouble to retrieve it and take care of it until I had called.

There are many others – a plumber who came to fix a problem with the sink who wouldn’t charge me because, as he said in his very East Laahhndon accent “This was too easy to fix. Took only 10 minutes and no parts. No worries”. Or a barista at Starbucks who ran after me when I left some cash on the counter.  Or a Sainsbury employee who picked up my parking card when I dropped it. Just yesterday, I dropped my reading glasses somewhere in one of the aisles, only to find them already at the Lost and Found when I got to the till and realised I didn’t have them. (Yes, I drop things a lot!)

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However, my last little miracle has a slightly different twist. When we first arrived here, we didn’t have a car and took busses everywhere. Our 6 yr old had gymnastics near Chiswick Bridge. We hopped on the 190 bus heading into London, got off at the bus stop, went into the club where she changed into her gymnastics outfit and I sat in the coffee area with the other parents.

She had an absolutely favourite grey cardigan sweater (jumper) that she adored, and given we had only been in the country for 5 weeks and we didn’t even have our furniture yet, I understood her attachment to things…as permanency was something she was unaccustomed to. She wore it everywhere.  She definitely had the sweater whilst on the bus on the way there, however, after she finished and changed again, we couldn’t find it.

I was torn — I know how topsy-turvy her life had been in the past 2 months, but I felt it was time to instill the lesson of holding onto things that are important to you. I was stern when we realised she had left it on the bus. “This is what happens when you don’t take care of things.” She was wailing. “This is an important lesson to learn, sweetheart. That sweater is gone. You will never – ever – see it again. I’m really sorry but you should have taken better care of it.” As we walked back to the bus stop the sobbing continued. “Mummy, can’t we ask the bus driver to find it? Can’t we call the bus company?” “It’s gone, sweetie. If you leave it somewhere, you will lose it. That bus has gone into the city now.” I really felt bad for her – she was only just six. But I thought to myself “she’ll never lose anything ever again.” Lesson learned. I was a bit cross and stood fast.

A 190 bus pulled up heading westbound towards home and we hopped on. I’ll be damned if that little sweater wasn’t sitting right there on the seat where she left it!!  I couldn’t believe it. The gymnastics lesson was an hour and a half. Plus changing time and the walk, we probably got off that bus about 2 hours earlier. What are the chances the exact same bus would be coming back on his route as we got on!? And even slimmer odds that the sweater would still be sitting forlornly there waiting for her. Of course, my lesson was utterly and completely lost at this point. “Look, Mommy! Here it is!! It came back to me!”

It was a long time before she realised that anything she loses doesn’t miraculously return to her. But I still laugh at this story — only in London.

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Do NOT have difficult conversations on Fridays!

I’ve found that Friday’s are the hardest day of the week interpersonally. We are all tired. We’ve had a long week. We are looking forward to the weekend to catch up on sleep or relax. But with work, kids, friends and my husband, I am at my lowest emotionally. I am grumpy. I am short with people. Or even on the rare occasion I’m not, then they are.

An old boss at Nightline gave me the best advice ever: he said never have tough conversations with colleagues or bosses on Thursdays or Fridays. You are less understanding, less forgiving. Most office arguments occur at the end of the week. Have a gripe? Wait until Monday. Need to tell a subordinate they are not performing well? Give it the weekend.  I looked back at all the difficult conversations I had had that DIDN’T go well, and damnit, he was right.

At home, it’s the same. All my arguments with my husband are usually Thursday or Friday when we’re both tired and don’t have anything left in the tank to deal with each other. And with kids, my fuse is short and many times I didn’t know it until I looked back later and saw that I wasn’t myself.

The Meltdown

One Friday I had to pick our daughter up from pre-school. We had just moved back from South Africa and everything was topsy-turvy. Our sea shipment hadn’t even arrived yet so we were living out of boxes. We were having a dinner party for 7 and I had to get home to cook and prepare. And yes! We got a flat tire on the way home so I pulled into Wagshall’s Deli where there is a gas station to get it fixed while I did some quick shopping for the party. Then my husband rang while I was picking up some cheeses to say the dinner had gone from 7 to 11 people, and that won’t be a problem right? At 3 PM he tells me this! Sigh. I get more cheeses and head to the cash register when it all kicked off. The 4-yr-old Child wanted a Diet Coke and I told her no (of course). She went into a full-on tantrum. It was Exorcist-child worthy. Complete raging melt-down (see? She was tired, too, at week’s end, but did i realise that? Noooo….I was just thinking about the car and my dinner party).

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I gathered up the groceries,  got to the counter to pay, but while doing so, she had grabbed a bag of potato chips off the rack nearby. Not the small ones — no, she went for the American Extra Large Supersize bag of potato chips — almost as big as she. Glaring at me the whole time with an evil look of defiance, she plopped them on the floor and ever so quickly sat on them with gusto. The air-tight bag burst and potato chips went flying everywhere. I was trying to hold onto a wriggling, arms and legs flailing, strong 4-yr-old but it was impossible with my oversized purse and 3 bags of groceries. I withered, looked at the horrified clerk at the till and said “Add that on my bill please”.  By the time we got out of the shop, she’d done it again.

On the sidewalk, I let her just writhe on the ground as there wasn’t much I could do to control her. She was pinwheeling around on her side, kicking and screaming.  Looked across to the gas station to see the car up on the hydraulic getting its tire changed, and sighed again. A woman came out of the dry cleaners next door, saw the Exorcist child, stepped delicately over her, gave me a look for sympathy and camaraderie and said, “Been there, done that.” I loved her. She was my saviour.

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Then as quickly as it came, it stopped. The car was fixed, I buckled her into her car seat and as we drove off she exclaimed “I’m done now, Mommy. All fine.” Of course, I was seething at this point. It had been 45 minutes of Crazy Tantrum Child. Everyone and their grandmother within 3 miles probably heard her.  My herculean embarrassment had been building up since the deli and all the “Bad Mother” stares I got, and continued as I was trying to pay for the car. I didn’t realise how angry I was. At home, I had a terrible headache and got out some frozen peas to put on my forehead.  I can’t remember what it was that triggered it, but we started up again.  She was really testing my patience and, while I was putting the groceries away, she grabbed a handful of frozen peas in her little hands and brought her arm back in the baseball throw position.  Very slowly and carefully I said, “I need to tell you that if you throw those peas, Child, there will be consequences.  I need you to understand that.” The arm came down. It was a perfect pitch. Peas flew everywhere through 3 rooms.

My rage erupted. I sent her up to her room for a “time-out” as she had melted down again.  But as I look back now, so had I.  It was 5 PM and 11 people were coming in two and a half hours. I called my husband and said get home right now. I need help. I did NOT trust myself to deal with her. As he came in the door, I was cooking and things had gone quiet upstairs. Before heading upstairs to Child, he sweetly pulled a pea from my hair and soothingly offered to pour me a glass of wine, to which I (very rare) said no. I really didn’t trust myself to start drinking because I was worried I’d never stop.  He went up to deal with her and calmed us all down. By the time guests arrived, she was fine, I was a bit fragile and shaken, but we recovered for a lovely evening.

But it wasn’t until months later that I realised how these events unfolded. The stress of a long, busy week, arriving back into the country with no furniture and new routines and environment, a dinner party exploding in size, a tired child, a tired mommy, a flat tire, frozen peas in every corner of the house, all those things contributed to the bad karma.  But I can’t shake the feeling that – would this have happened on a Monday morning, for example – I might have been a little more patient, a little less tired, had a little more energy to deal with her. Or a little more clarity to see the stress mounting at my door.

So, best advice that’s stayed with me for years: Do NOT make any harsh decisions on Fridays. Do NOT have any difficult conversations. Wait. Give yourself until Monday and if you still feel the same, then you can act — but likely you will be more clear-headed about what it is you are angry or frustrated or upset about.