This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman


May 12, 2022

In between whines about airplanes, I mentioned last week that I had finally made it across the pond to see my family. It was a long time coming – 3.5 years, to be precise – and more than worth every hour I spent stranded in the storm.

As you can probably guess, it was “the virus” that kept me away. For a long time, the UK had much stricter rules about traveling than we did.

For a long while during the worst of it, I would have needed to spend thousands of extra dollars for the privilege of sitting in a government-mandated “pandemic hotel” for ten days before I was allowed to go anywhere near other humans. I’d have about had time to wave hello to my family before it was time to get back on the plane.

The proverbial skies began to clear in time for a Christmas trip, but then Omicron arrived and we were forced to delay once again. By the time I made it over the Atlantic, the nephew who was still in his mum’s tum last time I saw him was toddling towards his fourth birthday.

Meeting him in the flesh was top of my list of anticipated moments, but it was also the most nerve-wracking item on my to-do list. We’ve spoken regularly by video call, so it wasn’t that I thought he wouldn’t recognize me, and I will be endlessly grateful to my brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law for making sure to talk about me in their presence.

In fact, I was much more worried that he would recognize me – and my fears turned out to be right. As we pulled up to my brother’s house, two little faces were staring out of the window.

The first belonged to my beautiful niece, who is a few years older than her brother and has spent enough time with the real me to just about remember who I am even without the assistance of her parents. She’s a talkative little wisp with a great sense of humor, so she essentially picked things up with me halfway through a conversation.

I don’t think I was there for the first half, though that doesn’t matter. I caught up eventually.

But the second face was frowning, just as I knew it would be, bright blue eyes sizing me up with great suspicion. That face, as you might have guessed, belonged to Lincoln.

It wasn’t that he didn’t understand who Auntie Sarah was, or that she’s fun for Lincolns to talk to. He knew these things, but he didn’t know I could walk.

You see, Lincy (as he’s better known) is a digital kid, growing up in a digital world where all the entertainment he could want is at his fingertips. As we discovered during my visit, he’s even perfectly capable of selecting and purchasing episodes of his favorite show.

What happens on the television or the tablet is as much a part of Lincy’s normal as sitting down for his tea. To my nephew, there was nothing strange about watching me on grandma’s phone, even when he was very little indeed.

In fact, it didn’t take him long to figure out that I wasn’t just there to provide static entertainment. I could actually respond to whatever he did or said, and this was a thing he liked very much.

In other words, my nephew has spent his entire lifetime thinking Auntie Sarah was an interactive YouTube video.

Suddenly, there I was, in living flesh, climbing out of a vehicle in his own front yard. I don’t blame him for feeling dubious.

Fortunately, one specific strategy can be used to convince my nephew to do absolutely anything, whether it’s finishing up his vegetables or trying a new activity. Lincy was told he didn’t want to give me a hug, and so that’s what he did.

Hanging out with family was the whole point of my trip back to the motherland, as you might imagine. Some have been by my side for a lifetime, while others, like my nephew and my soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s brother and family, were exciting new experiences.

England itself, I’m pleased to report, looks much the same as I left it. Perhaps the only anomaly was the complete lack of rain – the sun shone down almost constantly.

My husband always says it’s important to send me back home every once in a while to “reset” my Britishness, up to and including my accent. He claims it had started to go soft around the edges, but a couple of weeks with my countrymen seems to have fixed it.

I drank enough tea to make sure it’s once again running through my bloodstream and ate more than my fair share of scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream. I wandered the streets of the quaint village my parents call home, complete with 1300-year-old minster in which various notables are buried, including Elizabeth I’s godmother, the king who passed his throne to Alfred the Great and one of the men suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

If your personal vision of England is one of rolling hills and ladies in Jane Austen-style frocks, this village won’t disappoint. The wife of the local viscount even has a tea room on her estate, complete with a store where she sells items sourced from regular trips to India. The experience is strongly enhanced, in my opinion, by the presence of an elderly wiener dog in a basket on the counter.

It took too long to get there, and it was too soon when I left, but I cherished every moment. Even though I must return to being an interactive YouTube video, at least when I talk to my nephew I’ll be doing so with properly clipped vowels.


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