Faraway File #1: Anna - Philadelphia, USA
This series aims to give a snapshot in to the lives of parents living faraway from home - the good, the bad and the ugly! If you'd like to be featured, I'd love to hear from you - please get in touch!
Give us the basics: where are you from, where do you live now, and what took you there?
I grew up in Kent but had been living in London for 8 years before we moved to Philly on a two-year secondment with my husband's work. The move was unplanned and wasn't fantastic timing, as we'd just finally bought our first house! It took some getting used to the idea of living abroad, as it was never something we'd planned, but we love most things about it now.
Tell us about the pre-baby you.
I worked for five years in PR before retraining as a secondary school English teacher. I loved my job – it’s a cliché, but even though it was such hard work during term time, I found it so rewarding compared to my previous line of work. Downtime was mainly spent hanging out with friends and catching up with family, whilst planning how to make the most of those long school holidays (which, pre-kids, were a DREAM!).
And how about now?
Until really recently I've been home full-time with my daughter, Ella, who turned one this summer. I've been squeezing a bit of copy-writing and PR for small businesses in around the edges, and have just sorted out childcare two days a week so I can do a bit more. Aside from not being certified to teach in the States, the workload of teaching sadly wouldn't fit with having a young family with everything else that goes with being far from home.
How does where you live now compare to your home turf?
London is so expensive that when we could finally afford to buy somewhere we had to move further out from where we were renting. We had a decent-sized house with a garden, but we were a good 45 minute commute in to town, once you've accounted for slow South Eastern trains and walks either side of the stations. That’s just from zone 3 in to the city – it takes so long to get about in London. Now we live in a high-rise apartment block with limited outside space, but we are right in the centre of the city - I definitely don't miss the commute!
And what does that mean for your family?
The biggest advantage is my husband's commute is now a 10-minute walk, and that means he gets more time with our daughter at both ends of the day (and I get the opportunity to hand her over right around that cranky hour before bed - score!). At her age, when bedtime is early and pretty inflexible, the fact that he can be home most nights to bath her and put her to bed without having to leave work too early is fantastic – if we were in London he would probably rarely see her during the week. We also don't need a car – we can walk to almost anywhere we need to be within 20 minutes or so. I love that.
How was your birth experience?
Intense, but I remember it with a fond sense of calm (my husband would say that's hormone-induced amnesia talking!). My daughter arrived in the middle of the night during an August heatwave, in the oldest hospital in America. We had wonderful care at the hospital, walked her the eight blocks home, and had nothing to worry about except for the three of us, as family weren't coming out until after my husband's paternity leave. It was a very special time.
What does a typical day with the baby look like for you?
During the week the morning routine is focused around getting to some sort of class – Stroller Strides (a buggy-workout class for mums that kids come along to), or a music, movement or story play class for Ella - living in the centre of the city means there are tons of options on our doorstep. Getting out allows us to meet other mums and kids, helps me feel we've achieved something with the day, and passes the time, which can (let's be honest!) drag a bit if you're home alone with a little one! If the weather's nice we might have a park picnic for lunch, then after the lunchtime nap we'll run errands, go for a walk, or meet up with friends at our local play centre, park or library. As nap schedules change, so does the rhythm of our day, but that's where we are right now!
Baby bible: Dr Harvey Karp talks all kinds of sense to me (the tips in the Happiest Baby on the Block saved us in the first three months), and The Wonder Weeks is also brilliant for understanding stages of development and what you can do to help your baby through each one.
Website / app: Tiny Beans – this amazing app is a secure way to share photos with family, and has saved my what'sapp from collapsing with picture messages!
Favourite family activity: Going to the aquarium (my husband has a weird obsession with them, and Ella can see a lot more than at the zoo) or to a splash pad in the city to cool off.
Children's book: Anything by Nancy Tillman – sentimental but gorgeous bedtime reads.
Parenting hack: It's not really a hack, but our Chicco portable high chair has made it so much easier to get out and about without being tied to mealtimes at home. With no garden of our own we go to the park loads, and this allows me to feed Ella lunch or dinner without her crawling all the way through it!
One thing you can get faraway that you can't at home: Stitchfix is an amazing styling service that will deliver you five items of clothes as often as you want, based on your style profile and ongoing feedback to your stylist. I use it fairly regularly (clothes shopping with a little one in tow is tough!) and it's really helped me make my wardrobe of safe breast-feeding / messy baby-friendly outfits a bit more exciting. At the moment it's only in the US, I think - my wardrobe will seriously suffer when we move back to the UK!
One thing people from home sent you that's been a godsend: Waitrose Bottom Butter – by far the nicest nappy cream we've tried! We buy in bulk when we go home now.
What do you love about being a faraway mum?
The tightness of our family unit. A lot of the time we only have each other to rely on, and I think that's made my husband and I more collaborative, patient parents. We've also had brilliant opportunities to travel with Ella, that we probably wouldn't have taken advantage of if we'd been at home.
And what do you struggle with?
Those odd days when the baby is really hard work – I find myself longing to be able to drive to my parents and hand her over so I can have 30 minutes let-up!
Are you forever faraway, or is this just a temporary thing?
It's just temporary, but when we leave it will be bittersweet. We love our lifestyle in Philly and having a baby has made it so much easier for me to make friends here. It's a brilliant city - I'm so pleased it will always be Ella's hometown.
What advice would you give to new parents living far from home?
Space your visitors out, and think long and hard about whether you need them immediately after the baby is born. You might think you'll want the help early on, but if people are staying with you and in your family space all the time, it can be exhausting. Also, find a babysitter you like, as early as you feel comfortable! You need some time for yourselves.