Category Archives: Population Explosion

Baby, you can drive my car

First, let’s clear something up – it’s not the wrong side of the road. In fact, some would adamantly state it’s the correct side, and the other 70% of the world is wrong! But it is the other side of the road, and driving on it is the least confusing part of this whole process, if you’d believe it.

For anyone coming from North America, I highly advise getting comfortable driving a manual transmission BEFORE you head to the UK. Because thinking about everything else that’s new, and then trying to change gears without stalling or running into anything, is enough to make one’s brain explode. Even if you got a great deal for Van Insurance from £149, or what have you, practice, you will thank me!

The new wheels! (which I took on a harrowing drive across town all by my damn self!)

So far I haven’t hit anything, but I have stalled. A lot. Though at least the prevalence of manual transmission cars here means drivers generally expect other cars (especially the ones with gigantic “L” stickers on them) to stall somewhat frequently.

The other nice thing about the traffic rules and patterns here is that they’re generally designed to keep traffic moving as much as possible. I have yet to see a stop sign. The rule at unmarked intersections (which are very common) is to “give way” (yield) to traffic on the right, or on the major road, and most major intersections are controlled by roundabouts rather than perpendicular stoplights.

But man, roundabouts? They are nerve-wracking. Especially for someone not particularly confident in their clutching skills. (I was going to say “they’ll be the death of me” – but I’m not confident enough to even joke about that yet.) In my nightmares I see a wee gap in traffic, think I can go, start to move off, and then I stall, and I’ve bunny-hopped into the middle lanes of a roundabout, and I’m blocking traffic and I get plowed-down by a double-decker bus.

Aerial view of roundabout at SR 539/Pole Road intersection

Needless to say, the few times I’ve driven without the instructor I’ve planned my routes around lots of left turns and as much roundabout avoidance as I can find. Hopefully after a few more lessons, and some more practice in light traffic I’ll be feeling more confident.

And, somewhat related to driving, the transport of the tiny human in our car has been interesting as well.

Our Canadian car seat is, of course, not approved for use in the UK/EU. I was (and still am, really) convinced this is a total racket; just as US car seats aren’t approved for use in Canada (or elsewhere in the world), and Canadian seats also aren’t approved for use in the US. I can’t believe crash data is so drastically different across continents that the device would implode upon itself in a crash if it somehow realized it wasn’t in its home country.

Better safe than sorry (at least, insurance-wise when we had to compare auto insurance quotes at the dealership), so we did replace the car seat. And I have to say, because ISOFIX came in as a standard in the UK only fairly recently, seats here are FAR better designed to be installed with a seatbelt than anything I’ve seen in Canada. No belt-locking clips to fuss with, and multiple guides and tension-points. Our UK seat (the MaxiCosi Tobi) fits far better in our car here than the Canadian one did. In fact, stores and manufacturers here provide a lot of guidance on which seats work best in which cars. It also makes me feel a lot better about putting Isaac in a forward-facing car seat now (In Canada, Isaac’s recommended to remain rear-facing for another 6-8 months).

But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing so many car seats in the front seats of cars. Even when I was smaller (and out of a booster seat), I remember the rules being very obvious about no carseats or booster seats in the front, and even after that, “the back seat is the safest place for a child.” And this is long before airbags came into the picture. Now, it’s part of the driving theory test in the UK to learn that “before you put your childseat in the front seat, you need to remember to turn off the front passenger airbag.” Seriously?

I’m trying not to be a typical ExPat who attempts to recreate as much of their home-country experience as possible when abroad, but in this case, I’m keeping my kid in the back seat. Especially since the back passenger side of the car is furthest away from the buses I’m convinced are going to hit me in the roundabouts.

220 JF10OXF OXFORD BUS 060710


I actually laughed out loud last night for the first time in a while when I was reading Dooce’s latest post.

I took this video before we left, and that post reminded me it was lingering on my phone.

Looks like Isaac has a kindred spirit in Marlo.


Fun kid thing of late:

At some point, Neil started reacting to Isaac’s more… impressive… diapers by exclaiming “Wow!” in the midst of changing him.

I’m not sure when it really caught on, but now, Isaac exclaims “Wow!” every time his pants come off.

Kid, I wish you a life where someone always says “Wow!” whenever you drop trou.

All Smiles

Reflections on a year at home

I was so worried I’d be bored with a year off, and had such grand plans for the time.

After a year of maternity leave, yes I was bored a not-insignificant amount of time, but those plans? HAH.

I thought I’d play the piano more. Cook more. Have a super-clean house. Read dozens of books. Redo my website. Take amazing, artistic photos. Teach the dog how to play chess. All things I like to think I’d do with day after day to while away, beholden to nobody but that tiny baby and myself.

So what happened?

First off, I spent a lot of time outside. Fit4Two mom & baby fitness/bootcamp/aquafit classes really saved my sanity, combated a lot of the loneliness I’d have otherwise felt, and got me back into great shape – I haven’t been this fit in far too many years. And especially in the early days, getting out for the twice-weekly one-hour class between feeding/napping/diapering episodes was enough of an achievement, I didn’t feel the need to do much else.

But once things got easier, I started thinking about that original “whatever will I do with all the free time?” list. In my aspirational mind, I like the idea of doing those things. But in reality? I like sitting around, watching TV, surfing the interwebs. Those things also happen to be highly compatible with caring for a tiny human whose needs and movements are sporadic and unpredictable. It’s easy to pay limited attention to daytime TV that I don’t really care about when I know it’ll likely be interrupted. Same goes for following along with a twitter or Facebook stream, or reading brief blog updates.

Turns out rearing a baby is hard work. And while I knew this, and had heard it multiple times, I didn’t really process that it’s not hard like quantum physics, it’s hard like ditch-digging. Except you can’t put down the shovel and walk away.

I will say I’ve been fortunate: I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression, and by all reports we’ve got a great baby whose default emotion is “happy” and has never cried much. But caring for him is still a manual slog. Feeding, changing, dressing, re-dressing after he spits up on his clean clothes. Then later, playing, following, chasing, redirecting, entertaining. And then there is the whole thing about making small-talk with other moms while the babies play together in an effort to get them some different mental stimulation and socializing. I am terrible at small talk (which is why the fitness classes were great – hard to chat through pushups).

The timing for returning the work has been perfect. I am not cut out for all-day baby-wrangling, but Isaac is in a great daycare with someone who adores spending her day with babies and a couple other kids to play with. We have our little morning ritual, a few hours of playtime & dinner once we’re home, and adventure on the weekends.

So am I glad I took the year off? Absolutely. Each time we hit a milestone where in other countries I may have had to go back to work (6 or 12 weeks for the US, 6 months in many other places), I was thankful we had a little more time, another few months, weeks, days to learn, discover, observe each other. Cement the bond a little stronger. And I’m equally glad it’s done. Just enough, not too much.

Isaac O’Watkiss

I have a couple half-done posts in the hopper about our trip to Cuba last month, and how things are going now that I’m back at work full-time (spoiler: pretty good!). But I’m tired, and busy, and tired. And they have been difficult to finish.

Then, as I was lamenting my lack of posting, I remembered a story a lot of people ask about and I don’t think I’ve shared here yet. It’s also seasonally appropriate.


The story of Isaac’s middle name: Odin.

Neil has wanted a kid named Isaac for a very long time. It happens to be his brother’s middle name, and he likes the uniqueness of the double-vowels. I like that it’s a classic name without being particularly trendy or common. And we both love that it means “the one who laughs.” Picking it for his first name was easy.

But we had no idea what to choose for a middle name.

Going through web pages and books of names weren’t generating any inspiration. But inspiration did strike in an unusual place: the middle of a joke.

Depending on how my pregnancy was measured, my due date was either the 15th or 19th or March. Split the difference, and it’s St. Patrick’s day. So, I declared, should we have a St. Paddy’s day baby, we should give him the middle name “O'” (yes, O-apostrophe), so he could be Isaac O’Watkiss.

After a good laugh, we realized we really liked “Isaac O. Watkiss,” and started digging into “O” names.

Let me tell you, there are not many of those I like.

Oliver? Octavius? Oberon? Oedipus? No thanks.

We did like the cadence of how Owen fit into things, but happen to know a TON of Owens who were born recently, so weren’t super keen on using it.

Then, while paging through an old book of Gaelic and Scottish names my mother-in-law found on one of their many bookshelves and brought out as a lark, we discovered “Odin.”

Similar cadence to Owen. A little different without being too weird. We liked the juxtaposition of a name meaning “the one who laughs” with “the god of fury” – furious laughter? – and with our wanderlust and perpetually itchy feet, also liked the idea of Odin the Wanderer.

So Odin it was. And Isaac O. Watkiss he is.

And yes, he does fancy a Guinness, when his dad will share a few spoonfuls.


I can’t believe Isaac is a year old already. It’s hard to put into words what having him around means to us, how much he’s added to the joy and chaos and love and labour and excitement columns in our family ledger. Suffice it to say, he’s the coolest little dude I know, and I’m awfully glad this is just year one of oh, so many.

Happy Birthday Isaac! You’re super keen.

This... Did not end well. But the daredevil remains undeterred!
Merry Christmas
Pumpkin Patch
Beaching in Barça
Moments before rolling away
I think a day of walking past coffee shops has given him a contact high.
Bumbo! Tiny mind = blown
on the train
Nationals Game
Workin' on the Weekend
His mother's chin