I am a wimp. You can ask the little girl in the pink rubber boots and matching rain coat who was happily walking the half mile to school with her mom in the drizzle to pick up her older sibling. I am pretty sure she pointed the wimpy American lady out to her mom as I drove past in the car on my way to pick up my boys, but I didn’t actually see the whole thing because I had my hand up shielding my face from the complete humiliation.
To be fair, I wasn’t feeling well. I rode with the boys to school and back in the morning despite the oncoming migraine. (It’s a little less than a mile each way and relatively flat, so I don’t expect a gold star, but it’s definitely more than a couple of blocks). In the afternoon, I was all decked out in my rain coat again, heading down our driveway on my bike when the clouds kicked it up a notch and splattered my helmet like a woodpecker. I paused and reluctantly contemplated driving. If this gets worse and I get soaked, the migraine will kick in full blast. The brave stalwart in me argued that it would set a bad example for the boys, wimping out like this in our first week. The nauseous side of me thought about riding the two miles in soaking wet jeans. I was OK with my decision to drive…until I saw the tyke in the pink. As with many experiences I’ve had here in England, it made me contemplate what I’m truly made of.
Back in the northwest, I was not exactly a candidate for a Pemco ad (for the benefit of my UK friends, I have included a clip below), but I have strung up a few blue tarps in my time and I’m not generally afraid of a little rain. I do pass out the parkas and head out even when the forecast calls for a little drizzle. Here is a photo of a recent outing to the park to prove it. We’ve been wet before and we’ll be wet again, but there is something a little different in the general attitude toward the elements here in England. Everyone gets wet, especially kids, and they’ll be fine.
When it comes to getting to school in the rain, I consider myself less wimpy than many American parents. I made my kids walk the 200 yards to the bus stop in the rain. With an umbrella, of course. (OK, truth be told, I picked them up during a downpour or two, but the little wimp meter in my head was definitely maxing out.)
I say less wimpy because there are many parents who drive their kids to the bus stop if it’s raining, which is always less than a half a mile from their house. Some even just drive them all the way to the front door of the school to save the fuss. (There is an elaborate dropoff and pickup routine established in front of the main entrance to most American elementary schools so kids can hop out of their cars and be ushered into the front doors without the parents even getting out of their cars. I wouldn’t be caught dead doing that to avoid the rain–a Washington native has to have some self respect!)
My English friend Fiona finds it hilarious, both the fact that the bus stops are no more than half a mile from our houses and the extent to which we go to stay dry. After just one rainy day pick up experience here in this English village, I can see why. Parents here walk their kids into the playground at the back of the school to meet their teachers in the morning and afternoon. Parking on the long, skinny street in front of the school is parallel parking on one side. As you can imagine, most drivers (parents coming from work or other villages, I presume) end up walking several blocks. As I stood in the playground to pick the boys up, I realized that I was the only one who had both an umbrella and a rain jacket. The other adults had one or the other, but not both. The looks they gave me are all too familiar, like the day I wore a baseball cap to the grocery store. It’s simply not done around here.
The kids generally seemed to think nothing of getting a little wet, a few pulled up their hoods or got under umbrellas with their parents, but most of them just seemed to be oblivious to the weather. The most astonishing sight were the older kids who had walked from the secondary school in their blazers and ties to pick up their younger siblings, with no waterproofing of any kind. It wasn’t what they did that struck me, but what they didn’t do. They milled around the paved playground with the rest of us, chatting away with the other soaked teenagers, seemingly unperturbed by their wet hair hanging in ringlets or plastered to their heads. I imagine most American teenagers would be at least pouting, but more likely whining and texting for someone to come save them.
I decided to act as if I had every intention of having the boys ride their bikes, rain or no rain. It turns out that it was a mute point because they both came out and headed straight for the bike racks, just like the three of us normally do. It was a bit embarrassing to explain that I had driven the car, especially after nearly two months of learning to ride the buses and trains and bikes to accomplish our goal of being a one-car family. (Go figure that the first day my husband kicked in his ride sharing scheme, I get a migraine.)
‘You drove here???’, they asked with their faces all screwed up. ‘Keep it down!”, I whispered. The car was blocks away, but I didn’t want anyone eavesdropping and eyeballing us as we formulated a plan. The older son would ride home ahead and the younger one would let me follow him in the car and supervise the street crossings. As I waved the wet little rider across the road at the roundabout, I knew we had accomplished a little bit of what we set out to by moving here. Stalwarts 1, Wimps 0.