We’ve been in our new house in Missoula exactly a week. The greyness that had plagued us in the Yaak Valley didn’t last long. As soon as we moved in, the skies cleared. I am being dragged back in time to my suburban childhood and those late summer days where the blueness of the sky and its immensity are difficult to fathom. As I sit in this house in the Slant District of Missoula, I am surrounded by the sound of leaves rustling, high up on very tall trees. It is a sound I have not heard since childhood. London’s trees are not high, nor do they rustle outside one’s house. And usually everything is sodden. Wet leaves do not sound like the pre-autumn leaves which are just beginning to crisp around the edges. You can hear the brittleness in them. It goes with the blue sky. I know what is coming, of course, having grown up in a place with the same weather and similar landscape to Missoula. So our adventure of launching ourselves into a future together is throwing me off course. I am instead being pulled backwards in time to my childhood in Ottawa, a town I left as soon as I graduated from high school.
E will be going to school in two days. And these blue skies and rustling leaves way above my head are bringing back my memories of the end of summer. I am feeling sick on her behalf. She seems very cool and collected about the whole thing. Here in the US you have to bring your own school supplies. So we took a trip to Walmart, list in hand, and bought her what she needs. I think her new rucksack (I mean, backpack) and the newly sharpened pencils and the spanking new marker pens are so exciting (she shares my love of stationary) that they are usurping any fears of walking into a new school knowing not one person. I took a tour of E’s school with her last week so we could see where her classroom is and so on. On our tour we met a teacher who is originally from Lewes. She gave E a big hug and told her she knew what E was was going through as she had moved from the UK to the US when she was ten. I exchanged numbers with this teacher who magically arranged for us all to get together on the Sunday before school started and introduced E to a girl who is in grade 3 and one in grade 2. So E does have some familiar faces in the throng. And the teacher, let’s call her JN, seems completely wonderful. I know we will see more of her.
But, since arriving in Missoula, my brain has not been functioning properly. I keep thinking that J and E and I are moving into the future, and yet the visual details and the sounds around me keep dragging me backwards in time. The sidewalks which have grass on both sides. The street lights. The smell of the ground. The blueness of the sky. The puffiness of the clouds. The look of the houses. The sound of the cars on this particular type of pavement. The words people use. It is all so familiar and yet from a period of my life I left way behind when I moved to London. I am not sure I like this trick of time and place. I am being knocked off balance. I wasn’t expecting this. I wasn’t expecting Missoula, Montana to be so similar to Ottawa, Canada.
But this is the US, not Canada. So there are some differences. For one thing, our healthcare is a problem. The Obamacare website simply does not work. J has spent over seven hours on the phone to them to try and sort it out. After months of phone calls and attempts to enrol us into Obama’s healthcare programme, it looks like we may have got close to getting it. E will have to be on a different plan to us for reasons that are way too complex to go into here. We have been told by E’s school that she needs more immunisation shots. In Montana, her DTP (Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis or Whooping Cough) and Polio shots need to have been done after her fourth birthday. However, she had them done when she was three. I was told by our doctor in the UK and the US federal centre for disease control, she can’t get these inoculations now as she is only seven and they need to be spaced at least ten years apart. But in order to get this in writing, we have had to make an appointment with a doctor here. To simply walk in the door and talk to them, will set us back $210.00. Oh, how I miss the wonderful NHS! And my lovely doctor in Bethnal Green.
I am trying not to focus on what I miss about my adopted homeland. And instead I am trying to focus on the good things about being here. A big one is the weather. I have been hearing from friends in London that it has been raining non-stop and the central heating is being turned on. I do remember that endless rain and that infinite greyness. And that horrible wet cold that allows mushrooms to grow inside the house. I do not miss it. I am enjoying these huge blue skies. Even though they make me lurch back in time to my weird suburban childhood.
I am enjoying the friendliness of the people here. Everyone we have met has been incredibly warm and helpful.
Children are welcome here. The restaurants in Missoula do things like give children a bit of dough to play with while they wait for the food to arrive. And then they bake it while you eat. At the end of the meal you have a little loaf of bread to take home.
There are a million activities for E to get stuck into. And they don’t cost a fortune. Nor does it take most of your day to get anywhere. Missoula is a very easy city to get around in. Even for someone like me who doesn’t drive.
And lastly, the space. There is so much of it. Again, like my hometown, you can spread out. Our house in London, which is utterly gorgeous, is like a doll’s house compared to the houses here. When you have space, you can think, you can be generous with it. It alters your entire mindset. I do often feel cramped in London, not just physically, but mentally, simply because the walls are too close together and I know on the other side of any wall, are more walls too close together.
So with these positives in mind, I am trying to look to the future and not allow my nostalgia and my memories of a disenchanted childhood to cloud my vision.