Brooklyn to England: Perks and Perils of Living in a Country Cottage

“Mama!” Trixie screams from her new bedroom. “There are loads of rolly pollies in my room. Loads of ’em!”

First I laugh at her phrasing. “Loads.” Not something she used to say, but a word that has nestled into her vocabulary since we moved to England two weeks ago. With a sigh, I put down my computer and climb two creaky flights of stairs to my daughter’s bedroom, grabbing a dustpan and broom along the way, and begin the nightly ritual of scooping up rolly polly bugs and throwing them out the window. One, two, three … seven, eight … twelve.

At least I got her to stop calling them wood lice, I remind myself, wincing when a particularly fat one squirms as he flips into the pan.

But alas, rolly pollies—or wood lice or pill bugs or butcher boys—are part of our everyday life now. I asked for it, as my mother-in-law likes to remind me. “There are plenty of nice flats in our town, but nooo, my daughter-in-law said she had to have a place with character, and that’s what she got.”

What can I say? It’s true. I decided that if I was going to move all the way from Brooklyn to rural England, I wanted a place with oodles of charm. No more seedy, brown-tiled foyers, no more broken buzzers or chain-smoking supers lurking in the basement. Been there, done that. And now, here I am, in paradise—a delightful three-story cottage built circa 1750. Dark wooden beams hold up the ceiling; quaint stable doors separate each room; vibrant pink roses climb the stone facade; and a swing-set perches on the edge of our flower-filled garden, perfect for our three-year-old daughter. Our neighbors are lovely, and my Facebook friends drool with envy over the bucolic setting. The whole thing is, well, perfect.

But it’s also an old house. Like, really frigging old. So old that it was built before the invention of wedged sneakers and high heels, back when people didn’t need more than 5’8″ of clearance to walk through a room. That’s okay though, I tell myself, because it’s beautiful here. The birds chirping outside our window are a hell of a lot nicer than New York’s police sirens or the guy yelling at his dog in the next apartment building over. Our cottage has character and history. The claw-foot tub is to-die-for. Come winter, I’m going to curl up in front of our very own log fire. And all those tucked-away cupboards and tiny latched doors that Trixie has found? They’re great! They’re charming, they’re fun, and they’re perfect for hide and seek—as long as I remind myself that these are not the same cupboards used in a horror movie I once saw about the vengeful ghost of a mistreated child.

Actually, helping Trixie acclimate to her new surroundings has been a lifesaver. Instead of shrieking at the sight of slugs and spiders, the two of us have become entomologists, grabbing butterfly nets and magnifying glasses as we embrace the great outdoors. After watching a little boy get nipped by one of the local horses the other day, we now know to lay our palms flat when feeding horses and stroking their manes. And even though I’d give anything for a yellow cab to swoop in and cart me up the Everest-like hill to our cottage, Trixie and I love discovering secret passageways home. Plus, it turns out, her scooter makes an excellent Mom-pulled chariot when she’s too tired to climb any further (nevermind that I’m six months pregnant as I schlep a three-year-old up said mountain).

All I have to do now is adapt—learn to duck my head around the wooden beams; smile at the sight of wood lice; and eventually stop worrying that evil spirits are using Trixie’s bath letters to send messages from beyond the grave. I’ll figure it out because my heart swells when I see Trixie and our six-year-old neighbor playing together on the swing-set, and I’m already comforted by the sound of her tiny feet pitter-pattering down the wooden stairs each morning as she jumps into our bed for a cuddle.

Maybe country life is going to be creepy, but it’s awesome, too. And, hey, I asked for it.

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