Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Marathon, My Hometown

A few days after I finished the London Marathon—and yes, I was still hobbling—a Canadian friend of mine stopped me in the playground and said to me, “Now that you’ve done the marathon, London really is your hometown, isn’t it?”

After more than six years of living here, I had to agree.

To put this into context, it’s important to understand that I really hated London when we moved here. Now it’s not really in my nature to hate anything, and people may be surprised to learn that I was deeply miserable when we relocated here, but it’s true.

I hated everything here. I hated that the language was the same, but different. I hated feeling stupid most of the time, because I had to relearn how to do everything. I hated not working and yearned for my old newspaper job in Chicago. I hated not knowing anyone. I hated how expensive everything was. I hated hunting around to find simple food ingredients.

To make matters more complicated, I discovered I was pregnant with Andrew while unpacking our moving boxes. So while it would be difficult enough to navigate living in a foreign country, I had to figure out how to have a baby here too. And let me tell you, as an American, it was incredibly shocking that my baby would be delivered not by a doctor, but by a midwife. (Though, as it happens, a doctor had to come in the end anyway, given Andrew’s stubbornness in entering the world.)

Tim couldn’t really understand why I was unhappy. “But it’s London!” he would say. “It’s not like I made you move to some backwater!” Whenever we would watch a film or TV series filmed in Chicago, my heart would leap as if I’d seen a lover. “Look! Chicago! The city we love!!” I would say.

Chicago, in some ways, was like my first love. I grew up just outside of New York City, and in many ways, that city was like a benevolent uncle to me. In fact, My Most Excellent Uncle Phil lived there, and one of my fondest childhood memories is spending the weekend in Manhattan, where I rode in a taxi and got to see “Star Wars” (not necessarily in that order). I went to university in Philadelphia, but I tend to gloss over that city because it didn’t have the hold on me Chicago did.

Chicago, My Kind of Town, like Sinatra sings, is the place where I set out to make myself in graduate school at Northwestern University. It’s the place that cemented (pun intended) my love of architecture. It’s the place with such a colourful history, they’re STILL arresting gangsters there. It’s the place where I met and fell in love with my husband. When we moved here in 1998, in my mind, no city, even one as great as London, could beat Chicago.

But London, much like British men themselves, was a patient suitor. It wasn’t obvious or showy. The city, and the people who live here, slowly revealed itself to me over time. I learned to love its regal history and short buildings. I became enamoured of the Thames River. I learned the lingo. I made lifelong friends.

If I didn’t realize it before, the London Marathon showed me that the city had become mine. Before the race, I had countless friends and neighbours in Greenwich ask me about my training and wish me luck. On the day itself, dozens of friends lined the streets to cheer me to the finish. The route itself took me past important places in my life: In the 5th mile, I ran by the hospital where Andrew was born, and in the 25th mile, I ran close to the hospital where Nicholas was born. Strangers cheered me on by saying, “Come on Mo! You can do it, love!” A woman in the 20th mile offered to swap her Stella Artois for my Lucozade (“Tempting,” I told her. “But I think it’ll make me sick.”) When I could name the bridges along the Embankment to myself and could calculate how far I had to run before I turned right in front of Big Ben, I realized I was home.

So yes, London is now my hometown. It took more than six years to come around, but I have fallen in love.

P.S. But you know what they say: You never forget your first love.

1 comment:

Guess Who said...

It made me happy and sad to read this blog. What I really want in my life, is for my kids to be happy, and from what I read, you ARE. The sad part is that you are sooo very far away. I always wanted my boys to be independent,(I guess that is what took you to London) but I also felt that I was holding onto their legs saying "Please don't go". Someday you will know that feeling. But, in my heart of hearts, I hope they will be as happy as you & Tim are.