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Vita is inexhaustibly thrilled by the traditions of her new English life. It starts each morning as she runs to open the front door to see if the bottles we put out the night before are miraculously full of milk again. Then she waits at the window to see the postman pedaling up the drive on his bicycle. Benedict likes best the weekly adventure of watching the garbage men fling our rubbish into their enormous truck. Then we kick through the autumn leaves across the field to the village playschool, "my English detsky sad," as Vita calls it, where she is only slightly bemused that while her new friends can sing one of her favorite nursery rhymes, "The Grand Old Duke of York," they don't know the words to her other favorite: "Ulibka," or "Smile."
Most fun of all is the stroll to the local family-friendly pub for Sunday lunch on oak tables in front of a roaring open fire. While it is exciting for Vita and Benedict ? and Sasha ? little do they realize that this is a brave new world for me, too.
The England I left behind was a London of wine bars and alternative theater, after-work drinking and impromptu all-night dinner parties. Saturdays were for nursing hangovers rather than stuffing toddlers into supermarket carts and buying the family groceries. Sunday meant a long lie-in buried under a forest of newsprint, not a trip to the nearby playground.
This is the biggest culture shock on returning home: I have never been a mother in England before. Suddenly the size of the garden and the quality of the local education determined our house hunting rather than the need to squeeze into the most happening place in the heart of the capital. I have interviewed members of the school committee there, chatted to other mothers at picking-up time and put an add in the village post office for a child minder ? all people I barely knew existed in the England I left behind. Fumbling about in this new England as blindly as any foreigner it comes as a shock to realize I haven't yet found out where the nearest cinema is or sampled any local wine bars.
Of course the nature of weekends changes with parenthood wherever you are in the world, and old Fleet Street colleagues who stayed here are now likewise rushing home to relieve nannies rather than hammering on the doors of El Vino at pub-opening time.
But had I not been away I would have moved more imperceptibly from one England to another. The world I used to know still exists of course, but it is peopled by a new generation who would find the concept of taking the day off to attend the school nativity play as incredible as I would once have done.
It's a bit of a jolt to realize that the person who boarded a one-way flight to Sheremetyevo at the beginning of the decade never did return.
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