Long-Time Residents, the Cowans Learn From Another Lifestyle
At Christmas 2018, our family made a radical decision: after 20 years of living in our beautiful Washington state, and 13 years in Issaquah Highlands, we decided to live in England for a year. In a sense, we were confronting the reality that our oldest child was a year out from college and that this was our last year to have an international experience as a family.
My husband, Tony, spent some years growing up in Brazil and the Philippines. I grew up in Quebec, a French province in Canada, and spent some time doing research in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Tony and I met in 1999, when I was a Canadian working in London, and him an Australian working in Manhattan. We both worked for a subsidiary of IBM and got engaged after five intense days of emailing. We lived together in London after getting married and moved to Seattle just after 9/11.
We were fortunate to have three kids in Washington, and were able to watch our kids grow up on 24th Avenue in the Central Park neighborhood. We spent years crafting our eventual exit from Washington, but when you have good schools, a neighborhood that looks like a movie set, and wonderful neighbors, it makes it really hard to leave.
We love Issaquah, we chose to put our roots down here. Still there was something particularly special about the idea of abandoning reason and returning to the U.K. to celebrate our 20th year of marriage, with three teenagers and two dogs in tow. We wanted them to see where their story started.
The logistics were not simple.
Our teens were entering grades 8, 10 and 12 in Issaquah. Our dogs would need lots of vet visits, pet passports, apartment-sized crates, and (so we learned) first class tickets. We were both leaving our jobs (terrible timing for me, better timing for my husband). Our oldest, daughter, Indie, would miss her senior year and all of the excitement and closure of those “last year of high school” milestones. Our middle child, daughter, Sage, would arrive in the U.K. to enter Year 11 (ominous music should play in the background here – you see, she missed Year 10 in the U.K., and by November of Year 11, she would be tested on content she hadn’t learned in Year 10 across a dozen subjects). The youngest, our son, Cole, would enter Year 9, jumping into French class with kids who had studied the language for years.
Cole was leaving his spot on his soccer team; the girls were giving up their spots at Village Theatre’s Institute Program, and all three were leaving their positions on the Highlands Youth Advisory Board (HY). Each child processed the move in their own unique ways.
And yet, this was our last chance to, as Tony would say, “force an experience” on our teens. We love them dearly, but can they really go through life thinking that homes are always new with functioning appliances, large green spaces, and neighbors who know them? No! They needed to live in a 200-year-old home with original creaking floors, old plumbing with plenty of personality, and rowdy neighbors. They needed to hand-wash dishes, dry their clothes on radiators and laundry racks, and take a public bus to school wearing a uniform. They needed to experience life without access to a car, and where their possessions were whittled down to fit into two large suitcases.
One of our biggest takeaways from this experience is the climate crisis is real, personal, and accepted in the U.K. We chose to live in Brighton, also known as “London by the Sea,” which recently beat out Portland, Oregon as the “hippest city in the world” (based on number of record stores, tattoo parlors, vintage shops, and vegan restaurants).
The conversation in the U.K. isn’t about whether there is a climate crisis – that much is accepted. Instead, the focus is on personal accountability. Almost everyone carries a reusable mug and water bottle. Everyone has cloth carrier bags. Most restaurants offer many plant-based options or are entirely vegan. Single-use plastic is shunned (for example: using reusable glass bottles for cleaning spray, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner, and switching to bar soaps). Those decisions are rather pedestrian over here. The environmental footprint of your food choices, travel choices, and family size are discussed. The motto is “do better!” Not “perfection,” but “onwards” in meaningful ways.
Needless to say, we are relishing our year abroad. Indie managed to graduate a year early from high school in Issaquah and take a gap year with lots of travel, and Sage and Cole are surviving uniforms, new friend groups, and new learning. Having spent some time supporting a school near our townhome, I will return to Issaquah with an even greater appreciation for the Issaquah School District. How fortunate we are to have schools charting the course when it comes to equity, instructional practices, positive behavior supports, student engagement, and inclusion.
We return to our home in Issaquah Highlands, which we rented out to long-time friends and neighbors, in July. Indie will head off to college to study computer science, while Sage and Cole continue their studies at Issaquah High School. We started preparing the dogs for the return journey with pet passports, deluxe crates and all.
We are thankful for our months by the ocean and this time together as a family. If you have ever thought about an overseas experience as a family, we highly recommend it!
COVID-19 Update from the Cowans
We have been holed up in our homes for three weeks as I write this. By the time this issue “hits the stands,” we will have been in self-isolation for six weeks, aside from a daily dog walk and weekly trips to buy groceries. We are immensely grateful for the work of the National Health System (NHS), including my cousin Carrie and her husband James, who are a general practitioner and a radiologist, respectively. They were redeployed at the beginning of April to serve COVID-19 patients in Yorkshire.
Our community on Norfolk Road is supporting each other and we are grateful for quiet days on our balcony overlooking the ocean. There are grim weeks ahead for all of us. We send love and good health to our Issaquah community and hope to return to a new normal soon.