The last time Anna and I went to London together we marked the fact that she had just entered the “double digits” – she was 10 and mostly wanted to hang out at Harrods’ toy department and Yo Sushi. Last week we left our guys at home to celebrate her upcoming high school graduation. What a difference eight years does and does not make.
My girl and I took off for our five-day extravaganza with a vague plan to see some shows, eat at Yo Sushi (again) and shop. And then squeeze in a few museums between more shopping. That’s what I thought we agreed to in principle, but then reality reared its black and white head.
I observed a side of my daughter I intuited, but couldn’t exactly articulate before our trip. Anna, princess over the sloppiest sovereign space in our house, likes order, craves structure. I get claustrophobic at the thought of being tethered to an organized tour. Not Anna. She likes to climb up to the top of that double-decker bus and listen to the guide.
On Day 2 of our London adventure we went on the London Eye – a super slow Ferris wheel, powered by sustainable energy – that eventually provides panoramic views of London. Compared with eight years ago, Anna was not as happy to pose in front of various landmarks in our little bubble compartment – “Go, go there’s a great view of Westminster Abbey,” I said a bit too shrill. “How many times can you photograph Big Ben?” asked Anna, princess of the perfect eye roll.
After we hopped off the London Eye, I thought we’d pop up to Madame Tussauds. After all, Anna loved Posh and Beck’s wax figures on our last visit. But my girl had my number. She knew I was willing to schlep on the tube and suffer through two transfers just to get a picture of me standing next to Colin Firth’s heart-racing likeness. Colin was featured in an advertisement for the iconic museum at a tube station. “Don’t even think about it,” warned Anna, princess of the perfectly raised eyebrow. She told me to step away when I approached the poster. One person’s idea of vandalism is another person’s idea of procuring an innocent souvenir.
No poster, no Madame Tussauds. We negotiated and decided to go to the Tate Modern as long as I got to walk across the Millennium Bridge and flit around Saint Paul’s Cathedral. “Princess Diana was married at Saint Paul’s,” I told Anna breathlessly. That fact did not impress my daughter, who barely remembers Diana. I also insisted we walk across the same bridge that Bridget Jones sauntered along in the first movie. Again, my motives were embarrassingly naked. “You won’t see Colin Firth no matter how many times you walk back and forth across that bridge. Oh and I hate bridges as much as you hate sitting in the middle of a row in the theater.”
Eight years on, and a wisecracking teenager had replaced my little girl. But I found my sweet girl the next day on the Harry Potter tour. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the English countryside to look at ossified movie sets from the various Harry Potter movies. But this was Anna’s trip, so I shelled out way too much money for the two of us to go on the tour. I love Harry Potter as much as the next person. I took Anna to a bookstore at midnight for one of the series’ releases so she could be the first kid on the block to read the doorstopper of a book. The anticipation on her face on that long ago night was delicious.
There was the same look when she happily posed in front of a replica of the Hogwarts gates. I loved watching my daughter having so much fun strolling through the Great Hall and peering into Harry’s closet bedroom under the stairs of 4 Privet Drive. And, yes, we posed for a picture in front of the exterior of what is arguably the most infamous Muggle house in the United Kingdom.
At night back in London, we strolled on the Strand or in Covent Garden. We also made a nightly stop in the hotel’s business center to check Facebook – hers and mine. Subtle parent that I am, I asked her what was new on her page. “Everything’s fine,” she said gently.
The next day Anna and I went to the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace and saw an exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci’s anatomy drawings. I was astonished by the way my daughter so carefully went through the exhibit and pointed out the flaws as well as the prescience of Da Vinci’s work. Suddenly, I realized that more and more Da Vinci moments would replace the Harry Potter ones.
Little girl. Big girl. The next time we go to London, Anna will be a woman, and I will finally pose next to Colin.