We came for the royal wedding, we stayed for the ice cream.

From the archive.


How did I end up hauling my 6-year-old daughter to London for the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton?


Such harebrained schemes don't just happen. They infect you young and lurk in your nervous system for years, like shingles. I can tell you exactly when I caught royal fever.

It was July 29, 1981. I was 9 years old. I wasn't a princess-y kid. I was an Anglophile. Blame my mother. Blame “Masterpiece Theater,” which for years was one of the few shows she let me watch on TV. (I was the only kid I knew who was breathlessly following "Brideshead Revisited.")


My mother and I watched the TV movie about Charles and Diana. (Not a BBC production, but with accents, so still fancy.) I was at my dad's house in Key West on July 29 and I got up at 4 in the morning and watched the wedding on TV by myself. I drew that dress all summer, and when I got back to my mom's in the fall, I got a Lady Di haircut.


So when Prince William and Catherine-don't-call-me-Kate Middleton announced their engagement, I did not think I was being particularly crazy when I turned to my husband and said, "We're going."


"Um, I'm not," he said.


Eliza and I arrived in London on April 26. The city was ready. It seemed as if every shop window had some sort of wedding-themed display.


But the locals we met sounded less than enthused. What are you doing on "the free day off?" we heard them ask one another. It was three days before we met someone who was actually going to participate in the fanfare, and he was just planning on taking his kids to his local street party. So who were all these people we were seeing camping out in tents along the procession route? Australians?


"We should get a tent," Eliza said as we rode past them in a cab.


"We aren't getting a tent," I said, thinking of our expensive hotel room. But as the wedding day approached, I started a campaign to control Eliza's expectations. "We probably aren't going to be able to see them up close," I said. "There are going to be a lot of people."


"Can we bring a ladder?" Eliza asked.


"No," I said.


"Well," she said. "You're just going to have to lift me up as high as you can."


The night before the wedding, we couldn't sleep. I thought about heading down to the procession route to wait for eight hours on the sidewalk. (I really did.) But here's the thing about doing that sort of thing with a 6-year-old: If one of you has to pee, you're both going to the Honey Bucket, and it's not as if anyone is going to save your place.


So we waited until morning when the alarm went off. Eliza wore an elegant gold dress and a red cape with a black and white fur collar. I wore jeans and a T-shirt, and the most English piece of clothing I own -- my London Fog trench coat. We started walking toward the palace, about a mile away.


It was quiet at first.


We hurried along the sidewalk. Everyone had been worried about rain, but the morning was beautiful. I was regretting the trench coat.


We could see people now up ahead. They were streaming along the sidewalks and streets. I decided to follow the crowd. Suddenly we were in a throng of thousands. Women in silly hats and tiny dresses teetered along in stiletto heels. Families pushed strollers festooned with Union Jack flags. Girls wore T-shirts that read, "It should have been me." The crowd surged into Hyde Park and suddenly we were in a sea of a million people. That's not hyperbole -- I read it later in the paper, there were a million people in that park.



Three enormous JumboTron screens had been erected to broadcast the action. Even so, I had to hoist Eliza up to see, because when those million people saw the queen arrive at the Abbey, they all stood up and waved their flags, and they didn't sit back down. These people had come for the day. They brought blankets, and were drinking beer -- at 10 in the morning. When William and Catherine began their vows, the crowd went silent.


"I thought her dress would be longer," Eliza said.


"Shh," I said.


Then it was over. They were pronounced married. The shouting was deafening.


I had one thing on my mind: kissing.


After a wedding, the royal couple stands on the balcony at Buckingham Palace and kiss -- it's what they do.


"Let's go," I said to Eliza.


I could see people peeling off, and Eliza and I followed them, assuming they were all going somewhere important. It turned out that somewhere important was the nearest tube station. I pulled out my map from our double-decker bus tour, located our position, and plotted our route to the mall. Eliza was excited for a minute about this -- thinking we were going to the Gap and then maybe Jamba Juice. I explained that it was not that kind of mall.


It took a long time to get there. People kept stopping us and asking to take Eliza's picture. Someone gave her free ice cream. "Ooh, royalty's coming!" a cop said as Eliza walked by in her cape.


"I'm taking this thing off," Eliza said.

The crowd was thick at the entrance to the mall. I had a firm grip on Eliza's wrist and pulled her sideways between people. I wasn't even sure where we were going. I just figured that this many people jammed together must be jammed together for a reason.


The mall itself was closed off by barricades, and guarded by police. I could see the police in their fluorescent yellow jackets chasing people in the park near the mall, forcing them out the gates. The crowd was pressing against the barricades and I picked Eliza up so she could get some air.


It was hot now. My trench coat was off, jammed under my arm, along with Eliza's cape. No one was moving, but it seemed everyone was trying to move. It was the first time I have ever felt the power that a crowd has, how it becomes its own sort of organism, capable of crushing people.


Suddenly, I didn't give a toss about the kiss. My main goal was to get Eliza out of there.


It took some doing. But we made it back to the hotel and turned on the TV in time to see the police lift the barricades and guide the crowd down the mall to the palace. If we had stayed we would have been right up front, with a great view. As it was, we saw the balcony moment, like most of the world, on TV.


After a few hours, we ventured out again. We saw the palace guard on horseback and the revelers still outside the palace.


Eventually, Eliza joined some other little girls who discovered that if they sat down in their puffy dresses, all that silk and taffeta made for excellent toboggans on a slanted marble monument in St. James Park. The girls slid on their backs and on their bellies, and the grown-ups watched. None of us told them to try to keep their dresses clean.


"This was the best day of my life," Eliza told me on the way out of the park.


"What was your favorite part?" I asked.


"The ice cream," she said.

The Unicorn Question

From the archive...

We were just arriving home from the park, when my daughter sprung the question. She was on her bike. I was on foot. It was a beautiful day, though overcast, and the park had been muddy, and she was a little tired from the bike ride home. She'd been quiet the last half-block. I blamed it on muscle fatigue. It turns out she was mulling the nature of reality.

"Can we go to the jungle and see unicorns?" she asked. She said it casually, as if she were asking to go to the zoo and see elephants. 

My daughter is approaching 4, and we expect these big questions every now and again. We'd watched "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn and had an exhaustive discussion as to why Prince John could be a bad guy when he seemed so nice. ("But he's a prince," she kept saying, "and happy.")


But I was not prepared for The Unicorn Question.


I decided to attempt a sidestep.


"Unicorns don't live in the jungle," I said.


My daughter pushed her bike up the grass hill to our yard. "Where do they live?" she asked.


This stumped me. "Um, meadows?" I said.


She turned back and squinted at me, clearly dubious. "Meadows?"


"The old English countryside?" I guessed.


She wasn't buying it. "Where do unicorns really live?" she asked.


I had to come clean. "In a magic land," I said.


She frowned. "Can we go there?"


I forced a big excited, fake smile. "That's the great thing about magic lands, you can go any time you want, because they exist in your imagination," I said.


She stood in the yard, her pink bike helmet strapped under her chin, and looked at me the way she sometimes looks at her father. "Are unicorns real?" she asked.


There it was.


What was I supposed to do? Lie? It was a direct question. "They're imaginary," I said, immediately feeling like a jerk.


"Like dinosaurs?" she asked.


"Dinosaurs used to be real," I said. "They lived a long, long time ago. Unicorns are made up."


Her mouth tightened for a moment, and then she turned back toward the house and started to walk her bike toward the porch. "OK," she said.


I felt like a monster. I had destroyed her belief in unicorns. I was a unicorn murderer. I imagined piles of unicorn carcasses, their horns snapped off, their white coats matted with blood.


We went inside and sat down with my husband.


"I don't see the moon," my daughter said to him. (It was mid-afternoon, and the sky was entirely blanketed with clouds.)


"It's on the other side of the world," my husband said.


"No it's not," she said. She peered out the French doors to the backyard. "It's out there." In her defense, we had seen the moon in the daytime sky a few weeks earlier.


"It's too cloudy," I said.


"It's on the other side of the world," my husband said again. Sometimes he thinks we ignore him.


She craned her neck so she could see more sky. "I can't find it," my daughter said.


"Trust me," my husband said.


My daughter crossed her arms. "I want to see the moon," she said.


My husband reached for her toy phone, which was sitting on the coffee table.


"Hello?" he said into it. "Is this the moon?" He paused. "Where are you now?" He listened and nodded and then looked over at our daughter. "Oh, the other side of the world?" He paused. "Would you mind telling my daughter that?" He held the phone out to her. "The moon wants to talk to you," he said.


She took the phone and held it to her ear. "Hello, Moon," she said. She listened for a moment. "OK," she said. "I understand. Goodbye." She lowered the phone and turned back to my husband. "The moon says that it is half up today," she said. "And that you are wrong."


Her imagination was intact, unicorn massacre notwithstanding.

Career Goals

Okay.  A quick story.

My daughter, Eliza, announced, at age 8, that she was going to grow up to be a television “show runner." (I didn't know what a show runner was until I was 30, but she has had a different life experience than I did.) 

Hitherto “show runner," Eliza's professional goal had been to open a restaurant called "The Unicorn Cafe." Just for context.

She is now a freshman in high school. (Whatever that means, during quarantine.) Last semester she had a required class - on life skills.  When my mother took it, it was called "home ec." When I took it, it was all about how to balance a checkbook. These days, it's about how to manage social media and get into college. 

Eliza had an assignment. She was supposed to write about her career goals.  The assignment specifically asked students to outline two professional aspirations. Then present them to the class.

Eliza could only come up with the one.

Show runner.

We live in Portland, Oregon. So show runner is not at the front of everybody's minds.  The teacher reminded Eliza of the assignment. Eliza is an A-student; she always does the assignment. So this was a conundrum for her.  Because it seemed entirely unnecessary.  Eliza explained that she didn't need to come up with a second option, because she knew what she wanted to do, for a fact.  

Her teacher, patient as a Buddha, suggested that Eliza might come up with a Plan B, you know, just in case the whole television show runner thing didn't work out, ultimately.

Eliza gave it some thought.  

A Plan B?

A fallback. If all else failed. 

Basically her version of digging ditches?

I guess I could be a "television executive," she said.   


What I bought at the Royal Wedding, plus what happened

So I took my daughter to the royal wedding.  I bought a lot of commerative plates and thimbles.  Also an ashtray, a flag, a stuffed corgi, a mug, a keychain, a bunch of Union Jack pencils, a couple of Paddington Bears, paper Kate and Wills masks, and a tin of shortbreads from Harrod's.  And that's not even getting into my spree at Top Shop.  Anyway, here's an essay I wrote about the whole adventure for the Oregonian.


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