Zoo Story

Yesterday we went to Phoenix Park, the largest park in Europe, to visit the Dublin Zoo. As always, for the boys it was almost as much about the journey (riding on the bus) as it was the destination. Though the bus is a struggle to get on quickly with the stroller, once on, it is rather lovely to get to hold the boys and press my cheek against their cool ones as we wind our way through the city and point out what we see. From the bus rides alone, G now knows the color “Geen!” as he calls it, because of his impatience when we have to stop at a light. He also like to say “Man!” and point right at some poor fellow getting on or off, having recently discovered, when you ask him, that he’s a “Boy!” Everything is quite exclamatory.

An "ay-fant" as the boys would say. Most of these photos are by Sascha

Though I was excited to have the boys see all the animals they have read about in books, I am always somewhat sad about the concept of zoos in general. Dublin Zoo does its best, as most modern zoos do, to give the animals a semblance of a natural habitat, but what is life like, being a spectacle? The lion in particular broke my heart. She seemed lonely, looking for something, or perhaps even unwell, leaving her den and meandering along behind high fences mostly covered by trees and bushes to a glass viewing area. Her roar was not the iconic rise-and-fall of the Paramount Pictures lion, but a plaintive, single, insistent note—a plead.

Who is observing whom?

The zoo is very well laid out. All along you find mini-playscapes for children to burn off energy.

A toddler in his natural habitat

But the overcast morning became a full-on rain about 1.5 hours into our journey. So on the “African plains,” we huddled with other families under a small shelter crowded with buggies and fogged-up rain covers across from the “savannah” where the giraffes, ostriches, and zebras roam. They do their best, as do we, to make their home in the Dublin damp.

The last time we were at a zoo was an April day in Los Angeles, a little over a year and a half ago. We were trying to get out of our own cages of sleeplessness and new parenthood and moving anxiety, so we drove down from our house in the hills on a boulevard as wide as the sea and full of traffic. The sun was so hot and blinding it might as well have been August, and I remember we mostly wore the boys in carriers and they were nearly armored against the sun, with hats and muslin wraps. We paused by the giraffes there, thinking the graphic spots might grab their attention. Looking back, I doubt they saw much.

This time was quite different. When we arrived home, the boys were achatter with new words (“Yion!” “Zee-ba!”– all from the “Sue!”; also, regrettably, “I-KEA!“, which they kind of sing-song), and it is fascinating to watch their understanding concretize from the world they see in books or in Baby Einstein videos.

The boys were awestricken by the majesty of the animals–in one instance a tiger paced seemingly inches from them but untouchable through the glass–but they have no idea how far from home they are.

Untitled from Other Side of the Road on Vimeo.

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Life on the lane

It bemuses me to say “down the lane” and mean it quite literally. Our tiny, hidden street is a mini-community, and that suits us well. Appearance-wise, it couldn’t be more different than the condos we last lived in, which were built in 1980. These houses are at least 150 years old. But there are some similarities in that, like our condo, you usually are not on the street unless you live there, so you come very quickly to know your neighbors. Unlike our condo, however, there are seemingly ancient remnants everywhere. For example, just outside our kitchen, I can see the remains of a brick wall through the skylights. It may or may not help support this house, which is unattached, but the original structure it was part of is long gone.

Our neighbors seem to be a mix of long-timers and new renters. Esme, who lives closest to us in a house that makes me think of the French country side and smile whenever I walk past, raised all four of her children in her house .She has weather-beaten wood shutters and a wild, overgrown container garden out front. You have to look very closely to even find the containers, and that’s part of what I love. It’s almost as if she created a patch of soil from the pavement. She told us an older couple who live in one of the middle cottages have been here the longest, and called them the King and Queen. Avril and Steve are a young couple who live a bit further down the lane in one of the very renovated houses like ours. They have a very young baby—a beautiful girl just a few weeks old–and are surprisingly relaxed for new parents.

Every day, returning from the village, we round a stone wall to get to our lane. A pear tree from a garden on the adjacent street hangs over the wall, dangling its fruit. We spied an apple tree as well when we peered over the wall. It is catty-corner to a small cottage in the middle of a renovation. One day we met Gerry, who lives in the house with the pear tree and is renovating the cottage. Did we like rhubarb, he wanted to know? Gerry is tall and thin, perhaps 6’2, with hair and bushy eyebrows the color of straw and a seemingly-permanent ruddy complexion from working out in his yard. He took great pride in giving my mom and me a tour of the cottage he is renovating. I think, if I recall what Esme said, that he is a retired garda (police officer) who owns a bit of real estate in the area.  Later in the afternoon, he came down the lane later that day with goods from his garden:

Rhubarb, apples, and romaine from Gerry's garden

It was such a lovely gesture. There was an unexpected guest as well, who seemed as curious about the boys as they were about him, but I felt he would be happier (as would we) back over the wall of our garden.

We decided to make my mom’s apple cake to bring to Gerry as a thank you. For those of you who’ve had it, the apple cake is a simple one but everyone loves it. It is usually moist and delicious. I dug out the oven manual and narrowed down our control panel to one of two models and thought I had figured out the correct setting. Everything else was just conversion–cups to ml, Fahrenheit to Celsius. The ovens are fan-assisted, which means things can cook quite quickly. Well, this is what happened to our cake:

I was very disappointed. I don’t think I’ve burned anything like that, ever. I had better success making a strawberry rhubarb crisp, which isn’t as delicate as a cake.

G & C heading down the lane

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Part and parcel of our frequent relocations seems to be a pilgrimage to IKEA, the prospect of which wrings my stomach into a cold knot. Nothing induces an existential crisis in me more than a trip to IKEA. The catalogue can make me nauseous, because it is filled with happy-looking, multi-ethnic families that look so…settled, so…organized. They do not look like the kind of people who move by plane with eleven bags, pulled from the triage center (storage, donation, ship, pack in bags) of one’s parents’ garage just the night before.

Once, IKEA was a novelty. When I was in college, it was a trek to get to the one store, an EVENT. The first time, I was dazzled by the seemingly affordable furniture that I thought might make me look more like a grownup that the plastic milk crates I was using as a nightstand/bookcase. The Swedish meatballs and the Glögg! It was all so tongue-in-cheek, with those umlauts. I’m pretty sure we served the Glögg at a party. It may or may not have been the party where a homeless man wandered in, whom I had to confront and manhandle out the door, and kick out the last guest at 4am. We had invited the entire film school at UCLA, and they all came.  This was also during the era that Val & I covered our sofa (free from a grad student) with a fuzzy, green fabric (my friend was dating the son of a fashion designer and he would bring me bolts of fabric) that gave the appearance of grass after Jasco-ing off the ugly orange finish on the wood frame.  IKEA, then, seemed a huge step-up from these other modes of furnishing our college and post-college apartments, i.e., free from friends, found on the street, or Goodwill purchases.

But then somehow, IKEA stores began following me where I moved and IKEA became the go-to place to fill-in the gaps of whatever temporary situation I was in. It appeared oppositional to growing up and settling down. The logic is insidious: here we are for example, living in a fully-furnished house in Dublin. But yet, it is not really our house, so we do not have our mixing bowls or desk chairs or the plates we received as a wedding gift. So we must re-buy these things, but we shouldn’t spend much because they will not go on with us. At this stage in life, I see IKEA for what it is: landfill crap. I would much rather have sturdy, well-made, thought-out purchases that will be in our home forever, like my great Aunt’s writing desk. Only we don’t have a home, in the traditional sense. So upon entering IKEA, I find myself having to face up to the reality of our lives, which is: we have no real plan about the future, I have no idea where my children will go to school and if I should be on the waiting lists in a few states and countries as a back-up, and I don’t know if I will ever have a home that has space for my beloved books that have been in boxes for years now.  I know this is a freedom some envy, and I try to focus on that, especially because now home ownership has become a trap for so many, including some of our friends, who are underwater and left owning homes that are worth far less than what they paid so that they cannot leave them even if they wanted to. But still on bad days, I am jealous you are HOME.

Factor all of this into my tired brain and more tired body on the day we decide we must get to IKEA. (The day after Sascha’s memorable grocery shopping experience.) It takes two buses to get us there, and we fold up the stroller and the boys stand up on the seats to check out everything. They are double-decker buses, and the boys are finally able to contextualize “The Wheels on the Bus.” I see the realization crawl across their tiny faces (hey, our mama wasn’t just making this up like a crazy lady, the people on the bus are going up and down, up and down.) Each time the bus slows down, G demands “More! More!”

C watching the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish

The blue-and-yellow big box comes into view on the horizon like we are getting off at the end of the world. It is the last stop on the bus, in any case. It is 4:30pm, and the website says the store closed at 6pm. I am extremely agitated that we will not be able to get through the Skinner’s box-like set-up of two levels plus have dinner there, since it will be the boys’ dinnertime soon. The plan (oh the plans, why do I even bother?) was to have one of us stay with the boys in the play area, while two others zoomed through to get the shopping done, then meet in the café for dinner. Unfortunately, the Smäland (I think there’s an umlaut in there) is fully booked for the evening. That means the boys and the double-stroller are coming with us. Oh yeah, and there are returns to be made as well.

Now in the States, a late Sunday afternoon/early evening would have been a slow time, because most people are home with their families, making sauce for Sunday dinners. So we thought, silly Americans we, that it would be fairly low-key. Sascha peeled away to handle returns, and my mom and I took the boys up into the lift to set off on the path to Oz. The narrow, winding path through the showroom is like a crowded conveyor belt and I quickly understand that we are not going to get to the see the Wizard, no, but we are actually in Dante’s Inferno. It is growing hotter by the minute, and I must pull off the track where we are just getting herded along like cattle to get my coat off and shove it in the bottom of the stroller. If we stop, we cause an angry back-up of families from all over (eastern European languages are what I hear predominantly). I dash off into the 85m2 apartment and wonder, “Am I home yet? Could this be home? Could I just take off my coat and put on the kettle in the kitchen?” I am becoming increasingly disoriented and overwhelmed. Sascha texts to say we have until 7pm, the website was wrong. When he locates me in the store, I am nonresponsive. I have started thinking we should buy everything, or nothing. The list is balled in my sweaty palm, and I seem to be unable to make any kind of decision. I am baffled as to why the things I want aren’t really for sale here and why oh why did we go to the showroom when we just needed the market-place? We decide to take a break and eat and do our best to keep the boys out of the play area in the café, which seemed malevolent–a violent mosh pit, too close to The Hunger Games. The clock is ticking and we haven’t bought a single item and I never, ever want to come back here again.

The dark underbelly of IKEA: the self-serve warehouse where our dolley will remain empty.

Brave Sascha stays with the boys and my mom and I dash down to the marketplace to quickly look for glasses, cutlery, storage items, lamps. S reports back from the self-serve warehouse that the extra chairs we need are not in stock, oh and guess what, you can’t just order them and have them delivered.  You’d have to come back and see if they were in stock.  The boys are starting to lose it. We get to the checkout area and I am the last person allowed in the line to buy a token for the ice cream machine. This alone can save us, I know.

"Happy!" as they call ice cream, in a very appropriate conflation. We had run out of wipes at this point.

We call a taxi for the journey home, the boys now drooping over us with exhaustion, dark gathering outside. On my way out, I see this in disbelief:

A little hard to make out, but the late afternoon-close Sunday hours are marked with the red man. The code is as follows: green man=peaceful, yellow man=room to move, red man=mingle/busy. "Mingle" I think is a euphemism for "so packed that others' breathing will create a micro-greenhouse effect." I'm surprised there's no umlaut.

Special Guest Post: Sascha on not so super-supermarkets

As promised, our very own Sascha is here to regale you with his tale of shopping while I have a night off to wander around Grafton St:

Life with twins is great. Dublin is great. And grocery shopping can, under the right circumstances, be great.

However, grocery shopping with twins in Dublin is most definitely not great.

Exhibit A: Last Saturday morning. I volunteered to take the boys to the supermarket, optimistically thinking I could accomplish three major things in one fell swoop:

1. Get some much-needed groceries for our Hobbit-sized fridge.

2. Bring the boys out to get some air.

3. Be a good husband and son-in-law by giving my wife and mother-in-law some quiet time after being with the boys nonstop for days.

I can report that I did achieve those three items, however there was a great human cost involved. The boys and I survived, but barely. And things will never be the same.

The scene of the actual incident. Looks spacious according to this photo from Daft, but don't let it fool you.

I arrived at our local grocery store, the Superquinn, around 9:15am, knowing that I had a challenge ahead of me. Since I had the double stroller, I had a choice of two maneuvers:

1. The Two-Handed-Backwards-Shopping-Cart-Plus-Forward-Facing-Stroller Roller

OR

2. Balance-the-Basket-on-Top-of-the-Stroller-and-Try-Not-to-Drop-Groceries-on-my-Sons’-Heads

I took one look at the aisles of that supermarket and knew that option number one wasn’t happening. There was barely room for a cart, let alone a double stroller and a cart. That must be why they charge you a Euro to use a shopping cart – as a deterrent.

So, I had no choice. Balance-the-Basket. I rolled my extra large, Americano double stroller down the super narrow, dainty European aisles as I balanced the empty cart on the handles. Look, I appreciate that things in Europe are smaller than they are in the United States. There is less waste here and that’s good. But why cut corners on supermarket aisles? That just isn’t right.

I admit that when it comes to grocery shopping, I am an overachiever. I like to get everything on the list, and plus it out so we don’t have to shop again for a while. That basket was full in no time, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for not dropping any plums on my sons’ heads. They were pretty mellow, too. But then it was time to check out.

The cashier was ringing me up when it happened. I tried to push the stroller through the aisle so I could bag the groceries, and then…creak. The stroller was stuck. I couldn’t push forward. I couldn’t pull back. Behind me, the line started to grow, people started looking impatient – this was the only aisle open. My formerly mellow sons started to cry, no doubt fearing that they would be stuck in a Superquinn check-out aisle for months. I was suddenly the center of attention. Friendly Irish people didn’t seem so friendly anymore. I apologized meekly. The crying got louder, the stroller wouldn’t budge. What would I do?

When Erin talks about worst-case, nightmare scenarios of living in a city with twins, these are the pictures she paints: being out in public, the twins screaming, causing a scene, being the center of attention. I realized at that moment: I was living her nightmare.

I knew I’d have get the boys out and fold up the stroller to get it unstuck. So as they continued to wail, I unbuckled them. Unfortunately I was stuck on the other side of the stroller from them. C. went limp like a ragdoll and slid to the floor as he does when he’s angry, and G. stomped off towards the ice cream case in a huff. The cashier dashed from behind the counter and tried to distract them with Superquinn super-saver circulars while I madly tried to fold up the stroller. It wouldn’t fold. The line behind me was growing longer. I tried to stay Zen. As a coping strategy, my mind took me miles away. I imagined I was in a nice, spacious, comfy, enormous Target in suburban Connecticut. The check-out aisle was the size of a football field. Bliss.

Things were simpler then. Our shopping carts were SUVs and the aisles stretched on gloriously as far as the eye could see. Target, how we miss ye.

I snapped back to reailty and somehow found the strength to fold the stroller, wrangle the boys, unfold the stroller, get the wriggling boys back into the stroller, bag the groceries in my eco-friendly reusable bags, balance them on the handle, and then promptly slam the stroller into a bucket of flowers, causing the water to spill out across the floor of the store. The last thing I remember is sprinting through the inch of water in my sneakers, pushing the double stroller out of the narrow doors as fast as I could as the boys’ cries rang throughout Superquinn.

From now on, we will be having our groceries delivered.

Windy

This morning the wind came pounding at the cottage, rattling windows and doors and trying to push in through any crack or breach. It was so loud that the boys woke up at 6am crying, from the noise, but thankfully fell back asleep. Mornings like this are when you remember you are on not-too-large island surrounded by the dark waters of the Northern Atlantic. And tonight I’m nursing some nasty approximation of Theraflu, and hoping I don’t catch Sascha’s cold.

I used to think people in New England were obsessed with the weather, what with the storm trackers and Doppler radars and week-long news cycles, but here it is a new kind of obsession. The weather changes constantly, so despite hearing from two different people that snow was expected as early as next month (! my out-of-date guidebooks said Dublin was more moderate on a whole, and that snow was rare), S pointed out that they could never really predict the weather for the day, so how could they know what it would be like in a month?

Friday was a beautiful, balmy afternoon and I became obsessed with seeing the sea before the season turned for good and artic winds bore down and snow piled up. I google-mapped the walk, which my mom worried was too ambitious because it was almost four when we were at Herbert Park, and the beach was a good 30 minutes or so beyond that. But Mr. Whippy the ice cream truck was parked outside, and I picked up cones for everyone and decided, fortified by ice cream, that we could do it. Worse came to worst, we would just have to see how far we got. Over the DART tracks we passed and negotiated a troubling crosswalk. Not only was there no blinking man to tell us when to cross, leaving us craning our necks to check stoplights and whiplash our heads about like two nutters, but the median was so tiny that with the double-stroller in front of her, my poor mom’s rear was sticking out a bit into oncoming traffic. (“I could lose a few inches anyway,” she shrugged.) We came upon a construction site, and turned the stroller for the boys just in time to see a truck lift a heavy load of dirt and drop it down into the road. If they could retain memories, I am sure this would rank among one of their top sights in Ireland! Then we were on a beautiful curving street that seemed to be unfurling itself toward the sea. There were beautiful Georgian-style brick homes all along this road. Suddenly, the air changed, turning briny and dropping several degrees as we heard the seagulls. We hit Sandymount Green, and then I knew where we were because we considered renting a house nearby. And though it was close to five and cold and windy on the beach, I was ecstatic to see The Strand, and as you saw in the previous post, the boys loved climbing the rocks and playing in the sand.

The next day, Saturday, we had planned to go to IKEA. But S has a story to tell you about that morning, which I think he would like to do as a guest post, so for now I’ll just say that it drained any of us of the mental and physical stamina one needs to even consider going to the twee Swedish-happy-but-made-in-China warehouse of our lives. I’ll also say at times that C behaves somewhat like the chick from The Exorcist, with his arms splayed out, head dropped back, and screaming. Later that evening, when all is quiet in the house, my mom ushers us out the door and we hit the pubs. The first one, Smyth’s, is quite a scene. Guitar rock pounding, young people preening. We sit in a corner booth and feel old, but I discover I do like Guinness. The only other time I had been in Dublin, for a weekend when I was studying abroad in England, I had tried it, as all tourists must, but didn’t like it. Then again, it wasn’t until I lived in Japan that I even had a taste for beer. This time the Guinness was smooth and velvety like good coffee, not too bitter. Then we went next door where the lights were on and hair (where it remained) was mostly white, and no music played. We feel too young.

For all of you who have asked, I think we’ve finally gotten a handle on the whole hot water thing. And in another American expat blog I read, she mentioned this YouTube sketch which may give you a (profanity-laced) idea of what I was talking about with regards to the heater you have to switch on, (but only sometimes, not in the “winter months,” whenever exactly those are:

Cutting teeth

Today was Sascha’s first day in the office since officially moving to Dublin, and the poor guy has a miserable head cold. He is clammy and stuffed up, in part because of the sudden change in weather (a 30 degree difference), and in part, of course, because of the great weight upon him these past few months, not only holding down the job while finishing up commitments in the U.S., helping to pack up and move us, but also the responsibility he feels for moving us all here. Parenthood has forced us into some gender stereotypes, a kind of divide-and-conquer dynamic necessary when parenting twins.

So today began a taste of the reality of life here, excepting of course we have my mom, whom Sascha calls “Mary Poppins” and to whom G has developed an incredible attachment. I am hoping G’s attachment to her may make it harder for her to leave. It’s a big plus in our “Don’t leave” campaign, but there are some minuses we are trying to sort through that I fear may send her packing for the easy comfort of her life in suburbia. For example, we are trying our best to figure out the hot water heating tank. She had the great misfortune of deciding to wash her hair this evening only to discover, after soaping up her hair, that there was, in fact, no hot water left. (Having had this experience yesterday morning, I declined showering today.) We also spent some time standing before our oven, perplexed by the half-rubbed off hieroglyphics, which meant we burnt the skin of our sweet potatoes but hadn’t cooked them all the way through. When we first arrived, she gasped at the size of the freezer. For the record, it is probably a bit bigger than the size of the freezer in our old Brooklyn Heights place, for those of you who have seen it. I think she hoped to do as she and my in-laws had done in those first months of life with the boys: to fill our freezer with soups, sauces, lasagnas. After all, she is an Irish woman who had to cook for an Italian man, so at our house on Sundays, it was a pot of sauce on the stove all day with meatballs, and copious leftovers to freeze. We can’t bulk up on bread or other staples to minimize our trips to the store because there is no room to store them. The other interesting adjustment is that the trash collection is only every other week, and you are charged by what you throw out, essentially, which makes you more aware of the trash you generate. That is quite a good thing, and something the States in particular needs more awareness of, but we also have two children in diapers. The trash bin is already full and we’ve another week to go! Thus, our twilight hero:

Sascha: lover, scholar, gentleman, and human trash compactor. We may need to hasten along the potty training.

Last night, we had a wonderful dinner with our friend Chris, who is from L.A. but has been in town for business. We are lucky that her last week here for a while coincides with our first week. It is a fitting bookending of our lives and the unexpected paths they’ve taken since the boys were blips on an ultrasound. We were able to cobble together a decent enough pasta dinner, made better by the wine and bread she brought and her getting to see the boys again, since she last saw them when they were just weeks old and we were more or less catatonic:

We had an impromptu dinner and the boys went down around 8pm and slept through until the morning. We thought we were getting it. But tonight, one after the other, the boys keep waking up. All of our hard work sleep training them when they were 5-6 months old, which I feel is one of the best parenting decisions we ever made, is falling apart. It is even worse, because they sense our footsteps and cry out for “Marmy” (as they call their Grammy), or “Dada,” or wail plaintively, “Maa-ma, maa-ma!” If you have children, you may know that this sort of crying at close range (as in a car) can feel like someone is drilling directly into your brain with a tiny bit through your ear canal. You feel evil for ignoring it and if you give in, you realize you are a total sucker. As I often do when I have no explanation for their behavior, I blame it on teething. Yesterday when C. and I did our pas de deux, (he throws his head back and goes limp in my arms while we waltz), I thought I saw some white peaks poking through. But then again, he really doesn’t have that many more baby teeth to come in, and what about G?

I went out to Ranelagh village while they napped today, to run errands. Namely we wanted to make Sascha chicken soup and I wanted to look for ride-on toys for the boys and a few things from the hardware store. My mom and the boys stayed inside all day, which isn’t ideal, but being so rain-soaked and chilled yesterday made us reluctant to head out. It is going to be very tricky with them and no car to protect us from the elements. A drizzle is one thing, but a rain that falls in sideways sheets conspiring with a wind that tears your hood off is quite another when you are pushing around two cranky kids. My mom and I are yearning to explore the city beyond the villages that lay within a reasonable walking distance, but we feel a bit intimidated about negotiating the double stroller on public transportation, especially with the boys being so unpredictable right now.

I guess we are all just cutting teeth here, trying to learn the basics and figure out our new lives.

PS: I realize you have all seen a million pictures of G & C before, and you are probably dying to see a glimpse of Ireland. So am I!! Also, we have some flash drive/Mobile vodafone thingy that sometimes gives us wireless, sometimes not. So hopefully we can have an incredibly pixellated Skype chat/house tour soon. Congrats to Mike & Crystal–my parents will welcome their 7th grandchild–the 6th boy!–next year.

Fumbles

The fast moving cloud cover closed over us mid-morning, and by the time we had gotten ourselves and the boys and their bag ready to head out to run errands—a forty-five minute process–rain started to fall. But as a woman who ran one of the crèches (daycares) put it, “It’s Ireland. You can’t let the rain stop you from going outside.”  We ripped tags off our new rain jackets and pulled out the stroller’s rain cover and ventured out into the gray day.

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. –Langston Hughes

We were meeting friends for dinner in Ranelagh later in the evening and by the time we left the house it was past three, so we planned on heading directly to dinner, however wind-lashed and damp we might look. We walked up through Ranelagh Village, where I spotted a little soccer ball almost exactly like the one we had in the window of Serendipity. We had a twenty minute walk ahead of us and we didn’t want to stop, but I made the mistake of saying “ball” aloud, or perhaps C. spied it himself anyway. As we continued up towards the Triangle, a busy intersection, C. was furious with us and kicked at the rain cover and kept hollering about the ball.

The original plan was to go to the newly refurbished library in Rathmines and then head down to a mall where there was a Dunnes, which is a Target-esque store that has housewares and groceries. C.’s little fit required us to alter our plan and head directly to Dunnes to find him a ball. Once at the shopping centre, we split up to try and get our missions accomplished. Luckily, there were Bob the Builder  and Barney train coin-operated rides that kept them occupied for a bit, but our fatal error was removing the boys from the stroller. Once they had a taste of freedom, they did not want to go back. Sascha bravely made his way to a nearby toy store while my mom and I searched for endlessly fascinating things like cutlery dividers. In the toy store, Sascha did his best but while trying to remove C. from scaling a seven foot display of heinous Disney balls (two of which we now own), G. proceeded to knock over a bin full of tennis balls, sending about forty rolling all over the store.

After we headed over to the vast expanse of the main store, I missed our free truck-like shopping carts at Target that would easily snap in two kids, though they required a wide turning radius. Not only would we have to pay for shopping carts at Dunnes, but they would not hold our two children. So I ended up piling our purchases in the empty seats of our stroller, which was already piled with our cast-off layers of clothing. Disoriented in a new market, and feeling the tug of jet lag in the brightly lit and busy store, I circled what seemed like the same aisles looking for things. I’m sure I probably looked like a nutty homeless woman muttering to herself (“Where are the sweet potatoes?) while pushing around most of my belongings. In my attempt to speed things up, I decided to do the self-checkout. I have no idea why I did this, since I have never, ever, opted to do this in the States.  I did not have many items, so how bad could it be? Well, I followed the directions as best as I could until I got to the damn sweet potatoes. Only one was marked with a bar code, and I had two. I couldn’t recall if the price was by weight, and had no idea what to do with the second potato. My seconds-long confusion prompted an angry message on screen about detecting an unscanned item on the scale. I could feel the queue behind me shift impatiently, my cheeks reddening. I was baffled. For a second I actually thought G. trying to balance on the counter was the detected unscanned item. Where was the back button? The machine starting beeping and a light was flashing and I expected the Garda to come for me at any moment, but luckily it was just a cashier with a key who had to show the stupid American how to work the machine.

We met up with C. and Sascha again, Sascha having combed the blocks outside of the mall to find us a coffee maker and a larger trash bin. That is so Sascha. He persists and does not let us down.

Our friend Ciaran was going to meet us by the mall entrance to fetch all our items in his car, because there were too many to walk with. By this time, C. stunk and I set off in search of the restrooms. I circled the mall frantically trying to follow the arrows indicating where the restrooms were. I headed toward one sign only to find myself in a hallway with nothing but an elevator, only to look back at the signs, which now seemed to point in the opposite direction. C. grew more fetid by the minute and wanted to go “upup,” and don’t you know it, he was right. Classic expat mistake: Level 1 is not the ground floor in Ireland. They call that ground zero and the level above is level 1. Diaper business done, we walked over to Ciaran’s to meet his delightful children and wife.

Ciaran is the only person I have ever met who was featured on a national stamp, most people being dead before they wind up on zinging back and forth through the post. What an amazing honor and testament to his legendary music. We are so grateful for all his help.

The boys were completely out when we arrived, and were shy at first with Ciaran’s sons, 8, 5, and 3. I heard Ciaran’s youngest whisper to his brother, “Which one do you like best?” And his brother said, “ I like them both.” “Me too,” the youngest replied, who had dressed for dinner in a shirt, tie, and fedora. I wanted to eat him, he was so cute. C. & G. really warmed up at the restaurant though, and the five boys soon became fast friends. Good wine and good company revived us all. C. especially suddenly seemed to think he was five years old, the way he was laughing and carrying on with the boys. Ciaran’s kids wanted to know if we were all going to go out to dinner again together the next night. These aren’t the greatest photos–not sure I love the iPhone with the flash, since I can’t correct the “white eye” very well, but you get a sense of this band of merry little men:

We’ve been having so much fun it’s hard to believe that Sascha is actually going to have to go work. (They’ve granted him a few days “settling” reprieve.) A few fumbles, but we are making our way. We are using an iPhone to do a wireless connection since it will be some weeks before we get internet or house phone, with some fear as to what our cell phone bill is going to look like. The wind is whipping all around the house tonight and rain is falling again (on the clothes I just put out on the clotheline) and I think it’s causing some connection troubles so not sure if I’ll be able to get this out tonight or tomorrow. It is now 2am 2:30am so I am not doing myself any favors toward acclimating, but if I can sleep sooner than 3am that will be an improvement. I fear in part my late-night blogging is a bad habit but am not sure what other time I will have right now to myself.  At least the boys have been quiet but we did get back from dinner quite late.