It’s my blog and I’ll write about cats if I want to

Today my fourteen-year old cat is going to her final vet appointment. She is not dying, let me be very clear. She is getting her final paperwork and check-up so that tomorrow evening, she can board an Aer Lingus flight and make her long, lonely journey here to us.  It will be the only time she has flown cargo, and will not be accompanied by either me or Sascha, though she has flown many, many times.

At this point in my life, most of my friends, post-having children, think their cats are assholes. But despite having kids, I love her more, not less.

No thank you. Sashi in CA captured by Sarah Scheidler, who was there to shoot the new family.

I can remember getting her in my last year of college. My two very good friends, who told us all they were “definitely broken up,” both had cats. The jig was up that they were definitely not just friends when her cat impregnated his. (Apparently a result of spending so many nights at each others’ apartments that they starting bringing their pets, too.) Our friendship circle would implode a bit several years later, but many of us have the cats from this illicit time. I had no idea what my life would look like in fourteen years, but I knew she would be with me.

I left her once. I remember zigzagging the freeways in Los Angeles, the great curving bow of road to change from the 10 to the 405 so I could get to the Westside. Everything that was left of my possessions was piled into the Teal Mobile. Sashi was just a year and she meowed from her cage in the passenger seat. As I often did in those days, I cried on those swift streets, grateful for the privacy that my car and the freeways at that hour allowed. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but I was doing it anyway. I had to leave, and I was going to Japan. I could not bring her, and I was young and selfish and desperate enough to leave her. My then-boyfriend took her.

We crossed many miles since then including one cross-country drive by car (an ill-advised journey arising from an ill-advised relationship.) She brought me roaches in her mouth from my first Brooklyn apartment; in the same apartment, she ran under the bed when I shrieked at the mouse that had run over my foot. In another apartment, she was the sole witness to a break-in. In Brooklyn Heights, she was happy to sleep up high in our loft bed.

We brought her to the desert because we could: all pets were allowed in the bungalows at 29 Palms Inn.

Just don't take the "short cut" to see the Salton Sea

In Los Angeles, she napped beside my ever-growing belly.

Me, monkey cat, and my belly

I’ll never forget how startled she was one evening, when we were all in the king sized bed after bringing the boys home. Sascha and I had the boys on our chests; I think we were doing “skin-to-skin.” Suddenly, G and C began squirming and she realized, They’re alive!

She and I have seen some times.

Surveying one of our many LA homes

So. Yes I have two children and a husband whom I love and adore, but it was extremely hard for me to leave Sashi this time. As we forge our path as a new family, she is part of us. Perhaps she has become even more important as our lives destabilized and we’ve longed to create a permanent home in an industry and an economy that make it nearly impossible. But the rules for importing an animal are very strict. There were two more months before she would be eligible to enter the country after Sascha’s job needed us here or else she would be quarantined.

I do know that no place could be home without the warm insistence of her spine, curled like a comma against my own. I know that she belongs here with us, though she will stalk the back wall of glass to the garden, yowling at the neighborhood cats who jump over walls and onto the roof–the cats that tolerate the boys’ excited yelps better than she.

BREAKING NEWS: I wrote the above this morning, then picked up the boys and put them down for a nap in time to call my brother-in-law at the vet to check in. And after many frantic trans-Atlantic calls, hiring an extremely expensive service to transport her and having her departure finely choreographed, and enlisting the generous help of my in-laws, we have some bum luck: Of all things, the new microchip implanted back in April is apparently defective and unreadable by two different vets’ scanners, meaning the 6-month rabies titre paperwork will not matter. If she cannot be identified through this chip that is listed on all her papers, she will not be allowed in. I am heartbroken.

Thank you Gramby and Papa for giving her such a swank home on the UWS, free from squealing, grabbing toddlers. And thank you Louie for running around the city and trying to make something happen. Dear Irish Agriculture Department, please give us a special pre-authorization to allow our cat to come home.

Yes, we Skype with the cat.

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.


I’ll have to be a bit backward and post about our arrival in Ireland before I recount our final days in the US and the traveling part, which I have to say, was worse than I even imagined. But thankfully we are done with that part. The boys did love the airport though, but getting through security, missing the pre-boarding, and trying to get the car seats installed properly made Sascha as sweat-drenched and tense as if he had been trying to defuse a bomb. I am already contemplating a crossing by sea for our return, whenever and if ever that is.

We're leaving on a hairpane, don't know when we'll be back again

C. now says "Cheese!" and hams it up whenever a camera is pointed at him.

Despite being the absolute last people off the plane, all eleven of our bags and boxes arrived on the baggage carousel first, and things were smooth after that. We had two taxi vans waiting for us. One van ferried the family, while the other transported all our luggage. Our lovely drivers suggested we stop off at a store en route to pick up some essentials: “You’ve gotta get some tea,” Gary said. So we stopped at a petrol convenience store, because it was just past 6am local time. As we drove along the streets and headed toward Dublin Bay, I was able to orient myself and realize how familiar everything looked because of all the hours I spent looking at real estate and doing Google Street View, “walking” virtually around the neighborhoods where various listings were.

Sascha wasn’t kidding when he said our house was down a tiny lane, one he wasn’t certain taxis would even drive down. Gary and Aiden, our fearless leaders, seemed to take it as a challenge (although I think they were also just kindly and trying to get a weary family home as easily as possible). They boldly turned down the street, causing my mother and I to flinch at the tight squeeze. Cars were parked on the right, and the houses were on the left. We were so close that the taxi mirrors scraped a few of the houses as we made our way through.(“Better to scrape those than people’s cars,” Aiden said.) If the windows were open, I could have knocked on the front doors as we passed.

Once inside, the boys got a second wind and were thrilled at the pile of boxes and suitcases that awaited us. Unfortunately, C. and G. were playing on one of the suitcases and C. fell and got a terrible-looking bruise right between his eyes. This matches the egg on the side of his head he got earlier in the week when he vaulted himself out of the crib. Our new house is beautiful, but it is tricky to baby-proof.

We made surprisingly good progress unpacking boxes and things before we all crashed for a few hours. I am so glad I had packed some stuff to go with Sascha ahead of us when he was here on previous trips; having clean sheets and towels made things easier in our exhaustion. We do need to purchase some kitchen appliances, most importantly a coffee maker. We had instant Nescafe, to which my mom, when asked how it was, remarked “it tastes somewhat similar to coffee.”

When we awoke, it was raining so we put on the boys’ new rainboots and went for a little walk to splash in puddles. After our second collective nap, it was like an entirely different day. The sun was brilliant and when I opened the shades in our bedroom, with the window box full of lavender, I could have mistaken it for California. Except of course, we left NYC in 80 degree weather, where it still felt like summer, and here it is brisk autumn already. As a marker of the difference in climate, my mom was amazed at the geraniums, so vibrant and fresh-looking instead of the heat-stressed, withered-looking plants one might find this time of year in CT.

We put the boys in the stroller and headed down to Herbert Park. It was so heartening to hear the laughter and squeals of the packed playground before we could even see it. It was just half five and there were so many parents and kids and wonderful playscapes for many different age groups. Seeing G. and C. exploring and meeting the other children and the walk itself did us all a lot of good. In the little chit-chat I made with other mums, I told them we just moved to Ireland as of 5am this morning, to which they said, “Welcome!” And we did feel welcomed there.

After the park, we figured we would head to a pub to eat dinner before going home. We went to nearby Ballsbridge, and discovered most unfortunately that pubs don’t serve food past five. I became a bit panicked, as I knew we were treading dangerous waters. The boys were overtired already, and if they got too hungry we would be in full-on meltdown time. Even worse, we are now urban and carless so it would be a very public meltdown. We circled back to Roly’s and got prepared foods that they heated for us, and had a picnic dinner back in the park, this time near the duck pond, until a man walking along the path ringing a bell informed us the park would be closing for sunset.

It is almost midnight here, and G and C just woke up crying. They seem a little frightened and disoriented. It is going to be a long night. I am glad we had a such a good day.

Making a mountain out of peanuts

The stress of packing and everything we have to do in these final weeks before leaving the U.S. has finally gotten to me, in what should be known as the Great Crib Fiasco of 2011, or, How I Ended Up Crying Over Boxes of Peanuts (not even the corn-based water soluble ones, which hurt my green little heart even more.)

We are renting a lovely house in Dublin that is fully-furnished, except, of course, that no place would actually come set up with two cribs. G. and C. are at the age where they are likely to launch themselves out of the crib any day now, but to transition right into toddler beds when we get there and are adjusting to the five hour time change seems a bit much. I know that time is coming, but why rush it? At that point, I will surely be consulting with my friend Vivian. Her method of keeping her son in his room involved something like a tale of a monster waiting for him outside the door and her creeping up to his room to hold her hand against the door, which he interpreted as proof of the monster’s existence.

I didn’t break the bank on their cribs, but their mattresses were all organic cotton and wool, because I didn’t want them breathing plastic or chemical flame retardants. They were expensive, but because our cribs came with the toddler rails for conversion to beds, I expected that they would be in these for at least three years. Though the boys were born in southern California and we knew we’d be leaving at some point, I believed they would grow up with these beds.

We got an estimate on shipping the crib frames and mattresses, and it appeared that though expensive, it would be around what we might spend to re-buy new cribs and mattresses there anyway. Trouble was, we had to get them shipped within a few days to ensure they would arrive exactly when Sascha was there the following week. Otherwise, the only other time to set up cribs would be when we stumbled in at dawn from the overnight flight that would be delivering us into our new lives later in September. This seemed ill-advised, on account of the jetlag fog that would surely cling to us and the fact that the boys would be bonkers from the break in routine.

We spent an entire day and a half on this project, which involved breaking down the cribs, setting up borrowed pack ‘n plays, going to the local shipping store to make sure they had boxes big enough, taking out the car seats from our car to make room, and then bringing the crib frames to be professionally packed. At the end of the second day, when we had the final dimensions and weights of the boxes, we hit some major snags: the shipper revised their estimate to be hundreds of dollars more, and also the box containing the crib frames was so large that the shippers couldn’t pick it up, but instead we would have to drive it out to a facility near the airport. We quickly realized that if it was this hard to get it out of there, what would we do in Ireland, on our tiny hobbit-ville like street? Sascha warned me he wasn’t sure delivery trucks could even make it down the street, since we have to put our trash out on a neighboring road.

Option B was to send only the mattresses. I quickly jumped online and trolled around and IKEA (US), Mothercare, and other baby stores, and frantically did inches-to-centimeter conversions, because there were varying differences in crib (or cot, as they call them) sizes. It was hot, late, and we were tired. This is where my brain began to melt down. (Decision fatigue, perhaps?) I realized that even if we got the mattresses there, they wouldn’t actually fit in anything. And suddenly I started crying. Because my sons’ beds were not going to make it, and they were just large reminders that our life was in total chaos, and I had no idea when we would ever have a permanent home, with our own things. A vital day in our preparations had been wasted on an utterly futile endeavor.

While sniffling, I knew it was absurd to be crying over the waste of the peanuts and the fact that their chewed up cribs would go into storage, along with most everything else in our lives. But because I lack information about the future, every small decision is fraught with emotion. Perhaps we will stay only a year. Perhaps it will be five, or we will move to somewhere else in Europe, since Sascha is a dual citizen and can work anywhere in the EU.

I also knew the next day I would be better. The cribs would not be a global issue in my life, but a minor detail. But at that moment, they came to symbolize my fear that we have no plan. This never bothered me when it was just us, but now that my sons are here, the future is more present for me. I want to map it out. I want them to have some stability.

The next day, Sascha and I spent a few hours removing the packed up cribs and mattresses, which required shoveling an amazing amount of suddenly liberated packing peanuts that threatened to blanket our neighborhood.

The thing about having children, though, is that you will laugh, every day, despite yourself. Sweating in the humidity, we put together their cribs and made their beds for the last time with the sheets we bought in Pasadena when I was huge and happy and feeling them move inside me. When they woke up from their naps, the box of useless peanuts transformed itself into a magical playpit:

Joy in a Box from Other Side of the Road on Vimeo.

Hello world!

Me starting a blog feels a little like my mom talking about technology, as in:

MOM: I know what Facepage is.

ME: Um, actually, it’s Facebook.

MOM: Whatever.

Welcome to 2007, right? Bear with me. One day, I will learn CSS. Until then, I will swear under my breath and generally feel like my Gram trying to figure out the ATM.

I was never particularly excited about living in public. I was a late, late adopter of Facebook and in all honesty, still don’t love it. Blogging always felt like leaving your journal out for anyone to read, which seemed mad to me. Why would anyone do that? My thoughts are already quite loud, as my husband tells me, when I stare into the darkness beside him at night. So why would I invite anyone in to watch my mental gymnastics? And why would anyone care?

We keep moving, and with the two wonder boys I had in January 2010, I am a terrible keeper-in-toucher. Emails that require more than a simple response slide far, far down in my inbox, because I hope that one day, I will have time to sit down and compose a proper reply to far-flung friends. I recognize now that this is the same deluded optimism that makes parenting so hard. I keep expecting or hoping for something different than what actually is (e.g., my children will not suffer from the terrible twos because I have sleep-trained them; or, my children will love vegetables when they get to table foods because I pureed all their first foods from organic sources myself and froze them in BPA-free containers). This delusion has also carried over into my desire for a stable home, as in whenever we visit a place, I look at the real estate ads and declare, “We could totally live here!”  In fact, we even bought two houses in our gap year in a quaint Connecticut seaside town and essentially returned them.

But you out there, reading this, know how much you have meant to us on our switchbacking (L.A.-NYC-L.A.-NYC-L.A.-CT) journey. We could not have guessed that our next leap would be out of the country, and farther away from all of you who have helped us feel at home where ever we were. I can only hope this blog helps us keep in touch, and doesn’t mortify me or my children in a few years.

The hope in moving abroad is that your life becomes larger, but of course at some point the loneliness comes, too. So the other part of this starting a blog thing is that it seems marginally better than talking to myself while my husband is at his new job and I await the cat’s ok to enter the country.