Daytripping to Howth

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Howth is a peninsula that juts out into the sea just north of Dublin, about a half hour by car but also accessible on the DART line. A mom friend suggested it since a playground, a working pier, and the … Continue reading

Driving on the other side of the road

I have been driving since I was about 13 or 14. My mother saw no great harm in my brothers and me getting behind the wheel when we were a few blocks from home. After all, my dad had a ride-on mower that we would steer while sitting on his lap when we were young; in beach towns we’d ride bumper cars and go–karts in between eating fried dough and ice cream. So after gymnastics practice, she would pull over and let me drive the blue Bonneville home.

She didn’t know that one of our favorite suburban pastimes would be sneaking out of the house and taking the cars. We had nowhere to go, really. It was the kind of town where the lights usually started blinking at 10pm. But driving on the empty streets and blasting the radio, we just reveled in our freedom.

I passed my driving test on the first try. Driving school was not mandatory at the time, so I never had any formal lessons, beyond my mother and my brothers, who would blow off noontime Mass to let me practice in parking lots. I did fail miserably in my efforts to learn stick shift, which I chalk up to a father-daughter clash. My father had no patience to teach me, and I gave up too quickly.

I owned exactly one car, when I was a junior in college. It was a Dodge Shadow in the strangest shade of blue you’ve ever seen. My friends dubbed it the Teal Mobile. When I moved to Japan, all that I kept of my belongings was what fit in the car.

Sascha is a borough-bred, meaning Manhattan born and raised. He got his license when he was twenty-two, after college in CT, where he wouldn’t have to parallel park. The years we lived in NYC we had no car. When we first moved back to L.A., we had a series of rented company cars. I remember feeling absolutely adrift on the massive span of the 405: five lanes in each direction, an endless swarm of headlights. I had once negotiated the freeways and exchanges effortlessly– the 10 to the 110 to the 5 or the 405 to the 10 to PCH or the 5 to the 134 to the 101, but in the time I was away from California, I had forgotten them and crucial shortcuts. My friend V., who has a special passion and talent for L.A. routes, was extremely disappointed in me.

When the boys were coming, (and the job was ending). Sascha and I knew we’d have to buy a car in California to ferry around our new family. We agonized over what car to buy for months, going on test-drives, with me waddling across lots and into showrooms to use the bathroom. It was actually one of our first big parental decisions, and because we thought we were too cool for a minivan (we just couldn’t do it as our first car purchase), we narrowed it down to SUVs. (Go on, judge us. We did at least buy a hybrid.) We consulted Consumer Reports endlessly. This is the thing responsible people seemed to do. The type of people who are becoming parents. I realize more and more how insane modern parenting is. We are so fearful, so anxious (even though we think we aren’t), and people make a big profit off selling us the illusion that we have some control.

When we left CA, we shipped the car we bought to CT. In our limbo year there, we careened around the state to every fair we could find on the weekends; during naptimes or bedtimes we’d drive the dark stretches of narrow parkways between CT and NYC to visit friends in the city and let the boys run through the sprinklers at the American Museum of Natural History.

Here we hoped we’d be able to forgo a car. Sascha bikes to work and everything essential is within walking distance of our cottage, though the gale-force winds, rain, and early darkness make walking with the stroller less enjoyable. The trouble is in seeing the country. We don’t know if we have a year here or many, and getting on the trains or the buses with the double stroller and luggage is extremely difficult. (Buses, for example, won’t take you on if there is already a buggy/stroller on board.) The biggest problem, though, is that the public transport system doesn’t link up, which is disappointing for a European capital. The LUAS, or light rail, near us, for example, doesn’t connect to the DART line, which runs along the coast. So three months in, we caved when a car came to us from a friend of friends who were repatriating to the States.

Meet Blue Steel, a ’97 Nissan Micra:

Who needs luggage?

It looks like the Matchboxes my younger brother used to play with. It is so tiny I’m nearly positive that it would fit in our American SUV if we folded down the back seats. But by some miracle, the double stroller fits perfectly in the hatchback boot, as well as our car seats. You may recall that our lane poses some challenges:
So finding this car, which actually maneuvers down the lane without scraping the houses and fits the four of us plus stroller, and is automatic, was kind of miraculous.

We each took a driving lesson. We almost didn’t, and just rented a car for some post-holiday exploring, but again, now that we are parents, we are more cautious. Like we should, for example, make sure we actually feel comfortable driving on the left side of the road before we strap in our sons. Welcome to the Age of Overparenting, indeed.

I was a confident driver in the U.S., but here my long-honed habits, now second-nature to me, are useless, even potentially dangerous. I must train myself to let my eyes drift up and left to the rearview. I must reverse with my head turned over my left shoulder instead of my right; stop my right hand from reaching for the gears. The signals are on the right side, so we set off the wipers almost every time we try to indicate a turn.

I should tell you I’m a terrible back-seat (passenger seat) driver. I slam on imaginary brakes; wince at cars coming too close. I don’t like being in a car unless I’m driving. So it was comical to be in a driving school car, where the instructor has his own set of brakes, and the car has a sandwich board up top and all around the doors announcing the driving school. I kept getting annoyed when he would press the brakes as we were approaching other cars. Then again, I’m glad he was there because Dublin has a shocking lack of helpful things like, say, lane markings. And bus lanes: you are in a bus lane, now you’re not, oh wait it’s a bus lane again, and you can’t be in it except maybe sometimes on Sundays or late at night. As people have told us, once you are outside of the city, on the large national roadways, it’s much easier. But within the city, at least at first, it feels much more stressful. I was fairly certain, for example, that a big street right near us was one-way. That’s how narrow it is. Sascha’s tip was to drive in the middle like it is one-way and move only if another car is oncoming. That helps a lot with holding my breath for fear I am going to sideswipe all the parked cars to the left of me.

We are ready to do some exploring of this fine little country we are lucky enough to be living in.

The boys like our "yittle" car

Stay tuned for our journeys on the road.

Christmas recap

Is it too late to recount our Christmas in Dublin? It’s halfway through January already and I think I’m only now nearly-recovered from the sicknesses that plagued us into the holidays.

I do not have cute pictures from the boys’ carol sing. I should have seen it coming, the high expectations and the inevitable fall. G had been spontaneously singing “Jingle Bells” all week. If I sang “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and left out key words, C would fill them in. So what if they thought you dashed through the snow in a “Norse-pen play”?

At the creche holiday party, the lights were dimmed and the kids were to stroll in carrying “lanterns.” Only before this could happen, our boys broke rank, crying “Mommy! Daddy!” and we had to pull them out. They wouldn’t wear the Christmas tree hats. They were very bah-humbug. So there we sat on the tiny classroom chairs, with them clutching us, and back into the pockets went the cameras. Apparently in public, G & C are wallflowers.

As the final countdown toward Christmas began, I could feel myself getting sicker and sicker. (So you out there who is searching for the Dublin stomach bug 2012 and arriving at my blog, read on!)

Note the box of tissues and the red blanket covering one of the cushions, where we had to remove a cover that had been vomited on

I almost didn’t think we’d make Christmas — not that it wouldn’t come, because it always does, but that we’d be too ill to acknowledge it in any real way. On Christmas Eve, S was the color of Silly Putty and unable to touch his food. Earlier in the day, G had vomited, which I had attributed to the antibiotics he was taking for the ear infection after his month-long cold. I have been feeling a cold virus replicating into my bronchial cavities for days.

Sascha’s cousin from South Philly, whom we just call Aunt Giovanna, arrived into our den of sickness to spend Christmas with us before going on to Milan. Despite the transatlantic flight and the time change, she looks glamorous and well-rested, in sharp contrast to us in our various stages of viral takeover. She is bearing loads of fruit and gifts for the boys. G falls in love instantly with “Joe-Bonna.”

Christmas Eve with Giovanna.

Giovanna spent many years working for Luciano Pavarotti, and I think this anecdote illustrates her wonderful personality. Apparently, Pavarotti was so distraught at the end of one affair that he threatened to kill himself, phoning his manager to say he would throw himself out the window. His manager, frantic, got in touch with Giovanna. Obviously accustomed to histrionics, she responded, How could he fit? He’s too fat to fit through a window.

Giovanna is an original.

We had plans to spend Christmas day with Ciaran and Siobhan and family. They told us to come despite risking contagion, dismissing whatever we might have as something they surely already had. On Christmas morning, I have no real voice but I think I am getting better and I manage to make two pies. Pumpkin:

And this sea-salt caramel apple pie, which was a huge hit and well-worth making again.

This pie helped me get my pie confidence back

The finished pie

Ciaran had cooked such an amazing meal and we were so lucky to have such a warm Christmas celebration together.

We toasted to good health, and really, really meant it.

Sláinte!

New Year’s Day Dublin 2012

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Dear reader, It’s been a while. I hope you missed me. I am surfacing after the typical pre-Christmas feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed, but it was compounded by a nasty cold virus, then a stomach bug, and the boys … Continue reading

Donnybrook tree lighting

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We missed the tree lighting in Ranelagh–almost every village in Dublin has their own–but on Saturday Sascha noticed the signs for the one in Donnybrook.  So last night, we bundled up the boys and went first to eat at Eddie … Continue reading

Thankful

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Thanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays. Some version of Christmas exists nearly anywhere you go, but not Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the one you must create, wherever you are, the one that makes you American and makes you … Continue reading

Grand Canal Theatre and a glimpse of the Dublin Docklands

We can’t thank Jerry and Jill enough for thinking of us and giving me a reason to leave the cuckoo’s nest of parenting last week. Jerry was in town with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and they played the Grand Canal Theatre. It was also a wonderful excuse to see a bit of the Docklands area, which had money poured into it during the Celtic Tiger years, much like the resurgence in Brooklyn’s Columbia St. Waterfront and Gowanus Canal areas. It is an interesting area of Dublin, where the Grand Canal empties into the Liffey River, which divides the city into north and south.

The Grand Canal Theatre. Parts of it remind me of L.A.'s Disney Hall, but the stage area is quite different.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The Dublin Convention Center. Its lights change at regular intervals and reflect off the inky river.

The Dublin Wheel. Beyond it, the river winds it way to the port and out into the dark harbor. The boat all lit up houses a restaurant where Sascha and Jerry ate pre-show.

The sold-out show was fantastic. The band received standing ovations. Their tour buses were headed out later that evening, bound for Glasgow on the ferries. So after the concert ended, fittingly, we headed over to the Ferryman Pub.

Amid the gleaming glass and brushed steel and bright lights of the Docklands revitalization project, the Ferryman is a relic.

Rumor has it that the owner believed he would be shut down and kicked out during all the new construction, so he started giving away the pub's memorabilia. Like many things people say here, I'm not entirely sure it's true but it's a good story.

The Ferryman feels like everything a pub should be at this point in Ireland’s history. A young band was shoved up in corner, playing traditional music and the line to the bar was three people thick at every turn. Poured Guinesses sat atop awaiting their settling. It was crowded with suits, hipsters, old people and young people. It was low-ceilinged and lively, and we even ran into Maura’s sister and her husband.

They remembered going to NYC for their honeymoon and my father-in-law driving them through Harlem. They also remembered young Sascha had posted a sign (as part of his campaign for getting his parents to quit) reading, “NO SMOKING. LUNGS IN ACTION” and so they hung out the window of his room on 76th and blew smoke into the NYC air.

Here's something for you CT folk.

Thanks again, Jerry & Jill. And as for Samuel Beckett, he’s probably rolling in his wormy grave, but I think this is pretty solid advice for motherhood: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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.