It’s a long way to Tipperary

My mother left yesterday, and again I am reminded why living abroad for all its excitement is hard. I am not sure when I will see her next. We had such a whirlwind visit of road trips and I wanted to write this post before autumn gets swallowed up by the holidays and it is the end of the year.

We have officially entered what I call “the drift:” the original term of Sascha’s contract is up, and yet we are still in Ireland for various reasons, mostly summed up as it is much easier to stay put until work forces the next relocation. Not that it’s a complaint. When I’m healthy, I love Ireland. It is an absolutely beautiful place to live and I know we are so lucky.  It is complicated to be without a plan, but we have so many opportunities we might never have otherwise.

One of those opportunities was the chance to meet my late grandmother’s first cousin and family, who live about 2 hours from Dublin. So two weeks ago, when Sascha was in NYC and my mother was here, we packed up the Micra and strapped in the boys and hit the road to meet our Irish relatives.

I don’t know if we would have gone to the Killaloe/Ballina area were it not for the family, but I am so glad we did. The area is rich in history, with Killaloe being the birth place of Brian Boru, the last high king. Killaloe and Ballina are villages opposite each other on the River Shannon, which forms a watery border between the counties of Tipperary and Clare. They are connected by a stone bridge, which is over 300 years old. I mostly have iPhone snaps, so the quality isn’t amazing compared to our new camera, but at least you have some idea.

The village of Killaloe

The bridge is too narrow to allow two-way traffic so a light at either end regulates the flow.  The river here is wider than the Liffey and it empties into Lough Derg, the biggest lake in the Republic of Ireland. Rimming the lake are the Slieve Bernagh Mountains (Co. Clare) and the Arra Mountains (Co. Tipperary).

Top picture is a plaque on the bridge looking toward Lough Derg that commemorates four men shot by Auxiliaries in 1920. The middle picture shows Killaloe Bridge, with some of the original arches from over three hundred years ago.

We passed under the bridge on the boat tour. It being off-season, we were the only people on board, so James let the boys (and me) drive the boat. G really grabbed the wheel and enthusiastically turned it back and forth, so the boat fishtailed a bit. I actually got a bit nervous that while the captain took our photo G would run us aground.

A rare picture of the four of us!

We met Michael, his sister Nellie, and his wife, Nancy, at our hotel on our first night and then we made a plan to visit them at the farm the following day. My mother had not seen Michael and Nancy since the 70s, when they visited the U.S. before I was born. She remembers having them over for a barbecue but they didn’t want to eat corn on the cob. They called it “horse food.”

Apparently, after I went back to the room to put the boys to bed, my mom got excited about the potential for a secret smoke. Michael invited her out for a smoke, but she was disappointed to discover it was a pipe, not cigarettes. “Well, I’d’ve given you a pull or two,” he said.

Because the farm is not on the GPS, we were to meet Michael at a place called “The Lookout.” Around this vast lake, you might imagine there are many lookouts, and we spent some time driving on the wrong side of the lake before I figured it out. We did enjoy the unplanned tour of the Clare County side of Lough Derg and were grateful for Michael’s patience.

Michael. Some islands in Lough Derg are visible in the background

Michael took us down to the graveyard where his grandfather and father are buried. Over the years, it had been neglected and he and some other volunteers did a lot of work to restore the grounds and they even won awards for it. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, resting at the bottom of a graceful green slope to the shores of the lake.

Nancy and some other women planted many of the flowers in the foreground of the first photo. Michael helped restore the ironwork on the church ruins.

This is the grave of Michael’s grandfather, who was my mother’s grand uncle

After walking the wet grounds of the graveyard, everyone’s feet were soaked. At the house they had a fire going in the sitting room and we were happy to take our shoes off. Out in the country, Nancy says, it seems like things never really dry.

Michael, my mom, Nancy, and Nellie

The house they live in is a new house built around the original two-room home where seven children were raised, including my great grandmother. Michael’s son now runs the thriving dairy farm.

The boys were mad for the tractors. Millie the dog was mad for them

I really enjoyed spending time with them.

“Oh to be young again,” Nancy said to me when I looked at her wedding photos. “Some years really make all the difference, don’t they?”

Michael and Nancy recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I love the confetti on his shoulder

Nancy told me she would have done things differently if she could go back.

Like what? I asked.

I would have traveled, she said.

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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.

Halloween

All of our constant moving has made me anxious about the idea of traditions. I am coming to accept that our life will be peripatetic, so it seems even more important that as a young family we create traditions. Last year, we took the boys to a pumpkin patch on one of those glorious, sun-warm fall days. We got lost in a corn maze and frolicked in a pit of corn kernels.

Corny

On Halloween, we dressed them up in adorable animal costumes and hit the party at the local library with our playgroup. Here’s a bit of time travel (photo by my friend Colleen):

C one year ago as a lion

Halloween is our first official holiday in this new country, so I really wanted to dress up the boys (for some inexplicable reason, they call costumes “fancy dress,” as in, we’re going to a “fancy dress” party). And though I wish I could upload some photos of them as a dinosaur and a shark, they lasted about 30 seconds in them and then demanded “Off! Off!”

So pumpkin-carving became extremely important. We got a pumpkin last weekend and went out into the lane to carve it before the flooding rains came.

I sketched a design on the front, then Sascha cut off the top. I wanted to save the seeds so we could roast them

The boys put on their "work" boots to help

Soon we attracted an audience, one of the neighborhood cats.

Sascha did the face carving, and voila! The roasted pumpkin seeds were not as successful. Let's just blame the damn fan-assisted oven.

Later in the week, we went out to the Halloween party at their creche. We thought perhaps if they saw the other children in their costumes, they might put on theirs. Each time I suggested it, I was met with “No, no.” It goes with the territory, I suppose. I read somewhere that toddlerhood is a kind of mini-adolescence. They are like little teenagers sometimes.

They did show us some of the things they made for the party.

Sascha’s office was pretty festive. Everyone dressed up on Friday. One of his coworkers was Sascha. Sascha got some Brylcreem, a cigarette and lighter, and made business cards that read, “Womanizer, Alcoholic, Sometimes Ad Exec” and was Don Draper.

That night, Sascha got some good news and we asked our sitter to babysit last minute so we could go out and celebrate. I am happy to report that after many “eh” meals in restaurants that were highly recommended (posts on dining in Dublin with and without the wee ones forthcoming), we had a fantastic dinner at Eatery 120.  Best burger I’ve had since being in Ireland.

And I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see if for myself on Skype, but I guess it will be a snowy Halloween on the east coast of the U.S. So much for tradition!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Daytripping to Malahide

Gallery

This gallery contains 35 photos.

In the space of 24 hours, a month’s worth of rain has fallen. There is flooding on certain streets but we are all fine. Yesterday, sitting in some areas of the house where the skylights are above us, I felt … Continue reading

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.

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.