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 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.
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.
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.”
As some of you know, I’m woefully behind in blogging because we’ve officially hit the Age of Unreason with the boys and my nerves are thrumming with anxiety. C is fighting his nap and seems to want to clamp himself onto me, even though he is so tired that the tiniest thing will trigger an enormous tantrum.
In light of this, forget any attempt at weaving a narrative. The center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is being loosed upon my world. No update on Sashi, but thank you for asking. At worst, as I understand it, she can come in January when the rules change in our favor, though she will have to be re-chipped (and checked to see that the chip comes up in the scan), and re-vaccinated in the meantime.
So here it is:
The art fair ended up being a great place for the boys (as long as we held them). They were fascinated by all the paintings and sculpture on display and we enjoyed listening to how they interpreted them.
Later that evening, we got a knock at the door and met another neighbor from the next street over. Her name is Maureen and she came bearing a bag of apples from her yard (which we made into applesauce, since you can’t find jarred applesauce here), and coffee (LOVED her for that), from her recent African safari. She told Sascha that our two little streets usually hold a block party in the warmer months, which Sascha was extremely excited about. East Williamsburg once inspired him, after all, to write a Blue’s Clues episode about a block party.
A few days later, we enjoyed chatting with Brian, who lives on the same street as Maureen. He was pulling out things from his recently flooded playroom, and gamely allowed the boys to try out some of the tantalizing toys:
And now I must get to bed.
Goodnight, (full) moon.
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:
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.