French parents don’t get stressed?

Why French Parents Are Superior by Pamela Druckerman – WSJ.com

Someone posted this link to Facebook and it’s getting a lot of press right now. It’s an excerpt from a new book by an American mother living abroad and how she feels that the French put stricter boundaries on their children, discipline with more “conviction,” and therefore, their children sit quietly in high chairs in restaurants and leave their parents free to enjoy adult conversation. In other words, yet another indictment of overparenting culture, which Druckerman, in “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” suggests is particularly American.

After Druckerman and her husband decide to take a trip to a coastal town in France with her 18 month-old, she writes:

“We quickly discovered that having two restaurant meals a day with a toddler deserved to be its own circle of hell.

Bean would take a brief interest in the food, but within a few minutes she was spilling salt shakers and tearing apart sugar packets. Then she demanded to be sprung from her high chair so she could dash around the restaurant and bolt dangerously toward the docks.

Our strategy was to finish the meal quickly. We ordered while being seated, then begged the server to rush out some bread and bring us our appetizers and main courses at the same time. While my husband took a few bites of fish, I made sure that Bean didn’t get kicked by a waiter or lost at sea. Then we switched. We left enormous, apologetic tips to compensate for the arc of torn napkins and calamari around our table.

After a few more harrowing restaurant visits, I started noticing that the French families around us didn’t look like they were sharing our mealtime agony. Weirdly, they looked like they were on vacation. French toddlers were sitting contentedly in their high chairs, waiting for their food, or eating fish and even vegetables. There was no shrieking or whining. And there was no debris around their tables.”

Remember the picture I posted of the debris field around our table that I tried to contain with linen napkins while on holiday? How we felt like we were the only ones, despite being in a family resort? How we spent a small fortune on room service to avoid the exquisite torture of dining in public with them?

Normally it would be easy for me to dismiss her by saying, well, yeah, but she doesn’t have twins. But guess what? Later on she does have twins. Boys, in fact.

So six months into our life abroad, with my Euro-American twin sons and their Continental accent, I read the excerpt with fascination. Clearly, there’s an inherent problem with the sweeping generalization of “us” (i.e., American parents) vs. “them” (French parents) in her argument. But I understand they are trying to sell books piggy-backed off the success of “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” and sound very controversial. (Stay tuned for my forthcoming book, “French Women Don’t Read Self-Help Books.”) Nothing gets Americans more defensive than saying another country is superior, right? I would be curious to know if there is less Ativan or Zanax prescribed (and paid for) by the French National Health Insurance.

Why would it be just the French who are immune to this modern age of anxiety, and not say, Spanish parents, or Italian ones? Here in Dublin, the parents of other children where the boys attend creche are Italian, German, and Danish, in addition to being Irish (this is a reflection of the location–we are near the embassy zone–as well as how diverse the population of Dublin is, with people from all over the EU). I do not notice any pronounced difference, except perhaps, that European toddlers tend to wear scarves.

The biggest demarcation appears to be socioeconomic class. You know, the class that (ahem) has the leisure to write about, blog about, and read about parenting as if it was a hobby or project one was trying to get better at. Which to me is overparenting in and of itself, no? (And I am very, very guilty of this, which also has much to do with having children later in life and stopping work to be with them.) In fact, this book sits upon a very tall stack of parenting how-to books, a cottage industry that thrives off making you afraid you are doing something wrong, thereby engendering anxiety. My mother certainly never sat around and read books like “Positive Discipline” while raising the four of us. Those worrying about foreclosure or dealing with chronically ill children certainly are worried about other issues than the latest trend in parenting. Isn’t that what they say our anxiety is, evolutionary adaptations run amok because in reality, we have very little of actual and pressing danger to worry about?

People have often asked us if there’s a culture shock being here, and we tell them it’s negligible. There was much more of a culture shock when I lived in Japan. The only difference I have ever observed has more to do with parents in cities and parents in small towns. Living here in Dublin is somewhat similar to the transition we would have felt, I think, if we moved back to NYC after leaving small-town America. But again, that’s really about class in certain pockets of cities.

My neighbor, a German mom of two boys, told me that, “Ten years ago, there weren’t the big cars. You didn’t see Range Rovers trying to drive around these narrow streets. With the big sunglasses. And the big bags.  Suddenly, all the mums were carrying coffee and big purses and wearing big sunglasses. And they all went blonde.”

This was her humorous way of explaining the sudden wealth many people living in Dublin found themselves in during the Celtic Tiger years, and the attendant status anxiety. Apparently, it made everyone think they should look like Nicole Richie pushing a pram.

“Bringing up Bebe” seems like it might have been better suited to an anecdotal op-ed instead of a book. And I do wonder how much her being an expat, particularly an American one, carried its own issues that didn’t have anything to do with parenting.

I am curious what fellow parents out there think about this, especially European ones. The book is written from an American point of view. What do, say, Irish parents think about French ones? Or Italian? Or Spanish? Those of you who also parented while abroad, did you notice any cultural differences?

(As a postscript I should mention that I’ve started saying, “That’s not possible,” to my sons’ varied and unending demands in case she’s on to something.)

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My first real trip away from the boys/motherhood is a screwjob

A few weeks ago, when a production company told me they were filming a segment about the last project I worked on and could I come to North Carolina for an interview, my first thought was no. It’s way too far, especially since we live in Europe now, there are no grandparents around the corner to help.

But for the past two years—actually even before they were born, as I was restricted from traveling at a certain point because carrying twins makes you a “high-risk” pregnancy– I have said “no” to every professional opportunity that has come my way: speaking engagements, other books, conferences, articles. Some things I was interested in, but the boys were either imminently due/newly arrived or we were packing up and moving somewhere again, so I knew I could not in good faith sign a contract and deliver on a deadline. Other things I was happy to have an excuse not to do.

It is a luxury, of course, that I have a choice. I have friends who work and travel away from their kids on a regular basis.

Even though the days are long, the years have been fast. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to spend it watching my boys learn to smile, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, run, and scream “NO!” at me.

Yes, there was the time we went to a friend’s wedding or to Stonington for our anniversary, but those were just a night here or there and we were within a few hours drive from my parents and the boys.

But since we moved to Ireland and the boys started part-time crèche, I have a little space in the mornings around the laundry and the groceries and the guests for myself. I started getting a sense that this year it is time to start saying yes again.

My extremely supportive husband said, “Go. I’ll figure it out.”

Their crèche, where they spend their mornings, said they would take them for full days for the week. S will have to leave work early every day to pick them up, get them home, give them dinner and a bath and put them to bed.

“You’ll hate me by the middle of the week,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, “but right now I love you and I’m telling you if you want to go, go.”

Still until just a few days ago, I had no ticket booked and thought there would be some excuse not to go, for which I would have been partially relieved. The travel was complicated, the legal permissions were potentially fraught, and let’s face it, I have nothing to wear. I wear awkward clothes because I hate shopping and no one sees me and more often than not I am grabbed by saucy, sticky little hands or have a trail of snot of my shoulder where one of my boys has wiped his nose.

But as my husband says, “Stop being an impossibilist.” (Either choice is something that won’t make me happy, i.e., if I say no, I’ll be a bit angry with myself/him and if I say yes, I feel guilty and selfish and when their faces crack a little at the mention of me going a way, I want to start bawling.)

* * *

So here I am. I open my laptop at 37,000 ft and see the pen marks on my keyboard C left when he climbed up onto the chair at my desk and helped himself to a pen. When a child on board singsongs, “Momm-mmee!” it feels directed at me. I am marked: a mommy, no matter what now.

There are two mothers traveling alone with their toddlers. I saw them form an instant bond when we were waiting to board. Observing them now, I realize how absorbed we become in the rants and raves of our young children, how we plead with them to stop making noise, stop fiddling with someone’s seat, to stop making such a spectacle and how tense it all is. But really for everyone else, it just fades into the background. We are lost in our thoughts, our books, our movies. The chatter and the protests and the struggles are not so large to the rest of us, though they feel huge to the parents in the middle of them.

I have wished so much for solitude, yet the sight of a chubby, red-cheeked boy trying to play peekaboo with me in the row ahead ambushes me. The two seats next to me break my heart with their emptiness. I wonder how I am going to get through the week without holding my sons.

And that is the great screwjob of motherhood. I will have more time to myself this week then I have had in two years. I have longed for these uncharted days. But I will not have the afternoons of kissing bruised knees, performing impromptu musicals, and receiving the intense and profound love of my children.

I am so used to worrying about them: do they have their hats, their mittens, their snacks? Are their diapers clean? What will I make them for dinner? I referee their attacks on each other over toys. And sometimes, it is so draining. My mother always says what they need the most is you.

What no one tells you is how much you need them.

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.

On having twins

Dear everyone who remarks, “Having twins is the way to do it! Just get it done and out of the way!”

Having twins is actually, to quote another twin parent, better put as: having two effing babies. AT THE SAME TIME.

Convenient? Heck no. Economical? Nope. The easy way to do it? Are you joking?

Having twins is not like bulking up on toilet paper so you don’t have to go out and get more for a long time.

And please don’t tell me, “Mine are so close in age, they’re just like twins!” It makes me feel stabby.

I feel incredibly lucky to have two healthy sons. I can’t imagine not having them both, and them not having each other. I feel privileged that I get to watch them develop their own relationship with each other, and for my extra moments of morning dozing courtesy of their morning “chats” with each other. I also adore the ringside seat of their nightly WWF bouts. At times their twin relationship is loving, and at other times, it is a terrifying glimpse into Darwinian principles in action.

But it is not some great shortcut into parenthood. It is really, really hard. I was lucky enough to meet two women at an expectant parent of multiples group who were due around the same time. This is us at a Mommy and Me movie in Los Feliz. We texted each other all throughout the first WTF months. You need other parents of multiples friends because you will not be doing Mommy & Me yoga or going to grab coffee with your baby in the freaking wrap which takes like twenty minutes to put on but which everyone said was so great.

Once when we were out together, some guy asked us which one of us was the mother! As if one of us was the mom of six newborns and the other two were just nannies.

At times, I question our sanity leaving the safety net of my parents being around the corner during this stage in development when the boys are not listening to anything I say asserting their wills. I used to be able to corral them fairly easily by myself, simply by saying, “Come on, it’s time to go inside,” or “It’s time to go upstairs for a bath.” And like little ducklings, they’d follow behind me. Around 17 months old though, my boys started understanding that they had a choice. I read somewhere that toddlerhood is like a mini-adolescence. It makes sense. They are sort of like two extremely short, moody little teenagers.

If you have twins (or bless you, supertwins), you know that life must be about schedule and routine or else there will be a complete and total collapse of the world order you need to simply get through the day. Parenting twins of this age is a lot like running relay: Sascha taps me to run the next leg after he’s had them so he can go nap/shower/eat.

The books will not apply to you. (And I say “the books” in a collective sense meaning the bougie tomes parents like myself read to feel like they are doing the right thing or because they expect somehow, somewhere, there will be a way to Google an answer to some inevitable parenting conundrum.) For example, when one of your toddlers takes a dish and throws it on the floor in a restaurant, the books will suggest something like removing the child from the restaurant, either by taking him outside until he can behave better or simply going home.  If you have twins however, one of you may do this with Twin A, and then Twin B, who had heretofore been eating and behaving just fine, will suddenly start screaming  and crying, “Daddy! Daddy!” and frantically try to run out of the restaurant, afraid he is missing some amazing experience or being left behind. Or, when one has a protest tantrum, where he simply sits down in a park because you won’t carry him, you cannot do what “the books” say, which is ignore him, unless you have back-up. If you are alone, your other child is likely running off in an entirely different direction.


It means that even if you get the EXACT. SAME. TOY. for each of them, one will inevitably scream, “I need THAT!” and try to tackle his brother to get the identical fire truck to the one he is holding.

Never, ever believe a parent of a single child who recommends doing something and says it will be “so relaxing.” Exhibit A of our “vacation:”

Sincerely,

A mom of twins

I jump

We used to rise when the boys would cry, and I was sure it was the middle of the night because of the blue light leaking in around the edges of the window shades. Daylight savings happened a week earlier for us than it would have in the States, and now we rise with more light, but the park closes at 5pm. At 4:30 in the lane, the amber streetlights come on. Often the boys point out the moon before I’ve had a chance to think of dinner. The sun moves away from us and goes quiet. We wait for winter to begin in earnest, wondering if it is true that the arctic winds will blow down and wreak havoc with snow in a place that is not used to it. We must find more and more indoor activities—short days, but extremely long afternoons.

We’re in a tangle of wills. Theirs and mine.

C is my accident-prone child. His forehead has a near perma-bruise, because he looks to see if you are watching him instead of paying attention to what he is doing, then he runs into a wall, or trips and falls. He has an agile little body and likes to climb things, without any real sense of danger. He is also ferociously independent. He will run off down the lane, around the corner in the park: out of sight. He is testing my limits and his own.

Of bloody lips and bruised foreheads

Yesterday, I sat on the stone steps between the living room and the office area of the house. It is a treacherous area for them, though they adapted to it more or less fairly well. “I jump!” C said, standing on one step and looking eagerly at the floor below. I shook my head. I picked him up and said “Jump!” lifting him high into the air before planting him safely on the floor. He climbed back up and shook his head.

“I jump!”

That’s what we do when we become parents: we jump, into an expansion of the heart and the world as breathtaking as it is terrifying, a wilderness of sleepless nights and repetitive days, emotional depletion and rapturous fulfillment. We figure out one developmental phase at last, only to find out they’ve moved onto another, more bewildering than ever.

The morning after my emergency C-section following 11 hours of labor, I woke up with something like existential terror: the responsibility. The weight of it sank into my ruined body, as if somehow during the whole getting pregnant and nine months of gestation, the enormity of what we were doing by becoming parents had not occurred to me.

The recent tantrums have their root in many things—and at least it appears that the week-long nap protest has ended–but as a catchall they come from frustration. Both of them want their growing independence and fear it, too. They push me away only to scream if they think I’ve left. C throws himself onto the floor when I deny something he wants, but later scrambles onto me like a monkey, so much like he did in the very beginning, when he seemed a tiny kitten, a hungry little animal. Now he puts his head on my shoulder, plays with my hair, and coos, “Mommy.” He holds onto me like he never wants me to let go.

The responsibility plants the scenarios in my head (the fat lips, the skinned knees, the car coming around the bend). It plays out in our daily battles: the need to civilize, to teach them to say “please” and “thank you” and learn how to wait, to know that they are not entitled to anything they demand, when to let them cry, when to pull them close. Basically not to screw them up, because you know the first three years are so important, and the American Academy of Pediatrics says no TV before two, and there’s sugar hidden everywhere and chemicals, too, and blah blah blah–all sorts of things that will make me a terrible mom if I do or do not do.

Most of all, the responsibility means I must juggle trying to protect them while letting them go, tiny step by tiny step. I would not always be sitting nearby where one wants to jump, to stop him from the fall I am worried he will suffer. Most of the limits I must set for them. Some they must discover for themselves.

So I swallowed my own fear and let C do his thing. He swung his arms with momentum.

“I jump!”

And in the last moment, he reached for me to catch him.

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.”

Time, time, time

When Gramby and Papa P. visited, we all went to the Natural History Museum at the National Museum of Ireland, or as locals call it, “The Dead Museum.” Things there are preserved in all sorts of ways—in sealed glass, in jars of liquid, pinned to panels, stuffed and mounted.

For kids–even toddlers like G & C–it’s a fantastic place. Not only is admission free, but also the guards were very relaxed. I am used to hovering museum guards telling me, “ma’am, behind the line” as I inch closer to examine something. Even the grounds were open to run around.

The boys are now 21 months old, marching rapidly toward two and the time we will no longer measure their age by months but instead by years.

The boys loved kicking up the fallen leaves, gathering bunches and tossing them, and trying to mount the topiary reindeers. They also enjoyed rapping (bang! bang!) against the oxidized copper on the statues to hear the vibration.

Inside, the museum is like an impressive relic of museums themselves. (Sort of the way The Museum of Jurassic Technology harkens back to another time in museum-going.) It was built in 1857 by the Royal Dublin Society and Sascha and I thought it seemed almost exactly like the Natural History Museum in Paris, though somewhat smaller in scale, that we visited with Joey, Marion, & N.  (Speaking of which, I have to add Joey’s Dad’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, to my “to read” list.  Have any of you read it?)

The lower floor is dedicated to all creatures found (or once found) in Ireland—so many insects! I picked up G so we could peer over a student’s shoulder as he sketched a beetle. We gently folded back leather covers over the glass to look in the cabinets, and there were many drawers for the boys to pull open and close. Having done my battle in various cities with cockroaches, bees, and spiders, I prefer the insects motionless under glass. The sea life in their aqueous tombs (some specimens dating from the early 1900’s) were a bit disgusting, and make me question whether I would ever enter the waters around Ireland.

Up a tough flight of stairs was the impressive hall of mammals, and looking at animal anatomies without skin and fur and eyes, you see just how similar mammal-kind is when you are down to bones. For the preserved animals, you could see the stitching on their bellies, and touch their leathered skin. Across an aisle: a giraffe and then its skeleton with magnificent leg bones towering above you.

According to brain science, the boys won’t be able to access what they experience here. Though each moment is filled with a hundred new discoveries, and every day they lay tracks through their brains as they orient themselves in the world, we will function as their memory of what their time here was like.

We have bits and bytes of so many moments—cell phone videos, video camera videos, cell phone pictures, voice memos, camera photos—we are doing our best to capture and hold on to these fragments of time.

If you could preserve memories--suspend moments in time--what would you house in the museum of your mind?

Making mum friends

Hard to believe it, but yesterday marked a month since our arrival. This week, my mother will return to the States, and so our settling in phase will make way for real life here, on our own. Which means: I probably have to make some friends. Otherwise, when G or C have those fun times where they lie down on the floor screaming, I may just get down and join them.

Usually, groups of women make me extremely uncomfortable. This is either the lingering effect of having grown up with all brothers and mostly male cousins, or some leftover high school trauma I still haven’t sorted out. And I like the friends I’ve had since before babies, because how can you form sentences or get to any interesting conversation when you are constantly dashing off to make sure someone doesn’t hurl themselves off the playscape? Plus, these friends knew me when I didn’t wear bad clothes, supportive shoes, or my hair in a bun on a daily basis. They knew me when I had a job and talked to adults.

But if you move, you have to leave people behind. The last place I lived in —after tearfully departing L.A. and the friends who nursed me through pregnancy and whose babies I was among the first to hold– had a mother’s group. Reluctantly, I joined. Through it I met C., and also S. C. had organized a group of moms with similarly-aged children. C, L, J, and D were the core group of us that tried to meet up on Thursdays and do something. Bit by bit, we got to know each other, and I left feeling sad. If we had stayed, perhaps some would have deepened into real and lasting friendships.

Here, though, it’s like I am thrust back into the awkwardness of dating: You catch someone’s eye in the playground, smile casually, and then maybe strike up a conversation while pushing the swings. But if it feels like you are clicking, how do you take it to the next level? I don’t want to seem too desperate, making the first move, “Can I have your phone number?”

One day I actually re-met the woman I wrote about on our first day in Dublin, in Herbert Park. She was the one who asked when we had moved to Dublin and I responded, “5:00 a.m. this morning.” To which she shouted, “Welcome!” while also, I think, trying to conceal her shock that we were not at home sleeping. Anyway, after chatting again, she asked for my number! She said she would text me about getting together! I was pretty excited. But a few days passed, and I grew increasingly insecure, waiting for the text. I should have asked for her number in return. But then if I texted her when she said she was going to text me that would look sad. I picked up my phone in that annoying, illogical impulse that holding it and checking it can will someone into responding.

Recently I met up with another mum, because her son attended a crèche/pre-montessori we were considering for the boys. (More on the process of “detachment” in another post.) She was awesome. Laid-back, even though she has a two-month old and is on maternity-leave from Google. We chatted for an hour and a half. She suggested getting together again, some afternoon. This one is promising, though she did decline my invitation to get together last week. Sigh.

As for the Herbert Park woman, she’s toying with me. I got a few text invitations, but when I can’t show up to the thing she’s proposed (group activities that would require a car), I don’t get a response back to my texts suggesting another meet-up. I think she’s not ready for the one-on-one, and is doing the group invitation. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much how Sascha and I started “dating.”

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.