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?

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.

Making a mountain out of peanuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello world!

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

MOM: I know what Facepage is.

ME: Um, actually, it’s Facebook.

MOM: Whatever.

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

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

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

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

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