Living in Irish suburbia means that things have slowed somewhat. It’s not every day that we’re out and about seeing different things, eating different foods. Our lives resemble that which we have back home, where the kids go off to school in the morning, come home in the afternoon, we eat dinner at home, then have our evening routine.
It’s been hard to write much partly because of that, and also because of being consumed by the political situation back home. I know I try to keep politics out of the blog, but it’s impossible when that is what dominates your life. It’s of course on all versions of social media, and even in Ireland is all over the news and in conversations you hear around you. Despite what seems terrifying on the news cycle with the new slew of executive orders, the fact is that most of our lives haven’t changed all that much from a day to day basis. Therein lies the danger of these things – it can be easy to ignore the issues especially if they don’t directly impact your life. I spent a week in New York, and other than the charged atmosphere, life proceeded largely unchanged from before the election happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. We’ve traveled to a few authoritarian states on our journey, and the reality is that there, too, life proceeds as typical on a day to day basis. But people are aware that there are limits to their freedom, and that speaking out can be a dangerous thing. We’re not there yet in the US, but I think it’s heading in that direction very quickly. I think that if you feel completely safe with this current government, then you’re okay with ignoring the suffering and difficulty of others because you don’t feel that you’re at risk at all, which to me is simply morally incomprehensible.
Back to blogging as usual over here. As I said above, I flew back to the States for a week to New York to visit my sister, Sapana, and attend her baby shower! She’s due in March with her first baby and I’m over the moon excited for her. She’s excited, too, though sometimes I think she feels as though she’s been handed a complicated IKEA cabinet to put together, with no instructions and just a shoddy allen wrench. Don’t we all feel this way with the first baby though? I’m sure the child will be fine, and to continue the weak analogy, will be assembled and functional at the end of it, though will have a bunch of spare bits and bobs left over. I usually end up taping these to the back of the piece with some masking tape, as if by osmosis they will provide whatever essential function they were meant for. This works for children too. The shower was so fun! Rakhee, Sapana’s sister in law, did a fabulous job arranging it. It was the best attended shower in the history of baby showers.
I also met up with my friend Ulcca from Denver, who was in town for a work meeting and stayed an extra day so we could hang out, my friend Rebecca from medical school who lives in the suburbs, and even my in-laws drove up from Pennsylvania to see me, which was delightful. Both sides of expectant grandparents were of course in attendance. It was great to see my parents again! It’s been so long since we were all together and we all had a fun time being together. We’ve made a lot of friends along the way, but it was just wonderful to see and spend time with family and old friends, to feel that sense of comfort from other people. Texting and social media help while I’m far away, but they’re pale comparisons for actually being with people who are important to you.
I was worried that it would feel odd to be back in the States, but well, I haven’t been away that long and it’s a known entity. I love New York City, and spent most of my time (when not with family) wandering around, going to shops, stocking up at Trader Joe’s, and just enjoying the atmosphere. I find New Yorkers to be friendly and helpful everywhere, if not a bit matter of fact. There were people who offered help when I clearly needed it, and many with whom I chatted just around town. I also think I personally helped to save a New Yorker’s life. This was a checkout clerk at The Strand Bookstore, where I was buying a sloth enamel pin for the girl. As he completed my transaction, he gave a little shudder and said, “Sloths scare me, man. Those eyes…” I gave him a grave look and said that for the sake of his health, I would not tell my daughter about this apostasy, as she would find a way to track him down and cut him. Thus far, I have kept my promise. I hope that I will be recognized for my efforts, if only here.
The one exception to New York friendliness was an Uber pool ride I took while there. I slid into the back seat, and said hello to the other passenger. The car was silent, without music. The other rider next to me didn’t acknowledge my presence, nor did the driver, both women. With traffic, it was a long 30 minutes to my destination, and easily the quietest ride I’ve taken in six months. What was strange for me was that while I previously would have been quite happy with this, I’m not used to it anymore. I’ve become one of those people who likes to talk to strangers now, in a way that I never did before. Meeting different people and interacting with them has become something fun and enjoyable, not something to be avoided. I kept trying to think up different ways to chirp in and start a conversation, but the oppressive silence cowed me until the car spit me back out onto the welcomingly noisy streets of the East Village.
Back to Ireland, where the children run amok…
One day a few weeks ago, the kids had returned home from school. Still in their uniforms, they were sitting at the kitchen table and working on their homework. The doorbell rang, and Eric and I looked at each other, as if to ask “Were you expecting someone?” I went to answer it and there stood a young girl and a very small boy. “Hi! Is E here?” she asked. My girl ran up and said happily, “This is my Bus friend, S! I invited her to come over to our house!” In came the friend and her little brother, handing me a crumpled piece of paper with her mother’s number on it. I texted to let the mom know that they’d arrived and to ask when we should walk her home. I thought that this was a one off situation until it’s now happened a few other times with other kids as well. My kids will invite a friend over without really telling us, the kid shows up with a crumpled piece of paper and a number, and then we send the kids home by themselves at the end of the play time.
For my friends outside of the States, this is something that absolutely would NEVER happen at home, at least not in Denver. The first time that a new friend comes over to play or goes to another, you arrange a time with the parents that works for them and you and where the kids aren’t involved with some after school activity or sports tournament. Then, if you haven’t met them before, you take the kid over (usually by car because it’s not easily walkable) and hang out for a little bit to make sure that they don’t seem like axe murderers. If you are a really good parent, you’ll be sure to ask if they have guns in the house and if they’re locked up. At a prescribed end time, you will come to pick up your child from the house. Future playdates, because they are always called playdates, are again arranged through the parents for specific times. Occasionally after you know someone, the kid will come over after school for a bit. If kids are out on their own, they usally have a cell phone leash so they can always be contacted. The only friends the kids have where these rules don’t apply are the neighbor friends from down the street, who are now close enough that they all run back and forth. Even then, though, usually it has to be cleared by one of us to make sure that they are not busy doing something.
The freedom of children here is revolutionary for the kids, and us. Despite how “free range” I’d like to think of myself as a parent, I was uncomfortable with this at first, but it’s easing up. The boy the other day went home with a new friend and then walked home by himself at the end of it. The other day, the girl had an afterschool activity, and Eric and were going to be in Dublin for the day. A plan was made: the boy was going to walk to the library, stay for an hour, then walk over to the girl’s school and they’d walk the one and a half miles home together. I suspected they would stop in at the candy shop along the way, and in this I was not wrong, however I underestimated as they also stopped in at the chip shop. It went off swimmingly, and the kids loved having the open space to do what they wish, asking if they can do this more frequently.
Yesterday we may have stretched things a bit far – the boy didn’t want to come to the pool with us, instead his friend V came by and they played outside in the morning. In the afternoon, he went over to V’s house to play a bit more, and I thought he’d be there for quite a while but left after an hour and came home. Eric, the girl and I were in town running errands, thinking that he was at V’s house. When I got home, I found that he was sitting at home with the lights off because he was afraid of robbers and thought we might have been parent-napped. I felt a bit bad, to be sure. Still, he said that he would definitely want to do something like that again, and now is more comfortable with it as well. Besides, I did point out that he could email us at any time, which hadn’t occurred to him.
I currently am not entirely sure where they are. They ran out of the house a bit ago to go play outside and perhaps see if some friends were home and could join them. I love that we can be somewhere where the kids can have their own life without us needing to hover or know exactly where they are at all times, and the growth opportunity it gives them.