In which I feel a bit homesick, and later am told that we’re a pagan family

A few weeks ago I took a short trip back to America, to visit my sister and my brand new nephew!

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Look at this adorable family!

I thought he was pretty cute. Here he is in some of the handknits I’ve made for him, and there will be more.

Being with a newborn again makes me reflect on parenting in general, especially as my children start to begin the process of pulling away even more. Your baby is wholly dependent on you for care and often for food, and you are quite literally their whole world. You’re physically in contact with your baby for most of your waking hours, and often much of your sleeping hours as well.

 

Over the years that changes, to where the kids separate more, to feeding and toileting themselves, dressing themselves, and to now where there are large swaths of time where I have absolutely no clue exactly where they are or what they’re doing. At night, we still have snuggle time where I crawl into bed with the kids and we chat for a bit before I kiss them goodnight and they go to sleep. I sense, however, my time doing this is coming to a close especially for my older one. At some point it’ll feel weird and I don’t picture myself getting into my 16 year old’s bed to snuggle anymore, just maybe a kiss on the forehead if that. It’s bittersweet, to be sure, in that I’m happy for this independence and I certainly wouldn’t want it differently, but the difference is stark and made me nostalgic for those heady early days, where despite the sleep deprivation and difficulties, you had a tiny little being that only wanted to cuddle in your arms all day long.

 

Being back in the States was fantastic. It can get wearisome to always feel like a stranger, so to be in New York where I just understand how things WORK was such a relief. I was also lucky enough to have friends  who could travel to see me and got to spend time with them, and marvel on what good friends I have. This was soul-reviving, to be with people who I could just relax with instead of having to feel like I was “on,” and I’ll admit that I was feeling quite homesick after the journey.

 

Back in Ireland, I returned to spring break and a trip out west. First stop was to get the rental car from the airport. Eric had made the reservations and so went to pick up the car, but when he arrived, it turned out that his US Driver’s license had expired! Of all the details to overlook. So out I went to fetch the car, and did all the driving along the way. We did upgrade to an automatic transmission, which I was glad of after I nearly got into an accident on the way home in one of the roundabouts. Tricky things, those are.

 

As I sat down to write this blog post out, I looked through the pictures I took of the trip. For once, there just weren’t all that many. I wish I could tell you that this was due to some nobler purpose of being so involved in the moment that I couldn’t pull out my camera, but I feel the truth is simpler – I was feeling a bit travel weary on this trip. It’s a complicated moment in our time away, where I’m simultaneously itching to move again, bored with being in one place, and yet tired of feeling like we’re on a trip. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy this leg to see more of Ireland, but we couldn’t help but feel that we would have enjoyed it more from a warm beach, with an umbrella-garnished cocktail in one hand.

 

We started in Dingle, a peninsula on the southwest coast. We checked in to our hotel and started chatting with the proprietor about living in Maynooth and the kids being in Catholic schools, given that it was Easter weekend. She asked, “If you don’t mind, what religion do ye follow?” I didn’t mind at all, shrugged my shoulders and replied, “We’re really not religious, don’t follow anything in particular.” At which point the girl piped up and said loudly, “We’re Pagan!” as the boy nodded vigorously beside her. The hotel owner looked simultaneously shocked and entertained, I tried to correct the kids but they kept insisting that they were indeed pagan as they believed in the Norse gods, and Greek gods, and Hindu gods, and what have you. I suppose this summer we’ll be dancing around the Beltane fires at this rate.

A stop on the Slea Head drive around the coast

A favorite stop was the Dingle Brewery where we had a glass of Crean lager and chatted with Paudie, whom the girl informed “had a name that sounds like ‘bathroom’ in America.” Awesome. She’s making friends all over this island. Tom Crean is a local hero in Kerry, and rightfully a proper badass.  Known as a famous Arctic explorer, he took three separate trips to the South Pole in the early 1900s, was turned around each time, dealt with frostbite, starvation, team members dying, and at one point walked solo across the ice for 35 miles to save a colleague. After the last trip he returned to Kerry, settled down to raise three children and opened a pub. I’m happy to report that the lager brewed in his name is quite delicious, made from spring water near the brewery itself. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a glass of fresher tasting beer, and it made me appreciate lagers again after years of being an almost exclusive IPA drinker.

Enjoying a pint in a recreation of the arctic sailing vessels

Next was a drive northward to Westport, where we stopped in at the stunning Cliffs of Moher along the way. Also known as the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride, or the Horcrux cave site from Harry Potter, a sheer 600 foot drop from the edge to the ocean is carved out of rock. A signboard tells you of the types of birds that nest on the cliffs, and upon seeing this I yelped “PUFFINS!” so loudly that Eric jumped. Like daughter like mother, I suppose. Thankfully, we were well inland when this happened, else he might have had a long journey down. I was so excited to possibly see a puffin (puffins!) but alas, they had gone sea fishing in the afternoon and I was disappointed. You know you’re not in America when there’s nothing to block you from a cliff edge other than a few signs that warn “danger” in a half-hearted way.

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The next day the girl woke with a fever. Because I’m a medical parent, and I have little sympathy unless you have an obviously broken bone or an active hemorrhage, we popped a few ibuprofen into her, proceeded to rent bikes and took off on the Great Western Greenway. This is a 27 mile long trail from Westport to Achill island, with exit points along the way. We decided to go for the 19 mile section and take a shuttle back. It’s almost all entirely car-free, which is a rarity for cycling here and was utterly gorgeous. The mountain Croagh Patrick is in the distance, and all about you are peaceful rolling hills and grazing sheep, goats, and some curious cows. Around mile 15 of 19, the trail became almost entirely uphill, and the girl may have wept a bit at this point. We may have said things like “Come on, we just have to keep pedaling!” and she may have wailed back “Fine! Fine! Just leave me behind!! You don’t even care about me, DO YOU?!?!”  After about a mile of this, however, the trail again turned downhill, she hopped on and returned to her usual sanguine self.  I swear, I don’t know many adults who would have been able to do what she did, she is so, so tough.

 

Our last stop was to Donegal on the Northwest coast. Along the way, we stopped in at the Country Life Museum. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a dark room with a butter churn and walls covered in text, as I’ve seen in some other museums. This is however an incredible place. Displays about Irish rural life from prefamine to the 1960s bring to life what was clearly a very difficult existence. I felt like I was walking in a real life “These are the people in your neighborhood” song from Sesame Street.

Listening to school lessons, trying his hand at the butter churn (yes,there was one after all), and hand woven straw baskets


 We tried to hike up Slieve League the next day, but were stymied by fog. Another high cliff like those of Moher, there’s supposedly a gorgeous view up there but it was not to be for us. I looked for signs of puffins as well, and again they were not to be.

 
The Donegal Yarns workshop was a delight. Rooms filled with beautiful yarns and handwoven and handknitted scarves, sweaters and hats. Fun fact: most wool in Irish products does not come from sheep living here, and is imported from England, New Zealand and Australia. One Irish season is enough to turn the softest sheep’s wool into Brillo pads, and as such the wool is exported for upholstery. Most of the adorable lambs you see tottering about on the side of the road are fated to end up on your dinner plate in the next few weeks.

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Upstairs is the weaving room, where fabrics are created as they always were, on long hand looms with foot pedals, by one person at a time.  Behind that is the spinning room, where the dyed fleece comes in and is mixed into skeins for the weaving, and then the sewing room where the fabrics are made into their final product.
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Here he is in action, the rhythmic click clack of the loom with each shuttle pass taps out a cadence for him to follow. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t record so you’ll have to use your imagination.

On the way back home we visited the Corlea Trackway Museum, where an ancient 2000 year old wooden bog trackway has been preserved. No one knows what this road was for – there are many such roads along the spongy bogs, which were heavily trafficked as ways to cross over without sinking into the sludge, but this one remains pristine. It was a long road, and took months and many people to construct, and as such is a mystery as to why, after all that work, it remains unused.

 

We’re back in Maynooth now, and glad to be here. We pulled up in the rental car, I dropped Eric and the kids off to go and return it, and when I got back the kids were nowhere to be seen, having run off to join their friends somewhere in the green of the estate. I think I’ll have a glass of the Crean’s lager we brought back with us.

 

 

In which the children become slightly feral

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.

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after school homework time

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

-s