Category Archives: being grownups

How to sell your parents’ house, part 3 of 3, maybe

The estate agent rang me this morning to let me know that the For Sale sign will go up next week, probably Wednesday. So that’s a strange feeling, putting your family home on the market. Especially since my two parents are still living. It feels wrong to sell it out from under them, even though I’m not doing that at all: my father is selling his own house, I’m just doing the donkey work. He signs the cheques. I sign for my mother, because she can’t do that any more, when we get to the actual legal documents part, assuming that’ll happen in due course.

It all seems very sudden, even though it’s been on the cards since last May, when Dad looked at me and said “I suppose we’d better sell the house.”

I loved the estate agent. He looked around the house in wonder and awe and probably some internal consternation, and said “It’s really hard to value” but also appreciated all the work that had gone into it, from the very beginning, all by my dad himself.

He saw an old photo upstairs – actually, a photocopy of a photo, that my dad had framed – and audibly goggled at how cool it was – my father’s uncle in 1913 posing with his swim team. Like something from another world, really; one we can’t begin to imagine in spite of all the pictures and films and books we’ve seen. These were real people; a little bit of their DNA runs through my veins. I pulled the photocopy out of the frame and kept it with all the other old photos.

When I got back from Ireland I was very productive for a few days, writing thank-you cards and feverishly sorting through the loose photos, writing on the back, trying to put them in chronological order, despairing when a random wedding picture had no names, no faces I knew, not even an indication of which side of the family it had come from. I went to Ikea, made a lovely photo collage for the wall, hung it up, even. Such industry, in a house otherwise crumbling around me (crumbling at least in terms of undone housework and un-put-away toys, constantly on the brink of running out of milk and bread).

Here’s a list, in two parts.

Things that were easy to put in the skip: (That’s a dumpster, Americans.)

  • Garden waste.
  • Very old pillows.
  • My bank statements from 20 years ago.
  • A nasty rolled-up rug.
  • Used makeup, old hairspray, battered shoes without mates.

Things that were hard to put in the skip:

  • My mother’s cushions. (You can’t donate cushions. They’re like pillows, nobody will take them.)
  • The last bits and pieces from each room, the things I couldn’t decide about, the things I left for my friends to remove because I kept wanting to leave a little something, for character, to make it look at least a tiny bit personal.
  • The photo albums that weren’t old enough to be interesting – the ones of my parents’ trips or travels over the last twenty years or so, visiting people I don’t know, or people who have their own pictures of that day.
  • The Hummel figurine that someone knocked over on the way out to the garden; probably one of the very helpful people who were giving up their Saturday afternoon to help me out; they didn’t even notice. I shouldn’t have left it there, so close to the door. But it had survived so long, and now it was in three pieces. Poor little boy in the apple tree.

It’s weird being entrusted to get rid of other people’s stuff, even two people as uncaring about material goods as my parents. I kept the things I wanted. I kept a few things I thought other people would want. I gave away as much as I could to friends and family members who wanted them, who would take them and keep with them the memory of the place they came from – or even who would say “A lady gave it to me one day when my parents went to her house. I don’t know who she was, really. A friend of Mum and Dad’s who they hardly ever see, I think.”

My best friend told me I had no sentimentality, as I shot down her suggestions of things I might want to keep. I had two suitcases, mostly already full of photo albums, and a house full of junk over here already. I have no space for sentimentality. She left with a shelf that we unscrewed from the wall along with its curly brackets, and some of my mother’s jewellery, and the Dyson. Sentiment and practicality right there. I was happy about that.

A house story

And now I am here again, at my kitchen table, thinking about back-to-school nights and bringing in the washing, instead of there, thinking about the ends of things. It was an intense weekend-and-a-bit, but with a lot of help from a lot of great people I accomplished almost all I had hoped to.

It was very … elemental, maybe, is the word I want. Very much about life, the hard parts of it that are the most real. I met a friend who was coming from her father’s funeral, buying balloons for her son’s fifth birthday party. I gave small children things from my aged parents’ house, sent them back to their homes with the last of my childhood books, dominoes, pretty boxes, and my spare recorder (sorry).

But there was a story I wanted to tell. On Saturday afternoon, someone helping me put things in boxes pulled a string in the kitchen and it broke. It was fine, it didn’t matter. They noticed the string was attached to a little bell that rang when you pulled it. They wondered why. I explained.

My father’s office was downstairs in the basement, ever since the recession in 1987 or so caused him and his partner to downsize and move to working out of their respective homes. There was a phone down there, and a phone upstairs in the hall beside the kitchen, so if the phone rang during business hours my dad would answer it down there, professional-like. If it happened that the call was actually for my mother, rather than have to open his office door and shout loud enough to be heard through the door to the basement, or come all the way upstairs, he rigged up a little bell with a string that went straight down through the floor, so that he could ring the bell from right where he was to let her know it was for her. (Or for me, maybe, even.) No undignified yelling required.

It is a perfect example of how our house worked, and how the things in the house were exactly tailored to suit its inhabitants. A little thing, that nobody seeing that bell would know, once I’m not there to tell the story any more: not the person who shows the house to prospective buyers, not the one who looks at the house wondering how they will mould it to their needs, not the one who rips it off the kitchen wall after the house has been sold.

So now I’ve told the story, and the reason for the bell will always be here, not lost after all.

Table covered in vases and jugs

Right at the beginning of the ending

Casting off

This evening I sat on the floor for twenty minutes casting off.

There was this knitting thing, you see. Back in May I had opened the bottom drawer of the bureau in the hall and found a bag with knitting in it. In May I was busy looking at nursing homes. My brain can only cope with one thing at a time. I’d closed the drawer and gone back to whatever else I was doing at the time, just like I had closed cupboard doors on moulding jam and half-used lipsticks and left them for another day, another trip.

Now I can do it. I can open those drawers and I’m ready to consign much of their contents to the skip that’s handily outside the house (yes, I arranged for it to be there). In May I threw out the tissue paper that was everywhere, consolidated items, put all the lone gloves into one drawer and socks into another, found the jewellery that had been secreted away in odd shoes and cubbyholes and hinged tchotchkes. Now it’s September and I’m ready to put them in boxes and send them away: to donate them, to bag them up, to remove them from the spaces they were placed into and set them free.

So when I saw the knitting this evening, that I had pulled out of the drawer yesterday, I said to myself, I need to just do away with that so that I can put the needles and the wool with all the other knitting needles and donate them to the charity shop.

And then, because I had twenty minutes to spare before I had to be somewhere, I thought, No, wait. I don’t need to unravel it. I can just cast this off. And I sat on the floor where the kitchen meets the hall, and in the dimming light I put my basic knitting ability to use and I cast it off.

It was going to be something in baby blue. I don’t know what, though I think there was a pattern in the bag. I suspect it was for Dash, when he was a baby, that it was found too frustrating and stuffed away. My mother was never a great knitter. The biggest thing she ever knitted, to my knowledge, was a moss green waistcoat for my father some time in the 80s. I found it on his shelf yesterday when I went through his wardrobe, but I put it in the donation pile because I don’t think he needs it in the well-heated nursing home. I have no sentimentality, no soul, apparently. Also, I don’t think he ever wore it much, he just couldn’t throw it away.

So I cast it off, the blue knitting that was going to be a cardigan for my baby boy, or whatever, sitting there on the floor in the evening light. I’ll take it with me for the girlchild to use as a doll blanket. Knit one, pick it up, push it over the one before. Off she goes. My baby boy is eleven now, he’d never fit it. I saw my mother today and she was delighted to see me, disbelieving that I was really me, asking me how my exams had gone, moving on to generic questions about mum and dad or the boys, things she could ask anyone, because she wasn’t sure any more who it was but she couldn’t let on.

And then I cut the yarn, pulled the knot through, put the rest of the ball of wool in the bag with all the knitting needles and the patterns, ready to go to the charity shop tomorrow.

And as I sat there I thought how poignant it should be, and how metaphorical it was, and how I could write a great blog post about casting off the past and all that jazz. But really, I was just knitting, waiting, in a messy house, full of memories; it’s reached its time, it’s moving on, as all things have to. Finished off, undone, sent on, sent away. An end and a beginning. There’s always a beginning too.

Seafront at dawn

Ending/beginning

Magic wand required

Orange and white cat on wooden floor with a fluffy yellow toy

You are so NOISY. Why are you so NOISY, cat? Stop licking my computer. Go away.

/cat lies down on the rest of the table/

On Friday I was driven to distraction because Mabel didn’t go to school and I couldn’t get anything done. Now Mabel’s at school (praise be) but this cat is giving her a run for her money.

The other cat is fine, he’s somewhere else. But no doubt they’ll swap and it’ll be his turn in a little while.

Stop looking at me, cat. Floofer, floof thyself.

I need more coffee.

—-

The last several times I’d gone home to Ireland before last May’s visit, I’d thought to myself “This might be the last time they’re here” – meaning my parents, both in the house I grew up in, the house they should have sold years ago so they could move to somewhere with no stairs, no hill, less upkeep. They were increasingly aged, increasingly in need of more help than they had, something had to give, and I was just hoping from afar that it wouldn’t be something tragic or drastic.

Similarly, every time I was in the house I’d spirit away a few bits and pieces – mostly books – and look around my bedroom to gauge whether there was anything left there that I’d be distressed at losing, if it all had to be done away with in my absence. As if one day a magic wand might wave and the contents of the house would disappear, the house would be sold, and someone would just let me know, as an afterthought.

Every now and then I’d acknowledge to myself that there was no magic wand, and if the contents of the house were to go anywhere I was the one that would have to be instrumental in the doing of it. On the spot, not from afar. It’s not the sort of thing you can orchestrate across an ocean, the dismantling and disposition of a household’s worth of belongings. And then I’d get stressed about when it would happen, and how, and how I’d know it was time, or who would tell me, and who was in charge, and if it was me.

The crisis happened in March, and it wasn’t terrible. My Dad went to hospital, my Mum went to a nursing home; then my dad went to rehab, they said he couldn’t go home, I went back to find a nursing home for him, he went there. Now the house needs to be emptied. The house needs to be sold. I’m the one who has to put it all in motion, because I’m the only one there is. My dad’s in charge, but he’s tired, and he can’t get about much. I’m in charge too.

I’m the one who will be emptying out my childhood bedroom, bringing the rest of my books to the charity shop, throwing out all my feis medals (it’s fine, I’m over it), my school awards, my recorder exam certificates, the mug I always used with the harvest mouse and the poppies on it. I can’t keep much – just enough to go in a suitcase and a few things to store with extended family, perhaps.

So many things, though. So much stuff. So many categories of stuff. In my mind I open another cupboard door and go “Oh no, all the cleaning things. The hoover! That ancient carpet sweeper! There’s an ironing board in there! And all those 70s serving platters and canapé trays that only came out once a year. Argh!”

Maybe by the time I come back I’ll have put together a really helpful list of how you too can empty a house in four days. Maybe I’ll tell you that I did as much as I could but the job overwhelmed me. Maybe there’ll be an emotional, midnight, mid-purge post over the weekend. I suspect I’ll be telling you how I couldn’t have done it at all without the help of friends and family, about how people are important, and knowing when to ask for help is a vital skill of the fully formed grown-up.

 

Important places

“I have lived in important places, times / When great events were decided”

Those are the opening lines of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Epic“, a poem that was used mostly to illustrate the form of a sonnet to my English class, early in second year (that’s 8th grade for Americans). No mention was made of the contrast of the title to the brevity of the poem, now I think about it, but our teacher had enough to do just trying to get the basics across to us, since this was our first encounter with such a high-falutin’ thing as a poetic form other than nursery rhyme or limerick.

Anyway. The reason those opening lines are running through my mind is that I’m trying to figure out what to do with my dad’s photo albums. In about two weeks’ time I have to go to Dublin (yes, again) and try to tidy up and get rid of as much as possible of the contents of my parents’ house as I can in roughly four days. They don’t live there any more.

(Mabel says I can’t go. She won’t let me. It’s too hard to go to sleep at night with only Daddy. I’m sorry, and all, but I’d love to not go, except I have to. There’s nobody else to do it. This is what happens. It’s what everything comes to in the end, someone clearing away your belongings, assigning importance to some and tossing others out. She doesn’t get that yet. Maybe I don’t get it yet myself, really.)

In anticipation, I’m mentally going through the house, listing items of furniture and categories of things, deciding what could be kept, what should be given away, what’s just irredeemable rubbish. My father has been trying to empty the house for years; my parents weren’t hoarders (though in her later years my mother had taken to squirreling away tiny bits of tissue paper and scraps of cellophane, but those are very easy to throw away, after making sure there’s no tiny treasure balled up in the middle).

I’m trying to simultaneously think of everything there so that I can plan what to do with it, so I can spend more time doing and less wondering, and also so that I can be mentally bolstered against the whole thing, the whole dismantling of my past, my parents’ pasts, my home, my history. I’m very practical, but I’m also practical enough to know that it’ll be hard. It’ll hit me in the guts, so I need to be prepared.

Anyway, as I think I already said. I was thinking about my dad’s photo albums. He has about 15 of them hidden away in a piece of antique office furniture in the spare room. As befits him, they are meticulous records of days past and travels in interesting places. He has lived in England and Ireland, spent two years in the US, and a year in Guatemala, and these albums record those places, and others he travelled to, probably mostly in the 50s and 60s. When I’d asked him about them he’d shrugged and supposed that they’d have to be thrown out. Who would be interested in such things, he asked rhetorically, assuming the answer was nobody.

I wasn’t so sure. The idea of just throwing out his carefully recorded memories didn’t sit right with me, even if I didn’t think I could mail them to myself in the States to go through at my leisure, even if I wasn’t sure I would be all that interested in unknown people and places. But it occurred to me that he was in a couple of clubs that are still active, that might have people interested in their history and their founding members. And then I asked a lot of random strangers in an Irish Facebook group what they thought and the response was overwhelming: don’t throw them out! Find an archivist! Find a library! Someone wants these!

I emailed the two clubs in question and at least one is definitely interested. I had a correspondence with someone from the National Library, who said they might be interested depending on how much of Ireland is in it. I am pretty sure, based on all that, that there would be someone out there – or maybe out here – who would love to see the American and Guatemalan parts of his travels and records. I won’t toss anything. I’ll ask someone to keep them for me, or see if I can find someone to scan them for me, or maybe I will just post them to myself, but I will not trash them.

I think my dad will be happy about it. Bemused that his old snaps might now be considered archivable, important bits of history, even if the times he lived in were not important-seeming, if no great events were apparently being decided there and then. Sometimes ordinary lives are the most important. Patrick Kavanagh taught me that.

Man posing on skis in late 60s

Just call him Bond

 

You have reached your destination

So I have this reputation, let’s say, as someone who’s efficient. I can do stuff. I’m capable and sensible.

It’s all a sham.

Someone capable and sensible and efficient would not find themselves driving the same 15km stretch of road FOUR times in an hour – yes, that’s twice in one direction and twice in the other direction – because they trusted technology over just flippin’ looking at a map before they left, would they? Especially not when the technology had already proved itself to be somewhat untrustworthy.

And yet, in spite of my failings, I managed to get myself to Italy and back, to find where I was going, to catch my flights as scheduled, check into my hotels as planned, and not leave anything behind.

I did somehow forget to pack deodorant, but that’s what the supermercato is for.

Most of my hilarious travel stories involve how the satnav sent me the wrong way, and those stories don’t really have much of a shelf life so I’m not sure how many of them I should trot out now. The rest of the time … well, I spent three days travelling for 48 hours of fun, and it was well worth it.

There was this other time, though, which I will illustrate with some diagrams I drew in my notebook on the flight home, the better to remember.

Quite often in dreams I have a stressful situation where I’m driving but I can’t keep my eyes open, or I can’t see properly, or I’m somehow hampered by having to drive from the back seat or the passenger seat, or I can’t operate the pedals. And sometimes I end up precariously dangling over precipices or teetering on the edge of canyons in vehicles. All fairly standard stuff. I never actually die, though sometimes I damage the car and am always relieved on waking to remember I didn’t.

So there I was on Friday afternoon, after a lovely lunch with my sister-in-law and her friend, and I had to find my way back to the main road I’d come off, for the last half hour or so of my journey to the wedding venue. Of course, I should just have turned around and gone back the way I’d come, but instead I thought I’d give the sat nav a try. I turned it on and programmed in the name of the town I was going to. It seemed to recognise it, so I set it down and started driving, anticpating the soothing voice of the nice lady who would tell me which way to turn. The nice lady spoke up, but in Italian. I wasn’t expecting that, because the on-screen instructions had been in English, but I gamely decided I could try. I know my sinistra from my destra.

She said something I didn’t quite understand. I decided maybe it was “Go straight on” so I went straight on. She said it again and I couldn’t help thinking it was more likely “Turn around when you can”, so with a bad grace I turned around and went back the way I’d come. Then she had me turn right, and left, and right again, and soon we were deep in the zigzags of the little town. Clearly, on paper this was the most direct route to wherever she thought I needed to be, but the map did not take into account the elevation. The map looked like this:

But if you could have seen the elevation, it was more like this:

Straight up one side of the hill, around in a big sweep to where I could admire the lovely view over the lake – that’s nice, I thought vaguely, not looking, as I gripped the steering wheel gamely and forged ahead down an increasingly narrow road – and down again, via some hairpin bends on roads that were not wide enough for my modest rental car (a Ford Fiesta; but a Fiat 500 would have been ideal here) to make the turn in one go.

And so it was that I found myself in a dreamscape, but not the good sort. I came slowly halfway around a hairpin bend and stopped, facing directly into a foot-high wall that offered scant protection from the sheer drop to the road below on the other side. In front of me was, once again, the beautiful vista of the lake. Once again I was not really appreciating it. “I’ve dreamed this,” I said out loud, with just an edge of hysteria. The challenge, I could tell, because I’m SMRT that way, was that this time I didn’t have the option of floating gently to the ground, or waking up, so I just had to pull the handbrake, push the gearstick firmly into reverse, rev until I felt the catch, and back up a bit. Reverse hillstarts, with an option of Death, in a rental car I mustn’t scratch, I thought: my favourite thing. Then forward, then back, lather rinse repeat, until the car was facing the right way. And on down, effing and blinding at the nice insane Italian lady in the sat nav who I would never listen to again.

Not, at least, until two days later when she disgorged me onto the wrong motorway, in the wrong direction, 200 km from the programmed endpoint, and blithely commented – in English, because I fixed that – “You have reached your destination. Please turn around.”

Here’s a nice picture of the lake in question. I took it from the bottom of the hill, not the top.

Obnoxiousness

I don’t want to sound obnoxious, but I’m having lunch with my sister-in-law on Friday.
What? Not obnoxious yet? How about this: I live in the US, she lives in Ireland, and we’re having lunch in a little town on the banks of Lake Trasimeno in central Italy.

A little obnoxious, am I right? Sorry.

This trip is basically the antithesis of the one I took to Dublin in June. That was unexpected, last-minute, stressful, filled with tricky decisions and hard work. This one has been long planned and long looked forward to. It will involve a certain amount of being-a-grownup – driving from Bologna to Perugia on my own, for instance (and back), but also the fun parts of being a grown up – staying up late, dancing, drinking wine, meeting old friends in new places. (Lunch with my SIL is actually a bonus. I’m really going for my oldest and bestest friend’s wedding.)

Yes, I am hella lucky that I can flit over to Europe twice in one summer. Though long flights and long airport layovers are not entirely my idea of fun, they are much easier (though perhaps more boring) without children who need to be fed and entertained. I get back on Monday, so I’ll probably spend longer in transit than the two days the wedding will take up, but them’s the breaks. I’ll muddle through.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I have a nice new phone and will be Instagramming my trip, so if you haven’t followed me over there, now might be a good time. Pictures of Frankfurt airport and scenic Tuscany/Umbria, plus lots of delicious food, to come. I’m @AwfullyChipper over there, same as on Twitter. (Hint hint.)

I’m leaving the kids in the capable hands of their father (and vice versa), and have stocked up on everything they might possibly run out of – pasta, sandwich bread, peanut butter, cat food, cat litter, goldfish crackers, ice pops… I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’ll miss them terribly.

Helper cat

 

Notes from the airport

When I saw my mother on Thursday they told me she was a bit agitated. She was delighted to see me, of course, when I explained that I was me, but she didn’t really retain it. She kept saying she should go and check on the people in the other room, see if anyone needed anything, offer them some tea. She felt that she must be the hostess, but she wasn’t really sure who all these people were. She asked me where Dad was, and if he was looking after them. She told me the lovely nurse we’d been talking to was the new maid, that she was excellent and they were lucky to have found her. She was tailoring her narrative to her reality as well as she could, but it kept breaking down because she knew she was missing something. I’d sit her back down every time, telling her that the people were being looked after, that she could relax and just take her ease, but she didn’t really believe me. As I left I looked back into the room and saw her standing up again, a nurse heading over to settle her.

When I saw my mother on Saturday I brought my dad with me. I brought him in a wheelchair, because his knee is very dodgy and he can only progress very slowly with a walking frame. She was so happy to see him. She held his two hands in hers, all their knuckles knobbly, their skin blotched and stained by age. The staff watched in delight, teary, because they say she asks for him all the time, wants to know where he is and how he is and when he’s coming to see her. We stayed for some tea and biscuits and halfway through the conversation she rediscovered who I was and was delighted all over again. When we left she told him he’d been a lovely husband and the nurses all blinked back their tears again.

She’s a real lady, they all said to me.

He’s such a gent, they all say about my dad at the hospital.

When I saw my mother yesterday she was having breakfast in a pink dressing gown I’ve never seen before. She was calm and sensible and very much herself. She got all the news from me, anew – that Dad’s in hospital and will have to go into a nursing home and she will join him wherever he chooses, that I’m back off to America today because I can’t stay, that we’ll sell the house. That she lives in that nursing home, and has a lovely view of the sea from her window, just the same view as from our kitchen window but without the neighbours’ hedge in the way. I brought some pictures for her walls and some new toothpaste and socks because they’d told me she needed toothpaste and socks. We shared a whispered joke, because her hearing’s still fine and she’s as amusing as ever. ‘Well,’ she said philosophically as she looked around the breakfast table at her companions, mumbling their toast and picking at the tablecloth, ‘it’s all a new stage, isn’t it. I must remember that. Maybe I should take up a new hobby.’

She was so much herself that time, her real normal my-mum sensible self, that was the one that nearly broke me when I left and got into my little red rental car and drove down the hill for the last time. That’s what’s bringing the tears here in the chilly boarding area of the airport as I wait for a plane to take me far away, back to the other people who love me too, whom I love too.

Getting old sucks. Not getting old sucks as well. There’s no way around it; we can only forge on with whatever hand we’re dealt, and hope we have as much good humour and grace as my lovely mum.

A blown poppy, dropping its petals over grass.

I just missed the poppies. This was the last one.

Dial it down, for the kids’ sake

When I was 11, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States. My sixth-class teacher felt strongly that we should all have a grasp of current affairs, and every morning she’d pin her newspaper up on the blackboard and have us all gather round and look through the headlines. She was a formidable woman with a strong social conscience, and CND and Greenpeace and Amnesty International were all hot topics at the time, though in spite of her efforts I personally wasn’t always exactly clear on why exactly they were in the news.

What I remember most vividly, though, was our fear of Ronald Reagan’s finger hovering over the nuclear missile button, pointed at the USSR, with Ireland right in between the two.* Nuclear fallout wouldn’t respect Ireland’s official neutrality, and we would have no say in the matter. I don’t think I was alone in that fear – there was that Genesis video a year later, for instance – but I suspect that as children my class’s understanding of the facts and the likelihood of certain things happening might have been skewed a bit. The idea of a massive nuclear blast that would wipe out half the world, followed by a long slow nuclear winter that would horrifyingly put an end to the other half seemed like an inevitability more than a possibility to me for several years. It felt like a future we were all just politely ignoring, pretending wouldn’t happen. For quite some time it felt like a when, not a remote if.

Children have no control over the greater world around them. They hear and see more than adults expect them to, and they take in information in ways that adults can’t ever quite predict. They get scared irrationally, by things that don’t exist and things that pose no threat – and they get even more scared when the adults around them are anxious, worried, angry, and letting fly about things that nobody explains to them.

I am all for explaining things to our children, and showing them that we have strong emotions too – but I also think we should let them be children as long as possible. Their lives are full of small problems, childish worries, surmountable anxieties that look really hard from their point of view. Let’s not give them our big worries as well. Their shoulders aren’t ready.

In other words, limit the agonizing, grownups. Stop making Trump sound like the end of the world. Dial down the hyperbole at the dinner table – your kids don’t understand when you’re exaggerating for effect. They take what they hear you say as the bald truth, not melodrama because you’re that kind of person. Lie to them a little if you have to. Soften it up. Tell them everything’s going to be fine – that the government has checks and balances so that no one person can have all the power. That politicians never keep their campaign promises. It might even be true.

Help them sleep at night. There’ll be plenty of time for stark reality when they’re older.

*In hindsight, I suppose his nukes might have pointed west rather than east, to reach the USSR quicker. But then they’d be travelling over US soil. Unless they started from Alaska. Okay, I don’t know which way they’d go.

Birds in blue sky

Birds, not missiles

 

Decade

Ten years ago in the last few days of August, the B and I put our four-month-old baby in the Corolla and started the drive from southmost Texas to Maryland, two years after we had first driven all the way there from Pennsylvania. In many ways, driving back north felt oddly like going home, even though Maryland is technically below the Mason-Dixon line (and therefore still in the South, unlike Yankee Pennsylvania). Texas was pretty alien. I’d only lived in Pennsylvania for 18 months before that, but B had been there a whole PhD’s worth of time. Maryland felt reassuringly familiar.

Lone palm tree by the water looking over at buildings in the distance

Buh-bye, Texas

We’d rented a place to live, sight unseen, which is always a horrible way to go about it. It was not very close to B’s new place of work, because we were assured that we didn’t want to live in that particular county. We should live one county over, where it was – I don’t know, nicer, safer, more expensive, something. In retrospect this was a bad decision because with B driving the car off to work every day I was left trapped in the apartment, in walking distance of one set of shops but nothing else. Every day I pushed the baby up to the supermarket, took a look in Sears, stopped at Starbucks if he was either cheerful or asleep, and back home. He’d fall asleep on the walk back, but often wake up when I tried to get him back inside, which involved one flight of steps up to the front door and another down to our basement-level apartment.

Baby having his toes dipped in the water on a long beach

Hello, Atlantic Ocean

I didn’t meet anyone while we lived there. I don’t know who our neighbours were. I didn’t make any friends. I tried to find a moms’ group but the only one I could find was about 30 miles away. We went once, making a game effort, but it was too far. It was lonely, but it was temporary, because we’d only rented that place for three months.

At the end of our three months we were more familiar with the area. We moved to a condo across the road from B’s place of work, in the dodgy county, where rents were lower and everything else, as far as we could see, was exactly the same. (We hadn’t encountered the school system yet. That’s where the biggest difference lies.) But for me, it was the beginning of actually making a life here rather than just pushing the baby around on my own, day after day. I had the car: I could go places. I found the library. I found the community center. I found a local group of moms and dads that met at the playground every Wednesday. I found my space.

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Baby’s first DMV historical site. (George Washington’s birthplace in Virginia, where we stopped for… lunch, or education, or something.)

But ten years. If you’d told me then, as we drove the highways north of New Orleans, along the Gulf shores of Mississippi and Alabama – communities still reeling from Hurricane Katrina the year before – through the panhandle of Florida, into Georgia and up along the coast of the Carolinas, that we’d still be in the US ten years later, I’d probably have demanded that we move home straight away. This was not the plan. (This is why nobody should know the future, even if it’s perfectly good.) The plan was another couple of years in the US and then home to Ireland to buy a house and settle down and send the baby to a nice Educate Together school if possible and be perfectly normal Irish people.

We still have the Corolla, but we have a Subaru too, because we’re true suburbanites now. We bought a house that’s still close to B’s work, but not where they’re out dealing drugs on the stoops. (Apparently that’s what went on in our second rental’s neighbourhood. I had no idea at the time.) Some of the friends I made that first year are still my friends, and their kids are my kids’ friends, and we’re all Americans now. (Even B. has a citizenship application in the works at the moment.)

Oh, we still have the baby too. Sort of.

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*****

I nearly forgot to mention my new stickers. I’m delighted to be shortlisted once again in the Personal Blog – Diaspora category of the Irish Blog Awards – but there’s a public vote element to this round. If you’d be so very kind as to click through here and take a moment to log in (sorry!) and vote for Awfully Chipper, I’d be eternally grateful.

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