Category Archives: travel

New York weekend

In order to test the fortitude and strength of character of our children, we dragged them to New York for the weekend, forced them to travel the subway and switch trains like a billionty times, made them walk for miles and miles, kept them up way past their bedtimes two nights in a row, and brought them to restaurants where they didn’t like the food we bought them. It was a little trying, but we’re all better people for it.

New York night scene

Yellow Cab, by Mabel

However. There were some things that worked out well. There are always some.

Books in the car: When you take a road trip, don’t forget to put some books in the car. Picture books, fact books, books of maps, story books. Mabel did lots of reading on the way to New York. (Dash did not, but whatever.)

A scooter: I had a brainwave and put Mabel’s scooter in the car. When we got to New York, with its myriad train and subway changes, escalators, and requirements for walking, the demands for piggybacks were almost totally done away with. It was easy for an adult to pick up the scooter when we were on stairs, and Dash was always willing to have a go if Mabel just wanted to walk. Definitely a good idea. Also, having a child on a scooter instantly makes you look like a local instead of a tourist.

On the waterfront with the NY skyline in the background

Newport, NJ

New shoes: We arrived at our New Jersey hotel on Friday afternoon and went straight into the city to meet my cousin for dinner. Mabel announced that evening that her feet hurt. That, in fact, both pairs of shoes were too small and worn. The soles of her crocs, I discovered, were about a millimeter thick. (Well, I did get them at the thrift store last year.) So before we went anywhere the next morning, Mabel and I hit the handy mall and bought her the brightest pair of Sketchers you’ve ever seen. They are cushy inside and out and she was much happier. Is there nothing new shoes cannot fix?

Ellen’s Stardust Diner: So my cousin and her girls were booked into this uber-trendy hotel where they had free muffins for breakfast. I said “What you need is a proper New York diner breakfast.” A friend on her FB told her she should check out Ellen’s Stardust Diner, so we arranged to meet there on Sunday morning. I was vaguely mixing it up with Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld fame, which is a nice regular old-style diner. Sure, one diner’s much the same as another, I said, and this one was closer to her hotel, so, grand.

On Sunday morning we dragged the kids out of bed after their second late night in a row and once again took the PATH train and the subway to Times Square or thereabouts. Without even a free muffin to sustain us, I might add. We got a table straight away, which we discovered is pretty lucky – but as we sat in our booth we realised that the reason the version of Eternal Flame we were hearing was not the original was because it was being belted out karaoke-style by a member of the waitstaff.

I had not had anything to eat. I had not had any coffee. It was 10:30 am and I had already taken two children across a state line by public transport. Those children had not had breakfast either. Tempers were frayed. I had pretty much promised the fussy eater that he could get french fries (for breakfast. don’t judge me) because diners have All The Food. There were no fries on the breakfast menu and there was no other menu. He said he couldn’t eat toast because the orthodontist told him not to. (He has braces now. He is a rule-follower. Berating my child for being such a rule-follower is clearly a misguided avenue to go down, no matter how much I’d like to.) The music was so loud we had to shout in each other’s ears. It was like being in a nightclub, except it was breakfast time and I hadn’t had breakfast, and I wasn’t drunk, and none of us were 20 any more.

I was not happy. I was thisclose to walking out, except we’d already ordered drinks. The fussy eater complained that he couldn’t stir his chocolate milk and the syrup was all stuck at the bottom and it was too sweet anyway. My suggestions of stirring it with a straw or a knife were met with withering derision and some tears. I felt I would move heaven and earth to help my poor starving child; but ten seconds later I was out of patience because I was a horrible mother who hadn’t had any breakfast. I considered walking out again, only now we’d ordered food too.

Swirly lights photo

Groovy elevator lights

Our food came. The singing continued, but it somehow became less irritating and even a tiny bit charming. By the Abba medley I was singing along. There may have been some gesticulation. The fussy child was disgusted with me, but he’d stopped crying and I’d procured a long spoon, because anywhere with those sort of glasses clearly serves ice-cream sundaes in them at other times of day. The Les Mis “One More Day” ensemble piece brought the house down. There weren’t tears in my eyes, but there could almost have been. My waffles and bacon weren’t bad either, and there were free refills of coffee. Of course, because it’s a diner.

Our waiter was the best singer, because natch. In a moment of supreme timing, when it was his turn to sing he hammed it up and bent down to Mabel as if he was serenading only her. With utter indifference, she happened to take that moment to annouce loudly “I don’t like this!” She was talking about her pancakes, and I’m not sure he heard, but we found it hilarious.

It really honestly is a place where all the waitstaff want to be in showbiz, and make no bones about it. In fact, they make it the whole raison d’etre of the diner, and they do it well. They raked in the tips, and the scholarship bucket filled up too. I was still grumpy about the two hungry children we took back out of the diner after breakfast, and the nice relaxed conversational interlude that had been denied me, but I can’t deny it was a New York Experience.

Mabel's selfie in a Tiffany's mirror

Selfie in Tiffany’s

Now we’re home and the kids are still readjusting to civilized bedtimes. Send bagels, fortitude.

 

The problem with jet lag

The problem with jet lag, or time-zone adjustment, because I see them as two separate things, is that I can’t really take advantage of the kids going easily and early to bed, because I am also falling asleep by some ridiculously early hour of the evening.

The other problem is that Dash adjusts to new time zones in no time flat, much faster than I do.

The other other problem is that apparently I need more sleep than my six year old. Last night, for instance, Mabel fell asleep at 9pm. So did I. She woke up at 6am. I did not.

Luckily for me – thank all the Greek and Roman and Norse and Egyptian gods and goddesses – I married a man who is a natural early riser, and who needs only about six hours’ sleep a night. One of those high-achieving types. I, on the other hand, clearly will never amount to anything much, because people who need eight to nine hours’ sleep a night never do.

So I put Mabel to bed and myself to bed at the same time, and then B went to bed later and also got up at 6am with Mabel. If I had married someone else, I would either be dead of chronic exhaustion by now, or divorced. On the other hand, if I had married someone else, possibly my children wouldn’t need so little sleep to be the adorable little well-behaved munchkins they always are. Swings and roundabouts.

Mabel pretending to be a sleeping puppy.

Fast asleep. Not.

Back

Low tide. High tide. In and out, the coastline breathes slowly. When you live by the sea, the tides are a constant presence. You always know where the tide was when you went down to the water, even if you don’t remark on it. You might not know if it’s coming or going, but it’s part of the ever-changing-ness of the water, as much as the sun and the clouds and the wind are constantly changing it.

I forget about the tide, when I’m gone.

Mabel on rocks with Dun Laoghaire in the background

Low tide

—-

The trajectory of a holiday is mirrored by the trajectory of a single day of travel. You start out full of hope and goodwill, with useful things packed helpfully to hand and brightness all around. As time goes on the unusual becomes normal, living in another country or traversing airport concourses. And finally the downhill slope, you’re nearly there, nearly home, but everyone’s getting tired and cranky. You want your own things and you can’t find anything you need. You stuff it all in and drag the zip closed and you think about the bliss of your own bed.

—-

“Ireland is known for potatoes, rain, and cows,” says Mabel. She learned about the potatoes at school, but she added the others. We saw more of the countryside this trip than we have before – more fields with cows and horses and sheep – and the kids coped admirably with sleeping in a new place every night for eight nights, meeting new people, being whooshed off to play with new children while the grownups drank their interminable cups of tea and talked about boring grownup stuff. It helps that every family in Ireland appears to have a trampoline in the back garden, and that all our friends and family members are truly lovely people.

——

The mountains of Kerry look like dark-green crushed velvet, light and shadow constantly moving over them from the scudding clouds, changing the scene moment by moment. They make you want to give up all your possessions, buy canvases and paint, and live there forever, trying and failing to capture the soft but breathtaking beauty of it all.

Kerry beach scene with mountains and clouds

This could be a painting, right?

——-

It’s much too hot here today for a cup of tea. So I’m having a cup of tea. Breathe in, breathe out. There.

Irish summer

As the weather here gets hotter – veering into hot, humid, thunderstorm, blech – I have to try to keep one section of my brain remembering what 60 F feels like. Or 70; but definitely no more than that. Because in a few weeks I’ll be packing for Ireland, where summer is usually around, let’s say, 18 C (that’s 65 F) on a good day.

But then, just in case we hit a real heatwave where the midlands reach the dizzying heights of 28 (82 F), or a cold snap, when it goes back down to 8 (46 F), we need to be prepared for all eventualities. And rain, of course. Always rain. Unless it’s a fine mist, or a drizzle, or a sprinkle, or spitting. I love that one, spitting. It’s never “spitting” in America. It’s mostly just either wet or dry, and mostly it’s dry. On a practical level, summer in Ireland just means that some days you don’t need a jacket over your jeans and long sleeves.

So I have to do a really good capsule wardrobe, obviously.

(Insert hysterical laughter and me falling off my chair. I try really hard to do a capsule wardrobe every time I pack, but it hasn’t worked yet.)

A capsule wardrobe for all four of us. Because even if we have a nice big baggage allowance and everyone’s big enough to pull their own case and nobody has to be pushed in a stroller any more, we still have to fit everything (and ourselves) into a smallish rental car. Or other people’s cars. Or trundle them to public transport after three hours sleep (if we’re lucky). In the rain, of course.

With this in mind, I’m going shopping tomorrow. I have written my self-allocated number of words this week and I am giving myself permission to take the morning off and go to the outlet mall (mmm, lovely outlet mall), where I will avert my eyes from flippy skirts and floaty sleeveless dresses and flappity sandals and I will look on the clearance racks for tops with 3/4 sleeves and a light jacket with a hood and light wash skinny jeans that are not capris. (And that somehow give my legs the gazelle treatment they’ve always lacked.)

Dressing for summer in Ireland, I realise in hindsight, is sort of the opposite of the way people in LA dress for winter even though the temperatures barely dip at all. They wear darker colours, and ankle boots with their booty shorts. They indicate through accessories and textures that the season has changed, even if the weather isn’t paying the slightest bit of attention.

So I have two lovely new summer scarves (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and of course I’m well equipped with cardigans of various weights and colours. I have a new pair of runners, but I could do with some other shoes that are nice like ballet flats but don’t fall off my feet. I’ll bring my sandals, but to be honest I might never wear them. I remember how buying sandals was in Ireland – I’d buy them and then I’d wear them for two weeks on holidays somewhere warm, and then by the next summer I’d hate them but they’d NEVER wear out so I’d be stuck with them forever.

At least here I get to wear through my sandals and get new ones.

No doubt in the fullness of time I’ll decide to blog my lovely perfect capsule wardrobe. I’ll keep you posted.

Apple-icious

Last night on Twitter someone said to me, “I can’t imagine dealing with NYC and kids“, which made me wonder why we do it. I’m sure lots of people who live around here don’t feel the need to drag their small children up the coast to one of the biggest cities in the world just so everyone can get annoyed about new and different things, in between maybe seeing a few sights. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it should be a magical experience when they’re 12, or 20, like it was for us. Maybe we just want to re-create the wonder of our first trip to New York, but instead we’re making them hate it. Or maybe we go just because we, the adults, want to remember that we can.

The first time I came to NYC was the summer of my second year in university. I was almost 21, and on my way to San Fransisco with my best friend on the J1 exchange scheme that still runs between the US and Ireland. (It enables college students to spend one summer in the US – or Ireland, but it seems very few people take it up in that direction – so long as they can prove they have a course to return to in the autumn.)

So we were on a plane full of students and we all flew into JFK and were put up in Columbia University dorms for the first night, followed by an information session, and then they’d send us all off on our ways for the rest of the summer. Most of our plane was going to Long Island – Idlewild, Martha’s Vineyard – we were practically the only two of that shipment heading on out to the other side of the country. I’m not sure why; we stuck a pin in the map.

There was one guy my friend F knew from college on the plane, and the three of us ended up sharing a dorm room that night. We were pretty excited to be there, but this guy was practically levitating with the thrill. I think he was only 19, much younger than our staid 20-and-a-halfs, and he sat up the entire night staring out the window at the dark and the lights and the sirens and trying to believe that he was really in New York.

Times Square by night.

Not from this trip. 2009, I think.

I had been to Boston for two weeks the summer before, so I’d broken my American duck and could be blasé about the whole thing – but I’d been almost the same. When you spend your whole life watching American films and American tv shows, it’s uncannily like stepping into the screen to find that it really exists.

We can’t ever replicate that feeling for our children. America is their bread and butter (sorry, PB&J), it’s their standard, their norm, their status quo. It’s never going to be Other for them the way it was for us.

But Manhattan; that’s a whole separate ballgame. Even if you’re American, I’m willing to bet that your first trip to the Big Apple is a big deal. I know I’m more a city mouse than a country mouse, because when I stand on Fifth Avenue, or pretty much anywhere else there, surrounded by skyscrapers or elegant four-story brownstones, seeing the blue sky stretching up in a slice to my left and right, steam escaping from a subway vent, a host of yellow taxis bearing down on me, horns-a-blowin’… well, I just want to take a deep breath (cough, cough) and let it all sink in. It’s my jam, you know.

I always want to take a photo of that perfect slice, the symmetry of the buildings on either side… but I’m always in the middle of the street at the time, so I can’t stop to capture it.

Blue sky between two tall buildings.

2011; the best example I can find of the slice of blue.

Besides the aesthetics, there’s the sheer vibrancy of New York City. The sense that you’re in a small space with a huge number of people, all living their daily lives, going about their normal things, people of all colours and races and religions and ethnicities. It’s Life, concentrated. I love looking at New York toddlers and thinking about how they’ll grow up right in the thick of it. (Or maybe they won’t, of course. Their parents might move to Brooklyn next year and all the way out to New Jersey two years after that, as many sensible people do. Sometimes you really need the breathing room.) When I’m there I feel like I really am in the hub of the world. It’s the coolest place there is.

Times Square by day

2007. Bustly.

So that’s why. We bring the kids because they’re ours and a babysitter for the weekend would be expensive, and because we think they might like some of the things we have to show them, and because travel broadens the mind and makes you appreciate the simple comforts of home. But really, we go because New York City is New York City, centre of the known universe, a place like no other, where – if even for tiny moments in between whine-fests and demands for piggybacks and people getting their ya-yas out by jumping repeatedly from one double bed to the other – we can soak in the Cool and plan the next trip, when it will be easier and better and we’ll do all those things we didn’t get to do this time.

New York weekend

I had nothing to blog about so we went to New York for the weekend. The things I do for you people.

I have contemplated various ways to present the information I have to convey to you in an interesting, engaging, and possibly humorous manner. I haven’t found one, so you’re getting a bit of everything.

Things my kids did this weekend that they could just as easily have done at home:

Whined
Demanded to have stuff bought for them
Wanted a piggyback (Mabel)
Played at a playground
Watched TV
Rejected healthy food
Broke things

Dash and Mabel playing

Looking slightly demented at a playground in Greenwich Village.

Things that were not ideal about our trip to NYC:

I had a stress headache for most of Saturday, with a sore neck that was probably from sleeping funny the night before but in my mind of course was the precursor to Lyme, meningitis, and/or death.

Staying in Manhattan is great, but space is at a premium. Our two-double-bed room had space for very little else in it, and I’m pretty sure I could feel the end of the bed with my feet even when my head was up on the pillow. I’m 5’4.

Mabel is not the greatest of bedfellows. At 3am on Sunday she announced that she was hungry, but rejected the banana that was the only edible thing available. Then she fell back asleep taking up all of the bottom two-thirds of the bed. I didn’t dare move her in case she’d wake up and be hungry again.

The weather was cold. There were snow flurries on Saturday and every time we turned a corner the canyon effect made a wind tunnel of the avenues. As it had been practically balmy on Thursday, even though I knew the forecast I neglected to remember just how cold cold is. I had no gloves. The children had gloves but their legs were cold. The Central Park zoo was obviously not going to be a good idea.

Changing our plan to going to the Met instead was not a good idea either. Maybe we’re spoiled by the free Smithsonian museums in DC, but the idea of paying $50 to get in, mostly just so we could sit down and have a cuppa somewhere warm, was not helping my headache. We took another bus back downtown and had a cuppa in a non-museum environment instead.

It is impossible to feed all of us at in the same place, unless we all eat french fries. Or pizza, maybe. This is frustrating when you’re staying in Chinatown and surrounded by delicious smells of garlic and peking duck.

When drawing the curtains in our hotel room a little too enthusiastically on the last night, Mabel pulled the entire curtain rail down. As we were on the ground floor, this meant that passing strangers could look straight into our room all evening and that the street lights shone brightly on us all night.

… what was I saying about whining? They didn’t lick it up off the ground, you know…

Shadows of trees on the path through the park.

Washington Square. Good playground here too.

Things we did that were good:

Saw the 9/11 memorial. I didn’t take any pictures because it was too cold to take my hands out of my pockets, but it was really nice. Simple, stark, affecting. We didn’t linger, because of the kids and the cold.

B took Dash up the Empire State Building. Mabel decided she was scared of tall buildings (possibly something to do with all that talk of very tall towers that had fallen down; whoops) so she and I went to Macy’s instead.

Found decent food with a minimum of research. Our “let’s just walk around and we’re bound to find somewhere” approach usually fails miserably, leaving everyone starving and grumpy. This time it came good: on Friday night we found a very hipster joint full of non-tourists right on the edge of Chinatown that was a family-style taverna/Italian restaurant/drinking establishment. It was called Sauce, though you’d never have known from the outside. The food was good, though Mabel wouldn’t eat her spaghetti because it tasted funny (it was fresh pasta) and Dash wouldn’t eat anything.

On Saturday we found a great comprehensive diner for lunch just around the corner from Macy’s. Excellent fries. That evening we were all tired and bad-tempered and didn’t want to stray far from home, so Dash and I went out and found, within about a two-block radius of our hotel, dumplings for B and me, a bagel and popcorn for him, and pizza by the slice for Mabel. Then B went out and bought two single bottles of beer and the kids got icecreams for dessert. Everyone was happy, though the white duvet cover narrowly missed getting a giant blob of chocolate cornetto on it.

The hotel, which I had got on Priceline in one of those “you pick the area and the price and we don’t tell you exactly what it is till afterwards” deals, was fine. I always have great hopes when doing that that we’ll end up with a Hilton for $120 a night, but it was a Comfort Inn (and more than that). It was a little further to the right than I was expecting for “Financial District” but Chinatown turned out to be fun. And the hotel was very new so everything was clean and nice and the included breakfast was great. And they were very nice about the curtain rail.

Requisite famous-person sighting. We met friends for lunch on Sunday before we left, and they took us to Otto, one of Mario Batalli’s restaurants. (He’s a TV chef.) We saw him there, though not in the kitchen, signature orange Crocs and all. The pizza was delicious and the dessert was divine.

Mabel on a train.

Mabel gets down to some writing on the PATH train.

The logistics (this is the boring bit unless you are actually researching your own travel details):

We have yet to find the perfect combination of travel/accommodation for a weekend in NY. In the past we’ve stayed in New Jersey, but this time I wanted to try staying in Manhattan again. In Manhattan you might still be a subway ride away from any particular thing you want to do (especially with kids, because they’re not going to want to walk, for example, the length of Fifth Avenue, even if they will happily run around a playground non-stop for an hour), but there’s a psychological thing about being right there, and – more practically – in New Jersey it’s less possible to step out of your hotel and find three different cuisines in a two-block radius (see above; bagels are too a cuisine).

Driving is the cheapest way to get there; for a family of four it’s practically free. But you have to offset that against the price of parking (astronomical in Manhattan) and the hassle of taking public transport into the city if you park further out. We parked in Harrison, NJ, which has a nice big parking lot right beside the PATH station, and it was easy to find from the I 95. We paid $44 for the whole weekend’s parking. ($11 per 12 hours.) Then we took the PATH train into 23rd street (one change) and from there got onto the subway system proper. We put $20 on three Metro cards (Mabel was free; I think she’s under 44 inches but I forgot to check) and that more than sufficed for our transport for the rest of the time. We made good time with the driving at about 3.5 hours each way, but all the trains added well over an hour, so it was more than 5 hours from home to hotel and vice versa.

Next time I will definitely look into taking the train all the way up, but you have to book your Amtrak tickets in good time to get a reasonable price and I wasn’t thinking about the nitty gritty of where we would park until the night before we left. Amtrak would take us right into 33rd Street, avoiding the parking problem altogether and cutting down on total travel time.

—–
On the whole, travelling with children does get easier every time. The last time we went, I was still trying to find subway stops with elevators because of the stroller, which is not a trivial thing, but you forget so soon once you don’t have to do it any more. The time before, it rained and was just pretty much generally miserable, so this weather was, I suppose, an improvement. What’s more, Dash didn’t reject the french fries just because they still had skin on them, because he too is growing as a person.

(We have of course gone to New York City as real adults with no children, but one must clear one’s mind of such experiences and start anew. Maybe some time when we’re 50 or so, we’ll get to do it that way again. If our knees will hold up.)

Thoughts recorded while flying over Newfoundland

As I opened my laptop I thought how hilarious it would be if I had someone else’s by mistake, with all the taking out of MacBooks that happens at all the security checks (three this time; probably one still to go). And then what would one do? Consternation would ensue, no doubt. There’s probably a good story in there.

I got up at 7. I got the bus at 8. I was at the airport at 9. I did not dilly dally. I checked in at the desk (very small line) and went through the main airport security (not much waiting). I walked swiftly past duty free and ignored my rumbling tummy, following the signs with the American flags on them for pre-immigration, or whatever it’s called. When they started this I’m sure it was because it was meant to be easier and quicker to clear immigration in Ireland before your flight than to wait in those huge lines with people from all over the world at your destination in the US. But now all it means is that no matter how early you arrive at the airport, you’re starving and barely have a moment to grab a bite before being herded onto your plane.

There was a long line for another security check – where I was lucky enough to be flagged for the super bonus security check as well – and then a really long line for immigration, where they also show you a picture of your suitcase on a conveyer belt somewhere in the building to make sure it’s really yours. Having an American passport, the line I was in was meant to be shorter than the lowly non-US people on the other side of the room, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. By the time I got through I was about to collapse with hunger and barely had time to grab a sandwich and a smoothie before they were calling the flight. Which maybe is good in one way, but reminded me again how awful this process is with small children. It doesn’t really make me want to rush back with the whole family any time soon.

Though the plane is very relaxing. I’ve had some more food, I’ve had time to start a Marian Keyes and finish knitting the hat I began on the way over and I’ve watched one episode of Bones and two of House of Cards. (Which I think we’ll have to do next. It’s like West Wing but viciously cutthroat instead of principled. Jed Bartlett would be turning in his presidential library.)

I know I said I’m not the type to strike up conversations with strangers, but at the Dart station on Saturday I was accosted by an elderly nun (is there any other sort?) who talked to me all the way into town. She was just lovely. You know, you think for a moment that nuns are these sheltered women who know nothing about the world, but a few minutes’ conversation with one will but that notion to rest. Ah, Washington DC, I know it well, she said, and then told me about the children in Kenya where she used to live, and the fundraising she did in the US, and all the children she’d taught … that woman has seen more life than I have, and then some. She was a great person. She said she’d put my name in the pot, so to speak, for the prayers at the convent, and I thanked her sincerely. Who am I to complain about such a generous gesture, to have all those people thinking kind thoughts in my direction?

Newfoundland is … bumpy. With snow in between the bumps but not on top of them. At least, that’s how it looks from up here.

Dublin had soft air, strengthening to mist, moving on up through the ranks of rain to properly coming down for a little while, and then easing off again. It was uniformly grey, and then suddenly a patch of blue would be where none was before and that magical moment would occur when you’d see the sun hit the water on its way out, fleetingly, to douse us in palest gold for a few minutes. I didn’t see any rainbows this year though. Not a one. Maybe I wasn’t looking as much.

Sea and sky

Looking back towards Sandycove from Dun Laoghaire pier

The welcome home hugs were pretty damn good, though.

Airport philosophising

This is the first time I’ve flown transatlantically alone since before I was married. Since I emigrated, in fact. That’s … counts on fingers… almost 12 years. It’s the first time I’ve had this much time to myself, without more than a few sentences exchanged in passing with a stranger, for… a long time. (I’m not the type to strike up a conversation, or have one struck up with me. It’s either a personal failing or a triumph, depending on how you feel about strangers.) B dropped me off at the airport at midday Wednesday, and I’ll get to my dad’s house around 10am tomorrow. Subtract the five hour time difference and you get 17 hours. Seventeen hours to myself. (Fine, I hope I’ll be asleep for some of them. Not as many as I’d like.) Seventeen hours where I don’t have to say more than please and thank you if I don’t want to. Seventeen hours where I only have to think about feeding myself, and my own bathroom needs, and when nobody else’s disinclination to sleep will impinge on my own. For the first time in 12 years? Well, maybe in 8 and a half, since my husband is not such a demanding person as my children and allows me quite a lot more autonomy than they do.

I’m in Boston airport, enjoying the luxurious free wifi. This is the end of the terminal with all the Irish flights, so I’m surrounded by Irish accents of varying hues and the people in the duty-free shop all look unnervingly familiar. What sounds almost jarring in its unfamiliarity now will become commonplace in a day or two. Every time I see a small child I smile at how very cute they are: it’s true that I’m missing my two already, and the two little ones they used to be when we would do this journey and I wouldn’t have a moment to think for myself. If only you could dip in and out of bits of life; you’d appreciate it so much more that way.

Before I had children I was so clear: ready, organized, on the ball. For a few years, then, I was just fuzzy and blurred through lack of sleep and constant distraction. I’m putting it back together again, the clarity, now that I get to function in public alone more and more often. I have my card ready to swipe at the checkout because I’m not restraining a toddler who wants to climb out of the cart – no, in – no, out – or arguing with a preschooler about who gets to press the green button. I have my boots off at security and I’m waiting patiently with my one bag, plenty of time and all in order with crisp, swift movements. The days of overseeing the folding of the stroller and the taking off of other people’s shoes and holding the baby and stopping someone from running through before it was time but then getting them to walk the right way when it was; those are gone.

It’s easier every time we travel; why on earth am I hankering after the stresses and excesses of back then?

Maybe it’s just that humans are bad at endings. We don’t like doors that close firmly in our faces. We like to leave the opening ajar, so that we can peek a head around and check things out, just to make sure we’re really happy with what we have. And even though time never lets you do that, we pretend it does. We pretend we’re still young when we’re not, we do the things we used to do because we still can, just to show that we’re still that person.

I am still that person, but I’m simultaneously enhanced and deflated. Fuller on the inside, not so smooth and new on the outside. Still learning. Still moving. Still wanting to open the doors to the past that are firmly shut. Looking for the door that goes the other way instead.

Five years in the making

Did I say that would be the last of the Italy posts? Oh well, I lied.

I had to show you these, that’s the thing. Because what’s the point of planning a photo for five years if you can’t then make the most of it? (Okay, fine, that’s an exaggeration. But these comparison shots are five years in the making, one way or the other.)

Mabel looking out the same window as a baby and a 5yo.

See, this is Mabel looking out the window (ah, the window; you can climb out that window and you’re on ground level outside, so it’s a great source of entertainment, possibly the best thing about all of Italy) in 2009, at the tender age of 9 months, when she was pulling up and cruising but not walking yet, and therefore ripe for taking a header off the sofa she was standing on; and then again this summer, now that she’s a great hulking 5 years and 9 months old.

Children looking over a wallAnd this is Dash and his cousin looking over the walls at the top of the steps to the town hall in 2009 when Dash was 3 and his cousin was 9; followed by Dash at 8 and Mabel at 5 in the exact same place. (Different camera angle, slightly. My bad. And Dash apparently is standing a step down.)

Children on a see-sawFinally, we have the same 9-year-old cousin and 3-year-old Dash on a see-saw five years ago, and then 8-year-old Dash and 5-year-old Mabel in the same place this summer. They may have repainted the duckies in the interim, but I can’t tell for sure.

 

Italia

red tiled roofs

Walls of shades of yellow and orange, ochre and umber. Dark green shutters always, the colour of the solemn tall trees. Light grey stone, dark grey cobbles scattered with cigarette butts. Prosecco before dinner watching the passeggiata.IMG_8880

Lizards skittering as I walk. Giant flakes peeling off slate paths. Dark, heavy wooden doors and windows that swing wide. Orange-tiled roofs, rippled, stacked, layer over layer on the hillside. Fountains. Passing cone-shaped peaks and looking down to straight Roman roads along the valleys.

Narrow street

The local shop with price stickers and no barcode scanners and a deli counter to die for, where you have to test your Italian to ask for a vague quantity of salami and cheese and prosciutto. Basta cosi. A real butcher’s counter with hunks of meat where the butcher can tell you if the pig was a boy or a girl. He probably knows its name and what it ate for breakfast. Thin dark leaves in among the peaches that still have this morning’s dew on them.

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Olive groves and fields of girasoles. Fragrant lavender shortbread just out of the oven and geranium petals swimming delicately in pool water.

Path through olive trees to the lake

How can I tell which moments I’ll remember? Which moments my children will remember? What makes a memory? Is a photograph a memory-keeper, or does it change the memory to something else, something easier but not so real? Does it steal the soul of the memory? What can I do but write it and look at it and hope I lived it when it happened?

Carp in fountain