The Selfish Expat

Last week was St. Patricks Day and it got me slightly nostalgic for the ole Irish sod. We have a small but great Irish community here and in many ways we take more celebration in St. Patricks Day than we would at home because we are away and want to mark the day anyway.

It got me thinking about expat life in general and how we are so removed from Ireland and the goings on. Sure, I watch the Irish news and keep up to date with current affairs but on a day to day level we are away from family and friends and not living in the same world. It may be only temporary but how do you integrate back into that when it’s time to go home?

It’s not the same with family when you’re abroad. You can’t celebrate their good news, hold them when things are going wrong and support them when they need it. Most of the time you’re watching a clock as you’re in a different time zone and it’s about trying to get time to make the call.

So does this make us expats selfish? Are we not there for our families and friends in the way that we should be because we want adventure and the chance to be abroad? Is enhancing our lives and experiences at the detriment of being close to our families and being able to support them? Will our long term friendships with those in Ireland suffer in the long run simply because we struggle to stay in contact?

I’m trying my best to plan our trip to Ireland this summer to allow catch ups with all the family and friends that we need to see but it’s difficult in such a short space of time. I feel obliged to spend as much time as I can with family and feel guilty for being away to see friends.

Do all expats feel selfish at some point for not being at home?

Flying with kids

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I partly feel like I’ve no right to write on this topic because we only have one child. I see lots of people flying with 2/3 kids on a regular basis and I take my hat off to them. Flying with one is hard. Flying with three kids under 5 is like undertaking a special mission.

Flying as an expat is different to flying on your annual holiday. In most cases you will be flying multiple times a year depending on what family events you need to trek home for. It’s also common, not always, for expats to fly in business class when it’s available as one of the perks. This brings its own challenges. Trust me! Business class is lovely for the extra space and the opportunity to lie down on a long flight.. But what if you’re travelling with a teething 8 month old that refuses to sleep and is crying and you’re worried that it’s upsetting the other passengers who have paid an extortionate fee for some extra comfort on their flight?

We have been on over 20 flights with Michael in the two and a half years that he’s been in this world and this is my advice to anyone that has to fly regularly with kids.

  1. Be prepared. If your child is too small to be distracted by the tv screens than you’re going to need lots of things to entertain them. My top tips are snacks, colouring books, a magna doodle or etchasketch, sticker books, iPad with their favourite cartoons downloaded and some small compact toys. Make sure they’re all new and not something that they’ve seen before. This will really help distract them when you need it most. Prepare them by telling them about the journey in advance. Talk about it excitedly, about the plane, what to expect and where you’re going. Make it an adventure!
  2. Bring back up batteries. You’ll need them for charging your phone and entertainment devices. Trust me!
  3. Carry pain relief. Altitude does funny things to smallies and it’s always good to have pack up. Often their ears will pop, throats will be dry and can even have a fit of vomiting or diarrhoea so it’s good to have the essentials to hand when you need them.
  4. In your hand luggage have at least one change of clothes for yourself and two for them. See point two.. You’ll need them!
  5. Layovers are a pain. Often we can be in JFK for 4/5 hours waiting for our second flight. This is when you want to tire them out. Bring one of those backpacks with straps and reigns and let them run around. Take turns if there is two adults travelling. If you have access to a lounge take them there and take advantage of it. If not, then lots of airports have kids areas that you can avail of. Now is when you want them to burn up their energy so that hopefully they will sleep on the next flight!
  6. If you can book a seat for them. I know under 2 they can sit on your knee but if you’re on multiple long flights then they’re not going to be comfortable sleeping on you and you will also be exhausted. I found with Michael that if he fell asleep he would wake after 45 mins if I was holding him.
  7. I don’t take a stroller. They can be awkward to collapse and then you have to wait for them on the other side. Instead I got a wheel attachment that attached to his car seat and then he sits in his car seat on the plane. It makes life so much easier. I ordered it from amazon but it’s by a company called go go babyz. You can see it here 
  8. I’ve travelled a few times on my own with Michael and it can be hard to handle the hand luggage, the car seat, settling him and yourself, trying to use the bathroom and everything else on your own. I’ve been so lucky with other people offering to help and these usually aren’t the airport or airline staff. Some airlines have flight nannies or can offer extra assistance so it may be worth checking out if travelling alone.
  9. Call the airline before you fly to check requirements around flying with a child. What food and drink items you can take through security, can you bring your car seat on board (Delta now don’t allow this and don’t provide any safety harness for this child when sitting on your knee!!!!), is there priority boarding for kids? All these things will help with your journey if you know what to expect.
  10. Have a plan for when you get to the other side. If you’ve flown multiple flights, are now in a different time zone and have been travelling for over 24 hours you’re going to be tired. Have someone pick you up so you’re not relying on public transport to get to home. You’ll be so glad of a friendly face.
  11. Expect the unexpected. Flights get delayed. Changes happen. If you’re prepared for them then you can cope with unexpected travel changes. I have been delayed for 10 hours in total during one journey home alone with Michael. It’s tough but this is where the back up of toys, iPads, colours etc come in. Wine for you if you need it too!

And most of all…. RELAX! I repeat to myself constantly when travelling that this will pass. It’s just one day. One long day that you have to get through and you’ll get through it. It’s always worth it to see family on the other side!

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Keeping busy

March is going to be a pretty busy month for us. I’m helping to organise a fundraiser for the orphanage here that I’ve gotten involved with and as it’s in early May we need to get a lot of the ground work for that done in the next couple of weeks.

I’m also busy trying to find time to get some study done and updating my design and web skills. Michael has pretty much been sick for a month now with one thing and another and to be honest no one is getting much sleep so I’m walking around in a haze.

St. Patricks Day will be here before we know it and party planning is in full swing – including a current search for a reggae band that will play some Irish tunes. I think we have approx 80 people coming so it should be a big one!

We are going to Vieques in May. We have booked accommodation at a private house on the grounds of the W hotel and I can’t wait. What I’m a little concerned about it actually getting there? Should we drive down and try and book boat tickets soon and take our cars? Or fly there and rent a car on the other side. There’s six of us so it may even be two cars that we need. Is there a grocery store etc there? After Culebra ideally I would like to bring our own cars and groceries from this side as choice was limited on the island.

Does anyone have any experience? Any suggestions for what to do on the island ?

 

Mothers..

I wrote this piece 10 months ago on Mother’s Day and never pressed publish. It was too painful and I felt like a broken record. I’m finally ready to publish it because I’m now in a better place. I want others to know that it’s normal to feel like this. This it is ok to be sad. It’s ok to still miss someone after they’ve died if you’re not ready to move on.

_________________________________________________________________ It’s Mother’s day. I obviously have a love/hate relationship with this day. I love being a Mom myself but I miss my own mother more than words can convey.

It’s almost two years since that day. The last day that we had hope. The day that Rob walked into my room in hospital and told me that you weren’t going to get better. That there was nothing left to do – only wait for your time here to be over.

You were so brave. I felt so bad for crying on the phone to you when I called later that day. You were talking about faith and putting your trust in god. I wanted to scream and tell you that none of it mattered. What was the point in god and faith if he was taking you from us? What god was taking you away from me when I was weeks away from becoming a mother myself. You weren’t going to be there when I needed your help and guidance. I knew nothing about having a baby or raising a child.

I miss you. More than I ever imagined. I miss everything – how soft your hands were. How you laughed. How on a Friday night when we would come to stay for the weekend you would stay up late chatting on the couch with me. How until I moved out at 19 you came into my room every single night without fail to check on me. How you ran out of the kitchen on a Sunday morning when you were in your nightie and Rob came down early. How I painted your nails – it makes me giggle that at the moment you passed away I was holding onto your feet, your bright pink nail polish still on from the very last time I had painted them a couple of weeks before. I spent so much time over the years painting your toe nails. I probably would have picked a different colour had I known that I would never get a chance to do them again. It was shocking pink!

I miss your work ethic. How you worked so hard to make the businesses a success. How you never complained about the hours and how hard it was travelling the country every weekend at trade shows. How your feet ached at the end of the day. How you made our house a home. The dinners, the tea, the packages of food being sent home with us on a Sunday. The Sunday morning fry where we would sit and chat for an hour after. Your energy for looking after your family never ceased to amaze me.  The Christmas morning about five years ago that we ate about 30 mini pan au chocolat and watched Miracle on 34th street and forgot about dinner – a Christmas day will never go by without that memory bringing a tear to me eye.

Your phone has long been cancelled. But I replay the phone number over and over again. I miss being able to dial it and ask for your help and advice. You always knew what to do. Your instinct was always scarily accurate. You just seemed to know when something was up. Even the days that during my pregnancy that things were complicated you seemed to know I was in hospital before I told you. It was weird!

I’ve thought a lot about being a mother – what it takes and what I’ve learnt from you. I used to think at one point that you put too much pressure on me. The endless music lessons, auditions, singing, dance classes, french lessons, art classes, speech and drama… everything. I thought that you were pushing too hard and that I was never good enough at any of these things. Hindsight and experience has now taught me that you enrolled me all of this because you had faith in me. You believed I was probably more talented than I ever really was and I love you for that. Your dedication to trying to make me the best I could be. I’m eternally grateful to you for that love and support and I’m sorry that I didn’t live up to those expectations a lot of the time.

Thank you for everything. Thank you for your guidance, wisdom, knowledge, love and dedication. I’ll miss you forever.

Just one of those days..

After almost two years I have learned that not much happens fast here in Puerto Rico. I should be used to it. Every once in a while something happens in a relatively easy process and I slightly raise my expectations and then I have to remind myself again that efficiency isn’t a strong point here.

Don’t get me wrong – Ireland leaves a lot to be desired at times. It’s just that sometimes it would be nice to actually achieve what you plan out to get done in a day.

Yesterday afternoon when Michael got up from his nap I had errands to run. I wanted to get a tyre fixed on my car, get some groceries and go to the pharmacy. I thought that this would take a maximum of 2 hours.

I asked around where was the best place to have the tire fixed and off we went. I was nervous going in due to my lack of Spanish. I always feel bad about this. Not everywhere will have someone that is comfortable in conversing in English and this is my problem. It’s me that hasn’t picked up the local language and I can’t expect others to constantly be able to speak English. Anyway, there was an assistant who spoke English and he was very nice. He laughed about my name and asked how long it took to get to Ireland and the differences in the climates in the two countries. He took my car keys and Michael and I took a seat to wait. We waited. And waited. And waited. Two hours later they hadn’t started my car. I had an angsty boy bored who was getting hungry. My phone battery had died from him playing games and he had already finished his snack and juice that I brought for him. We had to resort to bribery and luckily the shop part of the auto fix place had some sweets and toy cars for sale.

It took a total of three hours. I eventually went to ask how much longer it would take and I think they realized how long I had been waiting and went to do it. They were very nice about it and I didn’t like complaining but it is so hard to entertain a toddler for that long without being well equipped for it. By the time it was finished I didn’t have time to get groceries or go to the pharmacy as it was after 7pm and I had to get him home for dinner and bed.

I got into the car, strapped him in and was releaved that the experience was over. I got to the first traffic lights about fifty meters from the garage and the warning light came on my dashboard for low air pressure in my front tyre. The one that had just supposidly been fixed.

If I didn’t laugh I would cry!!

Tomorrow is another day to tackle the errands right?

Expat Life & Pediatric Healthcare

When we decided to take this expat assignment Michael was still  a baby. He was only 5 months old when we first started discussing a potential move. We really weren’t thinking about what it would be like to have a child abroad as we thought we would be home in two years and that he would be back in Ireland before we would have to think about education, pre school or starting activities.

The reality is that we are enjoying this experience immensely and have committed to Puerto Rico for at least one more year and after that who knows…

He has gone from a chubby cheeky baby to a toddler in the blink of an eye and is now constantly putting on his shoes looking to go outside or to a friends house. He’s bored of Mammy and being stuck in the house. So we looked at our options and decided that Tasis, the international school here in Dorado was the best option for him when he turns three. So he will start Pre Pre K there this august. I’m sure I’ll discuss that in further detail in future posts but for now I would like to focus on healthcare while abroad with kids.

I thought moving here that once we could keep up with his vaccinations and that he had a good pediatrician locally then we were ticking all the boxes. Please keep in mind that as a first time mother I also didn’t know at that point about how much you worry about all the sniffles and coughs and fevers and how much at times I would wish that we had access to a Care Doc system that exists in Ireland. The Irish health care system leaves a lot to be desired at times but it does allow accessible health care to the majority and the Drugs Payment Scheme means that medication is available in lots of cases at a reasonable cost.

Last summer I travelled alone to Ireland with Michael as Rob was tied up here with work. We were home about a week when I went to Galway to visit Rob’s family. On the first morning there I woke up and went to dress him and discovered a rash over his legs. I immediately thought chicken pox but after consulting with a couple of people I was told that they should start on his torso. So I made an appointment with the local GP and I expected to be told that he perhaps had hand, foot and mouth or chicken pox. At this point his hands, knees and ankles were swollen and retaining fluid. The GP advised us after the consultation to go to the A&E dept of UCHG. We were admitted and after stumping a few doctors and some blood work Michael was diagnosed with HSP – an autoimmune condition. He hadn’t been eating well for a couple of weeks and this condition can be brought on by prolonged respiratory infections and he had a mild cough for about a week before we travelled.

This was a bit of a scary situation – mainly because I was away from my husband and it took a while for a diagnosis while doctors are discussing a lumpapuncture, meningitis and liver function but also because I didn’t know the facts about my health insurance. I no longer had VHI and instead had Cigna, international health insurance. The hospital didn’t know if we should be in a private room or if treatment was covered and neither did I. I was charged a larger fee for being admitted through A&E because I wasn’t an Irish resident. It was just more stress on top of being stressed.

It all worked out and we were covered and Cigna paid the hospital bill directly but I was angry at myself for not knowing the facts prior to being admitted. I should have known who to talk to and have the information and paperwork to back it up when on an international trip.

Since then Michael has been prone to colds, fevers and recently a viral infection. If you’re an expat and have kids abroad then you will know how difficult this is. Not only do you not have family close as a sounding board for when to take action but because I don’t speak spanish I have been petrified about having to attend a Puerto Rican hospital.

I have discovered a fantastic service. Michael’s pediatric doctor takes home care appointments and will come to the house for his check ups and yesterday came to check out a persistent rash that he has had due to this viral infection. He had a tech from a local laboratory come to the house afterwards and take a CBC and urine tests. It’s such reassurance as they spoke english and were able to explain everything while I got to keep Michael at home and distract him with his own comforts while being examined and having the bloods taken.

It takes a while to get settled in another country and learn that these services exist. My advice to any expat, particularly with kids, is to have all the documents regarding your health insurance that you need kept together. Be able to show it to a hospital either in your host country or when visiting home should you need to. Alleviate the stress should you end up in a situation where you need to avail of hospital services.

Ask questions… to other moms, doctors, forums, anyone who has lived in your new location and has had to avail of services. Keep all of the information together and don’t have to go and ask the questions when it’s an emergency situation and you’re already stressed. Know your way to the hospital, be able to drive yourself there. Do your research. Michael’s pediatrician is also based here in a hospital and that will be our first point of call should he need hospital care here. All of this was information that I got from other mom’s. You can learn so much from others who have undertaken a similar assignment when you just ask the questions and listen to the answers.