We’re home. About four months now. As I type those words I’m wondering how that is even possible? Where has this time gone? The beautiful summer days? Just gone in a fog of tiredness, stress, anxiety, worry and then the wonderfulness of catching up with family and friends. The joy of being close to home for family occasions, the girly catch ups and the family support.
The repatriation back to Ireland has been ok. But hard. I didn’t expect it to be easy and I went into it with open eyes and that definitely helped. But we arrived back to a country with a housing crisis. With high rents, lack of availability in housing and childcare and its definitely been a stressful time readjusting. Add to that then that Rob has a huge amount of travel in his new role and that he was gone 6 out of the first 7 weeks that we were here and I realise now that during that time, I just about kept my head above water.
Anyway, here we are and we are in our new home two weeks. We love it! It’s ideally what I would build. We are hoping to buy a family home in the next year if we decide to stay in Ireland long term but for now we are just happy to be in the area that we want in Galway so that we can focus on the kids and getting them registered for schools etc.
For me, I have been so consumed by them and in such a sleep deprived fog that I haven’t taken much time to think about my own transition and what’s next for me. I’m starting a post grad in digital marketing in the coming weeks and thinking that in early 2019 I will return to work full time. It all feels very strange having only worked part time and when suited me over the past four years. I feel a bit redundant, like I’m starting again. An ole wan, with no career – the kept wife. Clearly my confidence has also taken a blow by being out of work to.
I guess that leads me onto the main crux of this piece. What does the trailing spouse do when you’re home? You’re still trailing. You’re still picking up the pieces. Organising the shipments, the unpacking, the schools, the daycare.. Planning the lives of your family and trying to ease the transition as much as you can for everyone else. But you’re not the trailing spouse anymore. Before you’ve even had a chance to catch your breath family and friends are asking when your going back to work? The moms at the school gate ask what do you do? The mortgage broker wants to know what your plan is for the future… I haven’t stopped spinning and I don’t know the answers right now. My support system of expat friends is gone. My friends that kept me sane and called over for coffee no longer live down the road. It’s all new for me here. I don’t have many friends in the area. No one to call upon for advice about childcare or keep me company while Rob is away with work and I have the kids alone for 10 days straight. His family are close and they’re wonderful but I can’t rely on them all the time. I need my own community. My own network. I need my returned expats who understand what we are going through.
It’s weird being home in Ireland and feeling more foreign than I did in my third year living in Puerto Rico. In so many ways my heart aches for the sun, the beach, our friends and the people. Yet, my head knows that home is home and it’ll feel like home again. It just takes time. Like starting an expat assignment all over again.
You were placed on my chest the minute you were born. I instantly felt love like no other I had ever experienced before. I also felt utter shock that now I was responsible for this tiny little human and with that comes enormous responsibility.
I’ve watched you grow over the past four years and I see elements of both your daddy and me in you. You have my nervousness and need for reassurance and you have your daddy’s love of everything outdoors. I have so enjoyed being home with you over the past three years and taking care of all your needs – even if at times all I craved was an hour in bed and some hot coffee.
Now you have a little sister and she’s your favourite thing in the world. You shower her with kisses and cuddles, you sing to her when she’s crying and you’re always telling me how much you love her and how cute she is.
Michael, I hope you’ll always have that love for her and for every woman who crosses your path. As parents we feel responsible for all your actions and while I want you to always have respect for every person – male or female that crosses your path.. I want you to remember that there will be people in the world that will particularly try to get you to disrespect women and you need to be strong. You need to tell them that if they speak about a woman in a derogatory term that you won’t tolerate it. It’s not going to be easy but its important.
I’ll remind you of this regularly. I want you to grow to be a strong and independent man. One that will show respect for any partner in life, male or female. One that understands the importance of respect in a relationship and how you can only respect yourself by treating others how you would like to be treated yourself.
You’re growing up in a home that is safe and secure and your daddy and I want you to be true to yourself and not led along by boys that haven’t been afforded the same opportunity or who haven’t been taught the same lessons. Be yourself. I know you’re a kind boy and who will always look out for others. Remember that and you won’t be steered wrong in the world.
We knew it was coming. We came to Puerto Rico for two years and stayed for three. We always intended to leave in 2018. We discussed our options and made a decision and yet when it was final and flights were being booked it hit me like a train. The feeling that the adventure is over, the indipedence of travel and freedom that we have experienced over the past three years is coming to an end.
Our time here has far exceeded any expectations that we could ever have had. Surrounded by amazing friends, beautiful beaches and quality family time we have had such a great time. I couldn’t have asked for better and all good things must come to an end. Now, don’t get me wrong. Life has its challenges no matter where you live. The inconsistency in services here in Puerto Rico, the hours spent waiting for appointments, the dangerous driving etc have all been challenges. Never mind living through a category 5 hurricane last year. I’m a believer in life is what you make of it and while those things have been frustrating they didn’t really impact on our lives here. There’s always ways around it and I adjusted quickly.
So when faced with the decision of where we were going to go we had a decision of mainland US or home. Home won out for us. The job was more attractive for Robert and now having a three month old little girl who hasn’t yet gotten to meet her family in Ireland we realised the importance of being close to family.
We are going to live in Galway close to Rob’s family and we have rented a beautiful house on the beach front in Spiddal that will be a great starting base for our family back home. Rob is going to be travelling for a huge amount of the first year with his new job and that’s also going to be an adjustment.
When we came here we didn’t know anyone and it worked out great for us and we made wonderful friends. In fact, I really feel a close connection to my expat friends. Like we have all been on a journey and can laugh about experiences and like its a private joke that other people wouldn’t understand. I’m hoping that it’ll be easy in Galway to get to know people and to establish ourselves there with a community thats just as strong as the one we have had here.
I’m looking forward to finding a part of myself that I lost here. The part of me that worked outside the home. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do – study for while or return to part/full time work but it’s definitely something that I need to do for me. I’ve been home with my children for three years now which was never really in my plan. I certainly don’t regret the time that I’ve spent with them but I’ve missed having a professional working life and I can’t wait to drink hot coffee again!
So much change, so much to organise and so much to look forward to. Puerto Rico will forever have a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to return and bring Mary Kate back some day and show her where she was born.
We are just about recovered from our St. Patrick’s Day party last weekend. The night included an Irish whiskey tasting bar, an Irish twist on Puerto Rican canapes, mojitos, some green lights, a photo booth, shamrock cookies and a lot of laughs.
Already looking forward to 2018.
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?
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.
- 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!
- Bring back up batteries. You’ll need them for charging your phone and entertainment devices. Trust me!
- 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.
- In your hand luggage have at least one change of clothes for yourself and two for them. See point two.. You’ll need them!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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 ?
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?