A new sense of normal… but everything has changed.

It’s been two months. Time seems to have stood still. Some days have felt like a year and yet I can’t believe that it’s been two months since Maria devastated the island.

Progress has been made for the lucky ones. We had power restored last week and it has been the biggest blessing that I could hope for so close to the end of my pregnancy. It is sporadic and it does come and go but the generator is now our back up rather than the main source. We are in the lucky 25% of the island that have both power and water. If you go five minutes from my house you will encounter those that do not after such a long period.

So, we stayed. We have been on a rollercoaster. I could complain all day about the every day inconveniences – the long lines, the lack of fresh food, the terrible phone and internet service etc but no one wants to hear about that. They really are first world problems in comparison to what the rest of the island is feeling.

We have been helping where we can. A couple of weeks ago we decided to go out into the community and distribute what we could. We hired a chef who cooked Paella so we could give people a hot meal, we packed up donations of clothing, hygiene products, toys, bags of food, water and hired a nurse for the day so that we could provide medical assistance where needed. We had a supply of battery fans and solar lights for the sick and elderly and those with small kids. We went to a small town called Toa Baja just five minutes from Dorado.

What we saw was complete devastation. Debris had not been picked up, no running water in the town – they had had 10 feet of water flow through it the day of the hurricane. The people who came were grateful for the support that we were providing but it didn’t feel enough. Too little too late for most.

 

We visited some houses in the area that the people couldn’t come to the event to deliver supplies and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I know this is as a result of poverty rather than just Maria but where do you start to help? The people in these homes had nothing to start with and now they’ve lost the little that they had.

We continued our work over the past two weeks by trying to support a smaller number of families who had direct needs. One family of four here in Dorado that lost everything – we went and secured tarps to their house to help with the flooding when it rains, brought them food, hygiene supplies and clean bedlinen as well as fans, solar lights, chargers and other essentials. An 84 year old woman in Toa Baja living alone. She was the sweetest woman I’ve ever met. Kissing my baby bump and asking me to return so she could meet the baby. Her house isn’t safe for her to remain in but she won’t leave. We couldn’t go on the roof to help because it was not secure enough to hold anyone. I’m afraid that it will collapse on her. Don’t get me wrong, her house is not just in this condition because of Maria – this is extreme poverty and neglect. But it doesn’t seem enough to just leave her some essentials and check in every once in a while. What if that was your mother? It’s inhumane. And yet she was happy. I left her house feeling angry with the world that at this point in her life she has to struggle for every meal and has to live in such conditions. We have contacted a group to see if we can perhaps build something safer for her to live in on the property if she won’t leave.

I don’t know where we go from here. Baby is due in three weeks and I know that’s where my concentrations should be lying but I’m distracted by what I see around me. It’s been life altering here and seeing the extremes. We will continue to help where we can and hopefully can make difference to those that need help and support.

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 ?

 

Grief.. An update..

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 4.25.52 p.m.It’s over a year ago since I poured my heart out here about losing my mother to cancer the week after I became a mother for the first time myself. The original post can be found here. At that time I was merely putting one foot in front of the other and I wasn’t in a comfortable place. I couldn’t speak about her without crying, think about her without it taking my breath away or stop feeling envious of those around me that still had their parents.

It’s now been two years and six months since my mother passed away. Life has moved on. I miss her every single day. I think about her all the time. But it no longer consumes me like it did at that time. Putting one foot in front of the other means that slowly but surely you come back to yourself. Don’t get me wrong, life will never be the same again. But I’m more myself again. Losing a parent isn’t easy but it’s the natural course of life. It’s far more unnatural to bury a child. Thankfully I have never had to do that but people close to me have and it’s horrific.  The immense pain and grief that goes along with that is so traumatic and just not what any parent should have to experience. I’m now at a point in my life where I have accepted that burying a parent is part of the course. A hard part but a natural part all the same

I learned a lot from my mother. I watched her as she courageously fought a horrible disease and I seen the grace and dignity in which she dealt with it and her fate. I listened to hundreds of people who attended her wake and funeral and spoke about the lady that she was. The amazing qualities that she held were reiterated by her home care hospice nurse who knew Mammy from a few years back when Mammy helped to take care of a neighbour who was dying. No one asked her to do this but she was a wonderful, caring and giving person who left a lasting impression on people who came into her contact. I cherish these traits, the letters and cards that people wrote to us after her death and the wonderful things that people said. She was a lady. She was kind. She was strong and loving and fussed like a typical Irish mammy to no end. I can now think about these things without
breaking down and remember her fondly.

One of the things I lamented about her passing was not having her around when I had just become a mother. When I felt I needed her advice, reassurance and help the most. I know now that she had spent 28 years imparting everything
I needed to know already. She raised seven daughters and nothing was any problem to her. I’ve had the best role model that
I could have asked for and while I will miss her every day for a long time I will now in future smile when I think of the little things that she did that I now do for my son. She taught me to have compassion and to look after those around you. I will continue to do my best to remember that and hopefully I can pass on the same to Michael .

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when we lose someone that we love we don’t ever really get over it. We just get to a stage of acceptance where we can hopefully love everything about the time that we had with them and let our tears and anger go. There will always be a gap in our lives but because she’s not there I’ve spent more time with my dad and now I love and appreciate him even more for the gentleman that he is. I’ll cherish every minute that I have with him as we know that we don’t know what the future holds. Every day with your health is a blessing. This experience has taught me that. And for that I’m grateful.

If you still have your parents hug them and tell them you’re thankful for everything they have done. The sacrifices that every parent makes for their children aren’t always acknowledged but wouldn’t it be nice to say you did thank them when you still could? Appreciate everything they have done. Listen to their stories. Learn from their advice. You’ll miss is some day.

Making a plan..

A few months back I wrote about my personal experience as the trailing spouse and how it has left me feeling deflated about a return to work. I’ve lost confidence in my ability to be more than the care giver.. minding our son and ensuring that there’s shirts ironed and food in the fridge. You can see the original blogpost here….

For my own sanity I need to start getting back in the game and I’m putting on my big girl pants. I’m so afraid of putting myself out there to work again that I need to build up that confidence again. So I’ve started to make a plan…

First of all I’m starting a diploma in Digital Marketing. It will include social media marketing and SEO. I know most of this already but the refresher will do me the world of good. The changes in two years since I was in full time employment have been drastic too so I’m sure there’s something to be gained from this. It’s all distance online learning so it gives me the opportunity to work it around my schedule and Michael and still have time for the activities that we do here and my never ending battle in the gym to some day regain my pre mammy body!

Next on my list are online advanced courses in web and graphic design.. Again skills that I’ve used before but need a little updating. I’m hoping if I have time then before the summer that I may undertake something in photography and/or video editing.

Then when all this is done it will be time to put myself out there again and start using these skills. The plan will be to work from home and freelance but hopefully on long and short term projects. Essentially I would also like to produce a marketing toolkit – a how to guide with basic instructions and guidelines for small businesses. I don’t believe in social media experts and I see people being ripped off constantly so essentially I would like to make this guide available for training purposes and show people how they can do it themselves.

Lastly, I’ve always been passionate about volunteering and charity. I’m meeting with a volunteer from a local orphanage this week to discuss how I can get involved. I’ve committed to run a small fundraiser for them in the coming months as well as some other things in the pipeline. We already support a child in Uganda so I really want to be involved hands on as well as financially.

As scary as this is I need it for my sanity. I need to gain my personal and financial independence. I need to be more than the trailing spouse and I hope by the end of 2017 I will be a long way to doing this. And who said living in the sun was all about cocktails on the beach? Trust me… they’re nice too but I need to be more than just that!

Weekend escape to Paradise

This post has taken me forever to write so I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten loads already but in December, myself and the hubby and a couple of our friends here took a weekend to visit the Puerto Rican island of Culebra to celebrate Rob’s 30th birthday. He’s in the oldie group now!

It’s pretty close to the mainland but not easily accessible. There’s a ferry that runs daily from Fajardo but I’ve read so much about it being unreliable and not worth the hassle that we decided to fly. This was actually a great option. We flew with Vieques Air Link from Isla Grande which was so convenient. It was a small 8 passenger plane and scared the life out of me as a nervous flyer but it was an experience and fun too. It cost about $150 pp return and was so stress free. Except when instead of weighing our bags they weighed us individually at check in… If I had known that was happening I would have been dieting a bit more before hand!

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We rent a house called Villa Pelicano and to be honest I don’t have much good to say about it. It was over priced and just about adequate. The owner gave me a lot of grief for leaving a neutral review on trip advisor and made up random facts that never happened… for example when booking it he upped the price from the original quote and said it was due to demand. I said in my review that there was no one else staying at the villa so it couldn’t have been based on demand. He responded to the review stating that my husband had called him and upgraded us to a different apartment which is untrue! Anyway, if you come across this place maybe avoid for your own sanity. There are lots of nice accommodation options that are within walking distance to beach or the town and this villa isn’t in walking distance of anything. Think it was approximately $1,100 for two nights so much cheaper options available too.

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We rented a jeep for two days from Carlos’ Jeep Rental. Really convenient as they’re based in the airport. It’s mainly Jeep Wranglers available which is kind of cool to experience driving but if your accomodation is in the town then a golf buggy is also a good rental option to get around. The rental was $250 for two days.

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The morning we arrived we visited the highly popular Flamenco Beach. Here you will find lots of huts at the entrance with food and drink options. They only allow plastic glasses on the beach which is great and all in all it was really clean and sufficiently cared for. Lots of people swimming, enjoying themsleves and taking in the sun. It is consistently rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and I can see why.

We did some grocery shopping for supplies for the house and there is a really small store in the town and one at a petrol station just outside. Not a huge selection and priced the same as the mainland so if travelling by car on the Ferry I would recommend taking your supplies with you.

That night we dined in Zaco’s Tacos which was really nice. We then went to Dingy Dock for drinks and it was so cool seeing people arrive in their boats and dock up against the bar and go in for a drink. It’s a really small island so everything is pretty accessible.

The next morning we decided to visit Playa Brava. Slightly off the beaten track I would most definitely recommend this beach. It’s about a 20 minute hike through the woods but it’s worth it. There was a total of three other people on the beach when we arrived and they left soon afterwards so we had the entire place to ourselves. The waves were bigger here and the boys were keen to surf if equipment could have been rented on the island but it was very beautiful .

That night we ate in Dingy Dock and there was a wait for a table. The food was pretty average, drinks were good and the service was good but not worth the price tag on the food.

We really enjoyed getting off the mainland for the weekend. It’s a beautiful, scenic island and is probably close to what Puerto Rico was like 20 years ago. Rural and less spoiled. I was really taken back by the amount of Americans I met there that were working. Hearing there stories it seems like people fall in love with the island and end up staying! I can see why.

 

 

 

 

 

Guilt for grieving…

I’m beginning to think that maybe this blog should be titled highs and lows of being a parent rather than expat life. I feel like once you have kids you can never make your own decision again based on what you or your partner want – everything revolves around the boy. Your mindset and thinking changes completely and in so many ways you understand your own parents and their decisions better.

I’ve written about the loss of my mum before here and I don’t want to be a broken record. I don’t know if it was because I gave birth two weeks before she passed or if I would feel the same way if Michael had been older but my grieving seems to be taking longer than I expected. She will be two years gone in August and I still miss her desperately at times.

 

It will hit me out of nowhere. I will just be driving down the street or doing my grocery shopping and something will trigger it. A song, a smell, an item of food and I will struggle to catch my breath. There’s a lump at the back of my throat that I can’t swallow and my legs go weak. It seems silly – death is something that everybody experiences. I feel like I should be able to control the situation better, deal with things in a more mindful way and focus on the positives. But the truth is, I miss her. I feel like I need her more than ever now that I’m a Mom. I feel hard done by at times and envious of those that still have their parents for advice. So many times I want to pick up the phone to call her and ask about a cough or a fever, how to get him to eat, tell her his new words and the funny stories. It makes me sad to think about everything that he will miss out on by not ever having her in his life. I know I’m blessed that she hung on to life to meet him and held him as he was baptised but when I close my image that mental image doesn’t always bring me to the best place. Even telling her I was pregnant makes me swallow hard when I recall it. Her tears. The realisation that she probably wasn’t going to be around for this grandchild. Her happiness that this has happened for myself and Rob and that anxiety over our ability to have children could be put to rest for the time being. It can at times just bring a sadness to my heart and mind that makes it difficult to lift.

I’ve had to grief before. I thought I knew what it meant. It looks like this time its harder and longer because I’m now a mother myself. I love my little boy more than anything, he brings unbelievable joy to my life. I love how when I pick him up in the morning and he says “Mammy,”at the top of his lungs excitedly and leans in to hug me and blow me a kiss before escaping out of my arms to run for his toys. I’m happy. I just never realised how missing someone so much can overshadow the greatest happiness I’ve ever  experienced.

 

Being the trailing spouse….

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I had never heard the expression trailing spouse until this time last year. It’s a phrase I’ve heard over and over again. It refers to the non expat spouse – the one who trails behind with the kids while the expat is one who works. I’ve learnt that trailing means you’re the one that’s usually left to pick up the bits and pieces and organise your lives in both countries – the one you’ve left behind and the one you’re trying to make home.

In most cases and which was true in ours there isn’t really a transition period to settle in before the working spouse starts their new job. In Ireland both of us finished work on a Friday, flew out the Saturday morning, arrived in the middle of the night and Rob started his new job on the Monday. I unpacked the suitcases and boxes and looked after the child. I do understand that this is my role in this journey, to be the home maker per say – but I feel there isn’t enough consideration given to this role when people talk about expat life in general.

The working spouse usually works long hours and this has at times left me lonely with a child and missing my husband. I miss having a purpose outside the home and my own career. I do get to spend so much precious time with our son and we have been unbelievably blessed with the friends that we have made here that it is easier than if we were secluded but being the trailing spouse has also made me an irrational human being.

I read a piece on this recently where it described the trailing spouse as a character ready to blow at the minute. It was a comedy piece but it’s scarily accurate also. Consistency isn’t Puerto Rico’s strong point and at times it can be excruciatingly difficult to do simple things. The irrational trailing spouse blames the working spouse; it’s their fault as they’re the reason that you’re here in the first place. You’ve given up your friends, family and job for them and in that moment of complete despair where you’re thinking how much easier this would be at home you blame them. My poor hubby has been on the recieving end of irrational trailing spouse more than once and I’m surprised at times that he hasn’t booked me a one way ticket home just to shut me up!

I have to keep reminding myself that this is a beautiful island, that my role in our lives here is appreciated, that this is time with my son that money simply can’t buy and that eventually when I go back to work that my career will fall into place and I won’t have to start at the bottom of the ladder again. The irrational trailing spouse in me then counter offers with the fact that we don’t know how long we will be here or where we may possibly end up next and who knows when it will be possible for me to go back to work. And that whenever the move does happen that I will probably be organising it with very little help.  I’ll never regret this time.. I know that for sure…. But it’s not always fun in the sun.