ahhh, the life of a diplomatic princess . . .

Archive for the category “Kids”

My “I’m so Damn Sick of Deer Hunting Season” post ~climbing off my soap box now~

Since I am a Minneapolis native I, of course, have a lot of FB friends and family in Minnesota, and, as much as I love them, I dread my news feed during hunting season. Not to say they’re all hunters, the majority aren’t, but there’s a chunk in there and I do a fair amount of cringing and quickly scrolling over certain posts. Because seeing all the “rah rah hunting!” stuff makes me equal parts sad and pissed off.

I think I’ve just seen one too many smiling faces over dead deer over the past few days and I’ve got a question–why? What joy is found in killing a living creature? I just don’t get it. And some of the people I know who hunt are otherwise incredibly kind and compassionate people. I get that there are people who see a hierarchy on this earth–with humans on the top (by the way, we’re doing a pretty shit job of being alpha, IMO). Even so, why? We know, beyond a doubt, that the animals who are hunted feel pain, terror, joy, a desire to live. So why cause that kind of suffering? This is head scratching for me, I simply do not understand.

Even more, I don’t understand encouraging children to hunt and kill. Why? A lesson we’ve taught our kids is that every life matters, down to the smallest. I’ve seen them carefully pluck worms off a hot sidewalk and deposit them on cool grass, rescue snails from the street, shoo a spider outside (or, in our daughter’s case for many years, run screaming for someone else to shoo a spider outside and, ahem, I don’t know where she learned that habit from). When our oldest was five (maybe six) and we were living in Guinea, he saw classmates throwing stones at some stray kittens on the edge of their school playground and he yelled at them to stop, but they didn’t. So he marched himself over to the office of the director of the school and told him what was going on, the director put a stop to it. I was proud of him, not only for doing the compassionate and kind thing but for going up against his peers in order to do it. I can’t imagine telling my kids that we were going to go out and kill an animal for fun. To find joy in intentionally ending a life? Why? I keep asking it because I just don’t understand. Part of me wishes that I did because maybe then I wouldn’t be so angry about it, part of me is happy that I don’t because, ultimately, I think it’s something that probably cannot really be rationalized. I know all the “reasons” for hunting–spending time in nature (you can do that without killing anyone), food (you can buy that and you don’t even really need to make one of those purchases meat, and let’s not get in to the subject of slaughterhouses), spending time with family (ditto to reason #1), keeping deer population down (a healthy and balanced ecosystem could go a long way to doing that). I’ve heard all the “reasons” but what they sound like are excuses because they’re all, really, false fronts since none of them actually requires killing animals.

One of the people in my life who has always been against hunting, and who helped to form the way I think about animals, is my grandfather, my Da, who was a veteran of both WWII and Korea. For Da, harming an animal was unthinkable. And this was a man who was raised in the South, who spent a nice chunk of time in foster care with a farmer who was very cruel to him. Had he wanted to he could have found a pretty solid list of “reasons” for why hunting and killing animals is acceptable–instead he went in the opposite direction. I’m sure a lot of it is because, having seen so much death and blood in combat, the thought of intentionally taking a life, of intentionally causing pain and suffering, was repulsive to him. It’s not something you do for fun, it’s something you do as a last resort when all other options are gone and life hangs in the balance, even then there is no joy to be found in it. In our family we file Da’s feelings about hunting in our “Why Da is a Hero” file. The thought of one of my children intentionally harming an animal, and finding joy in it, turns my stomach. So, why? Why is this something that is taught to children? Why is it seen as acceptable? Why does it bring joy? And I’m not asking this question so I can scream someone down, I just don’t understand because when I see pictures like this:

12-year old hunting

it makes me ill. I can’t imagine teaching my child to find joy in killing. So, why?

The Poetic Nomad: a Flash of Light, a Gift from My Daughter

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

Those words are from a poem that our eleven year old daughter wrote last night for her English class. I think I’ve read it fifty times, the first few times my eyes filled with tears. I’ve been worried about her since we moved here, leaving SEAS, our beloved school in San Jose, was painful, is painful. In SEAS, she was on firm ground. There, she knew everyone, was friends with everyone, adored her teachers, and felt safe and loved. Here, everything is new, it doesn’t feel safe yet, and we’ve had more than a few tear filled conversations that consist of her telling me how much she hates it here and how she just wants to go back. “Please, mommy, can’t we just go back?” On the surface I am steadfast, under it my heart aches for her and wishes I could whisk her off to the place she wants to be.

It is trying to move to a new country, to settle into a new school, to make friends, get to know your teachers, get a new routine down. And she has started middle school, which is a substantial transition in and of itself. She’s straddling two worlds right now–one where she is still a kid and one where she is becoming a young adult, she would prefer to have her feet firmly planted in the place where she is still a kid. She was telling me that part of the difficulty she is having is because “all the girls in my grade act like they’re so grown up! But they’re really just kids! I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in fifth grade, I just want to be a kid!” Yes, be a kid, kid. Please, stay a kid for as long as you can, don’t be in a rush to grow up, this is best for you. But I gently remind her that everyone is different and that those girls are just trying to figure out who they are, we do that by exploring, putting on different masks, trying on different personas. It’s a normal part of growing up, and it exasperates her. She knows who she is, she knows what she likes, she just wants to be Aisleen.

And Aisleen is disorganized, which she comes by honestly–ahem. We’ve been working on different ways to help both of us be more organized, some things are working and that is a relief. But the lack of organization has meant some assignments were not being done or, if done, not being turned in. Which compounded her frustrations and grief, it’s hard enough to do everything she is doing but when you feel like you’re moving backwards frustrations loom larger.

Up until last night Aisleen had yet to truly be sparked by anything at school, but, last night, she sat at the computer and wrote enthusiastically, thinking out loud about words she could use, asking us for meanings and context, and I was thrilled! She loves to learn, she loves the challenge of school, she loves to delve into projects that engage her and help her grow. She had two assignments to finish, one was a poem imagining herself as a willow tree, and one was to write a diary entry from the perspective of a character in a book the class had just read.

When she finished the poem she first showed it to Eric, I could tell from his reaction that it was a special piece of writing. She handed it to me and I read, curled up on our sofa, the incense I had lit drifting past my nose, my glass of wine untouched as I sat completely entranced by her poem. My eyes filled with tears, I read it a second time, then a third. Then I placed the paper in my lap, looked up at my magnificent daughter, and said “wow.” She smiled and replied “did you like it?” I looked at her with complete astonishment and told her it was an incredible piece. Just, wow. Her smile grew larger before she went back to writing her diary entry. Eric and I looked at each other with disbelief on our faces. We have always known she is creatively gifted, she’s been weaving stories since we was old enough to talk, and then to write. She has notebooks full of characters that live in lands she has invented, their lives are rich and adventurous. This poem, and the diary entry that followed, showed us that she is coming into her own.

I Am, by Aisleen

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I wonder if I will be able to graze with the buffalo that live on the plains

I hear the morning birds sing their sweet, calming song

I see the butterflies fluttering around the field of grass that surrounds me

I want to be free like the animals that sleep at my roots during the cold, harsh winter nights

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I pretend to be free with the deer, the grass tickling my feet every step

I feel as if I will leave one day, never to return to the soil that keeps me from my dreams

I touch the wind that hits my face as a gust of wind floods over the farm

I worry that my beliefs of being free with the world will never come true

I cry when I think about being cut down, the advantage of leaving, never coming to be

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

I understand that wishes will not always come true

I say that if you believe in it, it will happen

I dream of lifting my roots, walking away from the damp soil that keeps me down

I try to make the dream come true, walking, flying, adventuring with the animals

I hope that I can explore the world, see the countries many miles from where I stand

I am as vast as the distance between galaxies, and as tall as the sky on clear summer days

Every parent has doubts; we doubt the disciplines we use, we worry if we shower them with too much praise or too little, we have those nagging thoughts tinkering in the back of our minds–are we doing right by our kids? What if we aren’t? What path are we setting them on? When you are the parent of nomads there is an additional layer of doubt–am I asking too much of them? Should we call an end to this and settle down? Which way is right for them? And then there are those flashes that tell you, yes, they are okay, more than okay, they are thriving, and those flashes are gifts. For me, this poem is one of those flashes. In it I see a girl who is wise beyond her years, a girl with roots who recognizes that there is much more to this world than what is outside her bedroom window, so much beauty to soak in, and she recognizes that the journey she is on is full of endless possibilities. I feel abundantly blessed that I will witness her walk her path and whether she becomes a writer, a teacher, a veterinarian, or a stay at home mom she is bound for greatness and her spirit, full of grace and recognizing no boundaries, will not settle for less.

Gramps: By Aisleen

I miss my Gooseberry. I miss the smell of her every night in bed, and how her sweet voice whispered in my ear telling me how much she loved me. She had the most angelic voice. Her words on our marriage day, “I do” echo around my head. Her pale, wrinkled skin, how my fingers felt when I touched it, I felt like if you offered me to stand there and touch her arm forever, I would accept it in a heartbeat. Her grey hair, oh how it shined all day, it would reflect of the sunlight, and would glisten in the brightness of the moon. Her smell was indescribable, how it would dance through my nostrils. I can still smell it in our marriage bed, in the pillow, in her suitcase. I could smell it whenever I went to her grave. Her eyes, oh how I miss them. Her beautiful eyes would sparkle whenever she looked at me, I could see my reflection, as if they were a stream in an evergreen forest. When we kissed, I could taste her cherry lip-gloss, I would hate to admit, but I put it on at night to make me feel like she is there with me, in bed, her arms wrapped around me. Oh, how I want to have her back with me, enjoying the pleasant breeze on the farm, the sun shining down on us.

I have a new dog named Huzza-Huzza. I named his after Gooseberry. Huzza-Huzza and I sit in the back of the car while my Chickabiddy drives around the fields. Driving over bumps, grass, and dirt. As I sit in the back I pet Huzza-Huzza, his short, silky fur under my fingers as I smoke my pipe. It reminds me of the trip Gooseberry , Chickabiddy, and I took, around the United States when we went to visit Chickabiddy’s mom. Sadly, I could not see her grave, since I had to stay back with Gooseberry.

Chickabiddy’s friends are coming over to stay with us for a little while. I have heard so much about them. They sound like magnificent friends to Salamanca. I have been staying up at night because of the delight. Ben sounds like a wonderful, smart boy, and how I am so happy that he and Salamanca are together, and Phoebe sounds like a blast, her life sounds like a roller coaster, excitement, hilarity, sadness, thoughtfulness, uncertainty, anger, but I shall stop with that for if I kept going it would be as long as a ray of sunshine coming from the rising sun reflecting on a beach. Apparently, her English teacher might also be coming. It warms my heart to see my Chickabiddy ricocheting off the walls of the house. Oh how I wish my Gooseberry could be here for such an exhilarating time.

My Top 10 List of the Merits of Growing Up Global

I was messaging with one of my dearest friends the other night, an American woman who lives in Costa Rica, and she asked if I’d ever written a blog about the advantages of growing up global. Which I haven’t, and which I thought was a fantastic idea (thank you, M!), so this will be my list. I’d like to preface it by saying my point is not at all that growing up global is superior to growing up local, I could just as easily write a list of the merits of growing up in one place but that’s not our life so, write about what you know, right?

1: So many possibilities for a layered sense of empathy and compassion: By layered I mean talking to them about empathy and compassion, and then immersing them in situations where these things are called for, drives the lessons home hard. I think of the posts we’ve had in countries with a lot of poverty as empathy immersion school, unless you shelter children from what is around them (and that’s not a choice we make) it becomes very real for them what living in poverty really means.

When we lived in Guinea our oldest played street soccer with the neighborhood children and, in our neighborhood, that meant children who lived in shacks and wore tattered flip flops. Liam knew the children he played with lived a very different life from him, he knew their toys were made from recycled rubbish, he knew food was often scarce, he knew their chances of getting sick were far greater than his. So when we were living in Dublin and preparing for his eighth birthday I asked him “what would you think about having your friends bring presents for Guinean children instead of for you?” and he answered “momma, I have so much and they have so little, I don’t need more” so that’s what happened. The look on his face when we boxed everything up and sent it off to a friend to distribute, was priceless–he took such joy and satisfaction in what he and his friends had done, and he knew in a very tangible way the differences these gifts would make.

2: A concrete understanding that the world is a diverse place: It’s hard to live in so many different countries as a child and not know that our world is vast, and has so much incredible and beautiful diversity. Kids growing up global have endless opportunities to experience different languages, cultures, accents, art, music, history, food, religion, and so much more. And, honestly, it makes my job as a parent ten times easier because all I have to do to teach them this stuff is take their hands and walk out the front door so bonus for me.

3: Extra chances to commune with, and gain respect for, our natural world: From the forest regions of Guinea, to the Mediterranean beauty of Malta, the eerie peacefulness of an Irish bog, the serenity of Lake Superior in the Summer, and the wonders of the Costa Rican cloud forest, our kids have had so many chances because of our nomadic lives to experience the natural world. I think it’s sometimes easy to get disconnected from nature, no matter where you live, and being able to take our kids to so many different places has been a gift for them and for us and, I believe, has helped to nurture the respect and love they have for our planet.

4: Extra chances to go to important historical sites: It’s hard to not experience history firsthand when you’re in a country that is steeped in it. A prime example of this for us is when we took the kids to Rome. We spent a week wandering the city, in absolute awe. Our kids, who all love history, were totally blown away by the fact that they were walking in ancient footsteps. At one point we visited a church which was built on top of an older church, which was built on top of an even older church, which was built on top of ancient streets. We wandered down, down, down beneath the the city, until we reached the bottom and were walking through what had been houses in Ancient Rome. There was still a spring-fed aqueduct that ran through the houses, supplying them all with crisp, fresh water. We stood back as our children approached the water, their faces full of wonder, we watched as they slowly immersed their hands, squealing and exclaiming with delight, knowing they were touching history. Now that we’re in Maya country we already have trips to Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico on the burners, I think our kids are going to pop from excitement when they see those ruins.

5: If you’re very lucky, and we were, you’ll get a chance to introduce your kids to their own roots, for us, this was Ireland: One of the challenges of raising nomads is helping them understand that being nomadic doesn’t mean being rootless, and this is something we’ve worked really hard on. This came ten times more easily to us when we drove to Belmullet in County Mayo, where my family is from and where we still have cousins. One of the things we did was all load into the car with my cousin Joe, who is my grandmother’s first cousin. We drove slowly along the wild Atlantic coast, stopping in front of a traditional cottage that had long ago been turned into an outbuilding. Joe told us what it was, I turned to the children, saying “kids, this is where your great-great grandmother was born and raised” and their collective response was “whoa!” We went back to Mayo many times, most recently on a trip from Costa Rica, and each time we go we bring flowers to the graves of their great-great-great grandparents, which is pretty cool. For me to be able to say to our kids “this is it, kiddos, this is where your roots first took hold, this is the land that is inside of you” and for them to be able to bend down, rake their fingers through the sand, walk the land their great-great grandparents, and their parents, and beyond, walked, is nothing short of incredible.

6: Understand that just because a friend is far away doesn’t mean the friendship is over: It’s tough, like really tough, to leave behind friends and family you love or to be the one left behind, the emotional roller coaster ride when dealing with this grief can be nasty. But, at the end of the day, our kids have learned that friendships are not finite, and they do not begin and end with geography.

7: A different way of understanding one’s place in the world: In other words, teaching the lesson “tiny fish, meet endless ocean” is pretty simple to do when kids see just how big our world is. Though they know they are the center of my life, and their father’s life, they are learning that they are not the center of the rest of the world.

8: Developing a very diverse social circle: We have friends spread to the four corners of the earth, American and locals, and we learn so much from their diversity–beyond when Liam proudly announced that he could swear fluently in at least four different languages. From Europe to The Middle East and beyond we love all the perspectives our friends bring to us, and those perspectives only drive home for our kids the vastness of this world.

9: A deep and lasting appreciation of home: The last time we were in DC, which has become home for us in a lot of ways, Liam said to me something along the lines of, yea, all the changes and traveling and moving is tough and jarring but if he didn’t do it then he doesn’t think he would have the same appreciation of his beautiful home country. The kids don’t take the US for granted, they love it and appreciate it in a way that, I think, is different (not better, just different) than someone who has lived there for their entire lives. My kids may not recite the pledge of allegiance, and the only time they sing the national anthem is when we’re at a baseball game in the US, but they are fiercely loyal to their country and bringing them home always feels to them like wrapping them in a warm, fuzzy blanket. And I know that all the insights and experiences they’ve had during their nomadic lives gives them gifts that they will pass on to the US, their perspectives and world views are out of the ordinary and, I think, valuable to our country.

10: Resiliency, because any parent raising nomadic children will tell you teaching those lessons I just wrote about is nearly impossible without it: All this change and flux and transition and starting over requires one thing, resiliency. I have seen my kids move to so many places, take a deep breath, hold their nose, and jump. Or, sometimes, dip a toe in, stand back with folded arms, and sit down to think for a while. No matter how it starts it always ends the same way–two feet planted firmly on the ground. Sometimes there’s adversity, sometimes it’s smooth as glass, but they are always pliable and resilient and I am a proud momma.

This life is full of choices, our choice has been to live as nomads with portable roots, each step we take forward is a conscience decision to continue on this path. And, for now, that’s what we’re doing. So, onward, my little nomads, there is more adventure on the horizon …

Saying See You Later, this is the part that really sucks

I should be sorting and organizing but I need to write this, my heart is aching for my children and I have to acknowledge that in words.

Last night we were having dinner, eating, chatting, each child trying to get their voices heard. Our daughter, who is ten, had had a very long day, she’d gone straight from school to the vet clinic where she volunteers and she’d assisted in several surgeries, she was tired but also her normal silly and sassy self. About halfway through dinner, seemingly out of the blue, she looked at me and very quietly said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I saw tears in her eyes, she looked down and wiped her eyes with her shirt, kept her head bowed for a moment, took a deep breath and let the pain pass. I told her I understood, I didn’t really want to leave either, that I was sorry. I felt completely helpless when faced with her grief. I knew she was thinking of our vet, who has become a good friend to all of us, I knew she didn’t want to leave Anna and her clinic.

On the way to school this morning our youngest, who is seven, said “mom, I don’t want to leave Costa Rica.” I asked him why and he said “because my two best friends are here! I want to stay with them.” Of course he does. The kids and I talked about how it’s so hard to say goodbye. We talked about how, when you live a nomadic life, you learn what is really and truly important to you in a different way than when you don’t move all the time. Bad roads? Too much traffic? Electricity that goes off? Internet that magically disappears? Frustrating laws? Honestly, we learn none of that is truly important. It can all be frustrating in day to day life, and there are days when those problems feel huge, but when we are so close to leaving and saying goodbye to people that we love, we see what is truly important to us–family, friends, love.

So this is the part that sucks. When faced with this pain my children feel I am often clueless how best to comfort them. Hold them. Listen to them. Talk with them. I can do all that, but I can’t make it go away. This is going to be a pretty difficult grieving process and we’re all just going to have to move through it.

I try not to think about my own grief, I try not to think about leaving people that I love. It’s so important to make friends, especially when you’re nomadic and don’t have your family near by, your friends become your family. My friends here have become such an integral part of my life, woven so deeply into my happiness. They’re always there for us in a pinch, always there to listen to me, to laugh with me, to help guide me, and they’re just really, really good people. My closest friend here is someone I see almost every day, I’ve grown to rely on her smile as a way to start my morning, thinking of letting go of such a simple thing is tough. I was at her house the other night, we were chatting with another friend of ours (who is also moving this summer) when she started getting tears in her eyes. It’s inevitable that when she tears up I tear up, and I hate crying in public, so I pointed at her and said “don’t start with me, woman!” and our other friend said “there’s no crying in baseball!” which made us all laugh. Tears were still there though and she said “it’s just that you’re my peeps and I know as long as you’re both here everything is okay.” Two of us are moving this summer, one of us is staying. It pretty much sucks. These women are the mothers of my youngest child’s two best friends, all of our children have a tough road ahead of them.

I am not whining, I’m not complaining, I’m not even having a pity party (yet). But the weeks leading up to each time we move are always some of our toughest and the ones that make me ask questions; are we doing the right things for our kids, would they be happier if we just stayed in one place, are we expecting too much from them emotionally? We’re almost to the tenth anniversary of joining the Foreign Service and I still don’t have the answers to those questions. They’re fantastic kids, they’re healthy, happy, kind, smart, and so much fun to be around. So I guess they’re okay. But how do I best help them say goodbye to people they couldn’t love more if they were blood? I simply do not know.

I’ve spent months trying not to think about saying goodbye but it’s close enough now that it’s not dwelling as much as preparing. I guess what we’ll all have to do is focus on the positive side of all of this, if we hadn’t made such amazing friends we wouldn’t be going through this, the pain is a testament to the power of our friendships. We’re letting ourselves live and love. My closest friend here and I decided this is our theme song, I think it sums this crazy, nomadic life up nicely …

This is Your Brain on Post-Packout Panic …

I woke up at three this morning, suddenly seized by panic at the thought of everything I need to get done in the seven weeks leading up to our move. Where the hell did the time go? How is it this close already? I managed to fall back asleep sometime around 5:30, and then wake back up a bit before seven. The DH, sweet as ever, said “go back to sleep, I’ll get the kids to school.” Sigh … too much to do. I’m not entirely lucid right now and I’m only just starting my first cup of coffee so I can’t guarantee this post will make a whole lot of sense. There are a million things I need to do but if I don’t get some of these thoughts out of my head they’ll still be there at three am tomorrow. Well, they’ll be there anyway but I’m hoping to weaken them.

When my brain made it quite clear, somewhere around four, that it would be damned if it was going to let me sleep I decided to preoccupy it. I eventually stumbled upon a very funny blog post from another FS mom who is also in the middle of pre-packout panic, in my FB feed, and there I lay, in bed at half four in the morning with our youngest next to me snoring away, reading it and giggling. I love our life, I love it as much as I could possibly love a life, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some seriously stress-inducing, hair-pulling, ohmygodI’mgoingtobeatmyheadagainstawall, moments. At this point I just have to keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, because I have this monster looming behind me and his speed is better than mine. I feel like the woman in the original Evil Dead movie who is racing through the woods in her robe and slippers while the evil force tears after her. Just keep going, one foot in front of the other and, for the love of god, don’t look back! When you look back you let your guard down, everyone knows that, and then the evil force will get you! It’s like my favorite line from my favorite running app, Zombies, Run!, “Don’t look back! Just run!” Only the move is a lot less fun than running from imaginary zombies. And I pretty much feel like this is where I’m headed …

Freaky, right? Totally freaky. And nuts. Which is how I increasingly feel as the move comes closer. Eventually, you’ll find me sitting on the floor, huddled tightly in a corner, moving between maniacal laughter and quiet tears, the only sound you’ll hear is the “plip, plop!” of tears hitting merlot.

Here is the BIG dilemma, the one I face with every move– how do I live three lives at once? I have present day life, which is a wonderful and full life with friends, my running (this is therapy, it cannot be sacrificed), volunteering at my kid’s school, trying to squeeze in a few more weekends at spots we still want to see, keeping in touch with friends and family back home, keeping up with all the day to day responsibilities of life. And then there is packout/moving life where I have to sort through an entire household of stuff to determine what gets tossed and what comes with us. And if it comes with us do I put it in our air freight or do I put it in HHE (House Hold Effects–this arrives much more slowly than the air freight), or do we drive it to Honduras when we (knock on wood) drive our animals there to set them up in the new house before we leave for the US for six weeks? And how do I organize it all so it doesn’t get mixed up? I am not the most organized person in the world, and I have a very tenuous hold on the concept of “attention span.” I’m the person who will sit down, telling myself I will focus and, fifteen minutes later … Oh! Shiny! So I’m thinking what I’m going to need to do is turn off the internet during the day so I can’t get distracted by facebook, email, or quizzes about what kind of seltzer water I am. Because between the house, the stuff that has to happen for our medical clearances, the paperwork, and all the eight billion things my DH has to to on his end well, see the above video.  I swear, I have opened the seven year old’s closet a half dozen times this week, gazed at the vast amounts of crap, sighed, and quietly shut the door. “Closet, you have defeated me, once again. Fuck you, closet, just, fuck you.” Yes, I am firmly in the place where I am actively and frequently muttering swear words at inanimate objects and household space.

The third life I’m living is future life. This is co-coordinating with my DH what we need to do for our new adventure in Honduras–the house, the logistics of moving our animals, going over info for different schools, figuring out what we need for life in Honduras, putting out feelers to see if we can do the activities we love, trying to find activities for the kids– I feel like I have one foot in the present, one foot in the packout, and one foot in the future. Except I only have two feet. This is a problem.

So I make lists, master lists and sub-lists, and I plot and I plan and life gets in the way and the move prep gets put on a hold for a day and I inch ever closer to madness. And have I mentioned we have two foster animals we’ve been trying to find homes for? A one-eyed cat and a four pound dog. Both very sweet and wonderful, and adorable! See for yourself …

Mooshie 008


Aren’t they fantastic? Wouldn’t you like one? No? Okay. Sigh …

So, here’s my final question to anyone reading this, and this is an incredibly important question so please take it seriously. Is it acceptable to have a glass of wine at three in the afternoon in order to help me tackle that evil closet? And every evil thing I need to tackle after it? Because, three kids, three closets. And our daughter has two closets. So I’m thinking two glasses of wine when I do her closets. That’s acceptable, right? Please? And please don’t tell me that they should organize and sort their own closets because then I’d have to smack you, and that would be ugly. I will co-sort with them but, ultimately, as I just reminded them this morning, “this is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship and I AM THE QUEEN!” to which our oldest helpfully responded “that would be a monarchy, Mom.” Somebody pass the wine, please …

A Letter to Our Nomadic Children: 10 Things I Hope We’re Teaching You

Our time in Costa Rica is coming to a close and we’re headed for Honduras this Summer, which means, according to the map below, we’re moving from the country that does happiness the best to the country that rocks homicides. Awesome!

what each country leads the world in

We’ve all got a lot of feelings bouncing around right now–excitement, nervousness, curiosity, anxiety, grief. I’ve enjoyed Costa Rica more than I thought I would, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the lifestyle we’ve chosen and about raising kids in that lifestyle. Lately I’ve been thinking of some things I’m hoping our kids are soaking in, both about being nomads and just about life in general. The challenges that we face as nomads are some of our most important teaching tools, that’s something I’m trying to remind myself of more often. I think the move has gotten me thinking of some of the lessons that are most important to me. So I’ve decided to sit down and write a letter to our three amazing nomads …

Dear Liam, Aisleen, and Riley

1. Try your best to go into your new host country with an open mind, let it be what it is, find out what that is as time goes on. I don’t have to tell you that moving is tough, and it’s even tougher when you’re leaving a country you love because you’ve had so much fun and so many cool experiences and you love your house and your friends and your teachers and leaving all that? Ick. Leaving Ireland was painful for all of us and we learned it’s hard to be open to a new country when it feels like half of you is still in the country you’ve come to love and call home. Remember that first trip we took to downtown San Jose? We caught the bus by our house and rode it to the end of the line, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of our host country. I was kind of excited to find out there was a pedestrian street downtown, I had in my mind Grafton Street and Henry Street in Dublin–tree lined, peppered with beautiful statues, shops, flowers, buskers, hustle and bustle. I thought of Temple Bar, on the edge of the river Liffy, with it’s ancient cobblestone pedestrian streets, or of the many little offshoots of the three, like this charming narrow mews …


But, of course, that’s not what we found. Because it was San Jose and not Dublin. I had this ideal in my head of what a pedestrian street looked like and, because the one in San Jose didn’t live up to that ideal, I was pretty let down. I don’t know if you guys know but when we got home I cried. Now, I wasn’t really crying just because the street in SJ wasn’t my cup of tea, I was crying because my expectations had been dashed and, really, I just missed Dublin. I’ve learned, though, over the past two years, that expectations can sometimes be pretty harmful and it’s better to just accept a country for what it is. Which leads me to the next thing I hope you guys are learning …

2. Do not compare your host country to other countries, especially the ones you love the most. Boy was I bad about this when we moved here, and I’m sorry because I know that wore off on the three of you, I find myself still doing it occasionally (though, hopefully, mostly in my head). It accomplishes nothing and only leads to feeling resentful towards the country that will never live up to the favorite–which really isn’t fair to the country or to your happiness. So, kids, be fair to yourselves and to your present home, only in doing that will you find joy.

3. Be open to the unique gifts each country can give you. Every country, even the toughest to live in, has gifts to give and if you’re not open to receiving them you’ll never know what they are. All those hours we’ve spent body boarding in Jaco, the monkeys that have shaken trees around us, special people we’ve met, hikes we’ve taken in the rainforest at night with fireflies lighting up the night and sloths sleeping over our heads (and who knew hummingbird butts were so darn cute!) and so much more! Liam, you’re on a first name basis with an enormous crocodile! Aisleen, you spend hours every week helping to take care of animals who need you desperately. Riley, you have become a master tarantula spotter. Me? I got attacked by spider monkeys. They didn’t kill me, I’d call that a gift, and I got a great story out of it! These are all gifts, and incredible ones at that, so remember to be open to receiving!

4. Try to find something beautiful in your host country every single day. Keep your senses open, be conscious of the world around you. Take a moment to sit in the grass and watch the butterflies, stop on the hill in front of our house and close your eyes to feel the warm breeze on your face, hug a friend or a teacher, watch hummingbirds play–just allow yourself to do something to remember what a beautiful and interesting country you live in.

5. Find the humor in the eccentricities. It’s so easy to get frustrated when things don’t work properly (like the eight billionth time the internet goes out or when we lose power), or when you’re dealing with an infrastructure that could use some help, or the fact that there are too many cars for the roads; it’s perfectly understandable and okay to be frustrated by those kinds of things, they’re frustrating! But try, also, to see the humor in them. A tree branch stuck in a pothole that is big enough to swallow an elephant (the Costa Rican sign for “Warning! Major pothole!”)? That can either lead you to roll your eyes and cluck your tongue or it can make you laugh and recognize the world is a funny, wacky place and, sometimes, you just have to laugh, either because it’s actually funny or because, if you don’t, you’ll beat your head against the wall–doesn’t matter the reason, just do it. I promise it will always make you feel better!

6. As your dad and I tell you, you represent America, this is an honor so remember to be a positive example of our country to our host country. All three of you have been amazing at this, I am beyond proud of you for being aware that people will judge our country, and the people in it, based on your behavior. It’s not entirely fair but it is the reality of the situation. Keep up the good work!

7. Find a way to give back to your host country by volunteering or helping out in some way. It’s always good to bring more kindness and compassion to the world by giving the gifts each of you has to offer and I know you’ve all enjoyed doing this! I am so proud of your compassion and kindness and your willingness to share those things!

8. Living in a foreign country isn’t always easy, and it’s rarely simple, but people who don’t live the kind of life we live don’t always realize that. So when people look at you cross-eyed if you are venting a frustration, or talking about how you didn’t get enough sleep because the bar next door was so loud and the roosters kicked in right when it quieted down, or your morning was tough because we got caught in a monster traffic jam that turned the roads into a parking lot, try to remember that not everyone understands the unique challenges that go along with living overseas. You live in “paradise,” after all, so what the heck do you have to complain about? Everyone has bad days, and it’s okay to vent about them (necessary, even, because it’s a way to get it all out of your system so you can move on), whether you live in Costa Rica or Ireland or the US bad days will happen. Every post has its challenges and you know that creating a life in “paradise” is a lot different than taking a holiday there. So don’t take it personally if people don’t understand, or if they belittle your experiences because they don’t think you should be complaining when you live in “paradise,” just remember they have different life experiences. I encourage you to seek out people who understand your lifestyle and vent to them–they’ll get it and that’s all you’re asking. And don’t ever be hard on yourself for being frustrated or upset, it’s just part of being human.

9. Remember that you are you no matter where you have landed in the world. Hold on to your core, your beliefs, your center. I’m not saying don’t be open to change, it’s important to grow and change, but each of you has such a special core and remembering that is crucial. Your core, along with our family, gives you your stability and when everything around you spends so much time in a state of flux hanging on to who you are will make you solid. When we first moved here we faced a huge challenge with Aisleen being bullied–new country, new language, new culture, norms we weren’t used to, some negative things we weren’t prepared for. One of the ways our Aisleen, and our family as a whole, got through it was by being true to who we are and not adjusting our core beliefs to fit the situation. So stay true to yourselves, always.

10. Remember that our roots are portable. We live kind of a weird life, things happen in our lives that, when you stop and think about them, make you recognize our frame of reference is not the same as it would be if we were settled in a neighborhood in DC or Minneapolis. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. With our nomadic life comes a lot of goodbyes. And where is “home,” anyway? It’s so hard to be away from family that we love–both blood family and family that we’ve picked up along the way. I know that sometimes it feels like there are parts of you scattered all over the globe and that’s tough but we always, always have each other and we have proven time and again that our roots are like steel! In five months we will gently uncover those roots once more and move them to a new country. It will not be easy, we will have challenges, we will very much miss the people we’ve come to love here, but we will make it work, we always do. And Honduras will hold many more gifts for us as long as we’re open and willing to receive them, I promise this. Above all else, remember that your dad and I love all of you with our whole hearts and as long as we are together we will always be home.

All My Love,


Living in the Past, Present, and Future–and how that fits into our Foreign Service life

First day back to school for my kiddos and, while I love them dearly, as they raced around excitedly and noisily getting their day started, I was definitely looking forward to a bit of silence. When I got home from dropping them at school the dogs looked at me as if to say “didn’t you forget something?” Our lab mix even went so far as to pop her head out the door before I closed it, glance around, look at me, glance around and look confused. “No, my four-legged lovelies, I didn’t forget anything!” I hummed as I skipped through my house, smiling at the silence. I made my way out to the terrace, unrolled my yoga mat, plopped myself down and let out an ahhhhhhh … before starting my warm up for sun salutation. I felt how tight my muscles were, and how warm and loose they became as I settled into the routine. In perfect silence, ahhhhhh …

As I sat in prayer position, focusing on the Buddha I have on a table for exactly that purpose, I found my mind drifting to a sunny Dublin morning, one of many where I made my way to City Center after dropping the kids at school, sometimes for errands and, on days when I had time, sometimes for whatever struck my fancy. I saw myself wandering the rooms of The Chester Beatty Library, full of ancient artifacts and texts. This is a museum that is an introvert’s paradise–while you will often find many people moving through its rooms everyone is silent, immersed in their own thoughts as they absorb history. Each time I went there I found myself standing in front of various Buddhas, lost in their curves and the tranquility they brought me. I sat in front of my own small, seated Buddha and appreciated being taken back to those peaceful strolls through one of my favorite museums; I breathed deeply again, feeling quite centered somewhere between the present and fond memories of the past.

I went downstairs to shower, thinking about what to do with the children once they got home, standing under the hot water I thought about the possibilities–ice cream at the mall, swimming in our pool, a walk with the dogs–and found myself again lost in memory, this time the memory of picking our two youngest up from their school in Dublin. Often we would take a stroll with Terry, my closest friend in Ireland and my very favorite Aussie, and her daughter, who was my daughter’s BFF. We would all walk to the Starbucks near the school for hot chocolate and a treat, Terry and I would chat while the children giggled over pastries, and we would giggle as we watched them sprout a heavier mustache with each sip of chocolate. Then we’d make our way back to our cars, still parked in front of the school, and hug goodbye. Each time, Terry would say “We’ll see you tomorrow, my darlings!” Thinking of her voice, and how she’s the only one who calls me darling besides my grandmother, made me smile. I thought about that walk, which I could probably do with my eyes closed, saw myself strolling those wide sidewalks and turn towards the gym where the kids took swim lessons …

I found myself sitting in the gym watching my two youngest children learn to become the strong swimmers they are today, glancing to my right when my oldest, fresh off the rugby pitch and covered in mud, sometimes battered, always content, walked through the door of the pool room to grab his suit from me and get cleaned up for his lesson. Which led me to another memory of me texting my husband in Iraq, where he spent the last year we lived in Dublin, each time a large man in a tiny speedo sauntered past me, typing out “holy crap, it’s another one! Stop this madness …”

The thought of speedos brought my mind to a quiet, breezy room on an island off the coast of Conakry, the capitol of Guinea, Africa, where I and a handful of others were immersed in the movements of sun salutation when we heard wild laughter coming from the beach, so loud and joyful we couldn’t help but move to the open door to peek. Snaking its way down the beach was a conga line of giggling Guinean children, led by a heavy Russian man carrying a bottle of vodka and wearing a tiny speedo. We stared in disbelief before we all burst into laughter at the surreal sight of the drunk man leading the children in an early morning conga line.

Then my mind was back to the present and my brain that was no further along in figuring out what to do with the children but had gone on quite a journey, from Dublin to a tiny island in Africa, each experience linked by one thing or another. We are in the middle of bidding right now, which means doing all the things we need to do in order to figure out where we will land next. Since we don’t find out for a while, and it’s completely out of my control anyway, I try not to be preoccupied by it but it’s hard not to think about. The other night my hubby and I were discussing the possibilities, things he’d heard from various people who make decisions, ways we can push harder for our top choices. In a moment of silence I looked at him and said “we live a weird life,” he laughed and said “yes, we do!”

It seems like so much of what we do is somewhere between the past, the present, and the future, which I’m sure is true for many people in many different ways. We say goodbye to one home, settle in another, then after two years, with one year to go, prepare for the next country. There is always the challenge of not losing the present to the past or the future but, at the same time, there’s the warmth of so many full and beautiful memories and the excitement of new experiences in a new country.

There are a good handful of things about life in the Foreign Service that frustrate me but I think my husband and I have learned that we are, in our hearts, nomads and at least two of our children are as well. So we float, somewhere between the past, the present, and the future, trying to savor all of them while never shortchanging one for the other. Which leads me back to today, hugging each of my children before they raced off to play at school, smiling at the laughter coming from the yard, marveling at all the possibilities that are open for our family, and for our kids, marveling about everything their past, present, and future means to them and holds for them.

This Just Can’t Be Who We Are

Yesterday I read an article in the Washington post about a family whose child was killed in the Newtown school shootings, it was heartbreaking and important and I sat at my kitchen table wiping away tears as I read. Reading about this family struggling to put their lives back together, to move forward for the boy’s siblings, made me realize that all of our lives have gone on but, in some ways, theirs are frozen in time. It is relatively easy, after the initial horror passes, for those of us not personally touched by such a shocking, violent event to start to intellectualize things. On the one hand, that’s important because we need to think about what happened, we need to figure out how to prevent it happening again. On the other hand, there are twenty six families for whom what happened in Newtown can never be put into an intellectual box–the emotional tangle of disbelief, profound loss, grief, rebuilding of  lives, and all the other things they must be experiencing prevents that from ever happening.

The article made me think, really think, about what it means for parents to not only lose a child but to lose a child in such a brutal, violent way. Maybe, as a mother, I’d not thought about how horrifying that would be because it’s just too bloody scary to think of losing a child to violence, to know that they were terrified in their last moments and you couldn’t be there to hug them close, to comfort them, to try to protect them. This is the part of the article that really drove all of this home for me:

But lately everything about the house reminded them of Daniel, comfort and affliction all at once. Up there, on the ceiling, was the sticky toy he had bought in a vending machine and accidentally thrown too high. In the kitchen was the blender Mark had used to make him a smoothie each afternoon, always with four gummy vitamins at the bottom of the glass, always, in Daniel’s words, “the best one yet!” Out front was the dead-end road where he had waited for the school bus in a sprinter’s crouch each morning, so he could run alongside it for a block before climbing on board. Out back was the wooden play structure where he had knocked his head and bled for the first time, which sometimes made Mark and Jackie wonder about the last time. Had it been quick? Had he been scared? Had anybody held him?

When you have kids it’s not just your heart that is filled by them, it’s your home. I looked around and saw just how much of my children there is on every counter, in every corner, on every bookshelf, closet, wall, floor, our home is filled with our children–stray stuffed animals, a book half read on the arm of the couch, toy cars lined up in a row, a creation taped to a wall, a hair band, a marker top … If you lost a child none of that would be erased, those spaces wouldn’t be cleaned they would just be emptied, never filled in the same way, and you would still know your child was gone, taken from you, stolen.

When I finished reading the article I composed myself and went in search of one of my children. My youngest, my “sweet sweet baby” as he is nicknamed, was at a sleepover, I was desperate to feel him in my arms. My middle child was having her computer time, playing minecraft. I wandered into the office and asked her how it was going, she smiled and told me all about what she was building and as she did that I ran my fingers through her hair, thinking about parents who would never be able to experience these simple joys again–the velvet touch of  your child’s hair, the sound of your child’s voice. I can’t imagine, I just can’t. I looked at my beautiful little girl, so vibrant and joyful, so many possibilities ahead of her, so much promise, so much excitement in store for her, and just felt profoundly grateful that she was sitting next to me.

When we were preparing to leave Ireland my oldest told me he was worried about going to school in Virginia, he said he was scared it wasn’t safe, scared that someone would come into his classroom with a gun. I reassured him it wouldn’t happen, that it was rare for something like that to happen, that he would be safe. I reassured him while keeping it to myself that I was scared of the same thing. It happened to me, when I was in college, and it was traumatizing. Nobody was hurt, the man was tackled by students and taken away by police, but huddling under a desk watching a screaming man wildly waving a gun around is terrifying. We were adults, I can’t imagine children going through that, I can’t imagine what they saw in their last moments, and, honestly, I would rather not, at least not to dwell on it.

Our Constitution was written to be fluid, to evolve as we evolve, and it was written during a time when high capacity rifles didn’t exist, when it wasn’t possible to steal twenty six lives in the blink of an eye. It is so important to acknowledge that, as of now, this is the choice we’ve made, we’ve chosen guns over children. We’ve chosen extremism over sensible, reasonable regulations. Really. What does that say about who we are, what we value, the future we want for our children?

I want my kids to be safe, I want them not to be frightened, I want that for all children. For now, reassuring my children that they are safe in the US, as much as I need to do that, feels like a bit of a lie. This just can’t be who we are.

Everything is Bigger in Costa Rica!

Yesterday we made our fourth trip to Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, where everything seems to grow bigger, including the spiders, eeeek!

There is a picnic shelter that our daughter refuses to enter, she'd rather stand in the rain, because the underside of the roof is covered in these spiders.

There is a picnic shelter that our daughter refuses to enter, she’d rather stand in the rain, because the underside of the roof is covered in these spiders.

As gorgeous as the beaches are here, I’m a mountain girl and I’d rather put on a pair of hiking boots than a bathing suit (and not just because my 41st birthday is sneaking up behind me). This particular national park is the perfect spot for a nice hike, an easy hour’s drive from our home as long as the dear hubby doesn’t try one of his infamous “shortcuts,” which he did not this time. There are two trails, both easy enough for our six year old to run along and lead the expedition– at least until he remembered there are big cats in the park, which might have happened when his panicked mother lost sight of him and started screeching “BIG CATS, RILEY, BIG CATS!” at which point he turned tailed, deciding he didn’t want to be line leader anymore and the middle suited him just fine.

I didn’t hold out much hope for our trip because this is what our drive looked like once we gained a bit of elevation:

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It’s been a running joke between my husband and myself from before we were married that every outing we take always ends up in rain so “just another Turner family outing” has become our mantra. “Oh! Look! It’s that fun horizontal rain we love so much, honey!” “Yup, just another Turner family outing!” The nice thing about hiking in the rainforest, though, is that all the trees and leaves are massive so, unless it is truly pissing down, it’s still doable to hike in the rain and not be misearable. Plus, the rewards are worth it. Gorgeous scenery:

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They don't call it the Rio Sucio (dirty river) for nothing! Volcanic minerals are responsible for the color of the water.

They don’t call it the Rio Sucio (dirty river) for nothing! Volcanic minerals are responsible for the color of the water.

Trees and mist, a lovely combo!

Trees and mist, a lovely combo!

Flowers and plant life that resemble aliens:

Not a clue what this is but it's pretty cool looking

Not a clue what this is but it’s pretty cool looking

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There is a bug in this one, which I didn’t notice until I looked at the photo more closely–well done with the camo and thanks for not attacking my nose!

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When we’re very lucky we see some wildlife:

Well camo'd frog

Well camo’d frog

Fast moving, slightly pissed off, monkeys are hard to capture on film ...

Fast moving, slightly pissed off, monkeys are hard to capture on film …


Despite the cover of the massive foliage, after an hour or so of hiking, we were quite soaked and chilled so we headed over to one of our favorite restaurants, La Fonda, right outside the boundaries of the park. It is a lovely Argentinian grill where everything is cooked on an open wood fire–and the fresh off the grill food is perfect for warming cold hands:

Freshly grilled cheese and veggies, perfect for hand warming!

Freshly grilled cheese and veggies, perfect for hand warming!


All in all Braulio Carillo is a gorgeous way to spend a day. The pandas approve …

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And Ry gives it two crazy peace signs up, it’s a win!

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A Proper Homecoming

Two months from now my family and I will be back in Ireland, where we lived for close to three and a half years, and I am beyond excited! I am “OHMYGODICAN’TBELIEVEWE’REGOINGBACK!” excited. I am excited to the point where, when I think about it, my heart actually starts to beat a little harder and I get a stupid grin on my face. If I think about it in public strangers likely worry about my sanity as I stare off into space with what is probably a creepy, euphoric, “pull the children in close to you and don’t make eye contact,” look on my face. We have an awesome trip planned, all accommodation reservations have been made, friends have been notified of our dates, (SQUUUEEEE!), lists of “we have to go back here” have been started, revamped, and added on to several times.

First we are spending a week in Donegal and renting the lovely, traditional  Fawn Cottage. I have to stop myself from looking at its website anymore because the drool is causing a rash on my chin. Cannot. Wait. Then we head over ancient homestead way and spend a few days in Blacksod Bay, where will will be staying with our friend Hannah, who is loads of fun and owns the best B & B in County Mayo  (Leim Siar, check it out!). Visiting this part of Ireland is always very special for us, we get to see family, bring flowers to the graves of my great-great grandparents, drive by the cottage where my great-grandmother was born and raised, and stroll through Belmullet where every other shop has the name of O’Reilly on its front. My great-grandfather was a Reilly and our youngest, named Riley in honor of my family, feels like a king marching through those streets, chuffed that everything is named for him.

Our last stop is Dublin, it gives me a topsy turvey stomach just to type that because Dublin is, hands down, my very favorite city. We’ll be staying in Temple Bar in an apartment above the iconic Oliver St. John Gogarty pub. One of my Dublin friends teased me not to forget my ear plugs and I know he’s right but I’m so excited to be in the middle of that dynamic city! Just to stroll the cobblestone streets of Temple Bar in the morning with a coffee from my favorite little coffee house, to window browse on Grafton Street, picnic in Stephen’s Green, visit our favorite restaurants (if you’re ever in Dublin DO NOT miss a chance to eat at Urban Picnic in George’s St. Arcade, the food is phenomenal and inexpensive), heaven! I’m itching to go back to the museums where I spent countless rainy afternoons wandering, I’m pretty sure there was a meeting about putting my name on a chair in the room of the National Gallery where the paintings of Jack Yeats are hung because I spent so much time immersing myself in his work. Hopping the DART train to little coastal villages where we can sit with a properly poured Guiness and a heaping plate of chips, again, heaven! I could go on but that drool thing is kicking in and my chin needs a break. An Irish friend of mine sent me a text after I told him I was blogging about our trip that read “You got it bad!” He’s not remotely exaggerating.

So, Ireland is amazing, everything about it. The natural beauty, the vibrant cities, the warmth of the people, it’s got everything I feel I need in a country in order to be truly happy, and the hubby and I fully intend to plant our creaky butts in a tiny cottage on the coast of Donegal when the time comes to retire. But it’s also far more. We first visited Ireland eight years ago when my father, now retired from the Foreign Service, and step-mother were posted to our embassy in Dublin. We stayed for five weeks, had an incredible time, and my memories of that trip, like many memories I have of Ireland, are in technicolor. I savored every sight, every smell, every taste, every hug, every raindrop. Each experience, down to the smallest detail, was carefully tucked away by my brain, which often has trouble remembering why I’ve walked into a room so this is saying something.

The highlight of a trip full of highlights was when we went to Belmullet. Visiting the place where I was rooted, where my children were rooted, made me feel something I have difficulty putting into words. I was raised to feel a deep connection to Ireland; my grandmother felt it gave me a sense of history, an understanding of myself, and that it was important to remember the sacrifices my great-grandparents made in coming to a new country, leaving behind the place, and family, that they loved. Growing up I was surrounded by Ireland–the music, writings, folklore, photos, heirlooms, family stories–so walking the shores of the Atlantic, knowing that I was on the land of my ancestors, was something I did with great reverence. I remember crouching down to softy stroke the earth, overwhelmed by a sense of belonging to something greater than myself, feeling tears sting my eyes because it was the only way my body had to respond to such a piercing sense of place. Being able to tell my children “this is where it all started, this is how you came to be,” well, when I think about it I still get tears in my eyes.

The purpose of our trip to Belmullet, other than to visit the place of our roots, is a sacred memory for all of us. On a cold and blustery Sunday we went with my folks and our children to a tiny church whose priest, my cousin Liam, baptized our daughter. The church was empty except for us, the scent of the incense Liam had used in mass hung in the air, the wind roared outside, and I’d never felt such a sense of peace. I remember listening to Liam softly recite the baptismal rites in both Irish and English, remember watching him tenderly bathe Aisleen’s soft hair in water from the font, remember him smiling at our oldest, also a Liam, as he ruffled his hair and said he had the best name in the world. That afternoon is one of the most special we have spent as a family, my husband and I still talk about it and how it was a turning point in our lives and our communal sense of self. We have a baptismal certificate for Aisleen from the same parish as the baptismal certificate of my great-grandmother, it’s a special thing.

Our lives as nomads can be a whirlwind of adventure. They can be full of incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They can also be lonely and isolated because we are usually very far from family and friends. My husband and I struggle to give our children a sense of belonging and to nurture the roots that we gently uncover, pull up, and travel with every few years. It isn’t always easy and our kids sometimes have difficulty understanding that they have a nationality, they are American. They feel connected to the US, they love going home and seeing family and friends, but they also live with the realization that they are children of the world and in many ways their roots are global. They feel a deep and binding connection to Ireland. I know it is in part because we lived there for a good chunk of time, in fact it is the first “home” that our younger two remember. It is also because it is so much a part of me that it is an easy love for me to nurture in them, but they have their own love for it and, most importantly, they know in a tangible way the story of them started there. They’ve been shaped and molded by their experiences there–long afternoons spent racing through rolling, green hills, early evenings spent in conversation in front of a roaring fire in our cousin’s home, countless days spent on beaches where they swam until their teeth chattered and we would fold them in their towels for a warming snuggle. Their imaginations have been fertilized by abandoned famine villages, ancient castles of the Pirate Queen, hikes through forests where pookas are said to roam. So, while America is their home, Ireland is also their home, and being able to go back in two months is an incredible gift.

I was chatting with a friend of mine with whom we are planning a mad night of fun in Dublin and he said “Heather, we will give ye a proper homecoming!” A homecoming. That has such a lovely ring to it …

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