Cast your minds back to February, 2021. Lockdown 3 ... I think — depending how you counted them. The bleak one. Not the one that had the nice weather and that frisson of excitement. Not the wintry one, where we had the promise of a meaningful Christmas. The one after that — the frisson-less one, where we had the shame of having had a meaningful Christmas and nobody even pretending to us that it was going to end soon.
The one where, one rainy Saturday afternoon, my husband stuck his head round the sitting room door to ask: “Family trip to the car wash?” He asked the question with the same ebullience you might normally reserve for announcements like: “Family trip to Disneyland?” And the toddler and I reacted as though that was exactly what he had just said — immediately whooping and hollering and planning our snacks for the trip. This is a very long-winded way of saying: things were bleak and nothing — absolutely nothing — was happening.
I was seven months pregnant and working from home (in what was then the spare room and is now the baby’s room) and my husband was working from home (in the shed) when one unremarkable day, in he came from the shed, into my office and told me an opportunity had come up at work to move to New York.
The grandparent-grandchild relationship is one so special to witness; one where everyone involved flourishes and we were voluntarily taking the casualness of that away
And that is the beginning of the story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how my whole family moved to a town called ... New York.
It wasn’t something I ever had in mind for this stage of our lives. I’d lived abroad at various times in my twenties and had relished the adventure and opportunities presented at the time. But I had just sort of thought that we had by now ‘settled’. Settled into our careers, settled into our house, settled into our neighbourhood and into family life.
I knew how things worked in Ireland. I knew, for example, where the kids would go to Montessori and it was a lovely walkable commute along the canal, right beside my favourite bakery where I looked forward to getting a cinnamon roll every morning after I dropped them off. Were there even bakeries in New York City as good as this one in Dublin 9? I bet not.
My very immediate concern, however, was not for me or for the kids, but for my parents.
How could I tell them that we were taking the kids to another continent, not due to any economic necessity but for no reason other than we wanted to? Especially when we had only recently emerged from extended periods of communicating with them as though we lived in Australia despite being only 30 minutes away.
The grandparent-grandchild relationship is one so special to witness; one where everyone involved flourishes and we were voluntarily taking the casualness of that away.
I was so afraid to even tell them but on this front, I needn’t have worried because they were nothing but beyond excited for us. It reminded me of when my mother waved me off at the airport for my Erasmus year in France and the mother of my classmate on the same flight bawled while mine beamed. Mam texted me afterwards to say she had tried to squeeze a tear out for my sake but, “how could you be sad when you were both so excited”?
I still had my doubts. Could I really live in a place where instead of simply laughing at your jokes, they acknowledge that you’re funny by saying “That’s funny”?
We had only recently come to accept that our children would have Dublin accents and where the three-year-old was in the adorable habit of crossing the road at random, shouting at taxi drivers “Story bud — you’re in my bleedin way”, we realised we’d have to instead get used to her banging the hoods of yellow cabs while roaring “Hey buddy, I’m walkin’ here”. It was a lot to take in.
I’m far less empathetic than the friend who kindly told me that doubts were of course normal and it would be weirder if I was dying to immediately escape my whole life
My husband would speak excitedly about all the restaurants, concerts and shows we could go to and I would listen and wonder if he had forgotten we had kids? Our bars and restaurant days were long over and our most reliable babysitters would no longer be so close to hand. Would we be simply relocating our Saturday night takeaway from a quiet Dublin cul-de-sac to sit in, in the greatest city on earth?
On our Saturday morning playground visits, he’d say things like “Imagine we could be doing Saturdays in playgrounds in Central Park!”. I hmmmmed along while thinking “Yeah, but it’s still just a playground isn’t it? At least this playground is near my family”.
He tried to sell the neighbourhood to me by saying “There’s an Irish pub across the street” but the thing is, we already had loads of Irish pubs where we lived (in Ireland). And anyway, stereotypical to our generation (millennial by the skin of our teeth), we don’t go to the pub.
“There’s a Krispy Kreme nearby” — sure we have one in Blanch and you don’t even have to get out of your car.
“There’s an M&M world” — okay, I’ll admit that on that one, my interest was piqued.
At all times in this decision-making process, I was very aware that if a friend came to me and told me they had an opportunity to move to New York but they were apprehensive because they’d already picked out their infants’ preschool and actually, they quite liked their local gym, I would think (and probably say) they were crazy. I’m far less empathetic than the friend who kindly told me that doubts were of course normal and it would be weirder if I was dying to immediately escape my whole life.
My mother was more practical again, saying “Imagine you didn’t go and this time next year you’d be walking around Phibsboro thinking ‘I could be walking around New York’ ”.
In the end, I came to my own senses, copped on and realised: IT’S NEW YORK!
“You love New York”, I reminded myself. “It’s not like your life partner is asking you to relocate to Athlone*. It will be a wonderful adventure!”
(*With apologies to the people of Athlone. I could have inserted literally any Irish town here but you were the first one to pop into my head.)