Taking little steps towards home after 25 years in America
After the first few years of homesickness, you come to love two places, two homes
Lara O’Brien with her daughter Francesca: ‘I weigh up my excitement and creeping fears.’
I’ve been thinking about Dublin recently. Dublin, Ireland, home.
I took a four-month trip to the US in 1994 when I got the Morrison visa, and stayed 25 years. I have a daughter living in Spain: she’s 16 and is studying abroad for a year on a Rotary Club exchange. I’m not sure if her intense cultural curiosity about living in Europe is just part of growing up and wondering “who am I?” but some time ago she started asking questions about heritage, about culture, and about all the mannerisms that make Ireland unique. She finally asked about going to Ireland and living there - about returning “home”, as she has come to know my term.
She is six hours ahead in time, so her texts would arrive at odd hours of the day or night as she did her research about living in Ireland.
“How do you use the word craic?” she texted.
“The party was a bit of craic,” I texted back.
“So, he was a bit of craic?”
“Look love,” I text, “if he were a bit of craic, don’t settle. Go for the one that’s great craic.” My daughter is still a hormonal teen after all and needs guidance.
“It was not a craic party, then?”
I spit out my tea.
“No, no, noooo.”
She has a lot to learn.
Somewhere in between the lessons on having the craic and wondering if it was even possible to turn our lives toward Dublin again, I began to research the Irish Times Abroad section, and read some of the stories of returning emigrants. I love the stories. I love reading about all the trials and tribulations. But Jesus, the comments can be savage. Anyone who voices the difficulties they have experienced getting on their feet, applying for car insurance or a new driving license, or wishing they hadn’t done it, are hit with the long stick. “Go back to where you came from,” one commenter wrote. That one always makes me laugh, considering they really are going back to where they came from.
Nothing is more educational and enlightening when trying to understand the pulse of a nation than the variety of opinions on social media. The wit and sharp quip is in full force. I laughed out loud at many of the comments, and stopped in my tracks at others. There are many who warn against coming back to Ireland. I weighed each comment, advice and cost of living fact, with consideration, more research, and a reality check.
Over the last six months, we have made small, day-by-day steps towards home. Three of my kids have flown the coop. One took a good push. I cleared out their bedrooms, painted, re-carpeted, fixed broken railings, patched holes in the walls, and dusted parts of the house I had forgotten existed.
I spent too much time flicking through 20 years of pictures of babies, toddlers, school kids, teens, holidays. Hours were spent on trips down memory lane, visiting the places we have lived and the people we love. I put them all away, boxed them up, and stashed them in safekeeping. Little by little I have unwound motherhood and those fragile years of a full house of teens.
Sometimes, I can’t sleep at night, or I wake suddenly from weird pre-euro dreams in Ireland - a Luas comes barrelling at me, hits me and it gives me the sweats. I imagine I will wander aimlessly in Dublin reacquainting myself with this new city. I have questions: where did the Anna Liffey go? Is the Spire now loved as a fixture in the new/old city, or is it forever the metal mickey in the sky? I’ll ask these questions when I get there.
There have been so many changes, so much of my knowledge that needs to be brought up to date, but I welcome the reacquaintance. It feels like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen since school. I’ll visit a newer version, see her physical changes, her architecture, her progressive cultural adaptations, her politics and housing, her beauty and her flaws. The new roads will be sure to throw me for many loops, but I’ll welcome getting lost.
I never for one minute stopped loving Ireland. After the first few years of homesickness, you come to love two places, two homes, but Ireland was always weighted towards the heart. And maybe it was the gentle nudge of this one, this curious girl that is drawn to know her heritage, to imagine that it was possible for her to know Ireland as I have. I never dreamed this kid would be the catalyst to steer me back home again.
Once, about 10 years ago, I was in Dublin on a visit back and met Pat Ingoldsby, the poet. I stopped and bought his latest poetry book. I’d seen him out in Howth over the years and we got chatting, and he asked how long I was visiting. While talking to him, I must have said I was thinking of coming home “for good” but wasn’t sure if it was the right time. “Oh, you’ll know when you get here,” he said, and it made perfect sense. It’s not the thinking, it’s the doing, and I’ve been making little steps in the right direction. Our arrival date is set for May.
I get another text. The curious one is awake and on her way to school in Spain, as I lie awake at 2.30am thinking about trains and cars and driving tests.
“What’s on your list of must-dos?” she asked.
“Walking Howth, every possible inch of it. Writing workshops. Grabbing a good music session. Taking the boys (my sister and brother’s kids) to Tayto Park. Having a side-busting laugh with old friends. What about you?”
She texted about the excitement of starting a new school, one with a uniform. She asked if she could play field hockey, and when could she start driving? Could she learn on an automatic? What happened if she forgets which side of the road to drive?
In between texts I hear a night visitor, probably a skunk or raccoon. The dog barks bravely from the safety of the house. He doesn’t know that I plan to ship him over in a crate with Aer Lingus. He won’t be happy, he’s a big chicken and the flight will scare the shite out of him. I wonder if they have sleeping pills for dogs that are afraid of flying? We could share.
I weigh up my excitement and creeping fears. What are the strings that hold us back from big change? They are stronger than a fear of driving on the wrong side of the road, or being hit by the Luas.
In a land of a thousand welcomes, the one you want most is the “failte ar ais”, welcome back.
As if reading my mind, she texted.
“I’d love a Failte ar ais, a ‘welcome back’. Even if never spoken, just for things to go well.”
“ Why wouldn’t they, aren’t we great craic?” she shot back.
Lara O’Brien is an author, writing workshop facilitator and freelance writer. She can be reached at laraobrien.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Lara will be hosting writing workshops in Howth this summer that focus on “writing your story, your life”. All are welcome.