March 6, 2015

Mums and Toddlers

I almost stayed home that day.

I am, as I've explained, a closet introvert. A shy person pretending to be an outgoing one. I enjoying socializing when I'm amongst friends, I can even be the life of the party if the mood strikes me, but jumping into new situation, meeting new people, that's not my thing. And so I almost stayed home that day. Except I didn't. And thank goodness.

We had picked up our lives and a toddling Briton only a few weeks before to move, almost on a whim, to Ireland. I realize that's not something people do every day, or even once in their lives. And it really wasn't on a whim, it had been long in the planning stages, but when it all happened at last, it happened fast. Jobs were interviewed for over Thanksgiving, visas were rushed to us before government offices closed for Christmas, and we had moved within a few days of the New Year. So it felt whim-ish, and exciting, and totally bonkers. And it was all those things.

Except the reality is that once you get past the oddities of being in a new place, life with a toddler is with a toddler. Just because we'd traded our charming-if-a-little-shabby bungalow for a 300 square foot apartment in a 350 year old town house didn't mean we stopped dealing with things like potty training and letter learning and nap tantrums. And as any mother of a toddler can tell you, the key to surviving those years of toddlerhood without going totally insane is finding friends with toddlers to commiserate with, laugh with, cry with, and sometimes beg for a little babysitting so you can go get a haircut from. And so, the fear of meeting new people was pushed aside for the greater need for adult interaction. Which is how I found myself standing outside a very medieval looking door (actually, I think it was medieval, not just medieval looking) with a cheerful sign on it reading "Mums and Toddlers" instead of staying home and sitting on the bright red couch looking at the bright purple cabinets in our furnished flat.

Luckily, the people behind the door weren't shy. In fact, they were the opposite of shy. I'm not sure I've ever seen a toddler as outgoing as the one that rushed toward my (outgoing, but not quite so) son and made him her instant friend while her mother took my coat, got me a cup of tea and some cookies and plopped me down into the group before I could really register where I was. And just like that, I had friends.

For the next 20 months,  until the very day we moved back to the states, these ladies were my people. And Englishwoman, three Northern Irish girls and me, the American. It almost sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn't it? But it was wonderful. We ate cookies and drank tea and walked miles through parks and streets and neighborhoods with our babies. We welcomed a new baby and heard the news about two more one the way (one of them mine) and talked potty training and complained about picky eaters and did all the things you do when you meet the people you survived toddlerhood with.

There were, of course, hilarious moments.  Misunderstandings that happen when people from different countries come together. I'll never forget to call "pants" "trousers" in front of a Brit again, for example. Because that joke went on for weeks. (Pants = underwear, you can see how that could go terribly wrong) We had vastly different backgrounds, I grew up, after all, without any experience of boarding schools or London flats, IRA roadblocks or the Irish Education System, and they were not peanut butter addicts and had never seen an America toddler birthday party a la pre-jail Martha. But that mattered very little, if at all.

What always astonishes me when I think about that time, what astonishes me still when we visit a new place and meet new people is that no matter where you are, life is just life, friends are friends, toddlers are most definitely toddlers and a cup of tea is, well actually, all cups of tea are not created equal, that's a bad example, but moms are moms. Wading through life, dealing with diapers or nappies or whatever the word is for them where you currently are. Children's shows are equally mind numbing and at the same time memorizing, no matter if it's Barney or Postman Pat or Dora the Explorer in Gaelic (it's a real thing).

It sounds exotic to say I've got friends in Ireland. "Oh my friends in Ireland" I could say, and you might be impressed. But they are really just my friends. Ladies who I would sit down and shoot the shit with any day, even after all these years apart. All because I didn't stay home that day.