We’ve hit the first milestone – it’s been one year since we moved back to Ireland, after five up-and-down years in the USA. It’s not been an easy year, but I have to say it’s been a good one, all things considered, and overall we’re happy with our “final answer.”
Perhaps it’s just a thing that happens when an Irish person marries an American – intertwined between the love and commitment, there runs a thread of uncertainty about where your life belongs, in geographic terms. So many of us go back and forth, trying this city, or that county, weighing the variables of what is most important, and doing it again further down the road. Where in the old days, you’d only emigrate once, and make that life a permanent one, now there are countless options of “what if?” So we move to Portland or Cork, or maybe London or Toronto or Melbourne, and then after a few months or years we reevaluate our circumstances and either pick up or dig in. Even now, as Frank and I have happily re-settled in Louth, and have no intentions of ever crossing an ocean with all our worldly goods a third time, there will always be the knowledge that we could, if we wanted to.
For now, we don’t want to. (And we know many on the opposite end of the spectrum, who have no intention of leaving the USA. Fair enough.)
So what’s it like, being back? What worked out and what didn’t? As you know, I love lists, so I’ll condense my thoughts below in bullet-point form.
- The job market is strong. While I had to apply for many jobs before I got a bite, I felt like there were tons of things for my level of experience that I could apply for. LinkedIn was a great resource in addition to Jobs.ie and Irishjobs.ie. And while the pay isn’t exactly on par with the cost of living (especially in Dublin proper), it’s much better than it was years ago. The tech industry has exploded (European HQs for many major companies), as has health and pharma, marketing and PR, web design and data processing, etc. Creative jobs akin to Frank’s skill set are harder to come by, but the arts are often on the lower end of the funding spectrum, as I’m sure you know. Even in film, though, there are a lot more jobs on offer – runners, editors, all kinds of animation jobs, etc. We keep a constant eye on IFTN.
- Having a car gives you wings. One of the biggest drags when I lived here from 2008-2013 was not having a car. Especially as an American, and a Western American, being limited to public transit felt extremely stifling at times. I was able to get everything I needed by foot/bike/train/bus, but I longed to explore the backroads. I don’t think Frank fully appreciated this until he lived Stateside and actually needed a car to get around there. Now we’re back and similarly need a car based on where we live, but it is also so freeing and fun to drive where we like, when we like. We’ve already discovered so many little gems around us (King William’s Glen, Mellifont Abbey, Oldbridge, Listoke, Anagassan, Collon, Slane, Dowth) that were so close, but unattainable, before.
- Creative collaboration is not hard to find. While our own crazy schedule with three mad children is still packed, it’s great to know that creative opportunities abound and people here are still willing to get “stuck in” to whatever project you might be working on. Shortly after arriving, we were able to get several actors together for a reading of our script, and we’re now working towards shooting the full feature a day at a time, when we can. Frank has also been able to work with Ablevision again and shot a short film with them over a six-month period. I’ve joined a creative writing group at UCD that meet once a week at lunchtime. We have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are musicians, painters, actors etc. and it’s sort of gratifying to run into them regularly and just chat about what we/they are working on. It’s a friendly support system – and one that doesn’t require an income to feel validated – that we missed when abroad.
- We’ve entered a new chapter with our Irish friends – the kid years. While we don’t get a chance to see our friends as often as we’d like, the dynamics of seeing them have changed in that most of us have kids now. It’s sort of funny, laughing over a cup of tea with these familiar faces while we discuss our lack of sleep and wild childbirth experiences when we used to chat about concerts and holidays and hangovers. Maturity isn’t such a bad thing, though, is it?
- The coffee has improved. We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s certainly much easier to get a decent cup ‘o’ Joe in Ireland these days. Also more microbreweries, vegetarian/vegan options, and thriving small businesses on many city streets across the country.
- We really do love living in the country. I’ve said it multiple times, but we lucked out with our digs. I don’t know if I’ll ever wake up and not be in awe of our surroundings. The project this summer is to hopefully get our back garden in order and even grow a few veggies. I’m still lobbying for a chicken coop, but that may take another year of arm-twisting. If we ever win the lotto, I think I’d be very happy to spend the rest of my days in Monasterboice or thereabouts.
- The move was more expensive than we estimated. Of course, these things always are. But our last move was not one of desperation – we were in a good place and had some decent savings put away, plus I was able to work remotely for several months once we arrived. Still, there were a few enormous unexpected expenses (e.g. bringing the dog over ended up costing in excess of $3000, renting a car for a week when we got here topped $1000 even though I’d pre-booked and pre-paid online, and after we bought a car, the tax and insurance cost us another $1000 at least). So the money went really really fast. We were thankful we’d had the savings, but good Lord, it’s still causing us stress today as the cost of living is quite high as well (which we actually did know in advance).
- Going along with the last one, it’s still more expensive to live here than we estimated. I can budget until I’m blue in the face, but money still just goes. Living on one income, and an admin’s salary at that, is extremely difficult. The cost of gas/petrol for our beloved gas-devouring Honda Accord is staggering. There are constant fees for the kids’ school and now we’re heading into summer camp season, of which there are few affordable options. I can manage a weekly shop at Aldi or Lidl for under €100, but items like dog food, over-the-counter medications and some toiletries are definitely more expensive than in the US. People complain about the car insurance here and I wasn’t too blown away as we paid a fair amount in California, until I realized we had to be insured as learning drivers. *face palm*
- Following on from that, you cannot swap your American driver’s license for an Irish one. You have to go through the whole rigamarole of taking the written exam, getting a Learner’s Permit (€35), taking the required 6 – 12 driving lessons (around €45 each), then taking the driver’s exam (another €85), and having to drive as a “novice” for another year before actually getting your full license and corresponding reduced insurance fees. This can easily take several months to a year. But the most annoying part of it is that there are many countries from around the world (Australia, Canada, much of Europe) where the driver’s licenses are accepted in a direct swap with Ireland. And of course there are horrible drivers here like everywhere, and I have been driving for over 20 years without an accident or speeding ticket.
- Crime is still a problem, and has unfortunately escalated recently in Drogheda. Part of why we left the US was the soaring gun crime and mass shootings, but it’s naive to think this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Even though Ireland is strict on gun ownership and use, there have been several local shootings lately, and while the fatalities are few, it is still very upsetting to all in the area. As you can imagine, most of this is stemming from drug crime, and while drugs were very much on the scene when we moved in 2013, the gang feuds were not so much. There have also been several recent petrol bomb attacks and a slew of arsons on local landmarks. I am glad we live outside the town centre for our own safety’s sake, but it hurts to see a place you love suffer these damages.
- The move is always hardest on the kids. In this case, our sweet little 5 year-old (now 6), Shea, has had an especially rough time. He misses his buddies from pre-school, his doesn’t like living in “the wild” with the bugs and smells and pollens, and he wishes there were more good playgrounds and swimming pools. I get it. He didn’t really have a say in the matter and is still mad. But let’s just say there have been a serious amount of tantrums over the last 365 days, which is hard on everyone.
- All the little things we miss, and knew we’d miss – everything from decent recyclable packaging, to reliable Wi-Fi (4k is just a dream), to kitchen staples like cornmeal and half ‘n’ half, to Costco-sized bottles of Benadryl (or any Benadryl at all, really) to get us through allergy season. But these are just little things.
Looking back on the day we left Menlo Park, I wonder how I would have felt if I could have seen a year into the future. It was very hot, very stressful, our house was empty and the kids were crazy and we were sad to say goodbye to so many family and friends. We knew what we were headed for, yet we didn’t really know what would happen. It’s been another year of lessons, but I do think if I could have looked ahead 12 months ago, I would have felt reassured. I hope I would have.
Ultimately, every part of our journey these last few years has been risky, but I am so glad we took the risks. Even on the darkest days (and they still pop up from time to time), I am proud we have lived our lives fully, have not been overcome by fear, and I am thankful God has never let go of us along the road.
If you’re reading this and asking if you should move to a new neighborhood, town, state, country – I’d just say, it will be harder than you want it to be at times, but taking a leap of faith can make your life grow beyond measure. Also, being brave is not the same as being reckless (and vice versa).