I can honestly say that I tried my hardest to make time for everyone, but it's hard! Everyone wants a piece of you, and because they are either working or have kids, you end up doing the running around.
I've decided to break the trip up into "Weeks" for the rest of you so that it's enough for you to chew on, and so it's not an 11-page screen full of babble!
I woke at 4:30am and waited until a more acceptable time to get up. I had pre-arranged a gym consultation with Al from "Peak Performance Fitness" in Celbridge (http://www.performanceclinic.ie/gym/) as I had been with him before I left for Oz. I thought I would like to have a bit of routine in my month at home; not to mention the amount of food I was clearly going to consume over Christmas needed to be combatted in some form!
Turns out Mam had taken the morning off work, so I had to postpone the appointment to the next day and so we headed into Maynooth to have a walk around and pick up some food shopping. I found it very weird how everything was so familiar, yet also so different. I couldn't get my head around how everyone had an Irish accent and I kept saying "Dollars" instead of "Euro". I also said and spelt my name out to an Irish guy working at Carphone Warehouse who just looked at me and with one eyebrow raised said "Been away?". I have clearly just been so used to saying "Ciara; C-I-A-R-A" every time I had to say my name to Aussies - without even realising that it was now second nature for me to do it! I also kept saying "Home" for when I was talking about Melbourne, something that wasn't taken very well by some people "You ARE home Ciara!" I would get from Doireann or others. In my mind I have two "Homes" - when I'm in Melbourne "Home" means Ireland and in Ireland it's the opposite. I also found out that I apparently speak differently. Not with an Aussie accent, but more the intonation of my voice. I apparently speak using some Aussie words ("super", "I feel like" as some examples) but in an Irish accent, and lift the ends of my sentences - which is a very stereotypical Australian way of speaking. I haven't noticed it at all, but apparently now amongst "my own" I stood out as the person who lived away.
After getting home to my house, Doireann called over. A brief encounter the night before, she had taken some time off work to spend it with me. We sat in the kitchen waiting for the kids my Mam minds to come home from Playschool so that they could meet "Her Ciara". Their minds were blown at the thought my being Mam's daughter - they just looked at me; the adult sitting at the kitchen table, and laughed when Mam tried to explain to them that I was to her as they were to their own mother. And as for the living on the other side of the world component - don't even try and explain that to a 3 and 4-year-old!
A trip to Tesco may sound like a random thing to do with one of your best mates when you haven't seen them in 3 years, but it's the first thing we do - heading to have a walk about and a laugh at the selfies we take in the aisles. It comes from the random 2am trips we used to make there when we lived in Enfield and as sad as it sounds brings back good memories! I bump into Dee with her kids and smile at the times of attending Modern Dancing with her Mam in Maynooth Convent School of a Friday evening.
Later on I go home for dinner and then head out for an impromptu meeting with Leno who happened to be in her parents house not too far away. It was weird to see her in Ireland but also felt like the most normal thing in the world. We chatted and caught up over tea and then when I was leaving a neighbour of hers was waving from the other side of the road. We walked over and it was only when we were beside her did the "neighbour" turn out to be Aisling from Melbourne, who had since moved home, and we all laughed at the randomness of it all. It literally is a small world and Ireland is tiny.
Another early start to the morning, at 4:30am, but once I was wrapped up against the cold I didn't mind. I had yet to take my hat and scarf off indoors, despite the fact that the heating and the open fire were both on! I went into the gym and met with Al who took me through a routine that he had in mind for me. We took some measurements and decided to book me in for the next morning to start. I laughed at how Irish the South African sounded now after not having seen him in 3 years.
I headed to Orla's new home in Celbridge and got to meet 14 month old Laoise, whom I hadn't yet met. Oisin was so grown up, he was a proper little boy now in comparison to the 1 year old I had left behind. After about 30 seconds of Orla opening the door to me and our hugging, she said "Oh my God it doesn't feel like 3 years since we last saw you!"; and she was right. Every encounter I had with my family and friends slipped right back into the moment I left. The only difference was the kids and how they have grown (or came to exist!), but otherwise everything was exactly as normal and Melbourne seemed as though it never existed in my life. I guess cos the two worlds are so far apart from each other, it's very difficult to explain to someone what you life is like when they only know the you from one of those existences. I can't explain to an Aussie what my life in Ireland was like when they don't know what it's like to be from the Irish countryside, or what it's like to be ruined by Recession, or what family means, or how a real Christmas feels. There are no words that explain what it means to be on the other side of the world from everyone you know and love and how alone it can feel even when you're surrounded by others. It's impossible to show someone why you work hard and how hard you feel you need to work to prove your worth in the workplace when they've never had to worry about job security. And I cannot convey how important my friends are to me on this side of the world to those who are living amongst their families and are always complaining about it. Equally, it's hard to tell an Irish person about how much better your life is over in Australia if you can see they're suffering at home. It's almost impossible to explain why you love a big city like Melbourne to someone who has grown up surrounded by fields. It's hard to explain your Aussie life to the people at home who have never seen anything different and whose minds are closed through no fault of their own. I struggle with the thoughts of possibly not coming home and the guilt of having to actively make that decision. And the worst is trying to answer the question that everyone asks you "When are you coming home?".
Anyway, after this I went to Doireann's Mam and Dad's, met her boyfriend Gary and we went to Dublin; dropping her Dad Ray off to his work Christmas party. We went to see Peter Pan Panto in The Gaiety where we were possibly the biggest kids there! It was a great laugh; dancing and singing, shouting "he's behind you!" like crazy lunatics - it certainly kept me awake! From here we went to Eddie Rockets to get dinner; where I was too jet-lagged to even appreciate the experience and couldn't eat all of the food! After this we went to Lucan to pick up Ray from his Christmas party and ended up staying for a vodka! An hour later I was fit for bed and got dropped home about 1am or so - I slept that night for sure!!
So today was the beginning of dragging my lazy ass to the gym. It gave me something to do in the morning when I work up early anyway. You forget how dangerous it is on the roads at home when it's cold. You literally skate and crawl the 5kms to the nearest "main road" where there is more chance they have been gritted. An hour in HELL with Al and then I'm set for the day. Home to mind the kids for Mam while she and Dad go to collect their baby from the airport. I sat down to have a Tea-Party with a 3-year-old and had to stop myself from laughing out loud while she told me the story about how "the man who lives in the church pushed my uncle into a hole where the flowers are". "Why?", I asked, "cos he was dead" she said looking at me very matter-of-factly. The vision was hilarious, even though the situation obviously wasn't!
Bhany, Luke and a wrapped up and confused Izzy arrive home around 3pm. Apparently Isabel slept pretty much the whole journey from Townsville - Sydney - Abu Dhabi - Dublin! Angel child!! The poor thing is so used to it being hot and being in nothing but her nappy, she couldn't figure out what she was wearing and why - boots, hat, pants, top, jumper, vest etc - she kept trying to pull them off!Mam and Dad go into "Supper-affectionate-Grandparent-mode" and you can immediately see what everyone talks about when they say that your parents are completely different to you than to your kids. Now they get to be the ones who spoil them and smother them with love as the disciplining is left to you! It was funny to see my parents like this, as - although I love my parents and think I had the best upbringing - I don't remember them like this with us. I remember Mam discussing with me years ago how their generation of parenting was very different to the way my generation and younger are so "lovey-dovey" or "touchy-feely", which I completely agree with. Seeing my Mam and Dad coo over Isabel, constantly pick her up and play with her, laugh at every little thing she did and rush to her aid should she fall over was strange for me and admittedly made me feel both sad and probably a little jealous. How the hell does a 32-year-old get jealous of an 11-month-old you probably say? I don't think it was necessarily her, but more I felt like I was the one who was "supposed" to have the first grandchild or that she was getting the love that I was afraid of not getting? I don't know - I guess it was always presumed that I would be the one that would bring the new-found excitement into the house and now I felt like I had brought nothing but disappointment in the last year. Probably all in my head and not something that you would and should necessarily admit to, but I'm being honest in trying to explain the thoughts and emotions going through my head. I think a lot of it had to do with the last year I've been through, but also coming home a much different person than the Ciara who left for Australia in Jan 2012.
Doireann wasn't very well and so I headed over to hers to help her put up her Christmas Tree and decorate her apartment. This was the first time it was starting to feel like Christmas - and the first Christmas I'd had in 3 years! How great was the cold, with the open fire on and the candles lighting?! I LOVE CHRISTMAS!
I went home about 8pm when I knew Kev would be home from driving back from his new home in Cork. It was so normal to see him sitting at the kitchen table eating his dinner, so normal to have the chats with him around the fire and the 3 years disappeared in an instant and I was 29-years-old again and living at home. How great was it going to be to have three generations of immediate family sleeping in the house? How exciting to have everyone around!
Another morning trip to the gym, meant that I was home early to start the day, but not before some "Aunty B" cuddle time with Izzy - who was admittedly more interested in her toys and 200% more interested in the newly dubbed "King Kev". She had never actually met Kev before this morning, yet went straight to his arms, stroked his face, gazed into his eyes, laughed at everything he did, lay quietly against his chest - UNBELIEVABLE! Kev just smiled and said "This kid lark is easy!". It was honestly like he had cast a spell on her - she was absolutely in love with him!
For lunch I headed into Celbridge to meet Elise, Sarah and Michelle who had baby Matteo with her. Again a child I had never met, another indication of how long I had been away. Otherwise things continued as normal; my filling the girls in on the drama that is my life and them laughing at my misfortune and hanging onto every juicy detail; urging me to leave nothing out. These are the things I miss the most - the people who know me inside out and know what I need to get by. Elise is all grown up now and has a body to die for! :) The beautiful Matteo was so well behaved and is one of the most gorgeous babies I'd even seen; half-Irish, half-Italian; he's going to break some hearts when he's older. We sat around for a couple of hours before Bhany and Luke came to collect me, showing off her newly purchased phone for the 3 weeks that she was at home...a EUR15 not-very-smart phone - I didn't even think these phones existed any more!
From here we went home because we had some visitors coming, and the fun continued when our cousins Jennifer and Katie, Jennifer's boyfriend Thomas and my aunty and uncle Bridie and Henry called out to the house. We sat around chatting and laughing, with their having to open the windows as they thought it was so hot in the house. How it felt like we had never left as we all crowded onto the sofa together to get a photo (although Bridie refused to get involved!). I was determined to take as many photos as possible when I was home, to document every day on my trip so that I would remember it all. It's funny because my family make fun of me for taking so many photos, for always saying "Take a picture of..."; yet they're the first to say "Send me on those photos of..." or "Share those on Facebook"! They love it really....
It's Sunday, so we go to Mass. And - get this - they've changed all the words?! I mean, they haven't modernised them or made them any easier, they've just changed them?! Swapped some words around and taken some out. For example: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" changed to "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed". Or instead of "And also with you" we now apparently say "And with your spirit". How ridiculous is that?! What's the point?! Imagine the amount of money spent to change all of the books and pamphlets?? Apparently the changes are designed to be more faithful to the original Latin texts on which the Missal is based...Don't you think making it more relevant to the year 2014 would have been more productive?! Anyway, rant over.
We then went home where Bhany and Dad did the traditional "putting up the lights" outside the house in the freezing cold while I had some Izzy play-time. I went back down to see Abby and the family and had some good chats with Siofra as Buster Mark got angry with the train he got as a present. I got to see my babies, who have grown up so much! Taylor (Rottweiler) must weigh close to 80kgs now and was only delighted to see me. He was crying at the back door when he could hear my voice. Bella (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) had the huff with me for probably leaving her, so she was happy but also trying to ignore me in the same way! It was sad to say goodbye to all of them knowing that I wouldn't see Abby grow up apart from via Skype or the odd visit. These hard emotions so early in the trip home are exhausting and I found myself having to lie down when I went home from the visit.
Bhany and I took it upon ourselves to put the Christmas Decorations and the Tree up when Mam and Dad were out. I didn't think you could possibly have so many decorations, but we got them all up in the end; assuming that Izzy would have them torn down in about 5 mins of her getting hold of them. Now the Christmas feeling was in the house, we all sat around the fire in the sitting room while Izzy had a bath in a basin; thinking she was having the time of her life. It's clearly the simple things!
Not too hectic of a day today. The morning was the usual battle with the icy roads to get to and from the gym in one piece. It was snowing this morning and this added to the festive feeling, We went to Blanchardstown to get some shopping done for Christmas, but couldn't stay long as Miss Isabel was in need of a sleep. The discussion was raised about Bhany and Luke moving back to Ireland. This hit me like a tonne of bricks. I know I live a 3-hour flight away from them in Queensland, but having Bhany on more or less the same time-zone and the idea that she's in the same country makes such a big difference, or being able to see her 4 times a year also gives me something to look forward to. Now they were talking about moving home, I was suddenly feeling like Australia was a big place and very far away from everything else. Thinking about it though, it made sense and I just said to them not to tell Mam unless they were 100% sure that they were going to do it.
I quickly called in to say hi to Eamonn in The Leinster Clinic on the way to see Doireann who was now stuck at home sick with Pleurisy! Poor thing isn't allowed outside the door, especially since it's so cold! I'm starting to feel the effects of all my running around and have now got bloodshot eyes and a week-long headache. I'm drinking about 4 or 5 litres of water a day and am always thirsty - presumably from the artificial heat in the house and the fact that Irish food is more salty - and I forgot to bring my Thyroxine medicine with me, so I'm having to formulate a plan to get that. I contact my old GP who tells me they can't prescribe me with it but they can issue a script if I get my Aussie doc to send the prescription to them by fax. Easy...you would think. I rang the Aussie doctors every day for about a week and in the end they said they would only post the prescription to me?! Bearing in mind that it's Christmas post, I didn't have much faith on it arriving very soon.
I can't believe that it's been a week already. I have been non-stop, but I'm glad as the time is flying by and before I know it I'll be on a plane again. It's so hard trying to fit 3 years into 4 weeks! What a miserable day today, weather-wise. A futile trip to the gym as it was closed, so I just came home before having to go to my mate Dave's Granny's Removal in Fermoy, Co. Cork with Dad.
Got home about 9pm and watched a "Prime Time" report on some horrible scenes at Aras Attract nursing homes in Ireland. The poor elderly sick patients in these homes were being emotionally and physically abused and it was all caught on camera. It was actually sick to watch, but hopefully this will open a door to whistle-blowers in other locations.
So that's Week 1 of 4 done! Non-stop running around trying to see everyone and fit everything in. Mam even had me hoovering and cleaning on Day 2 at home - so I was laughing telling Dad to take a photo of me "on my holidays". But that's the thing when you go home - most ex-Pats will tell you the same thing; you use all your annual leave and spend A LOT of money to go home, but it's not a holiday; it's going home. There's a difference, but it's a good kind of difference - when your Mam gets you to go to the shops for some mince or asks you to put on a wash; I might groan but it feels good to be part of a family again!
Who ever said this was going to be a holiday?!