“You talk funny,” the four-year-old standing in front of me noted in his thick Cork accent, a spirited grin spreading across his face. His dad apologized as I threw my head back laughing. In late January, I eagerly accepted a position assisting a young Irish couple as the wife recovered from surgery. Primarily, I was to aid in the daily physical tasks associated with running the home and minding their two boys: a bouncy one-year-old and his brother who, at present, was staring inquisitively up at me with cartoon-scale blue eyes.
If you want to be immersed in a culture, I recommend spending time with children born into it. While adults tend to politely infer meaning from context, children will let you know – in no uncertain terms – if what you say or do is out of place. Usually, there will be tears. This is how I found myself Googling “how to make beans on toast” at lunch one afternoon in case the dish was not as self-explanatory as one might think. (Spoiler: it is.)
Oh, but what it must be like to grow up in Ireland.
Rain is far from a deterrent of afternoons at the park; we simply slip a rain suit over our school uniform and wellies and shield the buggy with a plastic cover. Puddle jumping is an extreme sport among the friend group of my elder charge and shadow games on the illusive sunny day might extend our walk from playschool by nearly an hour. “The Salmon of Knowledge,” an Irish fable about the value of wisdom and perseverance, is a naptime favorite of boys I anticipate I will, one day, recite to my own children.
In early March, a cold front dumped several feet of snow on Ireland – the most seen by the country in over 30 years. I cantankerously tugged on my hiking boots for the trek to work, muttering under my breath how I thought moving here meant sweet relief from the regular blizzards of my Colorado childhood. Nobody in Cork shared my disdain for the storm. With much of the city shut down, the local adults took to the streets to play. Play. Snowmen of all shapes littered unplowed sidewalks and baking trays became makeshift sleds. I witnessed one random passerby blissfully return fire after becoming the unintended target of a rogue snowball.
The door of the family home flew open and out waddled several layers of clothing which concealed a four-year-old. “Have you ever even seen this much snow?!” the clothing squealed. Dad and mom joined us in the garden and, under the supervision of their eldest son, started to build the first snowman of their lives. The toddler gripped my knee as he explored the sensation of snow under his boots. He bent and scooped up a handful of snow and offered it to my lips in the same way he extends to me every piece of his lunchtime “beans on toast.” Grinning, I bit into the chunk and he roared with laughter. Somewhere, buried beneath 24 years of school and work and heartbreaks and lessons regarding the way one is supposed to operate in the world, one-year-old me giggled, too.
I am growing up in Ireland.
I am realizing I am strong enough to thrive despite the clouds. I am exploring the ways in which the sun hits the earth here; it’s different from other places I have called home. I am singing new songs and speaking new words and trying new foods; I am learning to exist in a world that is only just becoming familiar. And, with any luck, it will make me a better person.
As I sat rocking a snoring toddler that afternoon I prayed that, as time passes, he and his brother will continue to cherish their Irish roots. I know I will.