No Babies on Board

Each year for the past few years, I have traveled at this time from my home to my sister’s home in Iowa, with the destination of the International Casual Furniture Market in Chicago. We have a booth there for our outdoor furniture covers company, and while the event, itself, is about exciting as the name sounds (unless you have some sort of furniture fetish), the show is actually a highlight of the year. Chicago in September is always lovely – dinners, shopping and spending time with my sister shape most of my memories of these trips, even though the tradeshow does take up a fair bit of the actual time. So even though I don’t work for the company any more, I volunteered to go this year. My sister stores our booth set-up, so I fly to Iowa first where I also get to see my niece and nephew and then we are off for our 5 hour drive to Chicago. It’s a great chance to chat, catch up and solve the world’s problems together. Last year I had a 3 month old Eliana with me – she cooperated and slept almost the entire time on the way there. On the way home, however, she cried for 2 ½ hours straight.

So it was with great excitement that my husband and I, after deliberating all of the logistics possibilities with our two children, landed on the scenario that I go alone. No children. Eliana (now 15 months) would go to her Oma and Opa’s house (“grandma and grandpa” in German). Max would stay home with Mark and a nanny. This was to be my first trip without children in over 1 ½ years. I write now on my return and report that every moment has been as glorious as I dreamed.

I know that for many, or maybe even most (?) mothers, my adventure would not be the same. Many mothers lament having to leave their kiddos. During the first leg of the trip, in which I had Eliana with me, we sat next to an entire family – a mother, a father, a 3 ½ year old (born in the same month as Max), and a grandmother. I learned tidbits about their life – the kind we share with strangers on a plane – and I learned that they have never been away from Jessica. Ever. She quit her job and stays home with Jessica. And every time that the father needs to travel (he’s a doctor, so it is not very often), the whole family goes, including grandma. While having grandma along on every trip would certainly be a big help, I still can not help but say, “I can not freaking imagine”. I am simply not wired this way. I need some space. I had breathed a sigh of relief when, after hearing their story, I didn’t feel in the least bit guilty – but just felt good about getting clear on some of the things that I need for me to be a good mother. One of these things, for me, is some time away.

The first time I left our first he was a mere 9 months old and I was very torn. I was working part time then and had to leave to attend a tradeshow in Germany. I was worried that Max was too young to be without me for 6 days (coincidentally the same length that I am away from Eliana this time), while also excited about the trip to Germany (I live for International travel). I had been in a pumping frenzie before I left to leave enough supply and I was worried about pumping on the go – I was going to have to pump every 4 – 5 hours in order to keep my production up. My departure on that trip had been quick – like the ripping of the band-aid – but I had a small break-down in the airport, which involved crying in public while on the phone with my own mother. But it only took a half hour into the plane ride to overcome the worry and revel in the fun of being on my own again. And after pumping first in the airport bathroom and then in the airplane bathroom, I realized that, while not fun, the pumping schedule was also going to work out OK. In the end I realized all of my worry really was for naught. Max and his grandparents could not have had a better time in our absence. They still talk about that stay to this day and how much it meant to them.

So, this time, after 15 months with two children and traveling, sometimes with just one, but frequently with both, I have had almost nothing but excitement for this trip. While I did have a speck of obligatory mother-worry, I knew that my children were in excellent care. Eliana was the cause for a little more concern as this is her first time away from me. She never did take a bottle so for our year of nursing, we have not been away from each other for even a full day. Perhaps she sensed this independent bug in her mama and wanted to keep her close. She succeeded. Anyway, leaving her this time carried no sadness for me. It was time. I think she sensed this too. I had explained to her several times that day that mommy was going away for some days and that she was going to have a great time with Oma and Opa. When it came time for me to leave, as soon as Opa put my bag in the car, she started to wave good bye. I gave her one last big hug and hopped in the car. She never even cried. And neither did I. Reports from Atlanta have been nothing but happiness and appreciation from Oma and Opa to be able to spend time with Eliana without her older brother around to steal the show –  they adore him too much to ever not allow him to steal it. They have been able to really get to know their grand-daughter, and vice-versa, and everyone, including me, is very happy.

I have been careful to appreciate every moment of the trip with the freedom very infrequently experienced by a mother with 2 small children. In the security line I watched other couples with their children and reveled in the ease of my own experience. While children are a lot of fun, the security line is always a difficult moment to manage. When alone with both kids, I’ve had to resort to setting Eliana on the floor (before she could walk) while I dismantled and sent through the stroller, our carry-ons (always stuffed full with diapers, extra clothes and toys and other items for what I hope will later pacify them for hours on the flight) and both children’s SHOES (this is a ridiculous rule that even babies must remove their shoes). I strolled to my gate, relaxed and enjoying the quiet –no one crying that they wanted to be either in or out of the stroller, no one asking what everything is or why it is that way. While I often enjoy the line of questioning I could also enjoy not having to think of anyone else except myself. And there, in a few words, I think I have hit upon the luxury of this entire trip – having not to consider anyone else’s needs but my own. The definition of selfish! As I walked to my gate, I stopped and bought a sandwich. Then I eyed the Ben & Jerry’s counter where I realized I I could partake without having to worry about whether I really wanted my kids to have any. I ultimately chose not to, but it was fun even considering it.

My flights were filled with glorious things, like, reading. I can not even remember the last time I got to read on a flight. When my eyes were fatigued from reading, I put my seat back and actually closed my eyes! I didn’t nap, but just rested. And it was magnificent. And then the crowning glory moment came – the beverage cart. I ordered a ginger ale. I drank it. It was sweet, sparkling and satisfying. Even if you have not traveled with small children, I think you can imagine the logistical difficulties of even considering getting a drink from the beverage cart. Both flights (I had a connection) were full of these lovely indulgences of reading, resting and a fizzy drink. I could not think of anything that would have spoiled this. Delays, without children, are just delays and not forms of psychological terror, like my last trip, stuck for 6 hours in the Dallas airport with both children, all alone(2 ½ hours were spent on the tarmac).

Sleep, as you can imagine, was another thing I absolutely savored. At home I often crawl into bed at the end of a day, exhausted, and usually slightly exasperated that I didn’t get to bed earlier, a promise I make to myself every day when I’m in the throws of the day and feeling like I am not going to make it to that night. I always make a silent prayer that my children will be forgiving and a) not call for me during the night, and b) “sleep in” in the morning until 7:30. Sometimes both of these prayers are answered, but often they are not. We are finally at a stage where sleeping through the night generally happens, unless my 3 ½ year old decides to call for me at 4:30 in the morning to ask me when morning time will be here. But we are usually up by 7:00 and there is something magic, for me, about making it past 7:00. Getting up after 7:00 seems so normal. And when I never get to bed before 11:00, it gives me hope for a solid 8 hours of sleep. Something I had not gotten for over a year, so it’s very precious to me still. Anyway, on this trip, I have been crawling into bed at night, giddy by the fact that I know I can sleep in. Even the day I had to set an alarm, it wasn’t until 8:00. That morning I woke up at 7:20, naturally, so I got up and went to work out – another luxury. I honestly had such a hard time calming my excitement about this sleep-in factor that it took me a little while to calm myself enough to fall asleep. I snuggled into my pillow-cocoon, thought about my beautiful family, all of us taken care of, and drifted off to a place of deep sleep and abundant dreams. I am sure my husband would have appreciated being with me when sex after 11:00 p.m would actually be more than a remote possibility, but that will have to wait for another time. This trip I was too busy being selfish.

Every single moment has been spent in appreciation for this independence and freedom. While this sounds like I didn’t miss my kids, this is not exactly the case. I have been away now for almost 6 days. I look forward to seeing my children, but don’t feel a painful longing. I feel like I needed this break and I am going to soak every moment of it into my pores so that I can let it seep out slowly when I return home to, no doubt, children that may just be extra sensitive and clingy for a few days. I feel that now I am ready for, even looking forward to being clung to. I am an expert snuggler (I always say that this is my forte in mothering. Boundaries and being consistent? I struggle with that, but snuggling? I am a GREAT snuggler), and I’ll be ready to snuggle for a couple days straight after all of this me-time. There will be so much more, once again, to give.

A Little Off

I usually feel pretty in touch with my body and my emotions. Earlier this year, when I was just ‘not well’, both physically and emotionally, I self-assessed and sought professional help on both fronts. But lately, while I had not been feeling stressed, per se, my behavior is indicating that I most certainly am. Logically I can’t point to anything going on right now that would be affecting me so. I am having some nanny woes, so this could be affecting more than I want to admit, but there is definitely something. How do I know? A few tell-tale signs….

One of my first indicators of stress is my language, a.k.a “potty mouth”. I don’t actually feel that I have much of a potty mouth these days, at least compared to my working (perhaps again related to stress) and pre-children days. I actually use terms like, “fudge”, “dang it” and “son-of-a-gun”, for the benefit of my kids, both of them at language absorbing ages. One of my other favorites is to use “Scheisse”, the German equivalent of shit. Although Max understands German, there is this false sense, when swearing in another language, that it’s not really swearing. This week, however, one of the indications that I am a more than a little stressed was when I accidentally said “shit” in the car when I turned down the wrong road. Max piped up from the back seat, “What did you say?” Instead of trying to cover, like I usually do, with a, “nothing”, a, “I said SIT, honey”, or something of the like, I actually just repeated it for him. “I said shit Max.” “Oh”, was all he had to say. I am sure my next blog posting will be how he shouted this at the top of his lungs when he dropped something at the grocery store. But at the time, I was irritated enough that repeating my profanity to my 3 year old seemed appropriate.

My second indicator is that my taste in music shifts. My husband and I have very different tastes in music. I like “happy music”, as he deems it. I love up-beat, funky/groovy tunes that make it impossible for me to keep my body still. Mark likes, what used to be called heavy-metal, now referred to as ‘alternative’ music that, generally, makes me want to sit in a dark room and stab pencils into my thighs. Well, this past week, I got into the car and the radio came on, set to one of Mark’s radio stations. I didn’t change it. This music suddenly spoke to me in a way that it normally does not. It actually soothed some restless, stressed beast inside of me. I am not sure what this says about my husband’s personality on a daily basis, but I think it’s best I don’t contemplate that. Another day, I got in the car and Sarah Carpenter was on the radio. It actually made me angry and for a moment, I hated Sarah Carpenter. While I am not really a Sarah Carpenter fan, my anger towards her made me realize that something is not right in this head-o-mine.

There have been some other indicators also – not sleeping as well, for one, and probably related, a couple moments where I actually screamed, like my throat hurt afterwards screamed, at Max. One day he had his little sister’s arm cocked in his two hands like he was going to snap her arm in half – he’s in a “stage” and he was doing what he knew would get my attention the most. His 15 month old sister, by the way, is one tiny creature. Having always been in ~ the 10th percentile in weight, her arms appear as if they could snap in half if you even look them too hard. There is a ‘protector-mommy’ beast that lurks in my intestine and this gesture beckoned her out. I screamed at him to let her go. Then he was hauled off to his bed, where he ‘takes a break’ when I need a break from him! We worked through it all, with hopefully as little mental scarring as possible, as we mommies and munchkins do. But yet again, I was left with the realization that mommy needs to take some of her own advice, and ‘chill’ (something I tell Max to do when he’s in my face about something like opening a new toy, which he of course wants done immediately, while packaging of kids’ toys generally takes a couple hours of reverse engineering to undo). A non-stressed mommy would have realized that he was not, in fact, going to snap her arm in half and that he just needed some attention – which he was clearly begging for.

While I could get caught up in the analysis of my life and all the areas where this stress could be coming from, I recognize that this really doesn’t serve me in the short term. It’s interesting, and oh how I do love to analyze, but I could use this time more wisely. A little more me-time would serve my children right now. My inner doctor calls for more meditation, which for some reason is the first thing to fall out of my schedule when my schedule goes hay-wire. And more rest. Ahhhh, just saying more rest makes me feel better. Well timed, I am actually going on my first kid-free trip in 1 ½ years this week. While I can’t help but worry a bit about leaving them, I know that my children will appreciate a well-rested mama that can laugh more, scream less and perhaps even tolerate Sarah Carpenter once again.

Land of the Lost

I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for kids’ toys. This is a frustrating activity, to say the least. We have a handful of the Cars ™ cars, and one moment I see Max playing with them. The next moment he’s asking, “Where did Old Paint Job Lightning McQueen (vs new paint job Lightning McQueen) go?”  My classic response is, “I don’t know, I wasn’t playing with him – where did you put him?” This response is one I see saying for years and years to come with about the same success rate – 0. Either my 3 ½ year old doesn’t have the ability to think back to the last place he was seen and to do some actual searching, or he’s doing a very good job feigning his lack of this ability.

After a couple days of him asking, the curiosity gets the better of me – and I really do want to find this much-loved toy so we can all move on with our lives – and I start the search. I look in the obvious spots – under furniture, in couch cushions and the like. Not there. Then I start looking in the slightly more obscure spots – in beds, bathtubs and the laundry room. Nope. Then I elevate to last resorts – in the car, garage, even kitchen cupboards. With a 15 month old wandering around, items can sometimes be found anywhere. One car (unfortunately not the famously missing Lightning McQueen, which, for anyone who knows the Cars movie, this statement is much more ironic than I intended. I guess we should start searching small forgotten towns in the west), was found after I had to investigate what was in the dryer sounding like someone had left metal marbles in their pockets. I then recalled Eliana wandering around with this little car in her hand, which obviously ended up in the laundry pile – I guess she thought it was dirty. Oh how I now wish Lightning would show himself in such a dramatic fashion. Mind you, this is already our 2nd Old Paintjob Lightning McQueen because the first one did a similar magical disappearing act in which he never returned. Now we have two Old Paint Job Lightnings that have gone AWOL. And this is what my life is affected by these days.

I don’t feel our house is overly cluttered or chaotic, or more so than any other home where a 15 month old and a 3 ½ year old reside. So, like the socks in the washer, I have to ask….WHERE DO THESE TOYS GO????? Some toys, of course, we know how we lose – we take them to the park or a restaurant and they don’t return.  But when I know that the toy didn’t leave the house, this drives me to the brink of insanity, which by the way, with the aforementioned 15 month old and the 3 ½ year old, I am never very far from at any given moment anyway. It’s not that I can’t let go of the physical toy – it’s just a toy, even if it’s one of the more loved toys. It’s that I KNOW that it is in our house that drives me mad. I’m in my 30’s now, well, way into my 30’s, almost on my way out, so I can let the missing sock thing go – but the toy thing is too new for me. I am having trouble with this one. I’ve enlisted the nanny, sitters and house cleaners – no one has yet to come up with either missing Lightning. What would the Buddhist in me say? Buddhism is all about letting go. Letting go. Letting go. Of everything. Ego. Attachement. Especially to lost kids’ toys. Letting go. It can’t be said enough. Let go. Let go. Let go. And I will. As soon as I check under our mattress, the kids’ sock drawer and the mailbox. Damn you Lighting McQueen!!! (Buddhism doesn’t say you can’t be dramatic in the process:) )