(again, not in real time because we are home now!)
As we enter our final week of our six week family adventure, well, our six-week German adventure, because anyone with small children knows that every day is an adventure, I am reflecting on our time together.
We have had some rough patches, this is for sure. This was expected, traveling with a 2 and 4 ½ year old and dealing with almost constant change, irregular sleeping schedules, new beds, new people, new languages, etc. It was totally expected to encounter some crankiness, some tantrums, lots of tears of overwhelm (from both mother and children). Expected or not, however, when traveling with small children, there is always that moment when in the middle of such “crises”, when one wonders if the trip is really “the right thing”, or at the very least, if it was worth it – for everyone involved. But as our family grows up, I am finding myself coming to some answers.
I come at this from two angles – my self, who LOVES to travel, who feels strongly about giving my children an international outlook in life, and who, quite simply, wanted to spend the summer away from Austin’s heat. I wanted to be among beautiful, historical buildings, quaint outdoor cafes, cobblestone streets, gargoyles, statues, castles and bakeries and European treats on every street corner. Then there is the mother-me who has read her share of parenting books, who not only knows but who fully embraces the idea of structure and routine, and who can quote you the AAP’s guidelines for recommended hours of sleep at each stage of development. These things – structure and sleep – have been my formula for raising happy and healthy children, to date. Plus some adherance to nutrional considerations. So, when we planned this trip, I kept asking myself – can these two parts of me be wed for a time such that we can traipse around Germany and still adhere to some sort of schedule, some semblance of eating well and some maintenance of happy and healthy children? The answer, as it turns out, is no. no. and yes.
I have tried to justify and explain our “schedule” to my mother-side self, over and over again. But no amount of manipulation of truth has allowed me to find peace with us adhering to any kind of schedule. The kids are sometimes, if not often, tired. When they are exhausted, we make all concessions to catch them up. Driving for hours on end on the Autobahn, from one city to the next, often serves this purpose. And other times, I am happy to take a break from our sight seeing fervor to allow Eliana (our napper) a proper afternoon nap. The children have not been to bed before 9:30 since we started this trip and it has been as late as 10 or 11 on many occasions. They do sleep in, but there are those mysterious days where they wake hours before their recommended sleeping hours are achieved. I’ve ‘let things go’ on this trip, for sure, but I have not been able to stop tracking their hours of sleep and making sure we at least get close to their sleep quotas, even if it’s catching up in the car. I used to think car sleeping didn’t really count. It does now.
On the eating front, imagine how we parents often let eating habits slide while on vacation because, “it’s vacation”, because we are eating out a lot and because their usual food may not be available (though, interesting to me is that kinder-menus in Germany are virtually identical to ours in the States, with the addition of Schnitzel). Our six-week slide has looked something like this:
Beginning of trip: “No, we don’t eat candy for breakfast.”
Now: “We don’t eat candy until after breakfast”
Beginning of trip: Take two more bites of chicken and then you can have more French fries.
Now: We order only the FF because we are so tired of wasting whatever they come with.
Beginning: If you don’t eat ____(insert some meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner), you won’t get dessert later.
Now: “ok. Eat this piece of bread and then we’ll get ice cream.”
Pizza has become the “healthy food” that we push on them. I am not proud of any of this, of course, but this is what happens after five weeks of vacation.
Despite all of the large deviations from my routine +sleep + nutrition formula, my kids are happy and healthy. Having had their parents or grandparents for such an extended period of time has had them basking in the constant rays of attention. It has also been very healthy for both Mark and I to have to do so much continuous parenting – together. At home I feel like we often to a lot of trading off while here we have had to handle every situation as a team. The eight days spent away from the children were also marvelous for rekindling our relationship and connecting as the best friends that we are. I feel our parenting has reflected this too. And at 2 and 4 ½, we have seen the relationship between Max and Eliana deepen. They are becoming real buddies, running off together, happily leaving mom and dad to enjoy more than just a few moments of conversation time. Eliana’s vocabulary has really expanded during this trip so the whole family has been rejoicing together with each new word. And even at this young age, family jokes have sprouted. I love the large windmills, used to generate electricity, that are dotted all across the German countryside, so I was often pointing them out. Exasperated, Max finally said, “we see those all of the time – stop pointing them out!” Now, we point them out, smirking at each other.
In short, this trip has allowed all of us to get to know each other better. This is what family vacations are meant to be for, I realize, but up until now, when we were traveling with really little ones, this was lost on me. I sometimes wondered why we were taking vacations! These family moments, the memories for some (Eliana won’t “remember”), the shared experiences, the new and re-kindled relationships – these things are also part of a happy and healthy child (for our inner-child too), so, to answer myself in whether it was all worth it, I would say, immeasurably so.
When we get back home, Eliana will start back to school and Max will have swim lessons then start school himself. Mark and I will jump back into our work schedules and the nanny will return. We will resume our schedules and at least some semblance of structure (ok, while I believe in this, I don’t provide perfect structure at home either). Sleep schedules will again be adhered to and vegetables will be served at every meal -even if they aren’t eaten, they are always served! We will look at pictures and tell friends about our adventures. We will continue to joke about mama always being lost…we may as well, remember some of the meltdowns (from both mama and child) because these make up the trip too. But in the end, I have realized that the formula can smudge….and it still equals happier, healthier family.