One mom to another

Dear moms of the world,

I know you’re like me.  We love our children.  You had a change-the-world moment when you looked into the face of your baby for the first time and you become anchored to that tiny soul.  The world suddenly revolved around that little person in your arms, and you would do anything to protect them.  The love you feel for your child is awesome and deep and amazingly strong.  You love that baby fiercely, and you are a force of nature that would do anything for that child . . . and then, at some point, you realized that every other mother has had that moment with her baby, too.  The world is a different place after that.

We love our babies.  We promise them that we will protect them, take care of them, love them, cherish them and move mountains if we have to.  We would die for them.  (And that isn’t hyperbole.  We really would.)  We want them to be happy, to feel good about themselves, and to be adored.  I will love my children completely, forever.  I hope that one day, my boys find someone who cherishes them as much as I do (it won’t happen, but I hope they get close).

Like all moms, I also fear for my children’s future.  I worry that they’ll grow up to be unhappy, insecure, unsatisfied, demoralized, ill, hopeless or lonely.  I worry that somewhere between now and adulthood they’ll stop feeling loved, or safe, or special.  It’s a concern that sometimes keeps me up at night.

If you could show me the future, and it showed that my children will be happy, healthy, fulfilled, loved, enthusiastic, peaceful and safe, I would walk around in a state of constant bliss.  THAT is what I want for my kids.  I know you want that for your children, too — we all do.  It’s a mom thing.

Now imagine, for a minute, that your child grows up to be gay.  (Maybe you think that can’t happen.  Maybe you think it’s one of the worst things that could happen.  But, humor me.  Imagine it.)  Imagine that your child is also happy, confident, healthy and satisfied with their life.  And that they are loved.  They are the center of someone’s world.  There is a person, who they adore, who looks at them almost the way that you do — someone who sees how marvelous, charming, intelligent, sweet, kind and amazing they are.  This person is the light of your child’s life.  And they want to be together, and be a family.

Can you see it?  (Does it make you a little sad?  It’s ok for the idea to be shocking to you.  You can work on that part later.)  But if you can REALLY imagine it, what do you want to happen next?  Do you want your wonderful, joyful, loved child to be able to happily build a life with this person who thinks they’re the greatest thing in the world?  Or do you want them to face ostracism, bigotry and legal invalidation?

You’re a mom.  You want joy for your baby.  Of course you do.  It might be hard to accept, if you’ve always been taught something else, but deep in your heart, you know that you want your child to be happy, loved, cherished and safe.  You don’t ever have to explain it to anyone.  You don’t even have to acknowledge that you know what’s right.  But when you vote, vote for the right thing.  Otherwise, you’re letting your child down.  You’re undermining those quiet, cuddling, baby promises you made.

They won’t remember it anyway

Something we’ve heard a fair bit since we started this adventure is, “There’s no point in travelling when your kids are this young.  It’s too much work, and they won’t remember it anyway.”  It’s come in slightly different forms, from friends, from family, from strangers.  Most recently, we got this advice from an older American man we met as he waited for his wife outside of the Starbucks in Versailles.

I don’t entirely understand why people say that to us.  I understood it a little when it was said BEFORE we packed up our family and moved to Austria, but when you’re standing with two kids in a stroller and an Ergo in front of a Starbucks in France, the ship has kind of sailed on that opinion being useful advice.

It may even be true that they won’t remember much of our travels, but it completely misses the point.  Saying, “Don’t travel, the kids won’t remember it yet” is like saying, “We don’t have our camera with us, we might as well sit at home and stare at the walls”.  Is the point of traveling . . . of doing anything, really . . . just to have a perfectly formed, indelible memory of the event?  Sure, memories are nice, like perfect pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower are nice, but you don’t GO to France to take the picture.  (At least, I hope not.)

The point is to have the experience.  Not solely because of the memories it creates, but because of what it does to us.  The idea is not to passively observe these things we see when we’re travelling, but to experience them and allow them to change us.  We see, we learn, we try, and then we fail or succeed.  It expands our perspective and alters our perception.  We travel because it teaches us about the way things are done elsewhere.  We learn how things we’ve taken for granted aren’t assumed other places.  We learn about things that are tolerated, embraced, accepted or unheard of in a way that is completely different from the way that we think.  We learn that we’re capable of more than we thought.  We learn how to face adversity with flexibility and joy.  We learn all of these things, too, about our travel companions (in my case, I learn about my family, which is a pretty big deal).  Most importantly, we spend the time together.

Whether or not my kids take a single concrete memory from our time in Europe is irrelevant.  The knowledge of where they’ve been and what they’ve done will change their perception of who they are and how they fit into the world.  It will frame their ideas of what they are capable of.  It will inform their notions of what family life is like.  Benjamin is more confident than he would have been without our adventures.  He travels happily at 3 years old — climbing into his window seat on the plane and buckling his seatbelt.  He knows to watch for the seatbelt fastened sign to be turned off because he knows I’ll let him get up on his knees and look out the window.  He reads the signs to navigate in some of Vienna’s busiest train stations — a skill that translated to Paris.  He knows he is capable of doing things I was nervous about doing when I was an adult.  Liam will never know a time where he hasn’t been a citizen of the world.  He’s eaten in very fancy French restaurants (in France) and took his first steps on a different continent than where he was born.  I believe that my boys will fear less, try more and take fewer things for granted.  They will carry these ideas with them FOREVER, even if they have no recollection of visiting the Arc de Triomphe or sledding in Innsbruck.

And, it has changed me.  I know now that I can do more than I thought I could, and I can handle it more gracefully.  I’ve learned to let go of a lot, and I have clarified my priorities.  I take myself less seriously, and I hope I approach life a little more kindly.  I’m more pleasant to be around (most of the time) and our home is more peaceful.  I am happier, more relaxed and more flexible.

So, is whether or not the kids remember the fountains of Versailles really relevant?  It’s not where you go — how you get there’s the worthier part.  And, of course, who you are when you arrive.

Watching the planes in Paris.

My to do list

I woke up grumpy today.  Maybe it was the stress of dealing with my passport renewal this week, maybe it was the fact that Dan was taking a class this week that necessitated upending our usual daily routine around here, maybe it’s the fact that I woke up with a stiff neck yesterday (a relic of a whiplash injury from a car accident years ago) and dealing with pain for over 24 hours was grating.  Maybe I was just grumpy, and there wasn’t a particular reason.

Regardless, I was not having a good day.  By the time Dan & Benjamin left for work and school this morning, I didn’t feel like doing anything, I was irritable and exhausted (and that was just after 8:00).

I got started on my to do list for today:  cleaning, straightening, sweeping.  The rest of the list (laundry, exercising, trimming Liam’s nails and other assorted errands) just made me more irritated every time I looked at it.  The state of my house was stressing me out but the thought of doing anything about it was overwhelming.

I used to have days like this all the time, but they aren’t common anymore.  I know the pattern, though — as the day goes on, whether or not I accomplish anything — I get more irritable, and, inevitably, my kids end up suffering for it.  Sometimes I’m just grumpy all day (not fun for anyone), sometimes I end up growling at them over some minor infraction, sometimes I lose it a little and either break down in tears or scream in frustration.  No matter what, it’s not good.  I knew I needed something to get me off of that track and on to another one, but I didn’t know what to do — I’ve never really been successful before at rerouting my energy once I’ve started off in a funk.

I couldn’t think of anything that would make me feel better.  More coffee?  Chocolate?  A walk in the park?  None of it seemed appealing, and I didn’t think any of it was going to improve my mood (actually, the walk probably would have, but the stress of getting Liam & I ready, going to the park, and insuring I was back in time to pick Benjamin up from school negated the allure).  I noticed, though, that every time I walked past my kitchen dry erase board (home to my daily to do list) I got grouchier.

I’m not sure if the list was the cause of my bad mood, or just exacerbating it, but I realized that the consequences of failing to do every single thing on the list would only be a busier weekend, while the consequences of trying to accomplish all of it might be losing my temper with my kids.  One day of incomplete chores is irritating, maybe frustrating, and potentially inconvenient.  One day of crying hysterically or snapping at my kids is immeasurably worse.

So, I erased the entire list and replaced it with a new one.

To anyone who isn’t a list person, this probably sounds silly, but for me, this was novel and incredibly difficult.  I live by my list.  It guides my schedule and actions throughout the day, and I get an unreasonable amount of satisfaction out of checking things off of it.  Completely abandoning it, conceding that each one of those things would go undone and accepting that putting all of it off will probably make tomorrow harder are all against my nature.  But none of those things matter in comparison to keeping myself in a good place, because being in a good place allows me to be a better mom.

It wasn’t a perfect day.  I snarled at Liam twice — once when he pulled the drawer out of my nightstand and then started chucking stuff under the bed as I was scrambling to collect it all, and then once when he started “helping” (with very yucky results) during a diaper change.  But really, it was a pretty good day.  And I know it was better than it would have been if I’d spent my meager energy on laundry and paying bills.  Much better.  And the bills and laundry will wait until tomorrow.

Our new place

Just over a year ago, I came to Vienna for the first and only time before I decided to move here.  I was here for four days — I came to meet Dan on one of his business trips.  I wanted to get a feel for the city and see if I could even imagine myself living here.  I wasn’t here for long, but we tried to get out, see some sights and experience as much of the city as possible.

025Sunday morning of my trip here (which was also Valentine’s Day) we got up very early (not easy to do, due to the jetlag) and went to see the Vienna Boys’ Choir.  We weren’t entirely sure where we were going, and we got a little lost on the way.  We came up out of the wrong exit from the U station into a silent little square.  It was cobblestoned and deserted.  We set off, trying to find our way, and encountered a few people making their way to the church that was a little further along the square.  It was quiet, beautiful and perfectly my idea of Europe.  I loved it instantly.  I wanted to know where we were, but we were running late and didn’t have time to explore.  We eventually found our way to our destination, and didn’t get a chance to return.

028A few months ago, when we made the final decision to move here to Vienna, we began to look for housing.  At one point in the search, I asked Dan, “Do you think we could live in that little square we found that Sunday morning?”  It was half-joking, since we didn’t know where it was exactly, and we both figured that area would be too expensive, since it was right in the heart of the city.

031This morning, we were heading back to our favorite apartment, to take a second look at it and make sure it’s the one we wanted.  Since we’re staying in a different part of the city now, we arrived by way of a different U station than we did the first time we saw it.  We came up out of the station on our way to the apartment . . . and we were in the little square.  No kidding.  I couldn’t believe it at first, but it was the same.  It’s busier on a weekday, and more beautiful in the springtime, but it was the same place.

We went on to see the apartment — it’s as perfect as we remembered, and we’re so excited to have found a place.  But, how amazing to have found that it’s just next to the little square we found that morning — the same little square we’ve been thinking of and hoping to see again.  This apartment, this neighborhood — they really feel like home to us.  When we visit there, it feels like where want to be.  Finding our little, quiet square this morning just made it seem that much more perfect, and we’re so excited to be moving there.