Celebrating at school


029Though it can be a bit hard to tell now (most days he hovers between being vaguely lukewarm and basically unenthusiastic about going to school), there were a lot of things Liam really looked forward to about starting school and getting to be just like Benjamin — field trips, Lanternenfest, playing in the garden.  But none was so eagerly anticipated as celebrating his birthday at school (and yes, I’m still writing about stuff that happened back in September — I’ll catch up eventually).

Last year, which was his first year at school, he had a great time at his school birthday party, but having a September birthday, and being one of the first to celebrate, I think it was a bit overwhelming for him.  I think he was a little uncomfortable with having the attention of his entire class focused on him.  This year, though, he was ready.  He knew it was coming, and he was really looking forward to it.

031The way things work at the school (with parent involvement being limited to a few particular events each year), I don’t get to be there.  (Since not every parent would be able to come to celebrate their child’s birthday, no parents are allowed to come.  “It wouldn’t be fair.”  Which is a bummer for me — getting to help out at the boys’ schools was one of the parts of being a stay at home mom that I most looked forward to).  But, based on his stories, and on the pictures, he really enjoyed himself.  He got to blow out the candles, have cake, be sung to by his whole class, and open up a few gifts.  One, a stuffed dolphin, was a gift from his teachers, while a few others, containing puzzles, were from us and destined to remain at school, rather than come home with him.  (So he didn’t get to KEEP those, just OPEN them, which he wasn’t 100% on board with.)

643Generally, though he was so happy.  He was so excited that morning that it was his big day to celebrate at school, and he was so pleased when I picked him up.  As with the key chain his teacher made for him last year, he absolutely treasures his new dolphin.  He spent days afterwards cuddling with it and singing to it.  He was a very happy birthday boy, and he loved getting to celebrate at school.  Nothing really says, “I’m so big” like celebrating a birthday at school.  My little guy is getting to be so grown up.

Celebrating Liam’s 4th birthday

223I love birthdays.  I love celebrating the fact that someone I love exists on this planet and that I get to know them.  My kids’ birthdays are my favorites — I get to reflect on how my little guys are growing, ponder the speed with which time passes, and spend a whole day celebrating their existence.  We’ve developed a great set of birthday traditions in our family — Dan stays home from work, both boys stay home from school (for as long as Liam prefers to be home instead of at school for his birthdays — B, with a summer birthday, doesn’t really have to choose), the birthday boy gets to choose any birthday activity that he likes and he gets to select the meals for the day (and, of course, the cake and ice cream).  I just love seeing how each of my guys chooses to celebrate their big day.


This year, Liam wanted to go to the pool.  He was absolutely sure that he wanted to go to the pool and that he didn’t want a party — just family, and a day at the pool.  Great!  (The day before, he changed his mind and said that he DID want a party, but then he changed it back.)  But, when he woke up on the morning of his birthday, after opening all his gifts, he suddenly changed his mind and decided he wanted to go to the zoo, instead.  The zoo is one of my favorite outings in Vienna, and it’s absolutely fantastic in the early fall, and even better (and less crowded) on the weekdays.  So, that was also great!

245And so, to celebrate Liam, we went to the zoo.  We saw pandas and polar bears and penguins.  We saw the big cats eating their dinners (yikes!). We stopped for hot chocolate and chocolate pretzels and ice cream.  The boys climbed and slid and spun all around the playground and we all rode on the zoo train.  We had a great day.  Most importantly, Liam had a great day.

And then, at the end, my very grown up 4 year old boy informed us all that it was time to go home, and we did, and when we arrived there, he very shortly passed out on the floor for an impromptu birthday nap.  We finished the day with strawberry dinosaur cupcakes (by request).  (I made, for the first time ever, strawberry frosting from scratch for the cupcakes.  It was GREAT.  The kids hated it.  But the cake and the toy dinosaurs were a hit.)


My little guy turned 4 years old.  We celebrated his birthday the whole day long, exactly the way that he wanted to.  A good time was had by all.  It was a very good birthday celebration.  Yay for Liam and for turning 4!






Oh, my wonderful baby.  You’re 4!  That is amazing and incredible and awesome to me.  How big you are now!  I am shocked at the speed with which time passes, but so overjoyed at seeing you grow.  You are an amazing kid.  I feel so lucky to get to watch you grow up, and to see you every day becoming more and more YOU.

You are so big and strong, clever and funny, sweet and thoughtful, and so, so loving.  You are also stubborn, and willful, and opinionated . . . and I love it all.  I love all of you.  I love every bit of my wonderful Liam.

I love your stories and your jokes.  I love the way you count on your fingers.  I love your animated expressions and your silly faces.  I am so proud of the way that you have completely taken over caring for your lip injury from earlier this year — you want to do it all yourself, so you do, and you do a careful and thorough job.  I love the way you stick up your index finger and say, “Remind me …” when you want us to particularly take note of something.  I love how you know EXACTLY what you want, and how you don’t change your opinion to suit anyone else.  I love it when you’re quiet and cuddly, and I love it when you’re wild, too.

I love to see you build things!  You have amazing vision and creativity, and you do a great job seeing your projects through.  I love to see you with your stuffed animals.  You make families and friends from them, and you love to care for them and nurture them.  You’ve recently started singing to them, as well.  You are so sweet.

This past summer, we went “summer sledding” for the first time.  You loved it, so did I.  But my favorite part was that you chose, each time, to ride with me, even though your dad was undoubtedly the more exciting option.  We rode together, each time down the mountain.  We had a blast, and I enjoyed your company so much.  You are such a great little guy.  I love you with my whole heart, my littlest one.

You often ask me to hold you like a baby, and recently, you’ve started asking me to wrap you up in a baby blanket sometimes, too.  I think that you are starting to feel that the days of truly being a baby are behind you.  I will miss that, too, but you will always be MY baby, I will always be your mommy, and I will always love you more than I could ever say.

Even when I’m feeling frustrated — when you hit your brother, when you aren’t listening, or when you’re getting Bailey to chase you (again!) —  I am still grateful for the more challenging parts of who you are.  I think those characteristics will serve you well in life.  I love that you stay true to what you want and to who you are, and I love that your desire to take care of yourself is stronger than your desire to please anyone else.  I love that you won’t let anyone push you around.  You are a tough cookie … but you are also sweet, kind and loving.  You care about everyone, and you want to help comfort and care for all of us.  Benjamin, in particular, is very important to you.  You love him so much, and always want to catch up to what he’s doing or learning.

I love you, my exuberant, enthusiastic, creative, sweet 4 year old guy.  You are a whirlwind and a force of nature.  You are so wonderful.  You are not always easy to parent, but you are so easy to love.  I love you so very much, my sweet baby.  Happy birthday.

B’s birthday party

I sat down today to start writing about our summer vacation, and in doing so, mentioned Benjamin’s birthday party (the one with his friends).  And then I realized I hadn’t yet written about THAT … and since that came before the vacation, that’s what I’m going to write about today.  (And yes, we do a lot for birthdays around here.  If you’re counting, B had one birthday party at school, one here with his friends in June — the one I’m about to write about, one day of illness hindered festivity on his actual birthday and one day at the pool with the family, which was supposed to happen ON his birthday but couldn’t due to the aforementioned illnesses.  That’s 4.  My plan is to start the vacation stories tomorrow.  We’ll see if that actually happens.)

214Last year, B really wanted to have a birthday party with his friends — his first.  He wanted to invite his whole class (20 kids) plus some other friends, which was very sweet but also very impractical.  This year, having a better sense of how birthday parties work here, I gave him license to invite 6 kids (one for each year of his age — stole that idea from a friend) … but he didn’t want to.  He decided that he only wanted to invite his best friend and his best friend’s little brother (conveniently, also Liam’s best buddy from school).  So, that’s what we did.

That changed the feeling of it from a party to more of a playdate with fun decorations and cake, which was actually great because it made the whole thing pretty laid back.  The kids played.  We parents talked.  I encouraged the boys to play a few games we had set up, but mostly they played together really well on their own. The cake turned out pretty well (it was my first time attempting to serve a fondant cake to anyone outside of the family, so I was a little nervous).  Good times were had.

259My favorite part of the day was during the water balloon game I had invented — which was basically just an excuse to get the boys out onto the terrace and playing in some water on a hot day.  There weren’t any rules, just some chalk drawings of pigs (it was an Angry Bird party) as targets for the boys’ water balloons.  The idea was to toss the balloons, splash each other and generally to be silly.  But it didn’t work that way.  As it turns out, I don’t really have any idea how to properly fill water balloons.  My first few attempts resulted in a soaked bathroom floor, so I took a conservative approach and didn’t fill them to capacity.  Turns out, though, that underfilled water balloons are nearly impossible to break.  So, the kids spent about half an hour attempting to break the same balloons over and over again.  Every so often they’d manage to get one, but generally, it took 6 or 7 tries per balloon.  I was worried they’d tear through them and be finished in 5 minutes, but that wasn’t a problem.  It was generally hilarious.  Luckily, they enjoyed the process (and the results) enough to not particularly mind.  They remained both determined and entertained throughout, everyone got sufficiently soaked, and a good time was had by all.


Pool party

065We finally managed to string enough healthy days together to go to the wave pool to celebrate B’s birthday — 16 days after the big day.  When you just turned 6, and you have to wait for 16 whole days to celebrate your birthday while your brother, dad and mom are getting better but you’re feeling fine, it’s pretty tough to be patient and reasonable about it, I think.  But B did great.  He did get frustrated and cry and say a few angry things to me the third time we had to reschedule, but I completely understand (and I’m honestly glad to see he’s not TOO grown for that up yet).

This past Saturday, though, we were all well, and we had all been well for about 5 days, so we finally went.  We finally got to splash and play in the pool.  We finally got to go down the water slides.  We finally got to float on the inner tube “river”.  We finally got to have lunch and ice cream at the pool.  We finally got to spend the day celebrating the way the birthday boy wanted to.


We had a wonderful time.  We celebrated with our big 6 year old guy.  We spent the whole day, all together.  I spent some time playing with Liam while Dan played with B, I spent some time playing with B while Dan played with Liam, and we spent some time all playing together.  It was a great day.  My big kid is 6, we finally got to celebrate, and I could not be happier about it.



Last week, during the seemingly unending time of stomach illnesses at our house, I had a birthday.  (It’s a busy time around here — Dan has a birthday next week, too.)  I turned 38.  I’ve reached an age where I honestly lose track of exactly how old I am (all year I’ve been thinking, “Am I 38 already or am I turning 38 this year?”).  Now it’s official.  Definitely 38.

And I’ve been so lucky to have had another great year.  We’ve travelled, and we are truly enjoying life here in Europe — and I recently learned that sommerrodelbahn is some of the most fun a person can have.  I absolutely adore spending my days with my wonderful boys who are growing up at an alarming rate and who are truly wonderful to be around.  A year ago, I expected that I would be home by now, but though I do miss home very much, I am also grateful for the opportunity to enjoy Austria for a little while longer.  (No matter how much I miss home, I know that one day, I will miss Austria, too.)

Most likely, this coming year will actually see us return home (though I’ve seriously given up trying to pinpoint anything), but, even more importantly, this year is going to see my boys continue to learn and grow, and I get to become an aunt, which I’m incredibly excited about!

Life is good.  I am so fortunate.  My days are filled with so much fun and happiness and adventure.  And I’m so excited to see what this next year will bring.  Happy birthday to me!  38 is going to be fantastic!

Benjamin’s birthday

Our first day back to “normal” after vacation was exhausting.  I really was totally beat by the end of the day — I’d forgotten how much it took out of me to spend the whole day with the kids while simultaneously trying to get some laundry done, unpack from our trip and get everyone fed.  Climbing into bed that night was so satisfying.  I was so ready for a good night’s sleep.

Alas, it was not to be.  B woke up, sick, after an hour.  We spent the next few hours bathing B, doing laundry and mopping floors.  There’s nothing quite like unscheduled, middle of the night housework!  After a rough night all around, we spent the next few days taking care of a sick B and wondering when the illness would strike next.

2380Benjamin’s birthday was that Friday, July 18.  By Thursday night, he was feeling pretty well, so we were hopeful that he would be able to fully enjoy his birthday.  I (optimistically) baked a cake, Dan took the day off of work, and we stayed up late wrapping gifts and decorating a bit.  We went to bed with our fingers crossed, excited for B’s big day.

But again, it was not to be.  Liam woke us up an hour after we’d gone to bed, having his turn at the stomach illness.  Again, we were up in the middle of the night, bathing Liam (5 baths in one night!), mopping the floor and laundering tons of bedding.  In his case, the illness stretched out until morning, so instead of B waking us up excited and a little too early on his birthday (as is customary), Dan and I were just shuffling back to bed, well after the sun had come up, with our excited newly 6 year old put back to bed, just so we could rest for 1 hour.

Though my enthusiasm for B’s birthday was not diminished in the least, I struggled to have it shine through the haze of exhaustion that hung over later me that morning.  My memory of him opening his presents is slightly befuddled by the fact that I hadn’t yet had coffee, but I remember how excited he was.  I remember how well he took it when we explained that our celebratory plans for the day (a trip to the wave pool) would have to be rescheduled.  He took it so well.  He had actually already come to that conclusion on his own.  There were no tears, no sad face.  Just a quiet, unemotional, matter of fact, “I understand” that was more heartbreaking for how grown up it was.

And the rough start to the day didn’t end there.  We bought the wrong squirt gun.  It was the gift he had most been looking forward to, and though we got him a nice one, it was not the one he wanted.  I got the wrong video game — it wouldn’t play on our console.  (I feel like such a “MOM” … I didn’t know “Wii U” was a thing.)  And through all of it, he was ok.  A bit disappointed, but surprisingly ok.

From there, though, the day got better.  He & Dan took a trip to the toy store to exchange the squirt gun (they were out of the one he really wanted, but at least he got to choose the replacement).  We got to Skype with some of our family and got a surprise video message from others.  He got messages and texts from (literally) around the world.  Everyone got a long nap, Liam got three more baths, and B got to pick the movie for movie night.  And, shockingly, everyone was well enough for a little bit of cake after dinner.


At the end of the night, Liam, who had not yet given B a gift (Mommy dropped the ball on that one because B had been sick all week), insisted on choosing a gift for B out of the things we already had in the house — which turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the day.

At the end of it all, B said, “I think this turned out to be a pretty good birthday after all.”  I think that a higher compliment could not have been given.

Unfortunately, we went on to take turns being quite ill over the next week or so — it’s about 10 days after B’s birthday now, and we haven’t been well enough yet to take that trip to the wave pool, but we will soon.  Regardless of how it was spent, B’s birthday was as important and as special as ever to me.  It was not at all the day we had planned, but, on balance, it was a good day.  I hope he felt celebrated.  I feel astonished at his maturity and understanding.  He is just so grown up.

For B, as he turns 6

2550First of all, how can you be 6?!?  I feel like it was just yesterday, or maybe last week, that you were 4, and I’m certain it was no more than a few months ago that you were just 2 or 3.  Time flies, as a mommy, and it’s astonishing to watch the speed with which you grow and become more and more a part of the world.

But it is WONDERFUL that you are 6!  I love you, turning 6, with my whole heart.  You are such an amazing little fellow.  Shockingly smart, startlingly observant, with a silly sense of humor and a quiet, kind, and sensitive heart.  As you grow, you become increasingly brave, and your energetic enthusiasm and intensely competitive spirit often leave me cringing in the face of whatever new challenge you’ve decided to attack and conquer, but also thrilled to see your spirit encourage you to take on new challenges.  You are an amazing brother to Liam, and seeing you enjoy each other’s company and seek each other out as playmates have been some of my favorite moments as a parent so far.  You feel things very deeply, my sweet boy, and though I see the difficulty of that at times, I also know how strongly you experience all of the good things that happen in your life, as well.

This has been a big year!  You finished your kindergarten year, and have now left preschool behind you.  A place that you were reluctant to enter 3 years ago has become a comfortable haven for you, and I am sad to say goodbye to it and to your teachers.  You learned a lot there — your German is excellent, and you’ve learned to write all of the letters!  You lost your first tooth this year, too, just recently, and you’re working on a second one.  You don’t even realize it yet, but you’ve started being able to read a little, which is fun to see, and you absolutely blow us away with your memory, your sense for space and numbers, your creativity, your compassion, and your ability to make connections between ideas.  You are a phenomenal boy, and you constantly amaze me.  You tell great stories, and you remember EVERYTHING.

And you are getting so tall, so big and strong.  You can wash your hands without a step-stool and so often your feet hang over the edge of your bed when you are sleeping.  You can run and jump and climb and ski and sled and swim.  You are an amazing guy.

I love you so much.  You’re growing up and getting bigger, but you will always be my little guy.  I love being with you, watching you try new things, listening to the stories that you tell, or just chatting about whatever is on your mind.  You are a great kid and a really cool person.  I am so glad to know you and incredibly grateful to be your mom.  I love you, my wonderful boy.  Happy birthday!


Before I moved to Austria, I had only ever lived in a single culture.  As such, I believed the rules of etiquette to be fairly ironclad.  Allowing for differences between generations, and different class and social backgrounds, there are certain customs and behaviors that I just believed to be GOOD, RIGHT, and POLITE, in an absolute sense, and those that were not.

It’s been an uncomfortable adjustment to realize that’s not true.

The issues that a society emphasizes as polite are pretty arbitrary.  Well, probably not entirely arbitrary, because I’m sure they have a history and come from something, but they are incredibly subjective.  Things that at home would be incredibly rude, like cutting in line or spitting on the sidewalk, are commonplace here, while things we take for granted in the US as acceptable, like running late for an appointment or wearing yoga pants to the grocery store, are gauche in Vienna.

The little things like that you adjust to quickly (I haven’t worn my yoga pants outside of the house in years — not even to walk the dog), but there are other things that are tremendously difficult to let go of, even though I know they make me weird.

For example, earlier this month, B was invited to a birthday party by a kid in his class.  Liam was not.  We RSVPed that B would be there (which is weird enough — Austrians don’t really RSVP, and if they do, they don’t feel bound by it, nor any obligation to inform you if their answer changes either way), but didn’t mention Liam, because he wasn’t invited.  The party was for the child who last year came to B’s birthday party … unexpectedly (to me) accompanied by his older brother who we had never met.  Part of me really wanted to assume that this probably meant that Liam was supposed to be invited to this party, too, but I just couldn’t.  Though by Austrian standards, it was probably a safe assumption, I just couldn’t let go of my deeply ingrained reverence for the intention of an invitation.  The issue became irrelevant when Liam busted his lip open the day before the party, because he certainly couldn’t attend a McDonald’s birthday party an open wound on his mouth.

But, as it turns out, he WAS “secretly” invited.  Well, secret from my perspective.  The hosts asked where he was and had a goody bag ready for him.  I’m quite certain that an Austrian mom would have read the situation correctly (and, if she hadn’t, no one would have really cared, because while bringing an uninvited child to a birthday party in the US would be a faux pas, it just isn’t a big deal here).

Another example came up this week.  It was B’s last week of school, and after 3 years in the same class, I wanted to do something special to thank the teachers.  I agonized over gifts (Dan finally helped me think of something good) and spent at least an hour composing heartfelt notes to each teacher in German.  But … I don’t think they really do that here.  B’s teachers have kind of gotten used to me with the Christmas gifts and the year-end thank you gifts, but I’ve definitely gotten the impression that, although the gesture is appreciated, the strangeness of it makes it a little uncomfortable for them.  I’ve checked, and it’s not forbidden or anything that they receive gifts from the parents . . . they just generally don’t.

I give the gifts anyway.  I know it’s odd the way I do things, and it’s certainly not my desire to be weird or to make anyone uncomfortable, but I can’t let it go — it’s all I have.  I know (reasonably well) how to be polite and gracious as an American.  I have very little idea of how to be a polite Austrian.  So if I were to stop doing my weird American things, I would JUST be a slightly rude person by Austrian standards.  This way, I’m STILL slightly rude by Austrian standards, but I at least get comfort by being reasonably polite by American standards, even if no one else here really gets it.

Celebrating Liam’s birthday

Happy birthday to Liam!  Just over a week ago, my little guy turned the big 3.  It is amazing and wonderful to watch him grow up.  (He’s getting so big!)

014The birthday celebration didn’t quite go as planned, though.  Our original intent had been for all of us to take the day off and to spend the day at the zoo (per Liam’s request).  In the days leading up to his birthday, though, he was quite sick with no indications of a miraculous, overnight recovery.  So, we changed the plan.  We certainly weren’t going to spend the day at the zoo, and since B was going to have to miss a field trip at school that day, we decided instead that B would go to school, Dan would work for the morning, Liam and I would stay home, and then we would all take the afternoon off to be together and celebrate.  It seemed like a good plan.

071But then, Liam woke up on his birthday, and our plans had to change.  He was happy and excited that it was his big day.  He was tired and still sick, but he was starting to feel better.  And though he seemed completely unbothered by rescheduling our zoo trip, he was very disappointed that we weren’t all spending the day together.  B was too.  All Liam wanted for his birthday was his brother to stay home with him.  They were both very sweet and very sad.  How could we say no to that?

So, we changed the plan again.  We agonized a bit over the decision, but ultimately, we called the school (and got lectured a bit by the principal who reminded us how important this year of school is for B), notified Dan’s work, and spent the day at home together.  If what Liam wanted for his birthday was the day spent together, then that’s what we’d do.  And if we had to seem a little flaky to work and school to make it happen, then so be it (it was a little tough for us to truly be ok with that, though).  Liam only gets one 3rd birthday, after all.


It was a lovely birthday.  We opened presents, the boys helped me finish the cake, and we got to Skype with Grandma.  We snuggled and watched tv and rested much more than is usual for our family on a birthday.  It could not have been better.  It was a great and happy birthday.  And, in retrospect, I’m so glad we decided as we did.  I would much rather feel a little sheepish at calling school and work at the last minute than regret not making ourselves a bit uncomfortable in order to give Liam what he wanted most for his birthday — the day with his family.  (And we’ll go to the zoo this weekend, assuming everyone is well.)


(And, as it turns out, all was well.  B didn’t miss anything earth-shattering that day at school, Dan didn’t miss anything important.  The next day, Liam was feeling well enough to go to school, and his teacher and classmates greeted him with their own birthday celebration, including pumpkin muffins baked by the class.  It was a pretty perfect birthday, after all.)