The lost day

I had a plan.  (I always have a plan.)  The dog sitter was coming at 8:30 to pick up Bailey, Dan needed to pick up the car, we would have some last-minute packing to do, we all needed to have breakfast, and Dan and I each needed a shower.  I set my alarm for 7:30, with a goal of leaving the house at 10:00, but I really wanted to be on the road to Salzburg by 11:00.  We’d have a busy morning, but not a crazy one.

But, things did not go according to plan.  Dan, who was in charge of packing for this trip, left everything until the last minute.  The morning became a flurry of tracking down boots (Dan had packed two right foot boots in two different sizes for Liam), finding winter clothes and accessories not yet unearthed from last winter, and keeping the kids out of piles of semi-organized but as yet unpacked clothes.  But the last-minute packing was to be the smallest of our delays for the day.

Running only a little late (the 10:00 departure time was now impossible, but leaving at 11:00 was still a reasonable goal), Dan left to pick up the rental car from the other side of central Vienna.  And then he came right back, because he realized that he had booked the car for the wrong dates.  A somewhat frantic Germenglish phone call to the rental car company later, and he was off again, with a new car reserved.  Except that when he got there, it wasn’t there.  They had arranged to have the car brought over from another location (at the airport) but it wouldn’t be there … until noon.

Our schedule was quickly slipping away.  But Dan managed to get the car, install the two rented car seats, and get back to us by shortly after 12:30.  We were late, but it was still manageable.  We could still arrive by late afternoon, with time to relax before dinner.  We gathered up our things, got the shoes on the kids and went downstairs to pack the car … only to discover we had the wrong car seat for Benjamin.

We’ve run into this before.  B is quite small and light for his age, so when we reserve the correct seat for him and also provide his age, they second-guess us and provide him with a booster (appropriate for a bigger child, but also technically ok for a 5 year old).  Of course, he saw it and was so excited to have a “big kid” seat, so I was the most unpopular mommy (and wife) when I insisted we take it back and switch it for a regular car seat.

Of course, the original rental place didn’t have an appropriate seat, so we had to pick it up at yet another rental location.  The one *they* had was too small for B, though, so we had to switch Liam to the new seat and put B in the one that had been “Liam’s”.  Sigh.

At this point, we were exhausted, starving, and still in Vienna.  What’s another 40 minutes, though?  So we stopped for lunch.

At 3:45, we were finally all in the car, strapped into appropriate seats, fed, and on our way.  Nearly 6 hours after we had planned to leave.  6 hours late for a just-over-3-hour trip (really, closer to 4 hours with several bathroom breaks).  We could have almost driven to Salzburg and back in the time it took us to get out the door.

In all, it felt like the day that we didn’t have on our trip.  Instead of a leisurely drive, stopping as we liked along the way, we instead started out tired and wishing we were already at our destination.  Instead of having time to play and shop for groceries when we arrived, it was a stop at McDonald’s for dinner and then nearly straight to bed.

This was a hard one.  I try to be flexible.  I try not to let circumstances, mistakes or other frustrations take away from my experience of the moment.  I try to stay mindful of the fact that although our day did not go as intended, nothing actually bad happened.  I try to remember that we will remember this as a great, fun, relaxing trip, and that if remember the day spent watching tv and wandering through Vienna at all, it will probably be with humor.  It truly was a fine day.  At the end, we were safe and happy and where we wanted to be.  But this was a tough one for me in terms of staying positive and choosing to be happy.  I managed, but it wasn’t easy.

The Orange Rhino project

Sometimes I have a hard time not losing my temper with my kids.  In my case, that usually means getting fed up, irritated, overwhelmed and then saying something that I wish I hadn’t.  It’s one thing when that comes from something frustrating, irritating, rude or just plain annoying that the kids are actually doing, but I have found, so often, that the root cause of my bad mood comes from something or somewhere or someone else, and it just comes out in the direction of my kids.  And I find that unacceptable — there’s no reason I ought to use my kids as a place to vent my bad temper.  I am not proud of it, and, in fact, I’ve spent a lot of energy since becoming a parent trying to figure out how not to do it.  I’ve improved a lot, but I still stray over the line from constructive discipline to throwing a bit of a tantrum myself sometimes.

I’ve learned about the kinds of things that give me a short fuse:  not getting enough sleep, getting too hungry, not showering, not using the bathroom when I need to.  Basically, if I don’t take care of myself, it’s hard for me to take care of my kids.  Being in a bad state myself means I can’t handle normal kid stuff in a good parent kind of way.  So, I make that a priority.  But that isn’t the whole picture.  I snap at my kids more often when I’m angry at someone else — Dan, the landlord, someone who was rude to me on the bus — it could be anyone.  Being angry at another adult, and not addressing it, puts me in a prime situation to lose my temper with my kids (which is totally not cool).

I don’t want to be a mom that can’t handle her own emotions like a grown up.  I don’t want to be a mom that says something too harsh or too critical, and who says it too loudly or too angrily.  When I do, I feel terrible.  It hurts my kids.  I apologize, and I know that helps, but it doesn’t erase it.  And, when I lose my temper, it negates any reasonable consequence I might have imposed for a legitimately inappropriate behavior on their part — the focus becomes on my anger instead of on what they’re doing.  And then, not only am I being a crappy mom in that moment, no one is learning anything.

I’m working on it.  I’m all about self-improvement.  But I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time getting helpful advice on this.  It’s hard to talk about.  There isn’t really a good time to say, “You know, my kids make me crazy, but it’s not always really my kids.  Sometimes I’m just tired or overwhelmed and I snap at the kids and it makes us all feel terrible” during a playdate.  I’m ashamed and embarrassed that I get angry with my kids.  And, I have to assume that other people feel the same way, because I don’t think I’m the only mom who struggles with this, and no one else is talking about it, either.  I think that normal, reasonable, generally kind moms don’t like to admit that they lose their temper (in whatever way it manifests for them) with their kids.  But I’m a good mom, and I do, so I figure other good moms do, too.  Since it’s hard for me to admit, it’s something I don’t really talk about, and I just try, really hard, not to do it.  (Which doesn’t seem to be working all that well.)

I don’t think I have to be a “perfect” parent — I think there are always going to be things that kids do to inspire frustration, irritation or anger in their parents.  And I actually think that’s a good thing — sometimes, when you do something you shouldn’t, people get mad.  Life is like that.  And I even think it’s ok for the kids to see the process of a parent being inappropriately upset, recognizing it, apologizing for it and correcting it — that’s how they’ll learn to manage those situations themselves.  But I lose my cool too often about the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and I want to do better.

A few days ago, I read an essay that a friend linked to on Facebook.  And it struck a nerve.  I’m not a yeller — I rarely raise my voice with my kids (except when one of them is doing something dangerous, in which case I do tend to shriek a bit, but that doesn’t actually bother me).  I doubt that the kind of anger I have would result in my kids being afraid of me (but I can’t guarantee it).  I think, instead, that the kind of overwhelmed, “That’s it!  I’ve had it!  I just don’t care!  I can’t do this!” kind of moments that I have could hurt their self-esteem, make them feel responsible for taking care of me, and undermine their confidence that I will take care of them.  And I don’t want that.  What she said gave me hope, because she used to yell at her kids, and she learned not to.  I want to learn to improve myself, too, I just don’t know how.  At the end of her article, the author linked to The Orange Rhino.  And I started reading.  She sounds a lot like me.  And she felt just as crappy about losing her temper with her kids as I do.  And, most importantly, she made a committment to herself and her kids to not yell for an entire year . . . and she did it.

And I want to do it, too.  I can only imagine the kind of example I could set for my kids, and the kind of comfort and confidence I could give them if, in the next year, I only got upset about reasonable things and only at a reasonable level.  Besides, I would feel great.  I would actually *love* to have a bad day that didn’t end with me being a big meanie.  How great would that be?  How much better would we ALL feel?  She’s just a mom that wanted to do better for her kids, and I am too.  And after reading a bunch of pages on her site, I thought, “Oh, if she can do that, I totally can too” and I went away, feeling inspired.  And 24 hours later, I lost my temper again.  (We were taking Bailey outside, and Benjamin was leaning on a grumpy neighbors car, and I kind of freaked out about it — “What are you doing?  Come over here!  Right now!  Don’t do that!” when I could have just said, “Oops!  No touching other people’s cars.  Let’s go over here . . . “)

And so I went back to the site, feeling less arrogant and more humble, looking for more advice and inspiration.  And I saw that she’s redoing a month long “yell less” project for moms who want to parent better.  And, perfect timing — it starts next week.

So, I signed up.  It starts Monday.  So, just in case there are any other good moms out there who sometimes lose their tempers with their kids and wish that they didn’t, you’re not alone.  And I have no idea if this will help, but I’m willing to give anything a try.

Shopping struggles

Before we moved here, we asked people who lived here already what we should make sure to bring — not the obvious stuff, but the things we wouldn’t think of on our own but would kick ourselves that we hadn’t brought along.  One of the top answers was clothes, especially for kids.  This made no sense to us — we weren’t moving to the north slope of Everest — surely there would be plentiful clothing in Vienna?  Even not totally understanding, we stocked up anyway — we tried to anticipate which things we would need the most and bought some extras.  I went crazy at the end-of-winter sales last spring.  But, of course, there were things we couldn’t get.

Now that we’re here, we understand.  Of course there are lots of clothes to be purchased in Vienna, but most of them are outrageously expensive by our standards.  There are lots of expensive dressy clothes, but even the jeans, the t-shirts, the every day kid clothes that you don’t want to spend a ton on because they’re either going to get stained, ripped or lost, or they’re going to be outgrown in about a week (think:  Old Navy) are significantly more expensive than at home — and that’s BEFORE you do the dollar/Euro conversion.

I’ve just started doing some Christmas shopping online, and I’m running into the same problem — a lot of what I could buy relatively inexpensively and easily online at home is either two to three times as much purchased here (again, that’s before the currency conversion) or it just isn’t available here.  There are also very few US retailers that ship to Austria — at least when it comes to toys.

It’s adding a frustrating wrinkle to shopping.  We’re having our family mail some things over, but that’s an imposition and a pain for them, and for some things (a few items I really want to get the boys for Christmas) just impractical because of what it would cost to ship them.  (And that doesn’t even mention the fact that we’ve had things take nearly a month in transit from the US to here, so I’ve almost used up my window to ship things from the States for Christmas.)

I’m just going to have to be creative for the rest of our winter clothes, and for Christmas shopping.  I’m so glad we stocked up as much as we did before we moved, and I’ll have to bring an empty suitcase and plan for some shopping when we go home.  And if someone asked me what they should bring when they move here, I’d say lots of clothes, especially for kids.  Go to Old Navy and buy it all.

Handy Mom!

When I was younger, my dad made sure I knew how to do certain things around the house — hammer a nail properly, use general household tools, measure twice, cut once, that kind of thing.  I’ve always been glad I knew how to do that kind of stuff (and other useful things, like change the oil in my car, or change a tire on my own) but I’m not really that good at being “handy” around my own house.  It’s easy to be intimidated by household fix-it projects — I’m usually worried I’m going to make the problem worse or electrocute myself, so I generally avoid doing anything more complex than changing light bulbs, flipping fuse switches and cleaning the lint filter in the dryer.

Dan is just as bad (maybe worse).  In our lives together, he has broken a doorknob (which nearly prevented us from being able to leave the house), broke a faucet (actually cracked part of it off), tried to fix a slow sink and succeeded in backing it up and nearly overflowing it, and once shattered the top of a toilet tank.  Years ago I barred him from doing any type of home repair after dinner time — most of his repair disasters were prefaced by the phrase, “I’ll just take care of this before we go to bed”.

We generally leave things to the professionals.  (Or to our parents, but they aren’t around right now.)

We have radiators for heat here, which is new to me — I’ve always had forced-air heating (except for freshman year of college, and it isn’t like I was doing any radiator repairs at Sweet Briar).  The radiators in the boys’ rooms haven’t been working well.  We thought that they just weren’t getting as hot as the others, until it got really cold this week — they aren’t really working at all.  Last night, it was frigid in Benjamin’s room.  I got up about 18 times (no kidding) for him last night to help him fix his blankets on his bed.  Poor guy was cold.  (I offered to let him come sleep with Dan & I, but he wasn’t interested.)

Getting things fixed here is harder than at home.  Typically, the people we have in to do our home repairs don’t speak English, and I don’t speak enough German to know plumbing or heating terms.  It’s also Saturday, so it would be difficult (and expensive) to try and find someone to come out.

I know nothing about radiators, but I was hoping maybe it would be something simple — like they had been turned off, so I did some Google searches, and we also emailed our landlord to see if he had any answers.  We ended up deciding that they probably had too much air in them.  Well, I fixed it.  All by myself!  I let the air out of the radiators (and only got a little bit of water on the floor).

For those who are good at this kind of thing, this probably seems like nothing.  But for me, it’s a pretty big deal.  Not only did I successfully execute a home repair, with just the help of Google, but my kids are warm in their rooms tonight.  I feel great.


Tonight was “parents night” (Elternabend) at Benjamin’s school.  When we found out about it last week, Dan suggested I be the one to go (since we were supposed to go without kids).  I jumped at the chance.  I was so excited to go — a chance to learn more about the program of instruction at B’s school (we know it’s a Montessori program, but only have the vaguest knowledge of what that means), to meet some other parents, and have a few hours out on my own.  Excellent!

Somehwere, in this fantasy, I apparently forgot that I DON’T SPEAK GERMAN.  Right.  Oops.

I understood less than 10% of what was said — mostly numbers, dates, and words that are the same in English.  There’s a picture day coming up (I don’t know when), there won’t be any field trips until spring (I don’t know why) and there’s apparently a significant issue with where parents park in the morning when they drop their kids off (that was the part I understood the best — VERY helpful, since I don’t have a car).  The teachers were a little surprised I had come.  I was the only parent there who didn’t have a working knowledge of German.  (I suspect the others just didn’t come, since I know there were some English-speaking parents who were absent.)

It was a one hour and twenty minute lesson in humility.  I paid close attention, and tried to pick out everything I could.  I participated as best I could in the get-to-know-each-other game they had us play (which involved reading and writing in German).  I’m definitely feeling more empathy for Benjamin and the trouble he’s having adjusting to kindergarten — even though everyone means well, not speaking the language is a huge challenge, and it’s very isolating.  I understand, even more, why he feels lonely at school.  I felt lonely and I was only there for a little while.

One of my biggest concerns with Benjamin attending public kindergarten here in Austria is that I will have trouble communicating with his teachers.  One-on-one, we seem to do fine, but in a group setting like this, I’m definitely not keeping up.  I’m just going to have to trust that they’ll make sure I know what I need to know.

I’m glad I went.  As hard as it is to go and be clueless, it’s much better than staying home and being isolated.  At least I was there, trying.  I want the teachers to know that I want to know what’s going on — I want to be involved.  I definitely think they got that message from my being there this evening.  At the end, I stayed and talked with one of B’s teachers.  She said there wasn’t anything that I missed this evening that I urgently needed to know.  We talked about how he’s adjusting to kindergarten, and she told me how much he likes snack time, and how sweet he is with they other kids, and they with him.  (Apparently, the other English speaking children look out for him, and if the teachers misunderstand him, there are several that jump in and make sure he’s getting what he needs . . . which is AWESOME to hear.)  The teachers really like him, the other kids seem to like him, all that’s left is for him to like being there.

Adventure at the Belvedere


We went out and had a lovely dinner this evening in honor of Dan’s birthday at his favorite Viennese restaurant.  (Turns out it’s also now my mom’s favorite restaurant in Vienna so far.)  Good food and good company.

037Afterwards, we decided to go (literally) next door to walk around the grounds of the Belvedere Palace for a few minutes before it closed.  It was a beautiful evening.  There’s something about summer evenings at dusk — the warm, moist air, with just a hint of the coolness of the coming fall — it really gets to me.  There’s something . . . exciting, expectant, about it.  Tonight was one of those evenings.  The moon was up, the sun had set, but it wasn’t quite dark yet.  We walked around a bit, showed my mom the gardens and the fountains, let Benjamin run around a bit, and then started to head out.

On our way in, we had noticed that we only had about 15 minutes until the posted closing time of 9:00.  We’d been in longer than 15 minutes, although not by a whole lot.  As we finished our mildly long walk back to the gate, though, we noticed that the gate up ahead looked like it might be closed, and we watched the couple who had been walking ahead of us to see if they were able to exit.  They weren’t.  (Another example of Austrian thinking — I could just imagine the groundskeeper saying, “Well, what did you expect?  The sign said 9:00!”)

053 (2)

Luckily, we’ve been to the Belvedere twice before and knew there was another gate . . . on the entirely opposite end of the grounds.  We encountered a man (who may actually have been the groundskeeper — not sure, but he had a bike and more information than we did) who told us the other gate was the only way out.  So, we set off.


It was a lovely walk on a lovely night in a lovely place.  It was truly dark now, and I was glad we were in such a safe place (as Vienna is).  But we enjoyed a pleasant evening walk together.  It was a little longer than we’d intended to be out (we asked Benjamin if he was having fun, and he told us “no”, and Liam got fed up with the stroller and needed to be carried most of the way) and uphill, but really, very nice.  We made it out of the far away gate, eventually found the right bus, then the right tram, and made it home.

It was a long evening, with an unexpected, but beautiful, adventure.  Neither of the boys got a bath before bed.  We are all tired.  But, it was certainly an adventure, and not one we could have had anywhere else.

Buying bread

One of my favorite things to eat is grilled cheese with tomato and tomato soup.  My mom offered to make it earlier in the week, but it has been a little too warm for that kind of meal.  Yesterday, however, was a little cooler, and rainy, so she offered again, and I accepted.  We had purchased everything we needed, except for bread — the bread here has so few preservatives that it won’t last more than a day or so.

So, after getting Benjamin down for a nap, and giving up on getting one for Liam, I left my mom to supervise the kids and I went down to the bakery to purchase some bread.  This isn’t as easy as it was at home.  I don’t know what kind of bread I want, there are a dozen or so options, and they’re all back behind the counter, so I can’t get a really good look or squeeze or smell them — and even if I could, I struggle with pronouncing the names.  I contemplated the options for a moment, and then gave up and decided to try my luck with English.  It actually worked out — the guy behind the counter spoke excellent English and was kind enough to use it, and to make a recommendation on “something dark and good for sandwiches”.  He thoughtfully chose a loaf for me, and I nodded gratefully, and then asked, with accompanying pantomime, if he would be able to slice it for me.  (I may not learn a lot of German while I’m here, but I will be great at charades by the time I go home.)

He turned around, sliced the bread and told me the amount, I paid, got the bread and went to leave.  But my bag felt a little light . . . and on second thought, shouldn’t it have been more expensive?  Upon examining the contents of my bag, I realized that he hadn’t sliced the bread — he had cut the loaf in half.  Bummer.  Now I didn’t have enough for grilled cheese sandwiches.  What to do?  Should I interrupt the customer after me (now placing their order) to correct my mistake?  Wait in the line of about 12 people (I swear, I’ve never seen so many people in this bakery, ever before) to fix it?

Nope.  I’m neither that brave or that humble.  I walked down to the next bakery and bought another whole loaf of bread.  Afraid to make the same mistake twice, I didn’t even ask them to slice it.

And that’s the story of how I ended up with a loaf and a half of bread for sandwiches yesterday.

The trade off

I feel like I’m living two separate lives.

In the evenings and on the weekends, I’m sightseeing around Europe, eating in lovely restaurants and enjoying more leisure time than I was used to at home.  We are intentionally not spending as much of our “free” time cleaning/organizing/doing chores/running errands as we did at home — we’re trying to relax and enjoy as much of this experience as possible, so we’re giving ourselves a break on the minutiae of life in favor of getting out and experiencing Vienna.  This part of my life is fabulous — exactly what you would imagine an extended European vacation to be.

But during the day, during the week, my life is pretty much exactly the same as it was at home, except harder.  Dan’s hours are longer here, and I don’t have anyone to help me (my mom used to come over at least one afternoon each week so I could get a break).  I also have a lot less social interaction than I’m used to.  The day to day tasks are the same:  diapers, meals, laundry, cleaning, doctor’s appointments, errands, just with a different location, a language I don’t speak and less support.

I feel like I’m having mood swings:  relaxed euphoria on the weekends and exhausted isolation during the weeks.  The weekends are amazing, and I’m getting to add experiences to our lives that we absolutely would not have had any other way.  The trade off is the amount of work I have to do during the week.

I think it’s worth it.  (Although there are moments, in the middle of the week, when the memories and plans of the weekends seem far away and it’s hard to remember that.)  Soon, too, we’ll start taking some time off of work and travelling in Europe — and that’s pretty much all upside.  The work is temporary and the memories and new perspectives will be forever.  (But it’s Tuesday evening now, so I’d better keep reminding myself of that.)

Same stuff, different continent

Here I am, living in Europe.  I’ve packed up my family, my dog and everything I own and moved 1/4 of the way around the world.  I’m living in a country where I don’t speak the language.  Dan has a new job and we have a new apartment.  We are very, very far away from our families and our friends.

And yet, very little is actually different in my day.  I get up, I change diapers, I feed children, I kiss boo boos, I try to straighten the house a little, I try to make some progress on the endless list of things that must be done to make a household run, I put kids down for naps (with varying degrees of success), I give baths, I read stories, I get up in the middle of the night (most nights) to feed a hungry baby, I try to get a shower regularly, I try to eat healthily (and usually don’t).  Every so often, we have somewhere we need to go.  Sometimes, we just try to get out for some fresh air.  Many days (yesterday was one of them) we start trying to get out of the house around 9:00 in the morning and succeed around 5:00 in the evening.  It’s still a 24/7 job with no real breaks, requiring endless patience and a pervasive sense of humor (and some days I struggle to find either).  Those things are as true here as they were in Virginia.

Instead of packing everyone into the car to run errands, I’m making sure the stroller is packed up so we can walk or ride the train to our destination.  The scenery is different, to be sure, and some of the itinerary is a little more interesting:  instead of the grocery store or the mall, I’m likely to be going out to get lunch for us, or to go for a stroll by some Austrian landmark.  But, when I stop to think about it, things are very much the same.  My job travels well, and it doesn’t change much due to location.  All in all, life is pretty much the same here as it was at home.  It’s a life that I love, so that’s a great thing.