Adventure playground

It’s a tradition at Benjamin’s school that every year, each class takes a trip together.  In the older grades, the trips vary from a weekend spent camping to a week skiing in the Swiss Alps, but for the younger classes, a day-long field trip is typical.  Last spring, B’s class took their trip to an “adventure playground” called Robinsoninsel (Robinson Island).  I had no idea what to expect from an “adventure playground”, but B’s teacher had talked several times about how much she was looking forward to it, so I imagined it was going to be a pretty fun day.


As one of the parents who had volunteered in B’s class throughout the year (and, possibly, as the first to volunteer), I got to join them on their adventure playground trip.  I, too, was pretty excited when the big day arrived.  A whole day to play outside with my kid and his friends?  And it counts as school?  Sounds great!  Once we got there (after a tense moment when I almost missed the bus stop with my assigned group of first graders), I started to understand the excitement.  This was a really cool place.  It covered most of a city block and looked like the kind of “playground” a child would design of you let them — there were rope ladders, trees to climb, swings, hammocks, tree forts, rabbits, ducks, a pond with tadpoles, and a “smurf house”, made of living trees.



As always, one of my favorite things about being able to join in on these outings is that I get to spend the day with B.  But also, as I had been in the classroom every week and gotten to know each of his classmates as well, it was great fun to watch each of them explore their new environment in their own way.  There were actual goals to accomplish, like looking at bugs under microscopes and learning about different types of animal habitats, but most of the day was spent in a less structured type of learning — climbing, balancing, running, jumping, getting dirty and discovering on their own.

Though the day was gray and drizzly at times, we had a fantastic time (and, on the plus side, no one had to worry about sunscreen, including me).  It was a wonderful opportunity for a group of city kids to learn and play outside for the day, and I felt honored to be able to join them.



Field trip

It took some getting used to, but I now accept the frequency and variety of Viennese Kindergarten (preschool) field trips as a matter of course.  I’ve never had a child in American preschool, but I suspect they don’t do quite as many outings via public transportation as Viennese children do (Liam has two field trips, both requiring several subways journeys, just this week, and B has one).  It’s entirely common to see a group of tiny children, shepherded by 3 or 4 teachers, riding the bus or subway or just walking down the street.  I’ve grown so accustomed to it that B doesn’t even seem particularly young to be doing such things anymore.

Upon learning, during B’s first year in school here, how common these trips were, I was excited — as a stay-at-home mom, I’d be able to go along on a lot of these trips, right?  It’s one of the benefits of staying home with my kids that I’d secretly been looking forward to the most.  I love the idea of getting to do fun things around Vienna with my boys and their classmates!  Alas, they don’t do the whole “parent chaperone” thing here.  When I first suggested it, B’s teachers reacted as though it was the strangest suggestion they had ever heard, commenting, “But it wouldn’t be fair to the children whose parents couldn’t come.”  Bummer.

In all, though, I’ve adjusted to the idea of these preschool field trips, and so have the kids.  They’ve generally been great successes, and the kids tend to come home happy and very tired.  Liam had one such outing today, to an Easter market quite close to our house.  (His school is not at all close to our house, so they had to make quite a trek to get here.)  He’s gotten good at these, and always behaves really well, so I’ve stopped worrying (overly) about it.  This time, though, I did ask Dan to mention that the class would literally be walking past our front door, so that in case Liam refused to walk any further or insisted on going inside, the teachers would at least have some idea of what was going on.  I was SO tempted to just “happen” to stop by the market, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of him and his classmates doing cute stuff, but I didn’t — I knew that there was a good chance of me upsetting him if he saw me, since I wouldn’t be able to actually tag along afterwards.

I did get a lovely surprise, though — when Dan dropped Liam off this morning, and explained to the teachers that they’d be going right past our house, Liam’s teacher asked if I’d like to meet them at the end of the trip and just pick him up right there.  Wonderful!  Not only would that save him a round trip to school and back, but I’d get to surprise my little guy on his field trip AND take him home with me at the end.  Yay!

So, that’s what we did.  Liam had a “great” time at the Easter market (apparently there were cookies and bunnies) and his teacher called me at the end.  I went straight downstairs and met them next door to our building.  (They were as cute as I’d imagined they would be, but I was so excited to see him that I didn’t get a picture.)  Liam was SO excited to see me, and SO thrilled when he asked if we could go home and I said yes.  He happily said goodbye to his friends and teachers and I took my littlest guy home to play, just the two of us, for an hour or so before Dan brought Benjamin home.  It was my favorite field trip so far.

Liam’s first field trip

Nearly two weeks ago, on a Thursday that was a brief island in the middle of the sea of illness that was most of October, both boys were well enough to go to school.  (It was the first time in about 10 days that that had been true.)  Liam had been better for a few days at that point, and I was really glad, because I didn’t want him to miss out on his first field trip with his class.

His class took a trip (which required a ride on the U-Bahn for the teachers and the 24 kids in the class) to see a theater performance.  I was simultaneously very excited for him and completely terrified.  He’s still so little.  He’s such a little guy to be out in the world without me.  I’m still adjusting to not being with him 24/7 — having him out in the city, experiencing things separate from me is a lot to handle.

He is still such a little guy.  Just barely 3.  He’s too little to speak up for himself or find his way if he got lost, and besides, his German is minimal (and he’s often hard to understand, even in English).  B, who is 5 now, can recite his address when asked in English or German and can explain how to get to his home or school on public transportation.  Liam can’t.  It’s scary to have him out of school on a trip.  I have to put a lot of faith in the teachers, and in God or the Universe or whatever forces might be looking over him.

I don’t know how the teachers manage it.  Some days, just dragging my two to school is enough to exhaust every ounce of patience and high-ideal parenting I have.  But they do make it work.  (There also seems to be some kind of magic power the teachers exert over the kids, because when I see kids out on field trips, they are always so well behaved.  It’s amazing.)

I couldn’t help it.  There was a knot in my stomach that didn’t unravel until Dan texted me that he’d picked him up.  As it turns out, the day was great.  They rode on the train and saw a play.  (I didn’t get much of the story except that there was a rabbit in it.  And there was a song that Liam keeps singing to us, but he doesn’t know the words, so I’m not sure of the story.  But he liked it.)  The teacher made a point of telling is that he was very attentive and well behaved.  And he had a great time.  I’m so glad!

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I couldn’t help but worry, but I’m so happy that he didn’t worry, and that he enjoyed himself so thoroughly (he’s still telling us about it).  Here, this is perfectly normal.  Preschool classes go on field trips all the time.  (Benjamin has been on dozens at this point.)  And kids as small as 3 go along, just fine.  Even though this is our third year of “school” here, we’re still getting used to the idea.  But, we’re doing better.  (This was certainly an improvement over Benjamin’s first trip.)  And Liam is doing just great at school . . . even on his field trips.  I am so very happy that it went well.

Just one

Back when I was a parent to just one child, back in the days before Liam was born, when it was just me and Benjamin together every day, I used to get overwhelmed sometimes. I would get frustrated and tired, too. We had many, many good moments and good days, of course, but I was often left, at the end of the day, feeling like I might not be up to the job of being a parent — it was just so hard.

And then I had Liam, and after I got over the initial shock at having two children who both wanted my attention 24 hours/day and whose schedules and behaviors were completely uncorrelated (although that improved with time) things have kind of became the same — I have lots good moments, and good days, but also lots of days where I feel overwhelmed and frustrated and tired and sometimes I worry that I might not be up to being a parent.

(The first few weeks after Liam was born were a real shock. At first I thought, “How hard can it be? There’s two of them, sure, but I’m pretty much doing the same things for the second one that I’m doing for the first, right?” The problem with that logic is that yes, you just do the same things, but you do all of them twice as often and at completely unrelated times. It’s not like there’s “diaper time” and they line up to get changed. No — child 1 wants lunch exactly when child 2 has a poopy diaper and while you change that child 1 has broken a toy and while you fix that child 2 spilled the milk and while that was being cleaned up you burned the lunch which you completely forgot about . . . and so on, ALL DAY. My joke with Dan was that having a second child was like being employed full time at a job you liked and then taking on a second full time job that you also liked but that was completely different . . . and trying to do them at the exact same time. Imagine being a short-order cook while also being a telemarketer SIMULTANEOUSLY. That’s pretty much what it’s like.)

The thing is, after everything settled out and I figured out how to do the “mom of two” thing (as much as I have figured it out), I find that I don’t feel MORE frustrated or overwhelmed or tired than I did before, which is kind of surprising. I feel pretty much the same amount under water as the mom of two as I did as the mom of one.

20130606-154956.jpgThat’s kind of nice — having two kids doesn’t diminish my number of happy days or happy moments (in fact, it adds to them, because I have twice the brilliant, beautiful, joyful energy in my life). And a major plus side to this is that sometimes, for just a little while, I’m only responsible for one child. Today, B is on an all-day field trip. Dan is picking him up at 4, so from 7:15 – 4:30, it’s just me and Liam. And, since I’m used to being mom-of-two all the time, being with just Liam for the day is a piece of cake. I miss B terribly, even though he’s only out for a few extra hours, but in the meantime, I’m impressed to find out how capable and resilient I feel dealing with the toddler dictatorship one-on-one. Chicken nuggets for lunch? No problem! You want to carry the brown bag to the store? You got it! You want to climb all the way up the stairs (twice)? Sure! Want to play race cars with me all morning? Yep!

When I think back to when Benjamin was 2 1/2, I know I didn’t handle the day-to-day demands and requests as gracefully as I can handle them now, even though we were one-on-one all the time. I understand that it’s because of the experience I’ve gained and the perspective I’ve acquired. But it’s also the “Too Much Noise” principle (if you haven’t read that, you should): things that used to be trying often seem pleasant after we’ve had to face larger challenges.

So for today, I’m missing Benjamin (and trying not to worry too much) while I’m also enjoying the novelty of feeling so calm, patient and capable as a parent. (Maybe the trick to feeling like a great mom is to borrow someone else’s child for a while — if I practice with three, then I ought to feel like two is really easy . . . right?)

Field trip worries

I’m a mom.  That’s basically like being a professional worrier.  On days like today, when B’s class is on a day-long field trip to the zoo, I worry extra.  He’s only 4, and although he’s now done these trips many times, it’s a lot for me to imagine my little guy taking a bus and two U-bahns with his kindergarten class.  And then, he’ll be out for 8 hours, well supervised, but without me (just the potty implications for a little guy who prefers to “go” at home are worrisome).  And then there’s the same trek back to school.  I was thinking about him all day, and trying not to obsess (unsuccessfully, although Liam did keep me pretty busy all on his own).

I worry that he could (in no kind of sane or logical order of likelihood or severity, much like they come into my head) wander off, get left behind, be abducted (the mind of a mommy is harsh place, full of unlikely worst case scenarios), get hurt, have a potty accident (or two or three), get sunburned, not get enough to eat or drink, feel left out, get overly tired, not understand what’s going on, not be understood when he needs to say something, and, because this is Austria and there is definitely a “don’t be stupid”/personal responsibility mentality here, I also can’t entirely put aside a (hopefully unfounded) fear that he’s going to climb into the lion enclosure or attempt to go swimming with the hippos (seriously, I fixated on the hippo thing for a good 20 minutes earlier when Liam was napping).


In short, there was no way I was going to feel better until Dan texted me to tell me that he had safely picked him up, and I didn’t feel completely ok until I gave him a big hug and kiss myself.  As it turns out, none of the things I was worried about came to pass (not even a potty accident!).  He had a great day at the zoo, had lunch and two snacks (that was a highlight) and enjoyed seeing the reindeer most of all.  All my worry was wasted energy — all was well (and there was nothing I could have done if it wasn’t).  Still, it won’t stop me from being exactly the same way next time.  It’s just how it is.

Surprise excursion

A few weeks ago, Benjamin’s class at school went on a field trip.  He was effectively uninvited, which bothered me a little, until I realized that he didn’t want to go.  Their concern was that he was just starting to adjust to school, and they were worried that adding the stress of leaving the school, without us, might undo what progress we had made (and make him have an unpleasant time, too).

So, it was all for the best that he didn’t go last time.  I was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to participate (they went to a farm and selected pumpkins) but it was ok.

This was only a month ago, so we were shocked today when Dan showed up at school to pick Benjamin up . . . and his class wasn’t there, him included.  Dan was a bit stunned, and so was I when he let me know.  The staff member he originally spoke to only spoke German, so he had to find someone else to find out what had happened.  Apparently, they had a class excursion planned for today — to an Advent market.  They put a notice on the class bulletin board a few weeks ago.  Which sounds fine, except that we don’t really read German, and we had been assured by the staff that they would make sure to explain anything important (like taking our kid somewhere) to us personally.

Well, they didn’t.  One of Benjamin’s teachers, who didn’t go on the trip, very sheepishly apologized to Dan and said, “We forgot to tell you”.  They dropped the ball, no question.

I was worried.  Was he scared?  Worried?  Freaked out?  Cold (I hadn’t dressed him to be outside all day)?

But, when he got back, he was perfectly happy.  He says he had a great time, he rode on the bus and on the train, he held the teacher’s hand the whole time.  The Christmas market was great — they ate chocolate.  He says he got a little cold, but he really seemed unfazed by it.

After we got over the initial shock, and after resolving to always read the bulletin board in the future, (in German or not — we can at least see which dates to ask follow up questions about) we realized that in a way, it’s not entirely a bad change.  Just a month ago, they were so worried that Benjamin would freak out that they specifically asked us to keep him home that day.  They’re obviously not worried about it anymore.  It’s also a sign that we’re becoming just “some of the parents”, rather than “those American English speaking parents”, since they didn’t make a point to pull us aside and translate the notice for us.  As much as it freaked us out, we would have given our permission if we’d known.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to see this repeated.  The phrase, “Where is my child?” is something I’d like to never say again.  But Benjamin had a good time today, and I’m glad he got to be included with his class.  I just wish someone had told me it was going to happen.

The field trip that wasn’t

Benjamin’s class went on a field trip today.  They took a bus to a farm and picked out pumpkins.  I’m sure they had a great time, but I wouldn’t know:  Benjamin didn’t go — he stayed home with me, instead.  When his teacher first brought it up to me last week, she explained about the trip, and then immediately suggested that B not participate.  Her thought was that, since he’s just now starting to be enthusiastic about being at school, they were worried that a trip away from the school, without either of his parents, might prove to be traumatic to him and undo the progress we’d made.  Although I completely understand her perspective, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad — his first school field trip, and he was uninvited.

Benjamin, however, shared none of my sadness.  After leaving school that day, I asked him if he wanted to go to the farm with his class.  He said no.  He said he wanted to stay home with me for the day — which was absolutely fine with me.  I’m more than happy to have him home, but if he had wanted to go, I would have done everything I could do to make it happen (offer to go along and chaperon, offer to travel separately and meet them there).  As it turns out, though, every time it was mentioned in front of him (like on Tuesday, when I was confirming the date with the teacher) he would look at me and ask, “Am I going to stay home with you?” and when I assured him he was, it would make him happy.

So, today, we stayed home:  Benjamin, Liam & I.  We had a quiet day.  I’d had thoughts of gonig out, doing something special, going to a park or on a trip of our own, but it was chilly and threatened rain all day (which only materialized for a few short moments).  Instead, I bought him the Disney Pixar “Cars” movie on iTunes and we watched that together (twice).  He loved it.  (We went to see “Cars 2” in the movie theater, but hadn’t seen the first one yet.)  We all curled up on the couch, or on the floor, had snacks, watched movies and read books.  It was a good day.  I got to be with both of my boys today, and that’s better than a field trip to me.