A different kind of Christmas

Yes, I’m still writing about pre-Christmas stuff.  I’ll get caught up.  Eventually.  Probably.  (Maybe.  After all, I still have posts to finish about our summer vacation last year . . . and the year before.)

1062One of my favorite times of year in Vienna is the Advent season.  From mid-November through Christmastime the Christmas markets are open, the weather is cool but not overly frigid, the city is lit up to celebrate and the Viennese are enjoying the season.  I just love it.  I love to be out and about, taking care of my Christmas shopping somewhere other than the mall, visiting the different markets, decorating the house, preparing (usually) to travel home to see our families.  I just love Vienna in the Advent season.  It hasn’t yet failed to be wonderful.

But this year was different.  From the day after the first market opened in November, all the way through the day before we left to fly home to see our families for Christmas, at least one of us was sick.  There were only 2 days during the entire month of December that none of us was sick enough to have to alter our daily schedule — we had only 2 “healthy” days during the entirety of the Christmas season.

996So, it was different than usual.  There were almost no Christmas market visits (and only one together as a family).  We didn’t go out to see the Christmas lights.  We didn’t ride on the Christmas train at the Rathaus, see the decorated trees or ride the carousel.  I didn’t take the boys out to choose gifts for their teachers (or for each other).  I wasn’t able to go to the Christmas party at Benjamin’s school, and Liam wasn’t able to go to the one for his own class.  The days I had set aside to shop and pack for our trip home were superseded by trips to the pediatrician and mornings spent rushing to school to pick up boys that had seemed fine in the morning, only to be feverish by snack time.

094It was entirely different than what I expected . . . but it was no less festive.  We went out less, and we were in more.  So there were fewer red-cheeked pictures under massive Christmas trees, and more afternoons spent painting trees and snowmen onto our own windows.  There were fewer warm treats scarfed up in the chill of the market, but much more baking in our own kitchen.  The boys’ teachers got shortbread that the kids helped to make themselves instead of something chosen from a shop.  And I spent an insane 48 hours before our departure to the US in a whirlwind of laundry, packing, trips to the pediatrician and to the pharmacy.

I know I have a tendency to be ve1012ry “Pollyanna” about just about everything, but (other than the kids being sick) it wasn’t awful.  It was a good reminder.  Our Christmas season wasn’t at all what I expected, and it wasn’t full of the things I usually say I want to do during Advent.  But what we lost in bustle we made up for in peace (the last 48 hours of mad packing not withstanding).  And having to accept the utter “imperfection” (i.e., lack of adherence to my “plan”) of preparing for our trip helped to put me in the right perspective — what mattered wasn’t really whether all of the “right” socks were clean or whether we got all of our presents wrapped before we packed them, but that we were going home to see our family, who were all overjoyed to see us, regardless of the chaotic and disheveled state we arrived in.

It wasn’t the Christmas season I would have planned, but it was no less wonderful.  It was lovely just how it was.


Plan B

We had a plan for the last weekend of March.  The kids had Friday off for a teacher work day, so Dan planned to take off of work and we were finally going to go to Prague for the weekend — a destination which has been on our list since we moved to Vienna.

When planning travel, especially with kids, it’s so important to have a “plan B” in mind, because things don’t always work out as planned.  In this case, Liam spent almost an entire week sick with an on again/off again fever leading up to our intended trip, and a trip to Prague just wasn’t going to be the right choice for us.  So, at the last minute, we decided not to go.

It was hard to give up the plan that we were all so excited about, but we made the right choice.  By Monday, Liam was well again, but the next day, B got sick and then I followed him.  In short, we are just now coming off of 2+ weeks with at least one of us sick, and our trip to Prague was intended to be right in the middle of that.

It’s a bummer, because we were really looking forward to finally seeing Prague, and we had found a great (and not too expensive) place to stay (which B helped me pick out, and he was SO excited to go).  But it’s ok — Prague has been there for a long time, and it isn’t going anywhere.  We’ll just have to wait a bit longer for our chance to see it.

Pink eye

It feels like we spent at least half of September and October being sick.  In retrospect, I shouldn’t really be surprised — we pretty much did the same thing Benjamin’s first year of Kindergarten (preschool).  By exposing our little ones, who, up until then, had mostly just been home with me, to a classroom full of new kids (and new germs) it’s kind of inevitable that they will bring everything they encounter home with them and very generously share it with the rest of the family.  I thought that *maybe* it would be different this time — since Liam had already been exposed to all of the illnesses Benjamin brought home that first fall, I thought maybe he (and the rest of us) would already be immune to most of what he encountered and would mostly be spared.  Apparently not.

Most recently, we spent much of mid-October down for the count with some kind of cold/flu as well as pink eye.  (Unless they were just two different manifestations of the same illness, which is certainly also possible.)  Amazingly, I think it was the first time I’ve ever suffered from pink eye, and I know it’s the first time that my kids have.  Liam started getting sick our last morning in Sankt Koloman, and went on to have a week or so of a bad cold, a nasty cough and sticky eyes.  Benjamin and I caught it soon after, and we ended up with about a week where neither of the boys went to school, and over 2 weeks when at least one of us was sick.  (Dan, who seems to have a stronger immune system, escaped with a little congestion and a cough, but nothing too serious.)  I realized, after it was all over and we’d started to recover, that at that point I had not left the house in 8 days.  Not once.

It was fine, really, and we’re all (mostly) better now.  But it was a bit of a rough time while we were going through it.  It was a little bit tough to go back to having both boys home all day, just as I was getting used to having my mornings to myself.  And, since I was sick, too, all I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed in the morning, but it wasn’t to be.  I was a little worried that it would be hard to have them home — that I would have forgotten, in just a few weeks, how to have them both home and manage everything.  But it was fine (partly because I just ended up being ok with not managing everything).  Although I missed drinking my morning coffee without having to worry about where I set the cup, it was quite nice to go back to having them both home all day.  I love that they go to school, and I love that they have their friends and their teachers and that they enjoy it so much.  But, it was pretty great to get to spend all day with them.  (I just wish they hadn’t been sick.)

And it was a good reminder for me of how much I manage to get done in a typical day.  I think it’s sometimes easier to appreciate what I’m able to get done when I’m *not* getting it done — and certainly, the cleaning, errands and chores piled up during those weeks of us all being sick.  It was good for me to remember that I don’t spend my mornings without the kids just sitting around — there’s a lot that gets done during those hours (and a lot now to catch up on)!

Now, we seem to all be on the mend (I hope it’s really true).  I’m hoping we’ll all be able to get back into our new routine, and stick with it for a bit.  Hopefully we’ll all stay well for a while and be able to enjoy the rest of the fall.

Sick days

The first two weeks of this school year were spent mostly acclimating Liam to school.  The week after that, I spent the first few days adjusting to the new schedule and sorting out exactly what I was going to do with my time.  And then, the Thursday of that third week, just as I was starting to enthusiastically embrace my “free” time, we started with the inevitable sick days that come along with a child starting school for the first time.

It’s just not possible for a child to start school without coming into contact with all manner of unfamiliar germs and illnesses that they have missed up until that point.  And what they get, they bring home to share with the family.  So we all get sick.  I’d been hoping we might miss out on a illness-filled September with Liam starting school — since B brought home so much sickness when he first started, I was hoping that maybe we’d already be immune to everything this time around.  (It doesn’t look like it works that way, though.)

It started with me.  That Thursday evening, I was miserable, and I went to bed at 9:15.  I was asleep before the kids were.  (I have no idea when, if ever, that has happened before.)  My plan was to sleep as long as I could, get up in the morning, take the kids to school, and then come home and go back to bed.  I was just sick with a bad cold, so I figured a massive dose of sleep would help.

It didn’t work out that way, though.  Instead of a long night’s rest, I was up with B at midnight.  He was crying from pain in his ear.  Liam was coughing.  We were sick, and no one was getting much rest.

The next morning, Dan (the only one who was still well) stayed home to take care of all of us.  He took the boys to the doctor while I went back to bed.  The kids were (surprisingly) given the all-clear.  Dan brought the boys home from the doctor and I was all set to take over for the afternoon . . . but I just couldn’t.  I was sick and exhausted — so it was back to bed for me and an afternoon off of work for Dan.

This began a week-long adventure of sick days — miserable days and sleepless nights, 104.8 degree fevers and trips to the pediatrician, days missed from school and a birthday for Liam with as much illness as merriment.  We’re just now starting to get back to our new “normal”.  It feels like we nearly have to start over in terms of sorting out our routine.  But, now that the boys are improving, I’m actually able to rest and recuperate a bit in the mornings, so hopefully we’ll all be on the mend, and we’ll be able to continue adjusting to our new schedule.


Migraines suck.  I went through a period in my mid-20s where I had them often — sometimes once or twice a month.  They were debilitating.  I had nausea, extreme light and temperature sensitivity, visual “auras”, tunnel vision, numbness, tingling and sometimes trouble hearing properly.  If I recognized that one was coming and could take the medicine quickly enough (and keep it down) I could sometimes minimize the effects, but usually I was in for at least a half day of uselessness — laying in bed or on the floor and just waiting for it to pass.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had fewer migraines in my 30s, and only a couple since Benjamin was born, over 5 years ago.  I don’t think I’d had a real, proper migraine since we’ve been in Vienna.  Not until yesterday.

They’re as bad as I remembered (this one had no nausea, though, for which I feel very fortunate).  It started with seeing spots.  At first I thought I’d looked at an overly bright light, but I couldn’t remember having done so.  After a minute, when I noticed that the spots were spinning, and multiplying, I figured out what was happening.  I was out of the house though, and didn’t have any medicine with me (I used to carry it with me, but they’ve become so rare that I stopped).  There was nothing to do but get home, but by then, it was too late.  I had a migraine, and there was nothing to be done.

I hate migraines.  They make it impossible for me to do anything at all.  I can’t bathe the kids or read stories, I can’t play a game or watch tv.  I have trouble sleeping.  There’s nothing to do but lay in the dark and wait.

It’s good for contemplation, though, and what I thought about while I laid in my dark room yesterday evening, listening to bath time, story time and bed time happen without me, was how grateful I am (and I also thought a little about how miserable I was).  I am grateful that Dan is here and available and willing to take over the entire evening with the boys, grateful that 99.9% of the time I feel great and I get to do all of those things, grateful that it wasn’t hot yesterday, grateful that my health is good and that my migraines are so rare.  (I also whined and complained a bit in my own head about how much I hate lying in the dark in pain, because, you know, I do REALLY hate it.)

Today, I feel mostly better (although I find I’m slightly more forgetful and less articulate for a day or so after the migraine).  I’m hoping that this will be my one and only Austrian migraine.  That would be fantastic.

Undocumented sick time

Dan’s new job at the IAEA (he’s been there almost 8 months, so I don’t know if it counts as “new” anymore) has a lot of great benefits that we aren’t used to from home:  more vacation time, more sick leave (actually a nearly infinite amount, if he goes in and gets declared “sick” or “injured” by the IAEA nursing staff), use of the UN commissary, a housing stipend and a higher salary (plus cool things like paid paternity leave, which we don’t plan to take advantage of, but which I really, really, REALLY wish we’d had when the boys were born).  It also has “undocumented sick leave” which means taking sick time without going in to see the nurse — usually used when the spouse or children are sick.  I am so grateful for this kind of sick leave.

In our previous jobs (since we’ve had kids — before that it wasn’t an issue, because if I was sick, I used my own sick leave and just stayed home) we had to ration Dan’s limited sick leave across the entire family.  Because, frankly, it’s not like it’s realistic for me to have a restful sick day at home while I’m watching two healthy kids — and it’s worse if they’re sick, too.  Now, we don’t have to worry about “saving” sick leave in case Dan were to get sick — if he gets sick, he can just go in and get it approved and come home.  We only have to ration the sick leave between the days I might get sick and the days I and the kids might get sick at the same time.

I’m really appreciative of it today.  Last week, Liam was sick with croup, and Benjamin had a cough and a cold.  This week, Benjamin is nearly better, Liam is getting better and I’ve been getting sick.  Yesterday, I managed to get through the day just feeling run down, but today, I just couldn’t have done it.  I have a nasty sore throat and I’m completely worn out — one of those days where you sleep about 6 daylight hours and then sit at the dinner table, feeling miserable and trying not to fall asleep in your meal.

So, Dan stayed home.  Even though he knows it’s ok to use this documented sick time, he couldn’t help but stress about the things he’s leaving undone at work.  So, it was even better that his boss sent him an email today saying, “Stay home, take care of your family, do what you need to do”, which helped him to relax and focus on being here.  (Dan’s boss has sent such an email every time Dan has stayed home with us, which I think is infinitely cool of him.)

I am so glad Dan was able to be home today.  I am so grateful I was able to rest and work on getting better.  Other than feeling crappy, I’m feeling really lucky.

Sick kids who don’t take naps

IMG_2730I thought sick kids were supposed to be sleepy?  Not mine, at least not today.  Both of my boys are a little under the weather — Liam much more so than Benjamin (who has the sniffles but still went to school today).  After a morning of wrestling with a fussy, snotty Liam and an afternoon that started similarly but with the addition of a slightly-more-whiny-than-usual Benjamin, I was really, really ready for nap time.

But, no luck.  B went into his room without complaint, but asked me if it was time to get up every 10 minutes.  Liam didn’t even pretend — he didn’t close his eyes, nor did he cease in flailing and crying.  After about an hour, I gave up and let them get up.  We Skyped with Grandma, and then (per Benjamin’s request) we watched the first part of Cars.

Other than ending the day completely worn out, we all really had a pretty good day.  We watched a movie, we cuddled, we played trucks.  Which is all pretty impressive.  When I think back to the limits I’ve been stretched to, mentally and emotionally, since we’ve been here, I realize it’s a big accomplishment to have a day like this, where the boys are sick, no one naps, and I don’t freak out — not even a little.

I’m hoping tomorrow goes a little more smoothly, that the kids are feeling better (or, if they’re not, that they sleep, at least) but today I’m appreciating being able to handle it, however it goes.

Getting better?

008I think we’re all nearly better.  I think so.  We had one of those days today where you kind of almost feel ok, and then you go out to walk the dog and come back sweating, with your pulse pounding, breathing hard and completely exhausted.  So, most of the symptoms are gone, but your body is obviously still working on something.

We spent our weekend on half-speed, trying to take good care of ourselves but starting to go a bit stir crazy and getting a little impatient with the state of the house.  Living at half-speed is actually a pretty nice way to spend a weekend.  We got some basic things done around the house:  some of the vacuuming, a little bit of laundry, straightened a little.  I made some chili, Dan went to the grocery store.  We all took naps at the same time (more or less) and tried to recuperate a little.  It wasn’t a very remarkable weekend, but it was really nice and quiet.

Hopefully, we will all sleep well tonight and wake up rested and ready to go in the morning.  I’m really ready to get back to “normal” (whatever that is).  I’m ready to get B back to school (for more than the hour he went for on Friday), to get Dan back to work and for Liam and I to start figuring out what it means to have B at school and Dan at work.  If there’s one good thing about being sick, it’s the appreciation it gives you for how nice things are when you’re not.

Missing school

Both yesterday and today, we kept B home from preschool.  Not at all because he’s objecting to going (technically, he isn’t objecting to going — he’s very clear on the fact that what he’s objecting to is my leaving).  He’s sick.  Nothing serious — sniffle, cough, slight fever — no more than to be expected, considering he’s being introduced to a whole new world of “kid cooties” that he’s missed out on being exposed to thus far in his life.

Staying home with both kids is hard work, no question.  Staying home with both kids when one is sick and the other is not is significantly harder.  I don’t know what was more of a challenge over the past few days:  keeping Liam quiet so B could rest, or keeping B calm while Liam was crawling laps around the living room, playing with B’s toys and causing general mayhem.

Psychologically, this has served a very good purpose — I’m actually looking forward to B going back to school.  Partly because I won’t be trying to juggle two incompatible objectives at home, and partly because it’ll mean he’s feeling better.  There’s also a small part of me that keeps thinking, “I can’t wait until he’s feeling better so I can get back to my normal schedule”, which is followed immediately by the realization that I don’t really have a “normal” schedule right now.

Hopefully, tonight will be restful for all of us (B does not sleep well when he’s congested) and the morning will dawn illness-free.  Then we can get back to our new crazy schedule and work on adjusting to school . . . until B comes home with the next cootie infestation, or Liam or I come down with this one.