London with Elaine!


I am woefully behind (as usual), but I have been putting bits and pieces of this post together since the end of April.  Back sometime in the early spring, my friend Elaine mentioned wanting to go back to London sometime for a girls’ trip.  It wasn’t a hint — she was just talking.  She didn’t expect that I, a mom of 2 with a busy schedule, would be willing to drop everything and go away for a weekend.  But I totally would.  So, excitedly, we (she) started planning (she handled all of the arrangements, my part was mostly to coordinate my proposed absence with Dan).  In the course of a single afternoon, mostly via Facebook message, we had coordinated, planned, and booked the tickets.  We were going to London!!!

Prior to April of this year, I had been away from the kids overnight exactly once (not counting when I went to the hospital to have Liam, which does not count as being “away from the kids”).  The first time I went away, I found it hard to be away from the kids, but I also really enjoyed myself, and I was game to try again.

Elaine truly handled all of the planning.  She asked for my advice and input, but she arranged everything — all of the reservations, the flight, the hotel, all of the scheduling.  That, alone, was like a vacation for me — I’d never before taken a vacation and had to think about so little!

As the day approached, I packed, I did tons of laundry, and I stressed.  Would everything be ok without me?  Would they all have enough clean socks?  Would Dan be totally overwhelmed?  Would I even enjoy myself in the face of all the worry over things at home?  As usual, I spent my first few hours unable to relax.  Between guilt over having left the kids, stress about catching the flight (this time, like almost always, unwarranted), and a constant feeling of having forgotten something important (where are the kids?!?!), I found it hard to initially embrace the whole “girls’ weekend” idea.  Thankfully, for both Elaine & I, I was pretty well adjusted by the time we landed.

Our first evening was pretty much taken up by a Tube ride to our lovely hotel in Kensington and a mad dash to find something tasty to eat before everything closed.  We found a yummy Indian place close to the hotel, had a quick dinner and called it a night.  We had a full parade of shopping and dining planned for the weekend — exactly the kind of stuff I struggle to get to do while traveling with the family, so I was really looking forward to it.  In addition, I was excited to keep up my good fitness habits by running while on vacation (something I generally skip, but I’m feeling a bit more dedicated these days, and not having to tend to anyone else’s needs first thing in the morning helped get me out the door).  So, the next morning I rose early and ran over to Kensington Gardens in the rain (which felt extra impressive).  I got a little lost, saw some swans, and felt very proud for having made a point of exercising.



239Saturday’s plan was for shopping and eating, and we started with a ride on one of London’s ubiquitous red buses (top level, of course, for extra tourist points).  We visited Whole Foods, stopped by some clothing shops, and even saw the T.A.R.D.I.S. at Earl’s Court!  After that, we went and had a lovely (and very fancy) tea at The Connaught, where everything was delightful!  We shopped at Selfridge’s, walked through Soho and Covent Garden, and shopped a little more!  Then we finished our day with tasty cheeseburgers and milkshakes — both of which are surprisingly hard to find (made properly) in Vienna.

I started the next day with another run to Kensington Gardens (and since I didn’t get lost this time, I had more time to actually ENJOY the gardens).  We then went and had fantastic Dim Sum (along with Chrysanthemum tea, which I had never had before), shopped at Hamley’s, and took another self-created impromptu bus tour of central London.  We had time for a bit more 268shopping, and finally some really yummy Eggs Benedict (which Elaine and I have bonded over) at a restaurant where the waiters aren’t allowed to take pictures (in case they might accidentally capture someone who would prefer their photo not be taken!).  We also decided to sample a few macaroons, which were even better than they looked!

Our time was quickly winding down, so we hurried back to the hotel to collect our things and head to the airport.  It was a wonderful, whirlwind weekend, and I’m amazed at how much we fit in.  I was also so pleasantly surprised to find that Elaine is not only a dear friend, but also that we are remarkably compatible travel companions.  We had a busy, full, grown up, girlfriend trip, and I came back refreshed, reenergized, and ready to get right back into things.  I missed my boys, of course, but I also felt truly grateful to have had
some time to remember how it feels to be the part of ME that is separate from being a mom — the part who likes spicy Indian food, clothes shopping (including actually trying things on before I buy them) and having conversations that don’t involve being interrupted every 8 seconds.  It was a definite success, and I’m so very glad we went.




Home Alone

This morning was Liam’s first day back at school.  I took him to school, and Dan took B, but we were able to ride most of the way together.  Liam and I said goodbye to Dan and B on the train, rode the last bit of the way on the bus, and arrived at school on this rainy morning.  I took him into his class, set up his things, met his new teacher, and said an uneventful goodbye.  I got a text from Dan a few minutes later, saying that B’s school drop off had gone equally well.

And then Dan went to work, and I went home.  I rode home alone on the U-Bahn, which was weird.  I came home to an empty house, which was weird.  It was just me and Bailey in the apartment, and it was so quiet that I put on the tv for some “company”.  (I made the mistake of putting on “The West Wing”.  Aaron Sorkin captivated me right out of most of my morning productivity.)

The house was so quiet, and I had some time to myself.  But, though I often imagine that what I really want in life is some peaceful time to myself, as soon as I had it, all I could do was think about was how long it would be until the kids would come home.

It’s not a bad thing that the kids are in school.  I’m glad they’re learning and playing and being exposed to different situations and different people.  And I know that over the next few months I’ll have the chance to get a lot done, take some time for myself, have coffee with friends, and even take a shower with relative freedom (which I did today, and it was really nice).  I know I’ll remember how to make the most of this time and how best to enjoy it.

But, right now, I mostly just miss them.  I really love having my kids around.  They are my most favorite people.  I WANT them to go to school and learn new stuff and have great experiences.  But, when they’re not here, I just wish they were.

Mommy takes a break

This weekend was a long weekend for us — Dan had today off of work. So, naturally, by about 10:00 this morning, we still had a ton of things on our “to do” list, and I was already exhausted.  When we have long weekends, I have a bad habit of trying to cram too much stuff in — that extra day seems to stretch on eternally in my mind’s eye when I’m planning, but I find it usually just leaves me more exhausted than I am in a regular weekend, and frustrated, too, because I had this fanciful idea of what would be accomplished that didn’t come to pass.

First thing this morning, we had a doctor’s appointment for a heart screening for Liam . . . which was a bit of a fiasco because the hospital had lost our appointment, which no one actually told us, so we had to wait in the emergency room for 45 minutes while they figured things out, only to be sent to the cardiology department to be lectured on the fact that we needed an appointment (which is when we figured out what must have happened).  This is one of those things that is infinitely more challenging about living in a country where you don’t speak the language:  these missed connections happen much more often, and when they do, they’re less likely to be resolved easily.  Chances our, the incorrect appointment might well have been our misunderstanding in the first place, but we find that rather than explain the problem to us (that they have no record of our appointment) everyone passes the problem of explaining along to the next person, leaving us irritated (why are we waiting in the ER for 45 minutes when we had an appointment?) and confused (why is everyone being so weird?).  We did finally get to see the cardiologist, and Liam’s heart is just fine (good to know) but after starting and our day, bright and early, with a heaping dose of confusion and frustration, I just did not have it in me to go forward with our plans for the day.

So, I gave up.  We were supposed to take the kids to the zoo to meet a friend, but I just could not get excited about it.  I was feeling really tired, and already daunted by the big week we have ahead of us.  All I wanted to do was sit, read and have a cup of tea.  So, that’s what I did. Benjamin was already excited about going to the zoo, so Dan took the boys.  It seemed like a crazy idea when we first thought of it, and I felt preemptively guilty (could I *really* bring myself to skip a fun day at the zoo with my kids?) but it was GREAT.  I got to relax and take a little time for myself, and the boys had a great time at the zoo with Dan.  They don’t seem scarred by it, and, surprisingly, neither am I.

We still didn’t get a lot of stuff on our list done this weekend, and I’m still pretty worn out.  But tomorrow, when I’m exhausted and trying to get my week back on track, I’ll feel a little better knowing I at least took a stab at being rested for the week.  And the flamingos will be there next time.

Happy place

This evening, I went out for my usual “hour off” at Starbucks — just me, a book, and a cappucino with whipped cream.  (Another thing I know I will miss when I go back to the States — they don’t sweeten their whipped cream here, which I think is AWESOME.)

As much as I deeply, truly love my children, having an hour where I don’t have to be “on” is great.  It really isn’t so much about having a break from changing diapers or kissing boo boos, it’s more that I’m not “in charge”, I’m not responsible for anyone or anything for a little while.  My brain can rest.  I can put myself first for a few blissful minutes, without having to put anyone else second.  It’s really nice.

021This evening, walking back, it was chilly and raining . . . which I love.  I decided, on my walk back in the rain, that this is my third favorite kind of weather (after 65 degrees and sunny, and then any kind of snow).  I think I may actually be another species, because I don’t think very many human beings LOVE cold and wet weather.  All the people I passed on the street were bundled up and under umbrellas, hurrying to their destinations, while I grinned and barely kept myself from skipping down the sidewalk.

Now, after dinner and baths and stories, the kids are sleeping.  I’m sitting and listening to Miles Davis.  Today was a very good day.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

It was cold and rainy this morning in Vienna.  I quite liked it.  My weekly Sunday trip to Starbucks was ill-effected, though, because since it was rainy and cold, everyone wanted to drink hot coffee, everyone wanted to sit inside and drink their hot coffee, and (literally) I think a tour bus dropped off an entire load of people while I was there.  Which is all fine, but made for a rather loud and crowded Starbucks visit (I got the last seat at a table when I arrived, and then people started cramming into small, odd spaces — I had one woman standing over me for a significant portion of my white mocha).

It still served my purposes — an hour out, on my own, not worrying about the kids — but I decided to leave a bit early and go on a stroll.

On my way back home, I came upon a chestnut vendor.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire — for real — served in a little paper cup.  So, I got some (12, to be exact).  Oh, so yummy.  And warm.  And happy in my tummy.  Just the thing for a cold, rainy, autumn day.

I brought them home to share with Dan and the boys.  Benjamin did not care for them.  Liam thinks they’re fantastic (or so I interpret his persistent toddling up to me, pointing at the paper cup and shouting, “Da!”).

Score another point for Vienna:  chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  There are things I really love about this place.

Going to the movies

I love going to the movies.  Before kids, Dan & I went all the time.  It was one of my favorite leisure activities — we went for birthdays, anniversaries, with friends, or just because it was too hot to do anything else.  Sometimes we’d even stay and see a second movie after the first one ended (and that way, no one has to compromise — you both can see your first choice).  Ah, the good old days.  There aren’t a lot of things I really feel like I’m missing out on since becoming a parent, but the ease with which we used to go see movies is one of those things that I know we’ve lost for a while.

005Today, I went to the movies for the first time here in Austria — by myself.  It’s an “OV” (original voices) theater, so whatever American movies they play there are in English, which is a nice thing to have found, and it’s really close to our apartment (bonus!).  It was great, if different from what we’re used to at home.  First, you have to choose your seat when you purchase your ticket — they have assigned seating in the theater.  I didn’t have a preference, so I asked the ticket seller what her favorite was, and she chose a seat for me.  She chose me a seat in the third row of the balcony, right on the aisle, which was excellent.  Yep, in the BALCONY.  There was a whole upstairs seating section — very cool.  I guess partially because there is assigned seating, the theater itself was only opened up 7 minutes before the show started.  There’s no real need to open the theater earlier, because no one has to stake out a spot.  (It was a little weird just standing around in the lobby until the theater opened . . . and that was with only a dozen or so people attending this showing.  I imagine it would be very crowded and awkward if the theater were nearly full, although maybe then they’d open it sooner?)  Also, the theater wasn’t super air conditioned — they definitely have a/c, but it was still warm inside.  It was cool here today, so I wonder if it would be better or worse on a really hot day (maybe they didn’t have it on very much because it was cool out, or maybe that’s as much as it turns on and it would have been like watching Harry Potter in an oven if it had been 90 outside today).

There’s a concession stand, with popcorn, soda, nachos and candy, but with a few important differences.  First, no Cherry Coke (gasp, horror).  Second, no ice (boo).  Third, the cashier talks the customers out of the large size — talks them OUT of it.  The guy behind me in line wanted to order a large popcorn for his family to share, and the concession vendor girl told him that the large size was too big even for three people, “It’s much too big”, she said, “you’d be much better off with a medium”.  Then, he decided maybe he’d get two mediums for them all to share, and she talked him out of that.  Bizarre.  I’m guessing they don’t get bonuses for how many larges they sell.

But, it was great.  I got a Coke and a popcorn (not a large of either) and got to watch Harry Potter in 3-D in English.  It was a good time — I’ll definitely be going back.

Getting myself together

I have not had an easy week.  It hasn’t been a bad week, just very busy, with lots of stuff to do (and some weird and random things thrown in, just to keep it interesting) and it followed on the heels of having guests for over a week.  Whenever I have a week like this, I struggle to keep my head on straight.  It’s my natural tendency to succumb to the pressure of the stress and freak out — become irritable, short tempered, sad, anxious, angry.  For reasons I don’t think I will ever understand, when subjected to more than usual stress levels, my brain somehow flips the importance of things — things that shouldn’t matter too much to me (like how clean my house is, whether or not I’m on time to a play date, or whether we got a chance to cook the chicken in the fridge before it went bad) become vitally important, and things that really ought to matter (like what kind of day my kids are having or whether or not I’ve eaten in the past 8 hours) threaten to take a back seat.

I’ve fought this fight all week.  Some days went well, and others not so well.  I freaked out over little things more than once, but I managed to win a couple of those battles, too.  As the week has gone on, the stress has increased, not decreased.  I knew I had to do something to bolster my defences, or things would continue to deteriorate, so I planned to spend all of today resting and playing with my kids — nothing gets me back to “good” faster than some time alone to read plus some time to enjoy my boys without having to be anywhere or do anything in particular.

Circumstances conspired against me, however, and I wasn’t able to do that for a lot of today.  I did get a little bit of reading in during nap time (while BOTH children were sleeping at the SAME time) and I got a little play time in.  But, I’m still not quite to where I want to be . . . so I’m replanning my day tomorrow with some recuperation and recharging time.

I am not giving up easily.  I want to be the best mom I can be for my kids:  I want to take challenges in stride, let little things go and keep a positive, mature and level-headed outlook regardless of what happens.  Or, at least get closer to all of those things than I am now.  I’m really, finally realizing that the only way that is going to happen is for me to be in a good mental place.  It’s like getting enough sleep if you’re an air traffic controller — you can’t fake it, you have to sleep.  Lives depend it.  My kids’ happiness and sense of security depend on me getting my head together.

So, for tomorrow, reading Harry Potter and playing trains with Benjamin are on top of my to do list.  This is important.


It had been about a week since I’d had an hour “off”, so after I got the kids down for their naps today, and after Dan got home (he only worked a half day today to be able to spend extra time with his parents while they’re visiting) I grabbed my book and headed to Starbucks to have lunch all by myself.  It’s a good thing for me to do — even just having a little time off from the moment-to-moment demands of being a mom does wonders for my resiliency.  I got myself a sandwich and an iced tea, grabbed a seat at the very last outdoor table, and sat down to read.

A few minutes after I sat down, the threatening clouds gave way to a little drizzle and then a decent rain.  I scooted my table over a bit to be better covered by the umbrella and continued on with my lunch and my book.  Looking around a few minutes later, I realized that the packed outdoor seating area had been deserted by all but me and two others.  After a few minutes, the wet and the cold started to bother me a little, and I decided that I really needed a warm cup of coffee.  So, I grabbed my wallet, but arranged my book and bag to make it very obvious my seat was still taken — I wanted hot coffee, but not at the expense of my seat.

I went inside to wait in line to order my coffee, looked out the steamy window into the rain at the deserted patio and laughed at myself.  In the steady rain, on a chilly afternoon, I decided I needed to save my seat at the outdoor cafe.  (In that moment, I failed to realize that just because I enjoyed my arrangement so much did not mean that anyone else would want to be in it.  I managed to get my coffee and get back outside without losing my seat, strangely enough.)

057Later this afternoon, we all went to the Belvedere Palace to do some sightseeing.  It’s one of the places I went with Dan last year when I came to visit — I was amazed by the scale and beauty of the grounds, and that was in February.  It was even more magnificent today — the flowers are in bloom, the trees are full and green and all of the fountains were on.  It was Benjamin’s first time there, and he loved it.  He loves fountains and flowers, and the palace grounds offered a ton of freedom for running and playing.  He ran around in circles, ran up a ramp and down the stairs and challenged all of us to races.  (I haven’t run so much in years.)

070At the end of his exploring, we came upon some fresh puddles from this morning’s rain.  He wanted to splash, and he did, with enthusiasm.  I explained that his shoes and socks might get wet, and that we still had to go to dinner afterwards.  He started with small splashes, but worked his way up until the water was flying and he was getting soaked.  At one point, I opened my mouth to tell him I thought he had saturated himself thoroughly enough . . . and then I realized:  I spent my lunch sitting outside in the rain.  Who am I to tell him to stop splashing because he’s getting too wet?  So, I let him splash.  (And I give him credit:  he didn’t complain once about being wet.)

On my own

We’ve been here just about two and a half months now.  That works out to about 1750 hours (which, really, doesn’t sound like that many).  Today, I took an hour by myself for the first time since we’ve been here.  At home, I used to get a little crazy if I hadn’t had a morning or an afternoon off every week.  The first few weeks we were here I really noticed not having that time for myself, but after a few weeks it became normal to not get a break, so now I’m pretty much used to it (but that’s not to say that I think that’s a good idea).

I always have a hard time going out on my own without my kids.  Even though my days are intense and my kids drive me crazy sometimes, I miss them terribly when we aren’t together and I feel like I’m missing out on the moments they’re spending without me.  But, my nerves have been a bit frayed lately, and I recognize that I need a little “me” time, so I packed up my book and a bottle of water and went out (reluctantly).

012It was marvelous.  I walked down to the Spanish Riding School, ordered a chai at Starbucks (in German!) and sat and read and enjoyed Vienna.  I took a walk, looked at the buildings and saw (literally, for the first time) the beautiful rooftops and statues along them.  I can’t usually look up that high — my attention is focused much closer to the ground.  It was strange for me to realize how much I *don’t* see when I’m out with the kids.  It was great to feel the liberty that comes from moving unencumbered — I could have walked anywhere, gotten on a train, or a bus, or walked into any shop, even one — gasp! — with stairs in the entrance.

Both Dan & I recognize that it’s important for me to take a little time, so now that our lives are settling down a bit, we’re going to be sure it’s a priority every weekend.  I’m sure I’ll still miss the boys when I’m out, but I’m excited to experience Vienna not just as a mom.  I can’t wait to see what I’ll get to see next time.