My day with Benjamin

20140531-225623-82583953.jpgLast week, B had a whole-day field trip, but Liam came home mid-day (as usual) so we got to spend some time together, just the two of us.  This week, it was Liam’s turn to have a full day of playing outside with his friends from school, and I got to spend the afternoon just with B.

As I did last week with Liam, when I picked B up I gave him the choice of anything he’d like for lunch.  And, like his little brother, he skipped all of the things I expected him to say and instead asked me to make lunch (which was a surprise — my kids apparently do not have extravagant taste).

20140531-225624-82584409.jpgOn the way home, we noticed the biggest dandelions I have ever seen in my life growing in the grass near the U-Bahn station.  B picked them and made a wish (they were probably good for a whole bunch of wishes.)  I guess some just grow that way in Austria, though I’ve never seen them like that before.  (They have normal sized ones here too.)

So, we went home, and I made lunch.  We ate together and spent our afternoon playing video games together and talking.  I was worried that B would end up absorbed in tv or a video game all afternoon, and that we wouldn’t get much of a chance to spend “20140531-225624-82584866.jpgquality time” together.  I had planned (as I had planned with Liam) to maybe try for a brief outing to a playground together, but (like his brother) he was too worn out from a fun and very active morning at school, so we decided to stay in.  (A good choice, as it turned out, because it rained just as we would have been headed outside.)  He DID end up wrapped up in video games for much of the afternoon, but the pleasant surprise was that he really wanted me to watch him play (which was fun) and he wanted my help with some of the things in the game, too.  So, we did end up playing video games for much of our time together, but it was anything but 20140531-225625-82585207.jpgantisocial.  I was also happy to get to play with his stuffed Angry Birds with him (we were “on a boat”) and we spent a little time working on his birthday invitations.  We had a great day.  It was so nice to spend that time together.

We had a great time.  My “little” guy is growing up so fast.  He’s already changed so much.  I can already feel how independent he’s getting, and how much more he can do (and wants to do) without my constant interaction.  It’s so wonderful to get to spend some quiet moments together, just he & I, without having to split my attention or compromise on where my energy goes.  I love my little guys, and getting to spend time with them is a real treat.









My day with Liam

Towards the end of the school year, when most of the formal work has been completed, the weather outside is beautiful, and the kids can barely be contained with their enthusiasm to run and play, the kids’ school days become peppered with outings and parties.  There are short jaunts out to the neighborhood playgrounds, trips out for ice cream, and big, full-day excursions around Vienna to celebrate the end of the year.  The kids have a fantastic time and come home thoroughly exhausted from running, playing, hiking, picnicking, riding on trains and splashing in ponds.  Yesterday was one of those “big” trips for Benjamin’s class.  We had to drop him off early and he didn’t get picked up until 4:00 in the afternoon.

Liam, though, had a normal school day (albeit with a trip to the green Prater to run in the grass), so I picked him up at the usual time of noon.  That left us with an entire afternoon, just the two of us, which I’d been looking forward to for a few weeks.  (And then, next week, when Liam has a full-day field trip, B and I will get a whole afternoon together, too!)

20140523-163316-59596854.jpgAt first he was worried about B, and he wanted us to wait around at the school until he got back.  But he got used to the idea, and pretty excited.   I gave him the choice of choosing anywhere and anything for lunch . . . and he decided to go to the grocery store and choose his own cereal and a set of stickers for himself and one for B.

We went home, had a cereal picnic on the living room floor while watching Team Umizoomi, and then he took a nap.  I’d been planning to do something fun and out of the ordinary — like a pre-nap trip to the playground — but his earlier trip out with his class (he was affronted that the teachers put sunscreen on him, because that’s apparently only my job) pretty much wore him out.


It wasn’t until we were most of the way through our day that it occurred to me that this will be the pattern of most of our days, starting in the fall.  B will be at school all day, I will pick Liam up mid-day, and we’ll spend the afternoon together.  I hadn’t really thought about that part of things before — I think I’ve been so focused on Benjamin’s experience next year, because it will be new, and because it required a lot of action on our part to get it to happen, that I never really thought much about how things are going to change for the rest of us.  I really enjoyed my quiet day with Liam.  It is so much easier to talk to and connect with the kids when we’re one-on-one.  Nobody has to take turns talking, compromise on TV shows, or play alone while I play with the other one.  But, even so, I think we’re going to miss B in the afternoons an awful lot starting in the fall.

The end of one-on-one time

We leave tomorrow for a long weekend in Paris, and when we get back, B will have less than 2 weeks left of his final year of preschool.  This summer, we opted to keep him home from school for all of July & August, to give us all a break from the routine and the chance to do more things together (including a nice long vacation that will start in late July).

I’m looking forward to summer — to not having to be anywhere on time and not having to leave the house for days if we don’t want to.  (I know I’m romanticizing it, and that I will also spend countless hours refereeing fights and administering countdowns to the next turn for something, but right this minute I’m still looking forward to it.)

20130613-222126.jpgBut it hadn’t occurred to me until yesterday that the end of B’s school year marks another major milestone, not just for B as he finishes preschool, but also for Liam.  The daily one-on-one time that Liam and I have shared since B started school, over a year and a half ago, will be at an end.

I’ve been so focused on Liam starting preschool in the fall (and on B starting kindergarten) that I missed the fact that these are our last few mornings to spend hours together, just the two of us, for a long time.  (Most likely we’ll get a chance to do it again in September 2014, when we’ll be back in the US, B will be in “real” school and Liam will, most likely, be home with me again.)

20130613-222157.jpgEach dynamic of a family, each combination and permutation of the members, is a little bit different, and I experience different aspects of each person in each situation.  When I just have Liam, he isn’t operating in “little brother mode”, and he gets my undivided attention (which he seems so desperate for right now).  It’s going to be quite a change to be on Mommy-Liam-B time for most of our waking hours (something we haven’t done with regularity since Liam was less than 1, which feels like a lifetime ago).  Parenting is like that, though — every time I get comfortable with a schedule and a routine, it’s time to change it all over again.  I’m very happy to have B home for the summer, but I will miss my mornings with Liam.  It’s going to be a whole new kind of adventure.


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?)

Going on an adventure

Every so often, we make a plan to spend some one-on-one time with each of the kids. (The goal is to do it with each of the boys about once a month, but so often, things get in the way — travel, illness, incompatible combinations of available free time and the desired activity — and we really do it a lot less frequently than that.) Part of the fun of having the time together is that the kids get to be the one to decide the activity. It’s completely open ended, as long as it’s something we can do in about an hour. We’ve been surprised that so far, the kids’ requests have been incredibly modest — so far, we’ve gone on bus rides, ridden on the U-Bahn just to see where it goes, gone out for hot chocolate or cookies, gone to the playground.

20130426-234036.jpgYesterday, Liam and I finally got a chance to have our hour together, after over a month of trying to find the right time (which is really ridiculous, given that I spend 3-4 hours alone with Liam every day). He wanted to go for a bus ride, to see where the bus that we ride every day would go if we didn’t get off until the end.

So we rode out to the end of the line, to a part of Vienna called Aspern. Liam looked out the window of the bus and told me all about everything he could see. Once we arrived out in Aspern, we saw that it was mostly residential with a cute little town center. It didn’t feel like being in Vienna at all (and truly is almost at the edge of what is actually Vienna). It was a beautiful spring day, and we enjoyed a little walk around (Liam got to navigate) and then I got turned around when it was time to head home and ended up walking twice as far to find the bus as was really necessary. We had a great time exploring, and Liam took a bit of a nap on the way home. It was a good adventure.

And, since it’s spring again, and we’re all feeling (relatively) healthy, we’ll be exploring and adventuring a lot more. I have a list of places to go and things to see, and I’m ready to start on it. And I’m sure Benjamin and Liam will each continue to add their own destinations, as well. I love these adventures with them.

A free cookie

Yesterday evening, I took Benjamin out for some “B & Mommy” time.  I usually go out, twice a week, on my own, for an hour, to get a cup of coffee.  Lately, when I go, he’s been asking to go with me.  I’ve been planning to do more things, just he & I — now that he’s in school, it’s rare for us to spend some time together when I’m not also wrestling Liam.  So, yesterday, we went together.

We went to my usual Starbucks for “coffee” (I told him he could either have hot chocolate or warm milk).  I walked, he rode his bike.  He was so excited to go out in the dark on his bike, and to go with me to get coffee.  We had a really nice trip over, and when we were in line, and B was debating his options, he caught sight of the cookies in the case.  He decided that rather than warm milk or hot chocolate, he’d really rather have a cookie.  When it was our turn to order, I asked for his cookie, and the manager, who was standing beside us, leaned over the counter and whispered something to our order taker.  Then he turned to us, “I think, since yesterday was Halloween, we’re going to give you that cookie for free.”  Benjamin was pretty excited (even though he has no real financial stake in his cookie supply).  I thanked the manager, and so did Benjamin.  He replied, “No problem.  Besides, you’re in here almost every day.”

In my defence, I’m really not in there every day.  I go in twice a week, that’s it.  (I swear.)  But, to a Starbucks crew in the center of the tourist section of Vienna, I imagine that an English speaker (trying to be a German speaker) who comes in regularly over the course of six months is pretty memorable.  (Everyone there already knows my orders — extra impressive because I don’t get the same thing all the time, but they know the choices I select from.)

My first thought was, “Wow, in Vienna, of all places, I’m a regular at Starbucks.  Yikes.”  It’s a little predictable, and a lot American.  But, in thinking about it, I’ve decided I don’t mind.  I like my Starbucks.  It’s isn’t about the coffee — I don’t require my normal American drinks or anything (the things that I get I could get anywhere in Vienna, anyway).  I do love the location — it is the only place at Michaelerplatz where you can sit outside, drink a coffee, and watch Vienna.  But even more, the people there are really great.  They’re friendly, they’re helpful, they let me practice my German on them, and they’re never impatient or irritable when I resort to English.  They’re good at what they do, too — tour buses literally unload in front of the shop, and I’ve been impressed, on several occasions, with the skill and ease with which they deal with the orders (and the myriad languages they’re faced with).

So, I’m ok with being a predictable American who’s a regular at Starbucks in Vienna.  I like it there.


Benjamin time

It’s inevitable:  having an 11 month old who doesn’t nap means that I don’t have a lot of time to spend one-on-one with B.  When Liam was very little, he napped for a few hours every day, and that gave Benjamin and I time to do things together:  read, color, build things, play.  As Liam has gotten older, his nap has gone away, and now much of my play time with Benjamin is now shared play time with Liam.

Much of the time, he doesn’t mind.  I’ve gotten better at finding things for all of us to do together (like playing ball, which Liam is amazingly adept at) but I miss the one-on-one time with Benjamin, and I think he misses it, too.  Sibling rivalry has started cropping up more and more, although he still loves Liam (he tells me so) and is still very affectionate and caring towards him.  I’m grateful that our reduced playtime hasn’t turned him against Liam entirely, but I know it’s something I need to address before it creates larger resentment.

I’ve been trying, lately, to do just that.  I’ve planned times for B & I to go out, to the park, to the movies (Dan & Liam ended up coming with us), or to stay in and play Wii — special things for he and I to do together where he can have my (relatively) undivided attention.  I’ve been putting a lot of effort in, but frankly, it hasn’t been working out.  It’s nice to spend that time with him, but it ends up feeling forced and even a little frustrating, sometimes, because it doesn’t go quite as I imagine.

This morning, Dan was putting Liam down for a nap and I was hanging out with B, who was watching tv.  B wanted to go in his room to play, and wanted me to come, too.  I was exhausted, and honestly felt like sitting and watching tv instead, but, I agreed to go with him.  Once we got there, he wanted to set up his train tracks and play with his trains.  For the first few minutes, I played along, without my heart really being in it, thinking about what I had to do today and feeling tired, but then I got caught up in his enthusiasm, and we put tracks together, switched trains around, had races, built tunnels, built bridges.  We played for an hour or so while Dan got Liam down and then while Liam slept.  It was fantastic:  exactly what I’ve been looking for.

And then, it hit me:  I don’t need to force this one-on-one time to happen.  It’s fine for me to plan something “special” from time to time for us to do together, but it’s not the “specialness” of the activity that makes the time so valuable.  B & I have lots of things we enjoy doing together:  playing trains, playing ball, coloring with chalk, reading stories.  All I have to do is make the space in my day for those things, which we already share, to happen.  It isn’t what we do that’s important, it’s the fact that we have the chance to do it.

He starts preschool next week, and between being in school for half the day, coming home, having lunch and taking a nap, I feel like I’m hardly going to see him at all.  I’m going to get less time with him, but it doesn’t mean we’re less important to each other.  I have to make sure that I’m making time for us to spend together, because I don’t want to miss out on the precious moments of playing trains or coloring with chalk.  That’s the most important part of my day.

Benjamin goes to work

Benjamin has been asking for months to go to work with Dan.  We’ve stopped by a couple of times to visit, and I even dropped him off for a few hours once (so I could do his birthday shopping) but that isn’t what he wanted.  He wanted to go in with Dan — to get ready in the morning and head off on the train with his dad.

032This morning, that’s what we did.  He got up, had breakfast, got ready, packed his backpack and went to work.  As I understand it, they had a good time (even though B got bored pretty quickly, he was a good “helper” all morning).  For me, it was really weird.  The only time I’ve had such a long block of time without him was the one time Dan took him to the emergency room and I stayed home with Liam.  Nearly every day, Liam is awake during Benjamin’s nap, and I kept forgetting he wasn’t here and asleep in the other room — I kept shushing Liam while we were playing together.

I did enjoy my time with Liam.  He crawled all over and even cruised a little.  It was fun to be able to play with whatever toy he wanted without Benjamin determining what Liam is or isn’t allowed to play with.  But mostly, I missed him, a lot.  I’ve grown very used to spending my days with both of my kids.  Sometimes we play, sometimes we go out, sometimes he helps me with the chores, but I really enjoy our morning time, whatever we do with it.

(It might have been a bit of a nice break except for the fact that I couldn’t go out — we were supposed to have some guys from the power company come by this morning, although they didn’t.)

At lunch time, Dan brought him home.  Liam and I were both so happy to see him.  He had a nice time with Daddy at his work, but he was happy to be home, too.

When he starts school in September, this is what it will be like in the mornings, 5 days a week.  I am not prepared.  I think it will be what’s best for him, but I don’t think it’s what will be best for me.  If I were selfish, I wouldn’t send him to school — I don’t want to be without him.