How do you do it?

Here we are, at the end of our first full week of double drop offs and double pick ups.  We all survived, we were on time almost every day, and no one got dropped off at the wrong school.  I count this week as a major success.

It’s a lot of work, though.  Dropping the boys off in the morning is a nearly 2 hour procedure, picking Liam up takes about an hour and a half, and picking up B takes about an hour (and that’s only because he takes the expensive school bus almost all the way home).  If you do the math, you’ll find that it takes about 4 1/2 hours every day just to get the kids to and from school every day — and we’re talking actual travel time, not including getting dressed, last minute potty breaks, trains breaking down, etc.

(Now, because tone is hard to read on a computer screen, and because, whether online or in person, my tone is constantly misunderstood, I will point out that I’m not complaining.  Not one little bit.  We’ve got things really, really good, and I am fully aware of that.  The kids are going to great schools, Dan has a great job, we live in a fantastic city.  And I love it.  I would say that all of my problems are First World problems, but none of this is actually a “problem”, so I can’t even say that.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of work.  It’s just that WORK doesn’t equal BAD, though I often find that anytime I write about anything being “work”, many people automatically assume that I’m saying it’s a “problem”.  It’s not a problem.  It is a lot of work.  It’s my job, and JOB usually does equal WORK.  But, I digress . . . )

We’re still sorting out how best to manage this and still ensure everyone gets to eat and bathe at regular intervals.  It’s a bit of a challenge, and we’ve tried out a few different options this week (and will experiment with more next week, for sure).

So far, our favorite option looks like this:
5:30 Dan up, goes for a run, walks Bailey
6:15 Em & boys up, breakfast, Dan showers
7:00 teeth brushed, dressed for the day
7:15 Dan & boys out the door
7:50 Liam dropped off
8:20 B dropped off
8:50 Dan gets to work
During this time, I run errands, shower, go for a run, go to the grocery store, prep stuff for lunch and dinner, and attempt to clean the house a bit.
11:15 I leave to get Liam
12:00 Liam picked up
12:50 Liam & I arrive home, have lunch, walk Bailey
2:00 Nap for Liam, more cleaning/to-dos/laundry for me (at this point, we are behind schedule most days)
3:25 Leave to meet B
3:55 Meet B (at this point, we have to be back on schedule)
4:30 Get home, have a snack, Skype (some days)
5:30 Start making dinner
6:15 Dan comes home, we all eat dinner (we’re usually behind schedule by this point, too)
7:00 Clean up time
7:15 Baths, teeth brushed, stories
8:30 Bed (kids)
10:30 Bed (grown ups)

So, it’s a busy day.  Not a bad day, and we even manage a few quiet moments each day.  Most days so far, we’ve been ending our day about an hour later than this (both kids and both parents) because we just can’t quite keep our evening on track, but I think we’ll gradually be able to adjust to the new schedule, and get closer to getting everyone a good amount of sleep.

I know we’re very lucky.  I’m not working and Dan has a (fairly) flexible work schedule.  Even so, there are days when even this schedule seems daunting.  So, here’s my sincere question — what do other people’s days look like?  (Not just those of you with kids — anyone!)  What kinds of hoops are other families jumping through to make things work?  For us, right now, the kids’ commutes are a big factor in our family schedule — what are yours?  What kinds of things have you done to/cut out of/added to your daily schedule to make things work?  I’d love to hear ideas, inspiration, thoughts from other families.  We’re all doing some version of this kind of craziness, but I feel like, so often, we really have no idea what anyone else’s day really looks like, except where it intersects our own.

This is how we’re making it work.  Our assets are a flexible schedule, good schools, great public transport, and enough affluence for me to be able to stay home.  Our challenges are long-ish commutes and being fully self-reliant (no ability to call on friends or family for a hand, no carpools).  How do YOU make it work?  I really am curious.

Back to school night . . . sort of

One thing is certainly true about B’s new school — they keep us parents pretty busy! School started less than 2 weeks ago and so far we’ve had orientation (with the kids), the first day of school, a curriculum meeting, a PTA coffee and then, last night, a parent orientation meeting (which was more or less at “back to school night” . . . except that I think they’re doing another “back to school night” type of event later in the month, too).  I made a comment to another mom at the PTA coffee on Tuesday that they keep us parents very busy at the beginning of the year, and she responded that it’s actually going to be like this all year.  Whew.

But, I don’t mind.  I’m happy and excited to be involved, and to start to feel like I’m able understand a bit of what school is like for B.  (Much as I like the boys’ preschool, both the language barrier and the fact that they are the complete opposite when it comes to involving parents have made it hard to feel really connected to what goes on there each day.)

Last night was great.  We met in the classroom with B’s teacher and the parents of his classmates.  We got a chance to learn about their daily schedule, about the school’s and the teacher’s philosophies, and about how things have been going so far (very well, apparently).  We also got to meet and chat with some of the other parents — it’s very nice to start to get to know the parents of the kids B has started to make friends with.

Basically, we love it.  We love the school, and we love B’s teacher.  I love the way the kids are expected to be at different levels, and the way the teacher plans to work with each of them to improve their skills from their current point.  I love the way the day is structured, with focused learning mixed in with group work, circle time and play time.  I love his teacher’s positive approach to behavior and discipline.  And I love, love, LOVE the enthusiasm she has for teaching the kids — even just a few days into the year, she seems to be so genuinely fond of all the kids in the class.  I couldn’t have asked for a better place for B to start his “real” school career, and I couldn’t imagine an environment I’d be more comfortable with.  I feel like all of my concerns and worries about B being ready for 1st grade have pretty much been shown to be unfounded — not just because he’s doing so well already, but because the school and his class really are set up in such a beneficial manner.  I am just so happy.

And then there’s the other stuff we learned.  It turns out that not only is B the only American kid in his class (though two of the other kids have lived in the US for a while), but he’s the only native English speaker in his class.  The school has over 100 nationalities represented, and something like 70+ native languages (I’d struggle to even NAME 70 languages).  Watching a slide show the teacher had prepared before the meeting got started, I felt like every single picture looked like a Benetton ad, or at least like the obligatory picture all school brochures include to show how diverse the population is.  It wasn’t until a picture of B popped up in the slide show that we realized that ALL of the pictures we were looking at had been taken in B’s class during these first 10 days of school — that’s just what his class looks like.

I was also thrilled to find out that I’m able to come in and volunteer in B’s class.  I’m going to be coming in once a week to help out.  I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to be doing, but I’m so excited to get to help and participate.  In my imaginings of my kids’ school days, I’d always pictured myself helping out in the classroom, and I was disappointed when I wasn’t able to be more involved in their preschool.  So to get that chance now is just beyond exciting for me.

I’m completely won over.  This school seems like just the right place for him, and I am so excited for him to have this opportunity.  If I sound like I’m bragging, I don’t mean to be.  I’m just excited, and so very grateful to see how things are unfolding.  I feel like this is the best school we could have chosen for him, and I think he might have gotten the good fortune of ending up with the best teacher possible for him, too.

How we got here

photo8B’s first week and a half of school has gone amazingly well.  Liam’s first few days have gone without a hitch, as well.  Happy boys.  They like their schools, they like their teachers, they are (reasonably) enthusiastic about getting up and out the door each morning.  I don’t entirely trust it, and I keep waiting for the good feelings to fade (and it’s only the second week, so they still might), but so far, the boys have been happy about being back at school.  And I am happy to see them happy.  Life is good.

After dropping Liam off at preschool the other day, I was standing on the corner, waiting for the bus as I have done so many mornings over the past 3 years.  And I was thinking about this — wondering why I so expect things to be different, and why they are, instead, going so well.

And I think it comes down to this — we paid that price already.  All of those months, in the early days of preschool, when B struggled.  The days that he cried.  The days that I cried.  The days that I stood on the corner across the street from the school and spent long minutes convincing myself NOT to go back in and retrieve my kids.  The times that I almost, almost, ALMOST gave up on it ever getting better.

THIS is why we did all of that.  It might not be inevitable for all children, but for mine, and for me, going through that struggle probably was.  It was always going to be hard for us.  B is sensitive.  I’m sensitive and controlling.  Liam wants to be with us.  So, learning how to NOT let those tendencies get in the way of school was going to be hard.  And it was.  It was so hard, and I questioned and doubted it so many times.  I wondered if I was harming my kids, or if I was a terrible mom.  I wondered if preschool was worth all of that trouble, or if we’d end up regretting the deep emotional trauma I imagined was being inflicted on my kids.

I remember saying to myself, more than once, “If it’s like this again tomorrow, I won’t make him go back”, or, “If it gets any worse than this, I’ll keep him home”.  But it was always a little better the next day, or he came home with some story of what a great time he’d had.  There were best friends and lantern fests and St. Nikolaus visits.  And yes, there were also tears and tough days and an emergency room visit.

But if I could go back, I would tell myself, standing on that corner, “Just wait.  I know that this is hard, but it IS worth it.”  Because I believe that the price we paid, the struggle we endured, has made it possible for B to start first grade at a new school without missing a beat, and for Liam to start this school year, without having B there with him, without any sadness.  And when I see where we are now, I’m so glad we stuck with it.

Liam’s first day

photo 1Last week, B started first grade at his new school.  Yesterday, Liam had his first day of school for the year, too.  Liam is back at the same preschool (Kindergarten) this year, the same school that B also attended for 3 years.

Last week was a nice transition into the hectic new school year (more hectic than ever for us, because we’ve never had to take the kids to two different schools each morning).  Last week, B was in school, but Liam was home with me.  So, we were able to adjust to B’s new school’s schedule, get in the habit of bringing gym clothes on Monday, packing a snack for him every day and remembering his reading homework.  But, while we did that, Liam and I also got in one last week of trips to the playground and quiet mornings building train tracks.  It was really nice.  (I love having photo 2my boys at home.  One part of me really wishes they were home with me all the time.  I fantasize about home-schooling them, letting them wake up whenever they like, taking our lunch break when it’s relatively convenient, and staying in on rainy days.  But I know that my reasons for doing that would be mostly selfish.  I’d love having them with me every day, but I do really think that this is best for them.  I also realize that my fantasy about what home-schooling would be like is exactly just a fantasy and leaves out all of the actual SCHOOLING and such.)  This week, we’re off to the races, with two drop-offs and two pick-ups in different places and at different times each day.

photo 3But yesterday was Liam’s first day.  He was so excited and so proud.  He was really ready to go to school (and really, really ready to get his Scultüte that he’d been looking forward to since last week).  He was happy to pose for “1st day” pictures (and though he was as bouncy as B was last week, I kept my good spirits the whole time).  I was a little concerned, though, because though he was excited and enthusiastic, I wasn’t entirely sure that it had truly occurred to him that one thing would be really different about this year — this year, B wouldn’t be there with him.

The boys were in different classes at the preschool last year, but they still crossed paths a lot.  They often ran into each other at breakfast, or in the garden at recess time, and very occasionally even got to visit each other in their respective classes.  Now, it would just be Liam at his school, and I wasn’t sure he’d thought of that.

photo 4Regardless, he was excited, and it was time to head off to his first day.  When we got there, I was a little surprised to find that he has a new teacher this year.  This makes 3 teachers for Liam since he started last September, which is a lot.  His first teacher last year was FANTASTIC, but she left last spring for another job closer to her home.  For reasons I will probably never know (part of the downside to the kids being in an entirely German-speaking school is that I’m left completely out of the rumor mill), both of his teachers from last spring seem to no longer be with the school.  So, for Liam, it’s year 2 of preschool, with no Benjamin, and a new teacher.

photo 5He was undaunted.  He was very enthusiastic to put away his things in his same spot as last year, change his shoes, and get into class.  He was a little confused when he greeted his new teacher, but he wasn’t bothered by it — he quickly set about exploring his old classroom and discovering a few new car and truck toys that weren’t there last spring.  He was a happy guy.

I watched him for a bit, and he came back out briefly to show me a new construction truck that he found.  But he wasn’t worried about me or what I was up to, so I left pretty quickly.  According to both him and his teacher, he had a “great” first day.  He seems just as happy as can be, and I’m very glad to find out that I’m missing him much more than he’s missing me.

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.

Week one down, week one still to go

Week one of B’s new school — completed.  As I type this, he’s 10 minutes away from the end of the last day of the first week at his new school.  So far, things have gone great.  He’s enjoying his classes, he loves his new teacher, he’s been enthusiastic about eating in the cafeteria and riding the bus home (both new experiences), and he’s had positive interactions with the kids in his class.  He may be in the process of coming down with a cold (or something) but that’s pretty much to be expected the first week at a new school.  Things are going great for him.

And I’m thrilled, too.  I’m also loving his experience at the school so far.  His teacher seems very positive and supportive; he’s already taking gym, art, music and German; he comes home every day excited to tell me about what he’s done; he gets up in the morning enthusiastic to go back (not that I expect that to be true EVERY day, but it seems to be a very positive sign that it’s true already this first week); and he’s impatient to get his library card next week so he can start bringing books home.

Plus, the whole family has done an excellent job this week of adapting to this major change to our schedule — the boys are getting up happily in the morning, early but not TOO early; Liam has adjusted relatively well to having only a brief nap each afternoon; and the boys are going to bed relatively quickly and easily at a slightly earlier hour in the evening.  Dan and I even managed to get everyone fed at a reasonable hour AND do baths every night but one this week.  That’s pretty awesome.

But, of course, next week, everything is going to change again.  Next Monday, Liam goes back to school, and we get to start over again with a whole new “first week”.  That means twice as many drop offs and pick ups, twice as many schedules to manage, and it will mean getting up another half an hour earlier every day (for all of us) which will hopefully mean getting to bed another half an hour earlier every day.  I’m a little intimidated by the change in the schedule (I’ve already gotten used to this one!) and by just how much there will be to manage starting on Monday.  But that pretty much just seems to be life with kids!

That’s ok, though — we’ll get it done.  This time last week, I was dreading the thought of B starting school, and it’s been even better than I’d hoped.  Next week will mean a lot of new stuff around here again, but I’m hopeful that it’ll be another week of positive changes.

Class flags

So far, I am loving B’s new school.  He’s only 2 days into the year so far (well, he’s almost done with his third day at this point) but he’s already had gym class, music class, German class and art class, in addition to story time and math instruction (plus chocolate cake at lunch time — twice).  He gets to go outside for recess twice a day, plus they begin and end their day with “structured free play”, which means that they get to choose which of several stations around the classroom (art, Legos, doll house, a shop, reading) they’d like to play with, and then they get to play quietly and cooperatively with their classmates.  His teacher seems very kind and patient, too.


I think it’s kind of the Shangri-La of first grade.

Yesterday, for art class, each child painted the flag from their home country.  B came home and reported that he was jealous of the Japanese kids in his class (there are 2) because their flag “is just a big red dot!”  He also acknowledged that the Russian and Austrian kids had it pretty easy, too.  According to B, only one kid had it “worse” than he did.  He insisted they were from a South American country whose name he couldn’t remember.  We tried to figure it out, but we were stuck.  He explained that their flag was just like his, only it had a yellow moon instead of the white stars (which is why it was harder — because he got to leave the stars blank, while the moon had to be colored in).  We finally figured out that he was talking about Malaysia … he was certain it was South American because “the flag looked so much like mine that it must be SOME kind of America!”  We had fun at dinner last night piecing together the home countries of the kids in his class based on his descriptions of their flags. Once again, he appears the only American in his class, and I just can’t help but think what an amazing experience this will be for him — his classroom is like a tiny little United Nations, all by itself!

School is great!

I never realized how stressful a school bus was.

Outside of an early school bus trauma (when I was little, my parents got me all prepared for my first day of kindergarten, but apparently didn’t tell me that the school bus would bring me back home again, and I was pretty traumatized by the whole experience — I wonder where I thought I was going?), I always felt pretty ambivalent about the school bus.  I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my most favorite place to be, either.

Yesterday, waiting for B’s bus to drop him off, I was absolutely stressed out.  Until last week, our plan had been for me to pick B up every day at school — a plan I wasn’t 100% thrilled with, since it meant a second hour and a half round trip each day, both with Liam, and requiring Liam to either give up his daily nap or nap in the stroller.  But, the school buses are expensive, and the stop nearest our house is one of the last on the route, which would have effectively extended B’s day by about an hour.  So, I was going to pick him up each day … until we discovered last week that Dan’s work reimburses most of the cost AND that there is another stop, only 5 minutes further away from home, which would get B home half an hour earlier.  When B weighed in that he’d like to take the bus, we figured we’d give it a try.

In the mornings, Dan will take him in (since it’s only a little out of his way), so yesterday afternoon was our first bus experience.  Liam and I went over to the spot to wait.  The “stop” is at a square in Vienna, but around the square, which is a city block on each side, I didn’t know where to be.  Two sides were pretty much out, because of the traffic patterns, but that left two other adjacent sides for me to keep watch over.  The minutes ticked by and I was constantly vigilant, watching up and down both streets.  As the moment approached, my mind was full of questions and concerns — would they see me (they wouldn’t drop him off if I didn’t meet them)?  Would I get to them in time before they pulled away (and then took him back to the school)?  Had he, in fact, gotten on the right bus?  Was I in the right place?  How had his bus ride been?  Was it safe, comfortable, scary???  And, of course, I was also anxiously awaiting the details of his whole first day — how was the teacher?  How were the other kids?  Had he made any new friends?  How was lunch?  Was he able to figure out the cafeteria?  Was he happy???

photoAI was pretty tense.  But then, the big gray bus (no yellow here) came around the corner and stopped about halfway down the block from where I was.  I hurried over and collected my boy.  All was well.

And after a big hug, I got a full report:

  • School was great!
  • The bus was great!
  • He had two recesses, and he saw his best buddy (who is in a different grade) both times!
  • They had gym class …
  • … and music class …
  • … and lunch was SO GOOD!  And, it’s not even Friday, but they had chocolate cake for dessert!
  • He couldn’t find his gym clothes, but it was ok (no idea — they were “hidden” on his coat hook)
  • And the teacher read some stories about monsters, but they were too scary, so B asked for a different story … so she read a story with no monsters instead!

It was a good day.  All was well, and everyone got home safely.  I’m very, very happy, and so is my little guy.


B’s first day of first grade

He was so excited last night that I was worried he wouldn’t be able sleep.  But he was so worn out from the thrill of his orientation yesterday that it wasn’t an issue — he was out almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.  First thing this morning, he was up with a big smile, and the first thing he said was, “Today is the big day!”  Which was shortly followed by, “It’s going to be awesome today!”

Today is B’s first day of first grade.

He did so great getting ready this morning.  We had breakfast, watched a little tv, and got dressed for school.  Inside, I was freaking out, but I did my best to stay calm — I didn’t want to mess up his cheerful enthusiasm.  He was so excited and so proud!  And I was so excited and proud for him.

photoBut then, I tried to get a good “first day of school” picture.  He was too excited to stand still, and then Liam saw the Scultüte we were about to give to B sitting on the bench, which led to more excitement on B’s part and tears from Liam (despite reassurances that Liam’s Schultüte will be ready for him on his first day, which is next week).  Dan was consoling Liam and B was bouncing around with his Schultüte and it was getting later by the minute and I just wanted one non-blurry, no tears picture where he was actually smiling before they had to leave for school … and I got a little grouchy trying to get it.  (Which I instantly regretted, because REALLY?!?  Much as the pictures are cute, the first day of school is NOT about getting a great picture.  Great job, me.  Sigh.)  And I felt pretty much like a crappy mom at that point.

photo2But he was still in good spirits, and after lots of hugs and kisses, he and Dan were out the door and on their way.  And I channeled all of my certainty that I am an awful mom who just ruined my boy’s first day into a big ball of heartache and spent the next half an hour sobbing while Liam played on the iPad and looked at me warily out of the corner of his eye.

I wasn’t just crying just for screwing up this morning by being worried about the wrong part of the first day, but for every misstep and fumbled opportunity I’ve had in the past 6 years, 1 month and 7 days.  I was crying for every time that I’ve snapped at B because we were late, or been impatient with a question, or been short-tempered because there was something I was trying to get done.  There have been so many times that I’ve lost sight of the big picture and gotten frustrated or overwhelmed by unimportant details.  And I was crying, photo3truly, because those are all moments that I can’t get back.  In fact, I can’t get any of them back — the good moments or the bad ones.  Seeing my little guy head off to school this morning was an awesome reminder of how precious ALL of those moments are.  I was overwhelmed by how quickly the time passes, and by how many things that don’t matter end up getting in the way of what really, truly does.

My half hour of regret and self-pity finished, as these things so often do, with desperate prayer (and with writing, because that’s how I exorcise these things).  Please, God, help me to be a better mother.  And, God, please just take care of my baby.  I don’t actually care about anything else.

And then Liam and I had a lovely morning together.  We played and went to the park, we had lunch and he took a nap.  And the whole day, B has been on my mind.  I do wish I’d kept my perspective this morning and had a more positive attitude, but … I didn’t.  And while he’ll never have another first day of first grade, there will be many other firsts, and many other chances for me to keep my focus on the truly important things.

B’s still at school, so I don’t yet know how his day has gone, but I can almost guarantee that it WAS awesome today.  I know he was awesome.  And my day will be super awesome when I get to give him a great big hug.

Orientation day

IMG_0086.JPGB starts school tomorrow.  Real school, first grade.  But we really have no idea what we’re doing.  We applied last spring, got an enrollment packet from the school, filled out a dozen forms, and bought all the supplies on our list, but still, we weren’t really ready.  We’d never even been to the school.  It has a great reputation and a (relatively) convenient location, so it was our first choice, but we’d never been to see it.

But today was orientation day, so we were going to fix all of that!

We got a babysitter for Liam for the morning so Dan & I could both go, and so we would IMG_0092-0.JPGboth actually be able to pay attention.  The three of us headed over this morning (and encountered B’s best friend before we even got inside) for the new student orientation.  It was a bit strange to me that orientation is just the day before the first day of school, but apparently, with so many students coming from other places in the world, many of whom are new to Vienna, there’s more benefit to waiting until the last minute, so that as many people as possible can be present.

The school looked great — big and clean and inviting.  Most importantly, B approved.  We met the principal, and got IMG_0112-0.JPGB’s school ID picture taken.  We signed him up for lunch, registered with the PTA, filled out more forms, and bought B’s new gym outfit.  Then we got to meet his new teacher and see the classroom where B will be spending his time this year!  His teacher seems very nice, and the classroom looks great.  There will be 22 kids in his class, and, aside from B, there are 5 other kids in his class who are also new to the school.  (I was worried he’d be the only new one.)  From the sounds of things, there will be a good mix of playing and learning throughout the day.  We got to ask all of our questions, and I was very excited to discover that the teacher is very enthusiastic about having me volunteer in tIMG_0117-0.JPGhe classroom — and I’ll be able to chaperone field trips, too!  (I expected to be able to do that with the preschool, but couldn’t, so I’m hoping B doesn’t mind if I do it a lot now.)  I love the idea of being involved with him in the classroom.

We finished our orientation with a tour of the school.  B liked the playgrounds the best, but I think that the library was my favorite.  In all, we know a little more about what to expect, and a lot more about where he needs to be, so I think it was a very successful orientation.  And tomorrow will be the FIRST DAY.  (I’m pretty much freaking out about that, but I’m really trying not to let it show.)