Our summer focus

20140806-155408-57248129.jpgRight now, my house is a mess.  The vacuuming hasn’t been completely done in weeks.  There are massive piles of dirty laundry to be washed and several laundry baskets full of clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away.  My kids have been spending a great deal of their time on the iPad lately.  I haven’t been getting to the things on my to do lists, and things like blog posts and uploading pictures have been queueing up, waiting to be taken care of.  I haven’t had an hour to myself in over 10 days, and last week I realized there had been a 10 day stretch when I didn’t leave the house, not once.  Yesterday I locked myself in the bathroom to get 2 minutes — 2 literal minutes — to myself because the requests for water “in the other cup”, for an unbroken graham cracker, and for me to “make my brother stop kicking me” got to be too much at one point.

20140806-155409-57249582.jpgThis sounds awful.  Reading that back, I sound like a woman barely clinging to her sanity, about to lose it.  Someone who might be suffering from depression or anxiety.  Someone in trouble.

But the reality is that the housework is undone because I’ve been prioritizing getting in a walk for me, and an hour at the playground for the boys, every day.  It’s been great for all of us.  The boys have been spending more time on the iPad because we’ve recently found several educational math and reading games that they absolutely love.  I haven’t been getting to the things on my list, writing as many blog posts or sharing as many pictures because I’ve been making a concerted effort to spend more time mentally present with the kids and less time multi-tasking.  I decided not to take any time to myself this weekend because things at home were so nice that I didn’t want to go out (though I’m second guessing that choice after hiding in the bathroom yesterday).  I hid in the bathroom yesterday because I recognized the signs — anxiousness, irritability, impatience — that I was about to vent my frustration and fatigue on the kids … so I took 2 minutes to myself in the only room that has a locking door.  The kids didn’t even notice that I was gone, but I felt much better.

20140806-155408-57248638.jpgAnd all of THAT sounds pretty great.  But it’s hard, because although I philosophically agree with the choices I’m making, living with the reality of it is a challenge.  We’re enjoying our summer, though we aren’t getting much done.  And I think that’s great, except when I’m stressing over the length of my to do list.  I’m living with a messy house so that we can spend more time outside.  Which is wonderful, except when I get twitchy over the dust bunnies.  The boys are practicing math and reading.  And that’s fantastic, except when I count up the hours of screen time they had yesterday and compare it to my idea of what it OUGHT to have been.  I’m focusing on different priorities than I’m used to, shifting my strategy for the summer, and being as loving and nurturing as possible, which feels very good, other than when I’m hiding in the bathroom, which feels a lot like failing.  I’m spending my energy on really important stuff, but I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of the other stuff.

20140806-155409-57249014.jpgOn balance, things are pretty great around here right now, but it’s so easy to lose sight of that.  I think that one of the hard things about parenting is that failing and succeeding can look a lot alike.  That first paragraph looks exactly like so many of the overwhelmed/stressed/ freaking out posts I’ve written, but today it’s about working on feeling grounded, relaxed and focused on things I’m not used to focusing on.  Looking around my house right now, it’s easy for me to feel like I’ve dropped the ball on everything, but I don’t think I have — I’m just spending my energy in other areas right now … and I think it’s a good trade.

Also, we’ve stopped B’s afternoon naps because he’ll be in school for a full day by the end of the month.  The idea is for him to read or play learning games while Liam naps and while I do things like compose my blog posts.  In reality, though, it’s turned into an hour where B sits and asks me questions about learning math or where dragons come from while I attempt to type a variety of increasingly fragmented sentences into my computer.  Today’s blog post was composed entirely while teaching double digit addition.  That is an underrated super power.

Summer schedule

Most of my time as a parent has been spent either feeling overwhelmed, trying to figure out how to get a handle on things or being pretty certain I’m screwing everything up.  (I do other stuff, too, that’s just in the background.)  This is a part of parenting that I didn’t anticipate before I became a mom.  I knew that the early days with a new baby would be hard (though I didn’t know how hard), but I didn’t know that I would never really get things “figured out” — that I would never get past feeling like a rookie at something I’d been doing for years.  The thing is, this game is constantly changing.  Every time I emerge from the tunnel of confusion brought on by new schedules, preferences, temperaments, questions, developmental stages, personality changes, and just life in general, I get knocked sideways by a whole new, different set of circumstances that requires a completely new approach.  I’m always behind the curve because the rules are always changing.  That’s just how it is.  Although it’s tough, the upside is the knowledge that however hard a particular stage as a parent is, it will be over soon.  The downside is that when things are finally smooth, they’re guaranteed not to stay that way for long.

We’ve been in a surprisingly long period of stability around here recently.  Liam has mostly adjusted to school, outgrown his phase of night terrors (more or less — he no longer gets them every night) and it has become almost possible to reason with him sometimes.  B has gotten the potty thing mastered, and has gained a surprising amount of independence lately.  Most of the time, a family outing no longer requires a stroller, and dinners don’t always end with something being thrown, worn, or dumped on the floor.  We’re able to brush teeth at night without major fits (occasionally) and the boys require only constant reminders (and not being chased through the house) to get ready for school.  Things have been pretty easy around here for a little while (and by “a little while”, I mean since sometime after Easter).

So, of course, everything is about to change.  Today is the first day of the last week of B’s time in preschool.  Starting on Friday, I’ll have the boys home until August.  And when they do go back to school, Liam will go back to this same school, while B starts at a new school.  In the meantime, B, who still takes an afternoon nap most days, needs to get used to not having one, because he starts full-day school in August.  But Liam, who turns into Mr. Hyde if he doesn’t nap (and whose night terrors come back if he sleeps too soundly at night, which is well mitigated by not going to bed over tired), still needs a daily nap.  And, their shared nap time has historically been when I get a lot of stuff done every day … like writing this blog … so that’s going to require some rethinking.  (And, as demonstrated by the fact that I’m still blogging about last year’s summer vacation, taking an extended blogging break doesn’t work too well for me.)

So, later this week, everything changes.  (Again.)  We’ll go on vacation for a bit, come home, and sort out a summer schedule for the 6 weeks before school starts up again.  I’ll convince Liam to nap even though B won’t be, keep B quiet but busy so I can get a little done around the house and sort out an hour or so each day to find time to work on this blog.  It might be a challenge, but, in exchange, I get to have my guys home every day for a few months, and that’s going to be great.  It’ll be a bit overwhelming, but I’ll get it sorted out.  It always is, and I always do.

Summer vacation plans

I talk a lot about how great our experience has been with our preschool here in Vienna.  I think we got exceptionally lucky when we signed B up for school that first year.  We didn’t yet know where we’d be living, so we requested a place near Dan’s work (which has turned out to be far less convenient than we imagined it would be) but the 40 minute commute each way is completely worth the level of instruction and kindness the kids have received at their school.  Vienna runs many preschools throughout the city, all free or at very low cost (if the kids eat meals at school, there is a charge), and all run on the Montessori model (more or less — we’ve heard that this varies greatly).  It’s pretty much the Shangri-La of preschools around here.  Putting our kids into preschools of this caliber most likely would not have been possible for us in the US — and certainly not without me going back to work.  We’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity that we’ve had here in terms of the kids and school.

But then … we have some interesting situations pop up, that I don’t think we ever would have encountered back at home.

Late last month, the teachers sent home the annual summer vacation forms.  The idea is for parents to fill them out to let the school know which weeks the kids will be at school or on vacation so that they can plan staffing for the summer months when many families are away.  Makes sense, especially given that vacations here in the summer are almost always at least 2 weeks long, and often as much as 6-8 weeks.  We know quite a few people who leave Vienna in late June and don’t come back until late August.

We’d been thinking that we would probably be home in the US (permanently) by summer vacation time this year, so we hadn’t given our summer plans a lot of thought (even though it’s becoming increasingly likely that we’ll be here for a while yet).  Getting the vacation form was a bit of a wake up call that we needed to plan for a summer still spent in Austria.  So, we sat down, came up with a rough idea, and returned our forms to the school.  Our plan was to take a few weeks of vacation in July (to see some of Austria that we haven’t yet seen … and to see some of our favorite parts again), then to send the kids to school for a few weeks mid-summer (to give me some summer time without the kids to enjoy Vienna, to keep them from getting entirely out of the habit of going to school, and to give B a few more leisurely weeks of preschool before “real” school starts in the fall), and then take a few more weeks off mid-August (to take a break before getting back into the swing of things at school again).  It was a little different than anything we’ve done before — because Liam was previously always home with me, we took previous summers as a chance to take a break from the 40-minute-each-way commute every weekday and kept both boys home together with me all summer.  And although I’ve loved that, I was looking forward to being able to do it differently this year — our only chance to do it this way, because next summer, and all subsequent summers, B will have regular summer school holidays, so he’ll be home and we’ll probably keep Liam home as well.

Then, just yesterday, they told us no.

No, the boys can’t come in for a few weeks mid-summer — could we please keep them home all summer instead?  We said that of course they could stay home, but because this was in German and Dan didn’t completely understand, we didn’t really understand why.  As it turns out, they’re going to be very short-staffed for those weeks, so they’ve asked that all of the families that have at least one stay-at-home parent to keep their kids home.  And though I don’t mind, I can’t help but find the whole situation a little funny … and I don’t think it’s something we’d be as likely to run into back in the States.

So, new plan for the summer: as of June 27, the boys will be home with me until B starts elementary school in late August.  And I am truly and sincerely happy to have them.  We’ll have a great time, just like we have our other summers here.

Again, autumn

We woke up this morning to cool, crisp air.  Fall comes on pretty early in Vienna.  A few weeks ago, near the end of August, we woke up one morning and we knew that summer was over.  That’s how it happens here.  Something in the air and the light changes, and you just know that summer has left Vienna and it won’t be back until June or July next year.  The heat is gone, there is no more humidity, the breezes are cool, the evening starts to come noticeably earlier.  Summer was over.

Today feels like the next piece of the transformation.  Today doesn’t just feel like “not summer”, today feels like fall.  It’s still warm today, but last night was quite cool.  Each morning, for the past few days, there have been little piles of leaves in the courtyards and at the bottom of the escalators in the U-bahn stations.  I know we’ll use the a/c less and less, it will start to rain more often, and, in what feels like just moments, it will be time to bundle up the whole family every time we leave the house.

For now, though, it’s fall, my favorite season.  And fall in Vienna is really lovely.  Cool, crisp, breezy and beautiful.  Vienna is such a lovely city, and there are so many outdoor areas to explore.  The pumpkins are showing up at the market already (to eat, not to carve), as well as the apples.  Fall has arrived.  And now that I have some free time (Liam is doing a great job of adjusting to school — I think tomorrow may be my first day of not lingering in the area of the school, just in case he needs me), I am looking forward to exploring.

Paddling pool

Our first summer here, we bought the kids an inflatable wading pool for use on our terrace.  I can no longer remember what motivated the purchase, but, in retrospect, we should have realized that it would have been better in theory than in practice.


Back then . . .

That first summer, it caused more stress for me than I had anticipated.  In addition to having to blow it up myself (always on a very hot day, of course — the best kind for such an activity), I then had to fill it by hand with a pitcher, taking dozens of trips back and forth between the kitchen sink and the pool on the terrace.  At this point, the kids were naturally interested in what I was doing, so in addition to trying not to spill the water, I had to try to wrangle both kids in order to keep them in the house and out of the pool while I was filling it.  (Liam, at this point, was not yet walking, and I could not have left him in or near the pool for even a moment while I walked back and forth.)  When I would finally get the pool full of too-cold water, coax the kids into swimsuits and get us all out there, I was exhausted.  Then, I had to keep a hand on Liam the whole time while worrying that B would slip on our slickly wet tile terrace.  And, after we were done, I had to reverse the entire process — kids inside and dried, floor mopped up, and pool drained and emptied so the pigeons didn’t turn it into a massive bird bath overnight.  The kids loved it, I didn’t, and we only got it out a few times that first summer.Such was my trauma at the hands of the paddling pool that we didn’t set it up even once last summer (although I kind of regretted that by the time it was fall).  Yesterday was hot here once again, so I bravely decided to take on the paddling pool challenge once again.


. . . and now!

It’s as much of a pain to set up as ever — I had to inflate it, and then carry each pitcher of water (I needed over 20 to get a reasonable amount into the pool) from the kitchen to the terrace, trying not to drip on the hardwood floor.  But, the kids are a little older, so the distraction I provided with the tv kept them from discovering my plans for a few minutes, and even after they did, simply asking them to give me a few minutes to get it set up actually worked (more or less).  But, once I got it set up, it was an entirely more pleasant experience this time around.  The kids actually participated in getting dressed, and they helped me find and collect the toys that they wanted.  Once I got them in, they mostly wanted to pour water on each other and splash like crazy.  At first, I tried to get them to keep the water IN the pool (I was a little too bitter from carrying it all from the kitchen to watch it go down the drain so quickly), but then I simply told them I was done filling the pool for the day, so they could splash as much as they liked as long as they didn’t expect a refill.  It became not so much “playing in the paddling pool” but rather “gradually emptying the paddling pool”, but that was fine with me.  (It also made for less emptying for me to do later!)041It was glorious.  They played together, splashed like crazy, got water everywhere, and I got to sit *in a chair* and watch them.  Other than retrieving a few wayward toys that came near me, they needed almost no intervention on my part.  They played for an hour, and had a great time, and only came in when they got chilly.  (Actually, only Liam got cold — B would have stayed in longer.)  They had fun and cooled off, and I got to just sit and watch them play.  It was fantastic, and made every trip from the kitchen with the pitcher totally worth it.  I think the paddling pool will return again soon.

Summer outing: Starbucks

We’ve spent 2+ weeks of being housebound with various illnesses, but today we made our first trip out of the house of our summer vacation.  Destination: Starbucks.

It may not seem like the most exciting, educational or cultured of choices for an outing with the kids, but, for the first trip out in weeks, it was a good choice.  The kids have wanted to get out of the house and do SOMETHING for about a week, and I’ve held off because Liam wasn’t yet quite better, and I didn’t want him to get sickER again before Benjamin’s birthday party last weekend.  Also, Benjamin has gotten a stuffy nose and a cough over the last few days, so I didn’t want to push him, either.  (I’d rather spend our summer inside watching movies, but give the kids the rest they need, than let my frustration about *still* being stuck inside keep me from taking care of my little guys if they need to recuperate from something.)  I wanted to get out of the house, too, especially because the weather today was just so beautiful (perfect blue sky and about 75 degrees).  I just needed to pick a destination.


Benjamin was actually the one with the idea.  I go out (or try to) twice a week and take an hour to drink a coffee and read a book, usually at Starbucks.  The boys always want to come with me, and I almost always say no (because as sweet as they are, and as much as I sincerely enjoy their company, two hours to myself every week is the minimum I need to keep my sanity).  Last week, Benjamin REALLY wanted to come with me, and he suggested that “sometime soon” he could come along.  When I asked if he’d mind if Liam came, too, he thought that was “even better”, so I tucked that idea away and decided to pull it out the first day with great weather that I couldn’t stand being stuck in the house any longer.  And today was that day.


The boys really wanted to ride the bus, so we did.  (I love hanging out with my kids.  To grown ups, the bus is just transport, but to the kids, the bus is a grand adventure.)  When we arrived, Liam got a lollipop, B chose a cookie and I had a coffee.  I had the boys order their items themselves (Liam loved it, B was nervous, but did great) and they got to choose our table.  (Another great treat for a 2 and 4 year old.)  They chose a table for two, and sat across from each other, and I sat next to them.  It was a very grown up adventure.


We really had a great time.  It seems like such a small thing, and kind of a trivial adventure, but for three people who have barely left the house in 2 weeks, it was excellent.  We even stopped at the drugstore on the way home and did a little shopping for the house.  A fun and functional journey — perfect!


Over the next couple of weeks (until our big vacation at the end of July) and then, for the last few weeks of August (after our big vacation) it’s my plan and intention to go on a variety of outings with the kids.  Our collective energy level will determine how adventurous we are — more trips to Starbucks, or a day at the zoo?  We shall see.  For today, it was GREAT to be out in the sunshine, enjoying a little bit of Vienna with my boys.

Stir crazy

Tomorrow will be the end of the second week of our “summer break”.  We’re keeping B home from school during July and August to give us all a break from the lengthy back and forth commute to school, and to spend some fun summer time together.  Of course, it hasn’t gone like that at all yet, because from the day before our first day of summer break, Liam has been sick.

When he first got sick, I was sure it was strep — actually, I was sure it was scarlet fever, because his sore throat and high fever were accompanied by an all-over rash.  Turns out it was “just” a virus — he recovered from the sore throat and fever within a few days, but even though today is the 11th day of his illness, the rash has stuck around.  I think we probably *could* go out and do stuff.  The pediatrician assures me he is no longer contagious, but I feel like if he still has a rash that resulted from an immune reaction, then he’s probably still having the immune reaction on some level, and it probably won’t hurt anything (other than my sanity) to take a few extra quiet resting days at home.  Plus, Benjamin’s birthday party is on Saturday, and I want the boys to be able to enjoy it, rather than being miserable from being sick.

So, we’ve been housebound for ALL of summer vacation so far.  The weather has been beautiful (if a little warm some days), and with both kids feeling relatively well for the past week or so (not counting the rash) we’ve all been itching (pun intended) to get out of the house.  But, no luck so far.  Keeping the kids happy and occupied over the past couple of weeks has been a challenge.  It’s like being snowed in, except that it’s tantalizingly beautiful outside.  We’ve watched every movie we have about a million times, and I recently resorted to putting on TV shows that they don’t like very much, because the ones they don’t like they haven’t seen them in a while, so they’re still relatively interested in what happens.  We’ve built about 1000 Lego cars, put together every puzzle we own, colored, painted, and gone out onto the terrace to blow bubbles.  We’ve staged indoor basketball, soccer and football competitions, and we assemble the Matchbox cars for a daily “car party” each morning.

We’re actually having a pretty great time, considering we’re confined to the house during such a perfect time of year to be outside, but really, we all just want to go out and play.

Summer vacation

Today, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the weather was perfect — 72 and sunny with a cool breeze.  Today is the first day of B’s summer vacation from school, and I had visions of sleeping in, a trip to the playground, or maybe the pool, and lots of snuggling with the kids.

So far, the boys got up before 7, and although we’ve gotten in LOTS of snuggling, it’s unfortunately mostly because Liam is sick.  (He woke up from his nap yesterday with a fever, and added a rash today, so I’ve been pretty worried.)  So our first day of summer vacation has been spent taking temperatures and going to the pediatrician’s office to get him checked out and to get a throat culture (no strep).  B is feeling ok (he was probably sick with a mild version of this last week when he was feeling a bit run down) and though Liam is miserable, he should be feeling well in a few days.  And, since we are on summer vacation, I’m home to snuggle them both, with nowhere else I need to be.  It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for the first day of our summer break, but, Liam’s illness aside, it was really a pretty good day.  He’ll be better soon, and our summer fun will be waiting for us then.

Heat day

We did go to Paris, and we had a wonderful time.  I’ll write about that soon, but for now, all I can think about is how hot it is here . . .

Except for a few weeks of the year, I love the weather in Vienna.  Winter — great.  Spring and fall — amazing (and they actually exist here as entities separate from almost-summer and nearly-winter).  Even the summer here is typically pretty lovely.  But when it gets really hot, we get miserable.

We live in the 6th floor of a 6 story building, in what used to be the attic until it was converted into an apartment about 20 years ago.  The elements add up to an uncomfortable situation:  a) heat rises, so we get the heat, b) we don’t get the fantastic insulation of the thick stone wall construction typical in most old Austrian buildings, because that isn’t how they built the attic, c) we can’t really open the windows properly because we’re 6 floors up and there is very little preventing one of the kids climbing out one of the windows and d) even though this apartment was (relatively) recently constructed, it still doesn’t have air conditioning.  So, we’re on the top floor, poorly insulated, little window ventilation and no air conditioning.  It is not nice in this apartment when it is hot outside.

It’s not brutally hot in Austria most of the time.  Our first summer in Vienna we had one week of 90+ temperatures (30+ if you think in Celsius) and it wasn’t until the end of July.  I freaked out about the heat, and we bought an air conditioner, but that really was the only week of awful hot weather we had that summer.  Last summer, we skipped most of the hot weather in July and early August by being in the US (although we had plenty of hot weather there) but still got about a week and a half of 90+ in August.

We’ve never had unpleasantly hot weather before in June.  But when we woke up in Paris yesterday morning, it was unpleasantly hot.  And when we landed in Vienna yesterday afternoon, it was hotter.  After we got home, opened the windows and aired out the apartment, it was 91 degrees in our house.  INSIDE our house.  Using our window a/c units, we got it down to 86 this morning (it was as low as 78 in the boys’ room — they have an a/c unit just for their room, and the other one is attempting to cool the living room, and we just leave the rest of the house as it is).  I’m hoping, hoping, hoping that this streak of hot weather in June means we’re done with it for the summer, not that the entire summer is going to be like this.

I’ve said it before, and it’s true — it’s not the hot days that get to me, it’s the hot nights.  91 degrees in the house is really not comfortable, but I find trying to sleep in an 88 degree bedroom pretty much impossible.  Being hot, without a break, for so many days in a row (it got hot here on Monday — we missed the first day because we were in Paris — and it’s not supposed to cool down to reasonable levels, during the day or the night, until Friday night) is grueling.  It drains all of my energy and makes me pretty crabby.

And so, I’ve declared today a “heat day” (like a snow day, but in the summer).  I have no intention of doing anything or going anywhere today.  I’m not going to try to clean the house or accomplish any of the tasks on my to-do list (which is looking pretty impressive, considering we just got back from out of town).  I’m going to play cars, watch tv, and drink as much iced coffee as possible.  (And I’ll try to post some of our Parisian adventures over the next few very hot days, too.)  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather forecasters are as wrong as they usually are, and that we wake up tomorrow to the low 80s with a nice breeze . . .

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.