Suddenly a soccer mom

I always swore that we wouldn’t get sucked into it.  I really thought that we wouldn’t end up revolving our lives around a massive list of sports and after school activities for the kids.  I’ve always believed that kids (well, at least my kids, at least) really need, and benefit from, unplanned, unstructured, downtime for them to unwind, rest, or play creatively, so we’ve always tried to make that a priority.  Benjamin had a daily nap until he was almost 6, too, and it was great for him.  I expected Liam to most likely do the same.

743But now, suddenly, I’m a “soccer mom”.  B is enrolled in three different after school activities, plus swimming lessons on Saturdays.  Each day’s plans for the whole family are worked around these activities, including meals, naps (or lack thereof) for Liam, and even Dan’s work schedule.  Regular followers of this blog might have noticed an unusually long hiatus over the past 4 weeks — we haven’t been sick, I’ve just been too busy to write at all.  (My post from late September for Liam’s birthday was written back before his birthday … but it took me a week to get it posted, and this is the first one I’ve written since then.)

Our days are a whirlwind.  Every moment from the time my alarm goes off until the boys are in bed is specifically planned.  Each minute has a purpose, and our schedule has very little flexibility.  If not for my bus and train trips, and the luxury of (sometimes) joining the family for meals, most days I would not sit down from 6:30 a.m. until at least 8:30 at night.

This whole thing kind of took me by surprise.  It happened kind of by accident.  I didn’t mean to sign us up for so much.  I didn’t expect B to get into so many of the activities he was interested in, and I wasn’t sure he’d enjoy them all as much as he is.  But, as it turns out, he’s having a great time, learning new stuff, and making new friends.  Liam, who can sometimes be inflexible and intractable in his own right, seems, surprisingly, to enjoy our daily trips to pick up B, and he is handling the loss of some of his naps much better than I expected.  For Dan & I, this new schedule means keeping a tighter rein on our own activities — meals have gotten less complex, we’re getting to bed earlier, and our regular TV times have entirely disappeared.  We’ve kind of gone from 0-60 on this whole school thing.

But, though it was unintentional and it is a bit overwhelming, in a way I’m kind of enjoying it.  It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally, to balance this many items on our schedule, but there’s a great deal of satisfaction in seeing B learn and enjoy so many things.  (Though I do have a tendency to look for the upside to any situation, so maybe I’m just finding the positives because I’m looking for them.)  Also, this is temporary — it’s for a semester, not forever.  B has already expressed a desire to drop swim lessons after he can swim across the pool unassisted (my own standard for him being “done” learning to swim), and we’ll see how many of the activities he may choose to continue with (and which he’ll be able to get into) next semester.  I’m still not sure that this packed-full schedule is really “us”, but it’s certainly another kind of adventure.

For now, we’re getting through it, enjoying it, and gaining a whole new appreciation for our precious few moments of free time.  I also have a newfound respect, and a bit of awe, for the families who keep up this kind of schedule for years and years.  Also, I have a huge backlog of planned and partially written blog posts, and I’ll get around to those eventually … but for now, this soccer mom will probably be commuting more and composing less.

Swimming in February

Our week of home-grown fun in Vienna continued last week with, of all things, a trip to the pool.  We wanted the boys to really enjoy our stay-cation, so we asked them what they wanted to do during our collective week off.  Liam’s first choice was the Riesenrad, which we visited on our first day, while B’s chose a trip to the pool, which surprised us (we’d been thinking of, and suggesting, more wintry activities, such as skiing or skating).

I thought, since we were on vacation, that maybe we could find something particularly fun, in terms of swimming, rather than just going to our usual pool where the boys took a few lessons last year.  A little poking around online led me to “discover” Dianabad — a very kid-friendly resort-type set up quite close to our apartment (and only two blocks from our first home in Vienna).

It was excellent.  At €23, it was a little expensive for a 2 hour visit (which included the time it took us to locate lockers and get changed — never an easy task for a family of four) but it was well worth it.  I was very pleasantly surprised by how many fun areas there were, and how each area catered to a different age and swimming skill level.  It was basically like a massive indoor water playground, and the kids loved it.

As the boys are not yet good swimmers (although they’d say otherwise) we started in the baby pool, for ages 6 and under.  The water was warm and shallow (knee-deep on Liam) but included an easy to negotiate water slide for the little ones.  The water was shallow enough that the boys were able to crawl around and splash, immediately getting them back to being comfortable in the water.

They bored of that part pretty quickly, though, so we went on to explore the other areas.  In the next level up (in terms of age — for 8 and under), the boys explored a tire swing in the water, a tunnel they could crawl through, another water slide, slightly deeper and cooler water, and huge overhead fountains that sprayed water for a few minutes at a time every so often.  They then moved on to the pirate ship area (for 14 and under) with even more slides — this time, the slides landed in water deep enough to be about chest-height on the boys when they were sitting, and which splashed up into their faces when they arrived at the bottom.  It was *perfect* for stretching their self-imposed limits just a little at a time, while not putting them into any kind of peril.

They had a fantastic time, and so did we.  The variety of activities meant that no one got bored, and each of the boys was able to choose an area that fit their comfort level.  In addition to the kids-specific areas, there was also a “river” with floating inner tubes, a massive wave pool (which Liam loved wading through) and an impressively enthusiastic water slide.  It was more like being at a water park than it was like “just” going to the pool.

And, because it’s Vienna, things were pretty laid back.  Most of the kids over the age of about 8 were only vaguely supervised by their parents, although the behavior of all of the kids was pretty good, and the older ones did a generally good job of watching out for the little ones.  Their were only 2 lifeguards on duty for the entire pool, and they were focused on the big wave pool — parents are expected to watch over their littler kids in the children’s areas . . . and they do.  And there are fewer rules.  Although not running around the pool is a good idea, people weren’t chastised for it.  The pools were mostly too shallow for diving (there were no diving boards) and there were signs posted to that effect.  I didn’t see anyone dive while we were there.  So, we saw a lot of that odd dichotomy that we’ve become accustomed to here — fewer rules, but more sensible behavior; less oversight, and more individual responsibility.

In all, it was a great day.  I only regret that I didn’t get a few pictures.  (Although, with the European sense of acceptance towards less-clothed children, it probably would have been tough for me to get pictures that didn’t include other people’s half-dressed kids.)  My only fear is that with this swimming adventure, we may have set the bar a little high for future swimming trips.

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.


As far as I know, I was born knowing how to swim.  I have vague memories of my dad teaching me to float on my back in my grandmother’s pool, but the basic principles of swimming came early enough that I don’t remember ever not knowing how to swim.

039I always knew my kids would be the same.  For the sake of safety, as well as fun, I wanted them to learn early.  (Especially because it’s one of those things where not knowing creates such fear around water that at some point it becomes incredibly difficult to be in the water long enough to learn how.  I knew someone in college who didn’t know how to swim, and he was so deathly afraid of the water that I’d imagine he never learned — his fear was the result of not knowing how to swim, not the cause of it.  Because he didn’t know how, he was terrified to go in or even near water.  How was he ever going to learn?  And if he ever did, I’m sure just getting in the pool the first time was profoundly traumatic.)

040Unfortunately, when we left Virginia, and our DC-suburb condo, we also lost regular access to a swimming pool.  We’ve been swimming a handful of times since we’ve moved to Austria (many of them when we were visiting the States last summer), but not enough for the kids to really learn how, and I feel the fear of them not knowing how creeping in on me.  I want to take care of that before it sets in for the kids, too, so the boys took their first swimming lesson on Saturday.

As always, finding instruction in something in a foreign country is a challenge, especially because we wanted to find lessons in English if possible.  Dan found a place, and we took a scenic strassenbahn ride out to a lovely part of Döbling (an outer district of Vienna) that we’d never visited before.  And, as always, there were cultural lessons to go with the swimming ones.

First, even though I live in Europe, and have for two years, and even though I consider myself open-minded, I am always shocked by the lack of modesty and body consciousness here.  When we got to the pool and went to change into our swimsuits there was only one changing room.  Co-ed.  They had little changing closets with doors for privacy, but I’d say just over half of the people used them.  The others changed, with varying levels of discretion, right by their lockers.  While it was a surprise for my prudish American sensibilities, it also meant that I certainly had no qualms about changing the boys’ clothes out in the open, which made things easy.

Out by the pool, the same lack of body consciousness was evident — in a really positive way.  People of all sizes and ages and levels of fitness and physical attractiveness exhibited the same level of comfort with being in or around the pool.  Some wore tiny swimsuits, some were more covered up (though none more than me in my skirted suit — and I was far from being the oldest or heaviest person there).  I didn’t see a t-shirt or a cover-up anywhere, either.  And it just truly felt like no one cared.  No one was being objectified — neither being snickered at or leered at.  There wasn’t any staring, of any kind.  I got the sense that people were there to swim (duh) not to evaluate each other.  Everywhere I looked, I saw people just being people.  Not hiding or being embarrassed, but just sitting or walking or getting in the pool.  A few of the fit, pretty young women were preening a bit (and only a VERY little bit), but there just wasn’t the air of critique and shaming that I am so used to feeling poolside in the States.  Again, I felt silly for being so modest in my own swimsuit choice (which, interestingly, feels almost inappropriately skin-baring back home).  It’s an incredibly liberating feeling.  After my years of indoctrination into the American cultural idea that most people are unfit to wear a swimsuit, this feels like being dropped off on an alien planet (but WOW does it feel better).

043The swim lesson itself was great.  Our teacher, who thankfully spoke excellent English and didn’t seem put out about having to use it, did a great job of combining practice for B on basic skills like paddling and holding his breath with some introduction to other strokes and kicking styles.  Liam got a little overwhelmed and opted to mostly play, but he got more comfortable by the end, too.  B did the backstroke and even jumped into the pool on his own (which surprised me — especially when he repeated it several times) and, perhaps most importantly, did a little “swimming” by himself (with a ring) and climbed OUT of the pool on his own several times.  We go back again in 2 weeks, but I feel like we’re on our way to setting a good foundation for a really important skill.  And I’m always grateful with the eye-opening, preconception-breaking cultural education I get just from living here.  I’m learning to see a whole other possible reality.