Back at it

Getting back into the swing of things after a long vacation is always hard.  We’ve just recently done it once (getting back from our summer vacation, which I have yet to write about) and we’re facing our next round of it (because school starts in less than 2 weeks, which is a bummer).  But it’s worse when the whole family is battling jet lag, as we were after our trip home over Christmas.  Making matters even worse was that we had a really short turn-around before getting back to our usual routine.

We had planned to have the boys skip school for the first two days after we got back, returning to Vienna on Wednesday but not sending the boys back to school until the following Monday.  But B ended up sick for large parts of November and December, and he missed so much school that we were worried about him missing more than is allowed, so we lost the option of keeping him home for any extra days.  So instead, we left the US on Tuesday, arrived in Vienna on Wednesday, and B went back to school on Thursday.  (L, who is still in preschool, can miss pretty much as much as we want, so he did stay home until the following Monday.)

We were all exhausted and felt totally dysfunctional.

The frist night we were back, L woke up 3 times overnight.  The first time, I had no idea where I was and was worried I was going to wake my mom . . . who was still awake, because she was at home in Maryland.  At 1:10 in the morning, B got up, out of bed, on his own (which is odd for him in any circumstances — he usually waits for us to come and tell him it’s time to get up), went through the entirely dark house to the living room, turned on all the lights, scared himself with thoughts of a giant, sinister snowman, and came running into our room crying.  It took 2 hours to get him back to sleep.

After that charming night’s sleep, I found I had forgotten how to do EVERYTHING.  I couldn’t remember how to pack B’s snack for school.  I couldn’t remember how to get the boys dressed and out the door in any reasonable kind of time.  I couldn’t remember what time I needed to leave the house to pick B up on time.  And I certainly couldn’t remember how to communicate in German.  My first attempt at post-vacation German resulted in the coffee guy immediately failing over to English despite my continued attempts to communicate in German.

It’s always a bumpy road back to “normal” after a long trip away.  And sleep deprivation never helped anyone adjust any faster.  Next time, I will do whatever I can to NOT have us jump right back into things as soon as we get back!

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.

Bad luck

I’ve never heard anything like it.  There was a loud pop and the shatter of breaking glass, a moment of stillness, and then a second, floor-shaking, monumental crash that followed.  I had no idea what it was, but I didn’t look around.  We were all in the living room.  I ran to the kids and wrapped them in my arms.  Whatever it had been, they were safer right where they were than anywhere else.

As it turns out, the massive, gilt-wood framed mirror that hung in our dining room had fallen.  There was glass everywhere.  Our dining room floor was covered in jagged tiny pieces.  It was a complete mess.

photo 6

This doesn’t quite do it justice. We’d already started cleaning at this point (the vase was mostly disposed of, for example). It really doesn’t look quite right in the pictures.

The kids did great.  I closed them in the living room, put on the TV, attempted to impress upon them how vital it was that they not leave the room, and went to assist Dan with the cleanup.  It’s one of those jobs where there is no good place to start.  You just have to start picking at the edges and hope that it gets less overwhelming as you progress (which it did).  The mirror had fallen on a vase (a gift from my sister) which had been holding our Osterbaum, the boys’ Easter baskets, and a pile of papers, drawings and unopened mail that had not been sorted in much too long.  The vase shattering under the weight of the falling 40-50 lb mirror was the first sound we had heard.  Then all of that tipped onto the parquet floor which, though vacuumed earlier in the day, had toys strewn on it.  What a mess.

To my great and pleasant surprise, the actual Easter baskets survived, even though they, too, must have caught part of the weight of the mirror directly (points to Pottery Barn for sturdiness).  The eggs (all of the real ones and several of the plastic ones) and candy were mostly a loss (poor chocolate bunnies) and at least one of the fluffy chicks inhabiting a basket was beheaded.  The beautiful, fancy, hand-painted Austrian Easter eggs we’ve collected since our arrival here were mostly destroyed.  A few were basically vaporized — only spots of sparkly dust and a few sad, squished ribbons remained.  Most were just horribly broken.  Three were damaged but sound enough to keep.  I kept pieces of 3 others that were intact enough to hang again … more or less.

photo 8I dealt with the Easter carnage while Dan broke down the remains of the frame and starting dealing with the broken glass.  There was SO MUCH glass.  There were big, jagged triangles and long vicious-looking shards, plus all of the teeny, tiny bits and the pieces that had become little more than dust.  (Plus a lot of glitter from the destroyed eggs — and it’s very hard to tell glass dust from glitter.)  It took 2 hours, but we got everything cleaned up.  The kids patiently watched TV while we worked.  Our floor hasn’t been this clean in a while.

As it turns out, that huge, heavy, ornate mirror was hung with TWINE, which apparently broke.  It was just a question of time.  I’m kind of horrified at the way it was hung — we’d never looked at it, because it was MASSIVE, and it came with the apartment and had hung there for years without event.  We completely took it for granted.

We were so lucky.  We were running late, but we should have been eating dinner, or at least setting the table, at the time that it fell.  We weren’t.  We were all hanging out in the living room.  But the kids play in the spot where it fell, all the time.  Bailey lays there, often.  We walk back and forth past that spot dozens of times every day.  It is, quite literally, in one of the highest traffic spots in our whole house.  We are so lucky that no one was seriously hurt (or worse).  As it was, it was a huge pain, and a complete disruption to our typical Saturday evening, but no permanent damage was done, except to the mirror and some eggs (which I will miss).  Dan even managed to avoid injuring himself with the glass, which is beyond impressive to me.  All is well, we are all safe.  We’re down one huge mirror, but I’m just so, so glad that it wasn’t a much more awful story to tell.

Judgypants — My Messy Beautiful

We’ve been living abroad, here in Vienna, Austria, for 3 years now, but there are still SO MANY little day-to-day things that can be a challenge.  It’s these little everyday things that can trip me up the most.  My mom has always told me, “You don’t trip over Mt. Everest”, and she’s right — I am usually prepared to handle big things, but the little things can easily make or break my day.

I think, as with so much that I’ve learned while living abroad, this has always been true, I’m just more aware of it now.  These days, we so often get by on little kindnesses — someone being patient with our awkward German or smiling at us as we blunder through an unfamiliar social interaction — and our fragile comfort zone can be so easily damaged by the opposite — impatience, unkindness or a lack of understanding.

Last April, I had one of these not-so-great interactions with an Austrian.  (Though most of our interactions with the locals here have been overwhelmingly positive.)  I had just taken the kids to get their latest set of vaccines.  We’d had to skip nap time to make the appointment, and I was happily surprised and quite relieved that both boys had handled themselves so well.  We were on the tram, headed home, and enjoying the ride — talking to each other, commenting on what we saw out the window, asking and answering questions.  Normal mom stuff with a 2 year old and a 4 year old.  I was truly present in the moment, enjoying my kids, and we were all happy to be headed home.

Here they are, waiting for the tram. So sweet!

And then, quite suddenly, an older man near the front of the tram car stood up and started shouting at us.  It would have been unsettling regardless, but since Austrians are typically exceedingly quiet on trams and trains, it was particularly shocking.  The entire tram car fell silent and stared as he told us off, in irate German (extra angry-sounding points for that) for making entirely too much noise, before departing the train at the next stop, shouting as he went.

I was mortified.  I was also genuinely surprised and immediately defensive.  My kids had not been particularly loud (seriously, by American standards we were using almost library volume voices) and this man had been sitting dozens of feet away from us.  What was his problem?!?  My fellow tram riders gave me sympathetic looks and glared after him in commiseration, but still, behind my embarrassment and bruised ego, I felt entirely defeated.  Here, in this moment which I’d thought had been going so well, I felt suddenly reminded of how out of place we were, of how easy it was for us to be inappropriate, and of how poorly we were fitting in.  I felt so judged, and like such a failure.

In truth, I was also pretty pissed.  My kids were behaving, being happy, and no louder than the ambient noise on the strassenbahn, which creaks and squeaks as it makes its way through the streets.  If my German had been better, I would have told HIM off in return.  (So there!)  How dare he!  He doesn’t know us or our situation.  I immediately started creating dramatic scenarios we could be suffering through (but weren’t) that fueled my feelings of indignation.  What if this were my first time out with my kids alone ever?  What if one of us suffered from agoraphobia or social anxiety and just being on the strassenbahn was a victory?  What if we had suffered some kind of trauma or loss and it was our first happy conversation in months?  None of those things are true in our case, but it IS true that being out with both kids, on public transportation, in a country where I am an outsider and have trouble communicating is a major challenge.  Keeping both kids relatively quiet and happy is a major achievement, and he had just crapped on it.  I was hurt, I was angry, and I was instantly critical him for not being more thoughtful before he opened his big, angry mouth.  I put on a brave face for the kids, who were looking to me to see how to react.  I shrugged it off and went back to discussing things outside the window, but in my head, I fantasized about all of the nasty things I wished I could have said.

And then, as I obsessed over it, I was suddenly struck by a realization – I was judging him, too.  Maybe *he* has trouble being out in public.  Maybe *he* recently suffered a loss.  Maybe he is old and bitter and alone and the sound of children laughing is like nails on a chalkboard to him.  Maybe he once lost a child, or a grandchild, and my children being happy was painful for him.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  Maybe he got some bad news, or was in bad health, or was exhausted from taking care of someone or stressed about his finances.  I don’t know.  Any or all of those could be true.  (Or he could just be a big, old, Austrian grumpypants.)

Regardless, it’s no more my place to judge him or to lash out in anger than it was appropriate for him to shush us out of his own personal frustrations or issues.  And yet . . . I pass judgement on others all the time (both good and bad):  I like her hair, I think he’s fat, I wonder what she was thinking when she put that outfit on this morning, I think that dad is clueless because he’s letting his kid get away with something.  I judge, ALL THE TIME.

I don’t know anyone else’s situation.  And, sitting on that tram, I realized that not only is passing judgement on others thoughtless and unkind, it absolutely bounces back and ends up hurting me, too.  When I judge someone else positively, I will feel (today, or one day in the future, maybe on a day when I don’t have it all together … like most of the days) like I don’t measure up to that standard I judged them against.  When I judge someone harshly, I will feel inadequate and ashamed later when I find myself failing to live up to that same standard.  Even the judgements I feel the most entitled to don’t serve any good purpose in my life.  We all have tough days.  MANY of my days over the past 3 years have been tough, and I’ve failed against all kinds of personal standards in ways I thought I would never allow to happen.  Things change.  Life is hard.  Nobody is perfect.

I think it’s part of why I carry so much guilt as a parent — because before I was a parent, I passed judgements about other parents.  I *knew* what I would do or say or how I would handle certain situations or behaviors.  I would *never* do this, that, or the other and would *always* do something else.  And then, when it was my turn, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WENT HOW I EXPECTED, I constantly heard my own voice echoing in my head, judging and criticizing my choices.  And I naturally assume that everyone else is constantly thinking those things too.

Parenting is hard.  Nothing in my life has taken me so quickly off of my high horse of “always” and “never” than having a child (except maybe for having the second one).  Living in a foreign country is hard, too.  And people ARE judging me.  I get stuff wrong all the time.  As a parent, as an expat, as a human being.  I make mistakes ALL THE TIME.  Like EVERY day.  And what I’ve learned in 5+ years as a parent and 3+ years as an expat is that every single thing I do is going to be “wrong” in someone’s eyes.  EVERY SINGLE THING.  People didn’t like that we used disposable diapers and others wouldn’t have liked it if we’d used cloth diapers.  To some people, it was wrong for me to breastfeed my kids in public and to others it was wrong when I would choose not to (it’s also wrong to not cover up and wrong if I did).  There are people who think that moving abroad was the best choice ever and people who think we’re heartlessly selfish for subjecting our kids to this.  Everything I do, from what I feed my kids to what I dress them in to what time I put them to bed to what I let them watch (or don’t) on tv will be wrong to someone.  I have gotten crap for taking my kids shopping in the stroller because it makes the store too crowded, but if I don’t bring the stroller, someone will be upset because one of the kids touched something they shouldn’t have or sat down in the aisle and refused to walk another step.  People roll their eyes when one of my kids is crying on the train and they roll their eyes when I give them a cracker to stave off the crying.  There is just no way to “win” the judgement game, except to choose not to play.

And, like the grumpy guy on the strassenbhan, the judgements people pass on me are ALWAYS a reflection of their own personal story, not of mine.  So, thanks, angry strassenbahn man from a year ago.  You gave me some much needed perspective.  It was an unexpected gift that I’m not sure you meant to give.  (Thanks anyway, though.)


This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, CLICK HERE!


Time travel

I hate Daylight Saving Time.

Well, I do kind of like that the sun doesn’t rise at 3:30 in the morning in June.  And I do like having extra light in the evenings to run, or go for a walk, or stop by the playground.  But the switch from “standard” to “saving” time apparently makes my entire family crazy.

It doesn’t just feel like we moved our clocks ahead by an hour, it feels like we travelled back in time 6 months (or more).  We all make progress, all the time — the kids grow up, learn to do and handle new things while I try to work on myself, improve my perspective and weed out bad habits and thought processes.  The last 36 hours (we just had our time change this past weekend here in Europe) have been like stepping back to last summer or fall, and not in a good way.

Liam has been throwing more tantrums.  Liam has been throwing more toys.  Liam has been throwing more food.  (There’s been a lot of throwing.)  Liam has been hitting Benjamin, Dan & I — not something we’ve gotten rid of entirely, but something we had made massive progress on in the past few months.  Liam, who recently transitioned to not wearing diapers at all during school hours, refused to leave the house without one this morning and had a crying meltdown at preschool drop off.  Benjamin has been tearful over his toys.  Benjamin has been tearful over the arrangement of his pillows and blankets.  Benjamin has been tearful (and angry) about pretty much every single thing Liam has done in the past day and a half.  Both kids seem to have forgotten how to listen.  And I have handled all of this with hard-won wisdom and maturity — I’ve screamed, threatened, begged and cried.  Let me just say — it has been a massively charming day and a half around here.

I suppose it’s possible that it’s a complete coincidence and we all just woke up in terrible moods and without any flexibility yesterday morning.  Maybe we’re coming down with something.  Maybe there’s just something in the air.  I mean, how could one little shifted hour wreak so much havoc?  This feels like jet lag on steroids.  We’re all out of patience, empathy, maturity and resilience here right now.  Fingers crossed that we get through this transition QUICKLY, and with a whole new appreciation for the progress we’ve all made over the past few months after this temporary reminder of how far we’ve come.

Lost luggage

It was bound to happen eventually — after 9 or so international journeys (I’m losing count) our luggage was lost on our trip to the UK. It’s easy to see how it happened. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, and we got to the gate without a problem. Then, just at boarding time, our flight disappeared from the monitoring screen at the gate — never a good sign. Then “all passengers connecting to London” (us, plus a woman named Dorothy) were called up to the desk. Our flight was delayed, and the airline was worried about us missing our connection, so we were rebooked on another airline, connecting through Cologne. We were assured our luggage would be rerouted, too, and of course we were only ACTUALLY booked from Vienna to Cologne, but we had to go “right now” to make our flight, and so we did.

We were only booked standby on our new flight, and although we got seats, they weren’t together. But while the first person I asked to switch so B and I could sit together actually said no (Dan worked out seating for himself and Liam), another passenger switched with me, and yet another switched so that B could have a window seat, and all was well.

Until THAT flight was delayed by about 45 minutes, which resulted, after a trip to the check-in counter for another booking, in a flat-out “Home Alone” style sprint through the Cologne airport while they actually held the plane at the gate for us while we got through security and passport control. Of course, we didn’t have seats together on that flight either, and the plane was literally backing away from the gate while we sorted things out. (Again, one person gave up their seat so B & I could be together while another volunteered to switch so that B, who wasn’t even whining, could have the window. People are awesome.)

So, sweaty and exhausted, we made it onto a plane bound for Stansted airport, and, 2 hours later than we’d planned, we finally arrived. But our luggage did not. So there we were, day 1 of an 18 day trip, with two kids, no bags and an early morning flight the next morning to Edinburgh (after which we planned to rent a car and drive 3 hours further away).

On the bright side, everyone we talked to from the airline was thoroughly helpful. Also, we didn’t have much luggage to drag to our hotel. And, I got to do a bit of unplanned shopping for the family at a mall outside of Edinburgh. By late the next evening, our bags had been located, and, with our carry on stuff, the fruits of our shopping excursion, and the kids’ clothes kindly lent to us by our bed & breakfast hosts (who have a 4 year old son), we barely missed a beat of our vacation. Both suitcases were delivered on the fourth day of our trip, safe & sound. (Never have I been so glad to see old socks.)

Our trip is going wonderfully (lost luggage aside), but we fly to Ireland tomorrow, and I can’t help over-thinking every single thing I pack in our carry on — instead of packing light and taking just what we need for the trip, I feel a little like I’m packing the carry on for wilderness survival for a week. We managed quite well for being without our bags for about 72 hours, but I’d really rather not do it again . . . especially not on this same trip.


The Orange Rhino project

Sometimes I have a hard time not losing my temper with my kids.  In my case, that usually means getting fed up, irritated, overwhelmed and then saying something that I wish I hadn’t.  It’s one thing when that comes from something frustrating, irritating, rude or just plain annoying that the kids are actually doing, but I have found, so often, that the root cause of my bad mood comes from something or somewhere or someone else, and it just comes out in the direction of my kids.  And I find that unacceptable — there’s no reason I ought to use my kids as a place to vent my bad temper.  I am not proud of it, and, in fact, I’ve spent a lot of energy since becoming a parent trying to figure out how not to do it.  I’ve improved a lot, but I still stray over the line from constructive discipline to throwing a bit of a tantrum myself sometimes.

I’ve learned about the kinds of things that give me a short fuse:  not getting enough sleep, getting too hungry, not showering, not using the bathroom when I need to.  Basically, if I don’t take care of myself, it’s hard for me to take care of my kids.  Being in a bad state myself means I can’t handle normal kid stuff in a good parent kind of way.  So, I make that a priority.  But that isn’t the whole picture.  I snap at my kids more often when I’m angry at someone else — Dan, the landlord, someone who was rude to me on the bus — it could be anyone.  Being angry at another adult, and not addressing it, puts me in a prime situation to lose my temper with my kids (which is totally not cool).

I don’t want to be a mom that can’t handle her own emotions like a grown up.  I don’t want to be a mom that says something too harsh or too critical, and who says it too loudly or too angrily.  When I do, I feel terrible.  It hurts my kids.  I apologize, and I know that helps, but it doesn’t erase it.  And, when I lose my temper, it negates any reasonable consequence I might have imposed for a legitimately inappropriate behavior on their part — the focus becomes on my anger instead of on what they’re doing.  And then, not only am I being a crappy mom in that moment, no one is learning anything.

I’m working on it.  I’m all about self-improvement.  But I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time getting helpful advice on this.  It’s hard to talk about.  There isn’t really a good time to say, “You know, my kids make me crazy, but it’s not always really my kids.  Sometimes I’m just tired or overwhelmed and I snap at the kids and it makes us all feel terrible” during a playdate.  I’m ashamed and embarrassed that I get angry with my kids.  And, I have to assume that other people feel the same way, because I don’t think I’m the only mom who struggles with this, and no one else is talking about it, either.  I think that normal, reasonable, generally kind moms don’t like to admit that they lose their temper (in whatever way it manifests for them) with their kids.  But I’m a good mom, and I do, so I figure other good moms do, too.  Since it’s hard for me to admit, it’s something I don’t really talk about, and I just try, really hard, not to do it.  (Which doesn’t seem to be working all that well.)

I don’t think I have to be a “perfect” parent — I think there are always going to be things that kids do to inspire frustration, irritation or anger in their parents.  And I actually think that’s a good thing — sometimes, when you do something you shouldn’t, people get mad.  Life is like that.  And I even think it’s ok for the kids to see the process of a parent being inappropriately upset, recognizing it, apologizing for it and correcting it — that’s how they’ll learn to manage those situations themselves.  But I lose my cool too often about the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and I want to do better.

A few days ago, I read an essay that a friend linked to on Facebook.  And it struck a nerve.  I’m not a yeller — I rarely raise my voice with my kids (except when one of them is doing something dangerous, in which case I do tend to shriek a bit, but that doesn’t actually bother me).  I doubt that the kind of anger I have would result in my kids being afraid of me (but I can’t guarantee it).  I think, instead, that the kind of overwhelmed, “That’s it!  I’ve had it!  I just don’t care!  I can’t do this!” kind of moments that I have could hurt their self-esteem, make them feel responsible for taking care of me, and undermine their confidence that I will take care of them.  And I don’t want that.  What she said gave me hope, because she used to yell at her kids, and she learned not to.  I want to learn to improve myself, too, I just don’t know how.  At the end of her article, the author linked to The Orange Rhino.  And I started reading.  She sounds a lot like me.  And she felt just as crappy about losing her temper with her kids as I do.  And, most importantly, she made a committment to herself and her kids to not yell for an entire year . . . and she did it.

And I want to do it, too.  I can only imagine the kind of example I could set for my kids, and the kind of comfort and confidence I could give them if, in the next year, I only got upset about reasonable things and only at a reasonable level.  Besides, I would feel great.  I would actually *love* to have a bad day that didn’t end with me being a big meanie.  How great would that be?  How much better would we ALL feel?  She’s just a mom that wanted to do better for her kids, and I am too.  And after reading a bunch of pages on her site, I thought, “Oh, if she can do that, I totally can too” and I went away, feeling inspired.  And 24 hours later, I lost my temper again.  (We were taking Bailey outside, and Benjamin was leaning on a grumpy neighbors car, and I kind of freaked out about it — “What are you doing?  Come over here!  Right now!  Don’t do that!” when I could have just said, “Oops!  No touching other people’s cars.  Let’s go over here . . . “)

And so I went back to the site, feeling less arrogant and more humble, looking for more advice and inspiration.  And I saw that she’s redoing a month long “yell less” project for moms who want to parent better.  And, perfect timing — it starts next week.

So, I signed up.  It starts Monday.  So, just in case there are any other good moms out there who sometimes lose their tempers with their kids and wish that they didn’t, you’re not alone.  And I have no idea if this will help, but I’m willing to give anything a try.

Meditations on a bad day as a mom

The logical part of my brain knows that I’m not the only mom who has bad days.  I don’t mean “the kids watched TV all day and the dishes didn’t get done” bad days, but “I fell apart/cried/screamed at my kids today” bad days or “I feel like a failure as a mother” bad days or “how could I have said that to my kids” bad days.  It stands to reason that if I, a kind, loving, caring, attentive, semi-organized, thoughtful mother can have days like that, then most likely the other moms I know who are also kind, loving, caring, attentive, semi-organized and thoughtful must have days like that, too.  At least, most of them.

Or maybe it’s only a few.  Maybe I’m actually the only one.  Although my wiser mind tells me that I can’t be, the fearful part of my brain tells me that I might be.  I might be the only one.  I might be the only one who doesn’t handle the stress gracefully.  The only one who gets overwhelmed.  The only one who has ever taken out anger and frustration meant for someone else in the direction of one of my kids.  The only one who has ever said anything to one of my kids which shocked me and reduced me to tears.  Maybe it’s just me.

But in case it’s not, on this day, which was a tough one for me — on a day when I let my irritation that came from dealing with grown up things come out towards my kids, on a day when I cried when I should have been comforting and when I growled when I should have been patient — I’m going to share some of the things that help me on days like these.  I didn’t write them down with the intention of sharing them, I wrote them down with the intention of remembering them.  I don’t usually remember these things until after — after I’ve gotten angry, or snapped at the kids, or raised my voice, or imposed an unreasonable consequence, or broken down in tears, or issued a threat instead of choice.

  • I am a good mom.
  • I am doing the best I can, and so are my kids.
  • There is nothing more important than being kind.
  • I have to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep a good attitude.
  • I am almost never actually angry with the kids.  I’m probably actually exhausted/stressed/irritated/frustrated/angry at something else entirely.
  • This (whatever it is) is only going to last for a moment.
  • Don’t ruin all the good moments with one crappy one.
  • NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT than taking good care of my kids.  Not chores.  Not exercise.  Not Dan.  Not my to do list.  Not philosophy or discipline.  Not keeping my temper or behaving “properly” towards other adults.  NOTHING.
  • Whatever I’m in the middle of, I can take a breath and count to 10.  Or eat a piece of chocolate.  Or drink a cup of coffee.  Whatever “it” is will still be there.
  • Hugs and kisses help almost any situation.
  • If I keep calm, there might be space for a learning moment here, but if I fall apart, there probably isn’t.

These are the things that I wish I could remember BEFORE.  I never think of them until after, and they don’t help as much then.  Today was a rough day.  I wasn’t the mom that I am capable of being.  Tomorrow I’ll get up and try again.  Maybe having written them down will help me next time, or maybe it’ll help another mom who has bad days.

One of those days

Today was just one of those days.  I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’re going out of town tomorrow (which always brings on some stress) or the fact that this is just the second day that we’ve been back in our daily routine since mid-December (and there’s bound to be some adjustment to that), but for the first few hours this morning, it felt like everything was going wrong.  Actually, to be more specific, it felt like every decision I made was wrong, was always going to be wrong and that I was ruining the children’s lives.  One of THOSE days.

Liam’s going through a needy phase right now, so he wanted to hold my hand as I got Benjamin ready for school.  The entire time.  Which is very sweet (there’s no way to say no to that) but makes it a little challenging to get out the door.  Then, of course, when it came time for B & I to leave for school, Liam was sad that we were leaving at all.  He wanted B to stay home, he wanted me to stay home.  He was not a happy guy.

Benjamin and I had a very pleasant ride to school.  But then, we got to school and everything fell apart.  He made a drawing yesterday, which he wanted to show me.  He hadn’t put it away in his drawer (where these things are supposed to go if the kids want them to be saved), so he couldn’t find it.  So he just fell apart.  Crying, screaming, clinging to my legs, hiding behind me.  The teachers told him they’d help him make a new one, told him they’d help him look for the old one, offered hugs.  Nothing worked.  He was inconsolable.  The teachers worked on getting him interested in making another drawing while I slipped out and headed home.

And then, as soon as I walked out the door, I second-guessed every decision I had made this morning.  Maybe I should have brought Liam with me to school?  Maybe I should have stayed at school until B settled down?  What was I thinking?  Why did I keep abandoning my tormented children?  Why was I ruining their lives by having dragged them to this far-away country where life is so flipping hard?!?

And then, I took a breath, got myself together, and realized that nothing awful actually happened today.  Liam misses me when I take B to school.  Well, I understand that — I miss him, too.  But he doesn’t have to go through the sub-freezing weather, with a cold, to drop B off at school.  That’s a good thing.  And even if it makes him sad, I think it’s a good decision.

B lost his drawing.  Sometimes that happens when things don’t get put away.  I sympathize with his disappointment and frustration, but these things happen.  Sometimes you search and find the old one, sometimes you give up and make a new one.  Either way, these are the things that help to teach us to take care of things we don’t want to lose.  It’s a life lesson.  Frustrating and sad, but not tragic.

And none of these things have anything to do with living in Austria.  We would be going through the same challenges wherever we were living.  If I was lucky enough to have a babysitter for Liam, I’d probably take B to school and let Liam stay home and play.  And he’d miss me and be sad, but I’d still probably think it was the right idea.  And B would have drawings that he didn’t put away in the right place and which got lost.  It’s not that he doesn’t understand where it goes, he just didn’t put it there.  He’s 4.  That’s how it goes.

We’ve been here almost 2 years now, and we still have days like this.  Of course we do.  These days don’t come from living in Austria, they just come from living.  My ability to doubt myself, my decisions and my ability as a mother doesn’t spring from my geography.  It’s just me, being insecure and wanting everything to go well.  I’m wasting the same energy here worrying if I’m making all the wrong decisions that I would wherever I was living.  I realize that I’m going to make some bad decisions sometimes, but I need to remember to think about it like B and his drawing — sometimes we make a wrong decision, and then we learn something from it, and we do things differently next time.  That’s it.  It’s not a big deal, it’s just life.

And our stories today all have happy endings, anyway.  When I got home, Liam was thrilled to see me, but he had spent lots of happy time playing with Jo.  B’s teacher found his drawing AND they made another one, besides.  Life is good.  Things are good.  Not every single moment is, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing everything wrong.

Stuck in an elevator

I was having a grumpy day today.  No particular reason — I’d been feeling lethargic all day, even though I have a long list of things to do, and that combination wasn’t putting me in a good mood.  Then, this afternoon, Liam refused to take a nap, meaning I got to spend 2 hours trying to keep him quiet enough to let Benjamin nap — not an easy task, since he seems to want to turn every toy in the house into a percussion instrument of some kind, and he’s also in a major phase of not wanting to be restrained — kicking, flailing, throwing his head around, scratching.  A charming way to spend a few hours on a day when I already was in an unpleasant mood.

Late this afternoon, I was feeling a little frazzled, and decided that getting out of the house and going for a walk would be just the thing to get my mind back in the right place — besides, Liam would be confined to the stroller, so it would, at least, be the first break I’d get from wrestling him today.  It was a good idea, but the process of getting myself and both boys ready to go nearly sent me over the edge.  I was literally growling at both of them by the time I got Liam strapped into the stroller and Benjamin’s shoes velcroed onto his feet.

But, at last, we were out the door, in the elevator, on our way out.  As we descended, I breathed a sigh of relief in anticipation of my refreshing walk.  And then, we stopped.  The elevator stopped, which is great (beats the alternative) but then the doors didn’t open.  Uh-oh.  I pressed the ground floor button, I pressed the door open button.  I pressed every button the elevator has . . . repeatedly.  Nothing.

Much as this might seem to be a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment, it really wasn’t.  The second I was confronted with something ACTUALLY being wrong (as opposed to my general grumpiness, which wasn’t brought on by anything) everything got better.  In the moment that I realized we were stuck, I became focused on taking care of my kids — I became a mom, instead of a grumpy, tired, put upon 35 year old.

Benjamin started out ok, but got progressively more anxious in the moments after figuring out that not all was well.  (Liam seemed fine for the duration.)  Benjamin offered several helpful suggestions (for example, “Just push the buttons, Mommy”) and when I explained that I’d already tried that and it wasn’t working, he started to get upset and cry.

I sent Dan a text to let him know what was going on, I set up my phone for Benjamin to play a game, and I waited.  I waved at Liam, I smiled at Benjamin, I watched him play his game.  Dan took care of getting the building caretaker on the phone and over to us (impressive, as this man speaks not a word of English) and he, in turn, took care of getting us out in pretty short order.  (There was a slightly stressful moment where I guess he turned the power off, because it got VERY dark — I think he tried to warn us what he was doing, but I didn’t understand, so the complete darkness came as a surprise.)

We were in there for less than 10 minutes.  Although it ostensibly seems like it should have been the most stressful part of my day, it was actually the best thing that could have happened to me.  It completely got me out of my bad mood — reset my mind and got me thinking about what was really important.  We went on a lovely walk, and even Benjamin (who is very sensitive to stress) had a pleasant evening with no ill effects (he even suggested we try the elevator on the way home, which surprised me).

Being stuck in an elevator with my two kids saved my day.  I would never have asked to add that to my experiences of the day, but it turns out it was just what I needed.  It’s funny how often that happens.