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.

Party at the UN!

20140617-153635-56195779.jpgWe’ve had quite a lot of memorable and interesting experiences on this adventure.  We’ve travelled to beautiful and culturally important places, seen beautiful art, had unusual experiences, faced challenges and met many, many kind and lovely people.  I love taking pictures of these moments.  Looking back at them always brings a smile to my face, and looking back at them as a collected set is pretty stunning.  Still, most of the time, when I’m taking a picture, I’m simply capturing the moment, not thinking of the greater impact it will have when viewed later.  Sometimes, though, while memorializing those moments, I’m aware of what it will be like to look back on it later — how it will feel as a part of our familial history.

20140617-153636-56196182.jpgLast Friday, Dan’s work had their annual company party.  It was a nice one.  We’ve attended many work functions over the years (in several different industries) but we’ve never managed to get to one of these IAEA-wide events before (one year, I think we were in Paris, and the other time, I think one of us was sick).  Some work parties are more indulgent than others, some are more formal, some are a chore, a few, over the years, have been genuinely fun.  This was one of the best we’ve had the chance to attend.  Families were welcomed, there was live music plus a good DJ, there were (free) drinks and lots of good food (to buy).  There was socializing and dancing.  The party went from 3 in the afternoon until 10 at night, and the employees were encouraged to attend during work hours.  It was a real treat, for all of us, and everyone else there seemed to be enjoying themselves, as well.  20140617-153636-56196611.jpgDan joined the party in the afternoon, but the kids and I didn’t arrive until later, after nap time.  We had dinner, chatted with friends, the boys had ice cream, and Dan and I even got in a few dances.  It was a good time.

But this is the IAEA, so the party was held in the central courtyard of the UN.  This might have just been Dan’s summer work party, but it was also a party at the UN.  And taking pictures of the boys dancing under the circle of flags, I was very aware that this is one of those cool things we’ve gotten to do.  It was fun while we were doing it, but I think it will always feel just a little bit unreal when we look back on it.

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Work picnic

20140521-224314-81794545.jpgYesterday, Dan’s work division hosted a picnic for the employees and their families.  A lot of times, when his work has an event, we skip it, because these things aren’t always family-friendly, even when they intend to be.  But a picnic sounded perfect!  We decided to go, and we were all very much looking forward to it.

This is how I imagined this was going to go (before it happened):  there would be food, drink, and socializing; there would be space for the kids to play, other kids for them to play with, and not too much worry about spills and messes; we would get a chance to visit with some friends, and I would get to meet some of Dan’s co-workers that I don’t yet know; good times would be had by all.

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In reality, this is more of what it was actually like:  there was food, drink, and socializing; there was plenty of space for the kids to play … but every bit of it was at least semi-hazardoous (we were alongside a river, at the bottom of a steep hill that the kids wanted to climb up and run down, at the top of the hill were two bike lanes and a low wall . . . which had a 20 foot drop down to a highway on the other side, and there was a large, low and very hot grill); there were several other kids of just the right age for the boys to play with;  we did get a chance to visit with some friends (several that I hadn’t seen in qiute a while) and I met many of the people Dan tells me about every day, but there were also lots of people crowded around in a pretty small area, nowhere good to sit, and several people who made it very clear that they weren’t happy there were kids there at all; good times were generally had by all, and we all ended the evening happy but EXTREMELY worn out.

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Also, I hadn’t realized it, but I’m around more Austrians than expats these days.  I’m so used to assimilating now that I don’t really remember entirely how to be American.  And I’m very out of practice at being American while NOT accidentally being rude to a non-American.  (I think I’ve squarely entered that part of expat living where I’m not at all a local but it’s getting uncomfortable to put my old culture back on, too.)  I’m also an introvert (maybe now more than ever) and I so often underestimate how much these types of social events — especially with many people I don’t know — will take out of me.  (As an interesting note, every couple there was made up of pepole from two different countries.  I guess that’s how you know you’re at a UN function!)

A rare picture including me!

A rare picture including me!

Although it might sound like I’m complaining about the evening, I’m not.  Ths is life with kids.  We went, we supervised the kids intensely, tried to convince them to eat while sneaking quick bites of food between managing cups of juice and preventing Liam from literally diving into the brownies.  It was fun, and social.  We managed a few half-conversations with some old and and new friends between moments of running after the boys.  Our kids had a FANTASTIC time playing with the other kids and were so happy to have made some new friends.  We all had a really good time, in fact.  But, the days of the relaxing, carefree social picnic are behind us, at least for now.

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Coffee and breakfast

In addition to many other benefits (lots of vacation time is my favorite) Dan gets some flex time at work.  We’re still getting used to exactly how it works, because it’s quite complicated — he can only use so much in a day, he can only use so much in a month, he can only carry over a certain amount from one month to the next, he can only use it during certain hours of the day — but we’re grateful to have it.  We use it a lot.  Our “official” family schedule arranges for Dan to be at work a little extra every day (so that we’re adding to his time bank) but we’re usually off our schedule and we’re often withdrawing from the bank instead of adding to it.

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Undocumented sick time

Dan’s new job at the IAEA (he’s been there almost 8 months, so I don’t know if it counts as “new” anymore) has a lot of great benefits that we aren’t used to from home:  more vacation time, more sick leave (actually a nearly infinite amount, if he goes in and gets declared “sick” or “injured” by the IAEA nursing staff), use of the UN commissary, a housing stipend and a higher salary (plus cool things like paid paternity leave, which we don’t plan to take advantage of, but which I really, really, REALLY wish we’d had when the boys were born).  It also has “undocumented sick leave” which means taking sick time without going in to see the nurse — usually used when the spouse or children are sick.  I am so grateful for this kind of sick leave.

In our previous jobs (since we’ve had kids — before that it wasn’t an issue, because if I was sick, I used my own sick leave and just stayed home) we had to ration Dan’s limited sick leave across the entire family.  Because, frankly, it’s not like it’s realistic for me to have a restful sick day at home while I’m watching two healthy kids — and it’s worse if they’re sick, too.  Now, we don’t have to worry about “saving” sick leave in case Dan were to get sick — if he gets sick, he can just go in and get it approved and come home.  We only have to ration the sick leave between the days I might get sick and the days I and the kids might get sick at the same time.

I’m really appreciative of it today.  Last week, Liam was sick with croup, and Benjamin had a cough and a cold.  This week, Benjamin is nearly better, Liam is getting better and I’ve been getting sick.  Yesterday, I managed to get through the day just feeling run down, but today, I just couldn’t have done it.  I have a nasty sore throat and I’m completely worn out — one of those days where you sleep about 6 daylight hours and then sit at the dinner table, feeling miserable and trying not to fall asleep in your meal.

So, Dan stayed home.  Even though he knows it’s ok to use this documented sick time, he couldn’t help but stress about the things he’s leaving undone at work.  So, it was even better that his boss sent him an email today saying, “Stay home, take care of your family, do what you need to do”, which helped him to relax and focus on being here.  (Dan’s boss has sent such an email every time Dan has stayed home with us, which I think is infinitely cool of him.)

I am so glad Dan was able to be home today.  I am so grateful I was able to rest and work on getting better.  Other than feeling crappy, I’m feeling really lucky.

Benjamin goes to work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dream job

In the morning, I usually wake up to hugs and “Good morning, Mommy — how was your sleep?” from a groggy eyed Benjamin, or to cooing and a snuggle from Liam.  As the day goes on, I feed my boys, I change diapers, I enforce nap time.  I build roads from blocks for cars to drive on and I play ball in my living room.  I try to juggle playing, being in charge, taking care of errands and trying to keep the house at least a little clean (Benjamin helps — really).  I run races, put puzzles together, play games on the computer, answer lots of questions, share ice cream and wash sticky faces and fingers.  I try to get my kids out so that we can see some of this fantastic city (because I know that all too soon this opportunity will have passed).  I give baths, I cuddle, I read stories.  The other day, I filled a wading pool using a 32 ounce plastic cup and countless trips back and forth from my kitchen to the terrace.  Tonight, Benjamin fell asleep during story time — I looked over, halfway through our second book, and he was out.

This is the best job ever.

It is hard, the hours are endless, I am often exhausted and sometimes pushed past the limits of my strength (mental, physical and emotional), there are no sick days and a break is really hard to come by.  But this is exactly the job I want to have.  I am so grateful that I get to spend this time with my wonderful kids.  I complain about it sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  If I had millions of dollars in the bank, this is exactly what I’d do (although I’d hire someone to make sure the house stays clean).  What a great feeling:  I get to wake up every morning and do exactly what I would do if money were no object.  I love it.

Back to work

Well, the vacation is over.  Dan goes to his first actual day of work tomorrow (first official day was today, but as it’s a government holiday here, he didn’t actually have to go in).  I have mixed feelings about it.  On the one had, it’s always hard to see a vacation end and get back into the daily groove of work.  It’s more difficult here because I’m not in a place that I have set up to do my work easily — neither the place, or the stuff I have at my disposal is ideal (I don’t have any of my baby “stuff” — from changing tables to high chairs to swings to jumperoos to toys . . . even the fridge is tiny so I’ll have to go out to get lunch for B tomorrow).  Also, it’ll be hard to say goodbye to Dan after 3 weeks off together.  It’s been great to have his help, and just to have so much free time together.

On the other hand, though, we’re neither really saying goodbye to our vacation, nor are we getting “back” to anything . . . we’re living in our vacation destination permanently now, and, at least for the time being, we’re going to still be so far off what is normal for us that I don’t think it’s going to feel like getting back into our old routine yet (if ever).  We also have the advantage that over the next week, Dan doesn’t have to strictly work his 8 hour days — he has flex time to come home, or run errands, or do whatever needs to be done towards setting things up here.  We thought we’d have so much more of that done by now, but, other than apartment hunting, we just don’t.  Now that he’s going to be at work, the paperwork should start moving, and that should allow us to get some things straightened out and taken care of . . . and it’s also going to get the money coming in, which is going to be a huge relief, because we had not been counting on having to live entirely off of our savings for the past 3 weeks for expenses both here and back at home.  And, much as it’s been nice to have Dan around for the past 3 weeks . . . we also haven’t ever spent this much time “off” together, and we have started to get on each others nerves a bit.  (Although I give us both a ton of credit for the fact that we’ve only really had 2 arguments since we got here, and given potential stress levels, that’s pretty impressive.)

All in all, I think I will really enjoy working towards getting my daily life organized and working for me again, but I will miss having Dan around (and I know that the kids will miss him, too).  I’m going to miss “being on vacation”, but I think it will be nice to get ourselves a little more settled.  And, the next time I take a vacation, I think I’ll arrange for it to be less work.