Celebrating Liam’s 4th birthday

223I love birthdays.  I love celebrating the fact that someone I love exists on this planet and that I get to know them.  My kids’ birthdays are my favorites — I get to reflect on how my little guys are growing, ponder the speed with which time passes, and spend a whole day celebrating their existence.  We’ve developed a great set of birthday traditions in our family — Dan stays home from work, both boys stay home from school (for as long as Liam prefers to be home instead of at school for his birthdays — B, with a summer birthday, doesn’t really have to choose), the birthday boy gets to choose any birthday activity that he likes and he gets to select the meals for the day (and, of course, the cake and ice cream).  I just love seeing how each of my guys chooses to celebrate their big day.


This year, Liam wanted to go to the pool.  He was absolutely sure that he wanted to go to the pool and that he didn’t want a party — just family, and a day at the pool.  Great!  (The day before, he changed his mind and said that he DID want a party, but then he changed it back.)  But, when he woke up on the morning of his birthday, after opening all his gifts, he suddenly changed his mind and decided he wanted to go to the zoo, instead.  The zoo is one of my favorite outings in Vienna, and it’s absolutely fantastic in the early fall, and even better (and less crowded) on the weekdays.  So, that was also great!

245And so, to celebrate Liam, we went to the zoo.  We saw pandas and polar bears and penguins.  We saw the big cats eating their dinners (yikes!). We stopped for hot chocolate and chocolate pretzels and ice cream.  The boys climbed and slid and spun all around the playground and we all rode on the zoo train.  We had a great day.  Most importantly, Liam had a great day.

And then, at the end, my very grown up 4 year old boy informed us all that it was time to go home, and we did, and when we arrived there, he very shortly passed out on the floor for an impromptu birthday nap.  We finished the day with strawberry dinosaur cupcakes (by request).  (I made, for the first time ever, strawberry frosting from scratch for the cupcakes.  It was GREAT.  The kids hated it.  But the cake and the toy dinosaurs were a hit.)


My little guy turned 4 years old.  We celebrated his birthday the whole day long, exactly the way that he wanted to.  A good time was had by all.  It was a very good birthday celebration.  Yay for Liam and for turning 4!




The rest of the staycation

So I got away from writing about the staycation a few weeks ago, but I wanted to finish the story of the rest of our week spent enjoying Vienna.  We didn’t do anything else as ambitious as skiing, nothing else as iconic as the Riesenrad, nothing as unexpected as swimming in a giant wave pool.  The end of our staycation was a bit quieter, but still really fun.

Even though our ski trip this time was the easiest of our ski attempts so far, it was still exhausting, and we decided to spend the next day resting at home … and building paper airplanes.


20140310-174341.jpgWe followed that with another great trip to the Vienna zoo, which is one of our favorite places in Vienna to spend a day with the kids.  As always, I was most amazed by the close access visitors have to the animals, and the close oversight required (on my part) to keep everyone safe.  (Why yes, that IS a picture of Liam with his hand in the cheetah enclosure.  I am an awesome parent.)  As I’ve mentioned before, it would be possible — and in many cases quite easy — to climb into quite a few of the animal habitats.  My years spent in America watching people be protected from their stupidest impulses leaves me in a state of constant awe as I wander through the zoo and 20140310-174818.jpgwitness not a single person take advantage of the minimal security at the zoo.

We had a great day.  The weather was warm (for early February) and sunny and we had a beautiful time enjoying Vienna.  We found a honey vending machine near the bee area, where we purchased some local Vienna honey in a jar (because it seemed like the thing to do) and spent a long while playing at the playground where my kids demonstrated what they’re like in their own semi-natural environment.


And after our lovely zoo day, it was time to prepare to get back to work and school and our regular routine.  We had a great week enjoying Vienna.  It is pretty wonderful to get to enjoy a week-long European vacation without leaving home.

Field trip worries

I’m a mom.  That’s basically like being a professional worrier.  On days like today, when B’s class is on a day-long field trip to the zoo, I worry extra.  He’s only 4, and although he’s now done these trips many times, it’s a lot for me to imagine my little guy taking a bus and two U-bahns with his kindergarten class.  And then, he’ll be out for 8 hours, well supervised, but without me (just the potty implications for a little guy who prefers to “go” at home are worrisome).  And then there’s the same trek back to school.  I was thinking about him all day, and trying not to obsess (unsuccessfully, although Liam did keep me pretty busy all on his own).

I worry that he could (in no kind of sane or logical order of likelihood or severity, much like they come into my head) wander off, get left behind, be abducted (the mind of a mommy is harsh place, full of unlikely worst case scenarios), get hurt, have a potty accident (or two or three), get sunburned, not get enough to eat or drink, feel left out, get overly tired, not understand what’s going on, not be understood when he needs to say something, and, because this is Austria and there is definitely a “don’t be stupid”/personal responsibility mentality here, I also can’t entirely put aside a (hopefully unfounded) fear that he’s going to climb into the lion enclosure or attempt to go swimming with the hippos (seriously, I fixated on the hippo thing for a good 20 minutes earlier when Liam was napping).


In short, there was no way I was going to feel better until Dan texted me to tell me that he had safely picked him up, and I didn’t feel completely ok until I gave him a big hug and kiss myself.  As it turns out, none of the things I was worried about came to pass (not even a potty accident!).  He had a great day at the zoo, had lunch and two snacks (that was a highlight) and enjoyed seeing the reindeer most of all.  All my worry was wasted energy — all was well (and there was nothing I could have done if it wasn’t).  Still, it won’t stop me from being exactly the same way next time.  It’s just how it is.

A too-busy weekend

Thursday being Thanksgiving, Dan took Thursday and Friday off (like we used to do at home) so that we could take a long holiday weekend and enjoy the beginning of the Christmas season (even here in Vienna, today is the first Sunday of Advent, so Thanksgiving or no, it’s Christmastime now).  It was a great idea, but, as often happens with these lofty and overly rosy images I have of time off as a family, we’re at the end of the weekend, exhausted, off our schedule and a little grumpy.

018We had a great time this weekend (really).  We visited some Christmas markets, we all got to take naps (on at least a few of the days), we went out to eat for Thanksgiving, we got some chores done around the house (not as many as I’d hoped), some of us got to sleep in a little (Dan and Liam did — I’m not bitter) and even went to the zoo today (and saw the pandas for the first time, which was amazing).  It was a fun, packed weekend.  The boys rode on rides at the markets, I did a little Christmas shopping, and we got to spend a lot of time together as a family, which was wonderful.

Really, we had a good weekend.  Really.  But we did too much (and we didn’t even do all of the things we had planned — we do a pretty good job of sticking to a schedule unless it’s labelled “vacation” or “holiday”, in which case everything goes out the window).  So, here we are, trying to get ready for our upcoming week and it’s an hour past the kids’ bedtime and they’re just getting out of the bath.  We got home from the zoo this afternoon completely exhausted and frozen (never trust a Viennese weather report) and by 8:00 we had two kids (who refused to nap earlier) passed out on the couch — too late to be a nap, too early for bedtime.  Benjamin and Liam are still hanging on to the colds they had last week, and now I think Dan & I are getting sick, too.

I’m really glad we had some time off, got to spend so much time together, and took a break from our normal routine to explore and do some fun out-of-the-ordinary things.  But this was not the recipe for a restful holiday.  I think I need a vacation to recover from my long, holiday weekend.


Mommy takes a break

This weekend was a long weekend for us — Dan had today off of work. So, naturally, by about 10:00 this morning, we still had a ton of things on our “to do” list, and I was already exhausted.  When we have long weekends, I have a bad habit of trying to cram too much stuff in — that extra day seems to stretch on eternally in my mind’s eye when I’m planning, but I find it usually just leaves me more exhausted than I am in a regular weekend, and frustrated, too, because I had this fanciful idea of what would be accomplished that didn’t come to pass.

First thing this morning, we had a doctor’s appointment for a heart screening for Liam . . . which was a bit of a fiasco because the hospital had lost our appointment, which no one actually told us, so we had to wait in the emergency room for 45 minutes while they figured things out, only to be sent to the cardiology department to be lectured on the fact that we needed an appointment (which is when we figured out what must have happened).  This is one of those things that is infinitely more challenging about living in a country where you don’t speak the language:  these missed connections happen much more often, and when they do, they’re less likely to be resolved easily.  Chances our, the incorrect appointment might well have been our misunderstanding in the first place, but we find that rather than explain the problem to us (that they have no record of our appointment) everyone passes the problem of explaining along to the next person, leaving us irritated (why are we waiting in the ER for 45 minutes when we had an appointment?) and confused (why is everyone being so weird?).  We did finally get to see the cardiologist, and Liam’s heart is just fine (good to know) but after starting and our day, bright and early, with a heaping dose of confusion and frustration, I just did not have it in me to go forward with our plans for the day.

So, I gave up.  We were supposed to take the kids to the zoo to meet a friend, but I just could not get excited about it.  I was feeling really tired, and already daunted by the big week we have ahead of us.  All I wanted to do was sit, read and have a cup of tea.  So, that’s what I did. Benjamin was already excited about going to the zoo, so Dan took the boys.  It seemed like a crazy idea when we first thought of it, and I felt preemptively guilty (could I *really* bring myself to skip a fun day at the zoo with my kids?) but it was GREAT.  I got to relax and take a little time for myself, and the boys had a great time at the zoo with Dan.  They don’t seem scarred by it, and, surprisingly, neither am I.

We still didn’t get a lot of stuff on our list done this weekend, and I’m still pretty worn out.  But tomorrow, when I’m exhausted and trying to get my week back on track, I’ll feel a little better knowing I at least took a stab at being rested for the week.  And the flamingos will be there next time.

An adventurous weekend

024 (1)The passing of our six month milestone here, along with the rapid onset of cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets have really kicked me into gear in terms of getting out and doing the things we want to do around Vienna.  The days are short (and getting shorter), cold (and getting colder) and numbered, so we must get out and see what there is to see.

With Benjamin in school until noon every day, we don’t get home until around 1:00.  Then it’s time for lunch, then a nap.  By the time they’re up and about, it’s typically 3:30 at the earliest.  Even this leaves us a few hours until Dan’s return home and the beginning of the dinner/evening/bedtime routine around here, so I’m going to be making a point to use those precious hours, as well.  But, for longer excursions, it’s got to be the weekends, and we’re going to make the most of them.


This weekend, we definitely worked toward that end.  Our Saturday morning was spent in our usual manner of going to the grocery store, vacuuming, folding laundry and doing 049other small chores around the house.  But, after nap time on Saturday, we were done with chores and tasks.  We set out to do some hiking/walking around (to me, the difference is whether or not the surface is paved, and we did a little of each) and to have dinner up on the side of the mountain overlooking Vienna.  It was chilly when we left home (about 10 degrees Celsius) and it started getting dark (and colder) almost immediately after we started our walk.  We had an excellent time.  We saw some beautiful sights, explored (may have trespassed at) a gorgeous hotel overlooking the city, and had an amazing dinner by candlelight.


Today, we left, first thing, for the zoo.  The plan had been to get out of the house as early as possible (we left around 9:30, which is pretty good) and to be back for nap time 024 (2)(around 1:00/1:30).  In a shocking (for me) display of flexibility and enjoying the moment, we didn’t get home until after 4:30.  Benjamin made a list, last night, of the animals he wanted to see.  We saw them all (he liked the flamingos the best).  We rode the train (twice).  We walked from the back exit of the zoo to the Gloriette of Schonbrunn and looked down on Vienna (Liam walked a significant part of the way, holding Dan’s hand — he did NOT want to ride in the stroller or be carried).  We had an impromptu lunch in the sun on a bench, the boys threw several fits (each) and we all came home worn out, a bit out of sorts and completely off of our normal schedule.

037It was great.  I wouldn’t change anything about it, and I’m already thinking about what we’ll do next weekend.

It’s not easy for me.  I make a list of the chores and tasks to be done around the house every weekend, and it drives me a little crazy if they don’t get done.  I have to let go of that if I want to make the most of our weekend in terms of exploring.  This weekend, we left more than half of our to-do list undone (much of it not even begun).  I’m also making a serious effort to live more in the moment — to enjoy what’s happening around me instead of thinking about what needs to happen next (and when) or obsessing about what’s still to be done at home.  I don’t feel the need to cram every moment full of “experiences” (staying home and cuddling on the couch is an experience, too) but I do want to prioritize having fun over having a clean house, being together and enjoying ourselves over feeling accomplished at checking “something” off of our to do list.


We don’t have an infinite amount of time here.  I want to make the most of the time we have.  I don’t want to leave here with any regrets about things I wanted to see, or do, or experience with the boys.  Realizing this about my time in Vienna makes me realize how true this is of life in general.


The vacuuming can wait.  The flamingos can’t.


Unexpected surprises

009Tomorrow, my little boy (well, the biggest one) turns 3.  I know it’s a cliche, but I have no idea where the time has gone.  (Although, at the same time, it seems hard to believe that 3 years ago I didn’t yet have any kids.  Once you have them, you feel like you’ve always had them.)

Today, to celebrate, we took him to the zoo, and let him have free rein.  (Pretty much:  he wanted to go in with the elephants, and that’s where I drew the line.)  He got to pick which animals he wanted to see, where we went, how long we stayed.  We even let him pick out a stuffed animal from the gift shop.  (He chose a snake.  He was going for the panda and changed his mind at the last second.  The snake is pretty cool.)  Some of our friends joined us, to help us celebrate, and Benjamin really loved that.

012We had a great time, and then we stayed too long, everyone got hot, tired and cranky and we left in the midst of tears, naps, frustration and irritability.  That seems to be how these things happen.  I know from experience, though, that the ending won’t ruin his experience or memory of the day.  I know he had a great time.  He got to run around, see stuff, climb on things, eat ice cream and generally do pretty much whatever he wanted for hours and hours.  We saw giraffes, elephants, a gibbon, flamingos, a lion, penguins, sea lions, a polar bear, and we even had an albino peacock wander right past where we were having lunch.  (I have no idea if it was supposed to be loose, but there it was, just wandering through.)  Good times.

046After coming home and recuperating for a few hours, Benjamin was playing ball with Bailey.  For Benjamin, the purpose of this game is to hide the baseball where it will be the hardest for Bailey to acquire it and then to run away and giggle while Bailey gets it anyway.  To be clever, he decided to hide the ball in our storage closet (the only closet in our whole apartment) which is generally closed and off limits (although not strictly verboten, it’s more that it’s relatively uninteresting and out of the way).  Problem:  that’s where the (as yet unwrapped) birthday presents were hidden.

“Daddy, Daddy, Dad, Dad, Dad!  Come see!  Look what I found!  I found a bike!”  Pause.  “Is it my birthday present?  Is it mine?”

050No, he wasn’t supposed to get it until tomorrow, but what are you going to say?  His delight and excitement certainly wasn’t diminished by getting it today (in fact, it may have been enhanced by the complete surprise).  He is thrilled, if a little uncertain about how best to tackle this new challenge.  (Another gift, which he didn’t find, is the helmet which goes WITH the bike, so we took it rather easy today.)  His sweet excitement was wonderful to witness.  That is a special kind of happiness reserved for small children on their birthdays and on Christmas morning, and we get to experience it again by making it happen for him.

He’s an awesome kid.  I hope he’s having an awesome birthday.

The zoo

I’m working on turning over a new leaf in terms of being flexible (especially with the family schedule), so when Dan suggested that we eat breakfast out this morning, I went along with it, even though it totally blew our busy schedule of chores and house cleaning.  We had a lovely time, and still managed to get to the grocery store and do a bit of laundry and organizing before nap time.

037It was important, after all, that we keep our afternoon free, because we had plans to go to the zoo today.  I mentioned it to Benjamin earlier in the week and he has been talking about it non-stop ever since.  He would wake up in the morning and ask if we were going to the zoo today.  Then, all day, he would periodically tell me that we couldn’t go to the zoo today because we couldn’t go without Daddy, and Daddy had to work.

Today, we finally went to the zoo.  It’s on the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace, which we’ve visited before.  We saw giraffes, tigers, reindeer (with babies!), cranes, lions, monkeys, goats, water buffalo and a rhino.  (We tried to see the Pandas, but they were hiding or sleeping or otherwise unavailable.)  It’s very zoo-like . . . by which, I mean, it’s what you’d expect:  lots of animals.

040But, it’s different, too.  First, many of the animals (although not the big carnivores) could get out of their enclosures with relatively little effort.  The reindeer, for example, were behind a 3′ fence that I imagine they could jump easily if sufficiently motivated — I’m guessing the designers are counting on them being sufficiently motivated very, very rarely (and I’m sure they’re right — why would a reindeer want to visit downtown Vienna when he’s got a cushy reindeer-friendly habitat at his disposal?).  Also, people could get IN to many of the enclosures even more easily if they wanted to (which I am not used to).  Even Benjamin could have climbed into several of the enclosures (again, not the lions or the tigers, which is good) if we had let him.

041It is a very Austrian approach, and it makes me smile.  I can imagine having a conversation with the designer:

Me:  “What if someone climbs in to the enclosure!  They could get hurt!”

Designer:  “Why would anyone do that?”

Me:  “I don’t know . . . curiosity, foolishness, showing off for their friends?”

Designer:  “That would be stupid.  They’d probably get hurt.”

Me:  “But, they might hurt the animals.”

Designer:  “I don’t think so.  No one would do that.”

058In the US, this conversation would be a precursor to a multi-million dollar lawsuit from the family of someone who was mauled by a reindeer or trampled by goats after climbing into the enclosure with the animals.  In Austria, it’s an attitude which is part of the oldest zoo in the world (it’s been there for over 250 years).

If you ask Benjamin, his favorite part of the zoo was the tigers and the flamingos (which we didn’t actually see — but he’s been learning about them on “Go, Diego, Go” all week, so he’s got them on his mind).  My favorite part is the fact that you could climb into the enclosures with the animals, but no one does.  I love this philosophy that is so pragmatic and irreverently Darwinian, and the fact that people actually seem to be able to control themselves and behave, even though they have the option not to — imagine that.