Connecting with Other Families Can Be Tricky

In my early twenties, making friends was easy– I was very social and I collected friends willy nilly. If I ended up with a friend who was annoying or had a weird quirk, I laughed about it and it wasn’t a big deal.

In my thirties I chose new friends more carefully. While I maintained friendships with a wide range of characters,  I wanted people around me who shared my interests.

After marriage I was not only concerned with my own wants/needs, but I had to consider how new friends might interact with Manly Guy.  But it didn’t really get complicated until we had kids.

When your kids hit a certain age (5?), they seem to bond better with some kids than others, and they start having opinions about who they spend time with.  So now you have to take into account their preferences.  When you (and your family) meet a new family, a whole host of requirements must be met if you are going to really connect with them and spend time together on a regular basis.  Both you and your husband should like both parents.  You need to like their kids.  You want to like their parenting style.  Your family schedules need to mesh up easily. Kids’ ages, parents’ politics, school and work schedules, after-school activities, entertainment choices– all these (and more) effect how one family connects with another family.

And this week I add a new one to the mix: Do you have “trade”?  If one family asks the other family a favor (“Hey, can you pick up my kid and drop them off at X with your kid later?”), is there opportunity for a reciprocal favor later?  If several favors are asked of one family, and there is no “trade”, then it is a lopsided relationship that ultimately doesn’t work.

Since we changed schools in September, we have had many attempts to more-closely-connect with other families, and I’m amazed/amused at how difficult the process can be.  So many factors go into whether or not the relationship will work on a more-than-occasional contact level.  Turns out that it is a rare thing when two families can spend lots of time together easily!  That doesn’t mean that we aren’t friends with many of the families that we’ve met (I’d like to think that we are), it just means that it seems to be more difficult than ever to find close friends. As life gets more complicated, fitting new people in gets trickier than before.

Of course, this makes me appreciate old friends all the more . . .  friends that I share years of history with and who can laugh at how much we’ve changed.  It’s funny that you don’t need as much in common currently with an old friend, since you can draw on shared past experiences. But friends whom Manly Guy and I have known since before we were married, who have also gotten married and have had kids . . . that is a special category.  People who made the same leap of faith that marriage entails, who risked their sanity by breeding, these old friends have a special place in my heart.

Kids Have No Idea of the Effort Involved in Doing Stuff

I remember when I was single, or even when it was just Manly Guy and me, how easy it was to do stuff.  Walk out the door with a purse (or, for a guy, wallet and phone) and you’re good.  Even when planning a trip, you packed your bag in a few minutes and you were off.  (When we were leaving for our honeymoon, we had not packed anything when our ride arrived to take us to the airport, and we left 1/2 hour later . . . )

Having children changes nearly every aspect of your life, but it is particularly striking to me how much harder it is to do stuff when you have kids in tow.  As an adult, you just have to make sure that you are clean and dressed, maybe there is some fussing (make-up, hair, etc), but you just have to worry about You.   When you add children to the mix, you not only have to account for them being clean and dressed, but you must be concerned with the last time they ate, if they have recently gone to the bathroom, carrying extra clothing, bringing along snacks and water, and a myriad other details.

Then there is traveling with kids, which ups the ante significantly.  You must have everything you *might* need, all clothing, toiletries, entertainment, maybe a bucket if you have kids who get carsick easily . . .

A week ago on Monday we got back from a four-day/three night trip to Tahoe.  Overall, it was great: kids loved visiting the snow, we got everyone on the slopes one day (kids on skis, hubby and I on snowboards), we had a nice visit with our friends with whom we shared the condo, and I even had a spa day, always a big bonus.

It took only two days to hear one of the kids say: Can we do that again soon?

I know I should be glad that it was such a great experience that they want to repeat it, but my initial response was “Do you have any idea how expensive that was?  How much work?”

Kids really have *no* appreciation of what it takes to pull off a trip.  When things go smoothly, they just assume that details magically work themselves out instead of realizing that their mother has a minor case of OCD.  I start planning months in advance, and try to think of as many details as possible.  The reason why we had never all been to Tahoe before was because of the effort and cost required to pull off a trip for a family of six.  For a decade I was either pregnant, breastfeeding, or had a toddler (or a combination).  Snow sports trips are expensive, and I wasn’t willing to go to the mountains and babysit.  On this trip I did see some families with babies- Hats off to ’em!- but it just seemed like too much work for not enough payoff.

Since our youngest is four and could definitely go to ski school, we decided this was the year to try it.  The kids had been asking to visit the snow for months, and I felt like we couldn’t put it off anymore.  It was late in the season when I booked the condo, so when I started visiting stores to buy the necessary winter apparel I found little available.  After visiting several stores, I ended up ordering snow bibs online, and finding gloves, boots and other warm things in a variety of places.  It took about two weeks to assemble enough winter clothing for us all to be comfortable in the snow.

Our day on the slopes was a success, much to my relief!  All three girls enjoyed ski school, our son did well on skis by the end of the day (despite a very rough start in the morning), and Manly Guy and I managed to remain injury-free, even though neither of us had been on a snowboard for many years.

Manly Guy took all the kids sledding the next day, freeing me and our friend up for the day, so we hit the spa.  It was really great to get some time with a girlfriend to hang out, read a book, get pampered, enjoy some lunch, have a cocktail afterward. Never mind that the kids got really sunburned on their faces– they had so much fun in the snow!

So while the trip went really well, and I’d like to see us make it an annual event, I am not willing to commit to going more than once per year.  Maybe when the kids are teenagers I could see going more frequently, but not now.  It is a big job to get all the gear together, organize everything and everyone, book the condo, hope that it isn’t snowing when we need to drive up or down the mountain, plan meals, try to keep everyone healthy before the trip (we had a kid with the flu at the beginning of the trip and went home with another kid just coming down with the same bug).

Now to get back to planning our Disneyland trip in May . . .

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Our Plum Tree is Exploding with Blossoms

Well, that didn’t take long.

Last week there were four little buds, hinting that spring would soon arrive.  I assumed that it would be at least a couple of weeks before the blossoms peaked, but I think we hit that point yesterday.  The tree absolutely exploded with little white flowers.  Between the bees buzzing in the branches, and the birds chirping nearby, it not only looks like spring, it sounds like spring.

As Manley Guy put it, “I love this tree.  (It is) one of the things for which I am thankful.”

We inherited the tree– it came with the house– which is amazing, as the garden was utterly neglected and unkempt when we bought it through a short sale in 2009.  We planted other fruit trees less than a year ago, but we don’t expect them to bear fruit for several years, so the plum tree is the star of our otherwise fairly plain garden.

Here is what it looked like yesterday:

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Finally Finished the Kids’ Bathroom Decor

Last year I decided that the kids’ bathroom was way too bland.  I’m a big believer in bright and fun spaces, and I think that should include utilitarian areas such as bathrooms.  This month I finally put the finishing touches on the bathroom that the kids share, and I’m pretty happy with it.

I went with a theme of “Summer”.  I had some photo enlargements printed of the kids at the pool and on a rafting trip, put up some papier mache creatures that we bought years ago in Spain, bought a couple of baskets for hand towels and bath towels, and Manly Guy hung a shelf to display pretty sea shells.

Here is the end result:

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First Signs of Spring

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Our plum tree is quietly announcing that spring will soon be here.

The tree is still mostly bare– I only counted four blossoms yesterday.  But I suspect that by the end of February our backyard plum tree will be covered in blossoms.  Two years ago that happened, and a hail storm a week later wiped them all out, leaving us plum-less for the year.  (I think there were two tiny plums on the tree in June that year.)  Last year the tree blossomed in late February/early March and we were blessed with a wonderful harvest.  I made many jars of plum jelly, which is perfect for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But no use counting my plums before they are fruit!  The weather has been ridiculously lovely today– I think we hit the low 70’s this afternoon.  Which is pretty crazy for February.  When I posted on Facebook about our weather, friends on the East Coast (and other colder climes) teased me for our perennial lovely climate.  Manly Guy and I have decided that California *does* have four seasons, just not the traditional ones.  Ours are Nice, Perfect, Warm and Cool.

Bye Bye Beloved Jogger

Today may be the last time that I use our jogging stroller.

It seems strange to say it– that jogger has been a part of my life for a decade.  We bought it when our oldest was an infant, and he will be eleven in a month.  I’m still on the trail at least three times per week, but our youngest is in preschool all day and will be in Kindergarten in the fall.  And she isn’t that interested in sitting in it.  Today she ran alongside the stroller for about two miles.  She is over forty pounds, getting too big for it anyway.

We’ve certainly gotten our money’s worth out of that jogger.  When we lived in San Francisco I walked as much as I drove, and it was often pushing one of the strollers.  I’ve had several travel strollers, and a double jogger for the twins, but the BOB single jogger has been my favorite since we got it.

It was lovely weather this morning– sunny, mid-fifties, birds chirping, creek gurgling– I was so happy to get on the trail and it was fun to have V along for the ride.  Ridiculous weather for early February, especially considering that the Northeast was blanketed with two feet of snow last night.  In California we have a high cost of living, high taxes, and plenty of other issues, but we have perfect weather.  I’m always amused by Californians who have the audacity to complain about the weather here.  (Really?!  Have you ever lived anywhere else?)

When I realized that it might be my last time taking the jogger out, I had to take a few photos.  I cherish my time on the trail, and I have loved all the time that I have pushed my children in that jogger.  I will miss it.

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La Chandeleur Crêpe Day

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February 8, 2013

Today the kids’ school celebrated La Chandeleur Crêpe Day, also known as Crêpe Day in France (normally observed on 2/2, but the school scheduled it on a Friday).  This is a new holiday for me, and I must admit that I find it amusing that a nation would celebrate a day by eating crêpes.  Apparently there is a bit of superstition in the celebration; when making the first crêpe, you are supposed to hold a coin in your left hand.  If you flip the crêpe properly in the pan, it is supposed to be good luck (and doom on you if you flub it up). And somehow the day also determines if winter is winding down, or headed for another six weeks of cold (in a Groundhog Day sort of way).

One of our twins corrected my pronunciation of “crêpe” at least four times in the past twenty-four hours, which started off amusing and ended up annoying.  (“Mommy, it is crêpe with a soft “e”, not an “a” sound.  And you need to add the tiger sound before it.”)  Yes, I know my French accent is crap, and I can’t roll my r’s if my life depended on it, but I wish she didn’t need to remind me so many times.

There was some batter left-over from my earlier crêpe-making for the kids’ classes, so this evening I made a few more.  The kids had not been overly impressed with crêpes at school (served with jam, honey, powdered sugar), so they were complaining when I wouldn’t let them have plain ice cream.  Of course, once they tried the crêpes with chocolate/almond spread, sprinkled with powdered sugar, then served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, they decided it was the “best dessert ever!”

Trying to Make My Mom Feel Special

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February 4, 2013

On Saturday the girls and I took my mom to dinner.

It sounds so simple, yet it was a difficult task for me.  My relationship with my mother is complicated, imperfect.  We don’t have a lot in common, and our conversations can get strained and awkward.   We didn’t get to see her over the holidays, despite my efforts to get us there (she lives about an hour away), and I have felt badly that she had to spend all of December on her own.  When the girls and I arrived to her house we brought Mom a new outfit: dress, sweater, leggings, shoes, even underwear.  My mother doesn’t get fussed over a lot, and I figured that this is something that I could do for her that no one else really does.  We had her try everything on (thankfully, it all fit and worked well together), and then she was ready for an evening out.

We went to a restaurant about a half an hour from her house, in a town she doesn’t frequently visit.  My daughters sat on both sides of her and fussed over Grandma.  Dinner was lovely, and I’d like to think that Mom enjoyed herself.  I don’t know for sure, but I hope she liked it.

I don’t look back fondly on my childhood.  My parents were too young when they got married and had kids.  And their generation liked to divorce, so we had quite a few of those while I was growing up.  I think that my parents did the best that they could, but I am definitely trying to make up for my own lost childhood when I throw all my energy into various holiday celebrations/decorations/matching outfits, etc.  (Yes, I’m working on Valentine’s Day stuff.  Of course.)  The thing is that I have a knack (and I enjoy) making an occasion special, so I have a tendency to take it a bit over the top.  I figure that you might as well make it memorable . . .

Do I love her?  Yes, of course I do– she’s my mother.  But do I like her?  Often I don’t, but I am trying harder to find common ground.  I can’t talk politics with her.  I have different ideas on most topics from my mother, so in our conversation we end up dancing around subjects that become too argumentative.   However, instead of focusing on what my mother and I can’t share, I’m trying to focus on what we *can* share, and what I can do to make her feel special.

Back to Normal Life

Ahhhhhhhhhhh.  All the kids are back to school today, and the house is empty for the first time in more than two weeks.  What a relief!  I love our children with all my heart, but when they are off from school for an extended break and I don’t get a regular dose of solitude, I find myself feeling scattered and forgetful.  It is during the kids’ time away from home that I regroup, do yoga, hit the trail, work on pet projects, take care of myself.  When they are here, I tend to neglect my own needs, and I can do that for only so long before I start to resent them for it.

The holidays were really good generally.  Not as over-the-top as usual (since I had pneumonia in the first half of December), but we did enough that they felt special.  By most standards, we did more than we should have (Was the Christmas Tea for the kids really necessary?  Did we have to have a New Year’s Tea as well?), but I am one of those parents making up for my own imperfect childhood.  So few people have a perfect childhood to look back on.  I don’t know if it is that childhood must be uncomfortable (how else would we learn?), or that from my parents’ generation onward there has been so much divorce and drama that most kids are impacted.

I have promised myself that I will sit down this week and actually write down goals for the year.  I always have a variety of projects going, but I often don’t have the discipline to sit down and plot out how to tackle everything that I want to accomplish in a given amount of time.  I will do it this time.  Maybe tomorrow . . .

Within an hour I need to be out on the trail (speedwalking).  The sunshine beckons.  After that, will I attack that stupid pile of mending that continues to grow?  It would be nice to whittle it down.  But “Clash of Kings” is also crying out to me.  Which will it be– book or mending?  I have to chuckle that this is what my life has become.  Oh, how the old Party Girl Heather would be shaking her head.  But that makes me smile, too. You can’t be a Party Girl forever . . .