Summer Burnout

This is our last week of summer camp, then a few days’ camping trip and we are done with summer!  The kids start school in a week and I can hardly wait to have them back in their normal routine.

We took two family trips in May, so we ended up not doing any traveling this summer. Instead, I booked the kids very heavily with a variety of summer camps.  Manly Guy works on our property (his office is in the guest house), and while summer camps can be pretty expensive, they are *not* as expensive as a husband who is unable to get his work done.  The end result is that I have spent the last ten weeks with a different schedule every Monday, with as many as four different drop-offs/pick-ups each day, rushing to prepare breakfast and pack lunches each morning and trying to ensure that everyone had everything that they needed for the day.  (“S– are your soccer shoes in your backpack?” “T– did you refill your water bottle?” “V– be sure to bring home your hoodie!”)

Since late May there have been swim lessons, Science camp, preschool summer school for our littlest, YMCA camp, older kids’ camp, sleep-away camp, gymnastics camp, Lego animation camp, camps at the Sonoma State University (our son was taking classes, the girls in a camp of summer activities), French camp, art camp and soccer camp.  We hosted our son’s best friend for a week.  We have had quite a few friends visit us, many staying in the guest house.  Keeping it all straight has been challenging, and mornings in particular have been rather frantic at times.  While school brings its own set of demands, at least we will get into a familiar routine and be in it for a while, which is sounding quite nice!

How Many Personas Do You Have?

The most interesting men and women I know have multiple personas that they draw from in their interactions with the world at large.  It’s like wearing a costume, except that these are exaggerated personality traits turned into a simplified version of the person.  I have witnessed my dear friend Victoria in a few different personas: Sweet Southern Gal, Proper English Wife, Bitch-on-Wheels American (quite handy for business meetings).  I’m sure that she has several more in her arsenal.  She has joked about which persona would be the best for a particular occasion, and I love the fact that she can put them on and take them off quite easily.

Over the years I have developed Scotch-drinking Demure Wench (from my dancing days at the Renaissance Faire, which I did for several seasons), Colonial Raver Marine (during my party and Burning Man days), Educated/Well-traveled Career Girl, Outdoorsy Adventurer (I dabbled with quite a few pursuits, including hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, scuba diving, mountain biking, snowboarding).  Since getting married and having a family I added Domestic Goddess (culinary and craft projects), Perky Mother of Four (school stuff), and Trophy Wife (for cultural events such as symphony and opera performances).  None of these personas represent the “real” me, but all of them together make up a big part of me.  Humans are complicated creatures, and we usually interact with a wide array of other individuals.  Most people out there aren’t interested in knowing me *that* well, except for a handful of close friends and a few family members.  These personas provide a shortcut to me and my acquaintances to interact easily without a lot of fuss.

Apparently not everyone is happy that society uses archetypes.  Last week I read an article written by a twenty-something woman, bemoaning the fact that men view women in a superficial way, relying on archetypical characters as a viewing lens.  The author’s first main point was that men grow up to star in their own story, and women grow up to be a supporting role.   She used the descriptor “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” as an example of a current archetypical character in books and movies that portray women in an unrealistic way. While I can see her perspective, the article (which was a bit of a feminist diatribe) got me thinking more about how my views about interaction between men and women have changed as I have gotten older, rather than the injustice that women are subjected to by society at large.  I have a vague recollection of being annoyed in my twenties whenever people treated me impersonally, but now I appreciate that there is no way everyone that I meet can know and appreciate me as an individual.

Archetypes have existed for millennia, and for good reason.  We carry stories with us throughout our lives, and they tend to be populated with characters we learn to love or hate, but we know them well.  Since they are out there anyway, why not use them as tools?

Flying Usually Means the Family Gets Sick

For nearly three weeks, at least one person in the house was sick . . . all because of a trip we took to Cincinnati for Memorial Day weekend!  Overall it was a good weekend getaway, and it was for a family wedding, so we *had* to do it, but I am getting to the point that I dread all of us getting on an airplane.  An individual might catch a bug on a trip (all that recycled air means we share germs with everyone on the plane), but put six people on an airplane and your chances of bringing a virus or other bug home is multiplied . . . by six!

Of course, we weren’t able to get a direct flight (there are few of those between San Francisco and Cincinnati), so we had to stop in Chicago and change planes.  On the second flight there was an 18-month-old in front of us who coughed over us the entire time.  I remember thinking “I hope no one gets that!” during the flight.  Sure enough, Sunday morning (the day of the wedding, of course), one of the twins woke up with a fever of 102 degrees.  I ran out to the drug store and bought some kids’ Tylenol, had her sleep until we had to leave for the wedding, and hoped for the best.  What else can you do?  We can’t leave her at the hotel.  And we flew quite a distance to be there.  We kept her quiet and away from others as much as we could and left a little early.

The day after we returned to California the other twin came down with it.  Manly Guy caught the bug a couple of days after that, and he was sick for a solid week, followed by a week of diminished productivity and no working out (which makes him pretty grumpy).  Then I got the bug, which turned into bronchitis, making me miss the girls’ annual ballet shows.  As I recovered, our littlest caught it and was sick most of last week.  The only family member who didn’t get sick was our son.

I’m sure that there is *something* that the airlines can do to make it less likely that you will get sick after flying.  I’d be happy to don a medical mask if everyone else did it, and I bet that they could filter the air to reduce the germ circulation.    Obviously they wouldn’t be able to make guarantees, but if an airline could demonstrate that they had improved air quality significantly, I’d be willing to spend a little more for each ticket.  The lost productivity of the last three weeks is worth a lot!

All Four Kids in the “Honeymoon Years”

May 10, 2013

Yesterday our youngest turned five, which is a big milestone.  It means that we are officially done with toddlerhood!  Not only that, it means that all four kids are in the “honeymoon years” (or so we’ve heard from other parents), the years between the ages of 5 and 12, the most fun years of raising kids.  Before age five there are all the trials that toddlers/preschoolers present to their parents, and at thirteen of course, adolescence rears its ugly head with all the challenges associated with raising teenagers.

Since there is six years between our oldest and youngest, we will only have two years when *all four* are in those special years, so I plan on savoring this time, really taking it all in.  So many parents with older kids have warned us that these special years go too quickly.  It is easy to be too busy to notice how great the kids really are right now.  I need to remind myself regularly to stop, look, and enjoy it.

Extending the Celebration (for Birthdays, Holidays) Beyond a Day or Two

I used to think that it was really important to get special days *right*.  I wanted Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be perfect.  And birthdays, especially birthdays, needed to be *just so*.

What I’ve found is that you are likely to set yourself up for disappointment if you load up everything into one day.  Something is bound to go wrong, or at least go differently than planned.  Packages are late.  People must cancel plans.  Stuff happens.

Now we extend celebrating out over several days.  We have “birthday week” instead of celebrating on one day.  If a package is late, it doesn’t matter, because we are still celebrating when it arrives (usually).  Christmas is a two-week-long holiday.

We even ended up extending out Easter this year by two weeks.  We had rain on Easter, and then it rained for several days after.  This really put a damper on our Easter egg hunt, which we usually set up in the yard.  Then we were busy the following weekend, and before we knew it two weeks had passed and we still had eggs full of candy to hide.

Manly Guy put together a note from the Easter Bunny, explaining the tardiness of the egg hunt.  It was really cute!  Needless to say, the kids didn’t mind at all.  They happily looked for eggs on a sunny Monday afternoon, and it had been long enough since they had binged on candy that they were excited to do it again.

I’ll never claim to be mellow (it just isn’t in my nature), but I must admit that celebrations are more enjoyable now that there is less pressure to have the “perfect day”.

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Manly Guy’s note to the kids (as the Easter Bunny)

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Differences in Risk Tolerance Means Our Kids Don’t Play with the Neighbor Kids Very Much

Last week I had a really awkward interaction with a couple of the neighbor kids.  My youngest called to them, so they came into our back yard– and after the kids said “hello” I ended up telling the two boys that our kids couldn’t play outside anymore and bringing the girls inside.

Many of the kids in our neighborhood have parents who have a much higher risk tolerance than we do.  They are from a different culture (the parents are from Mexico), and clearly they are okay with letting their kids play in the street unsupervised.  The children, ranging in age from under 2 to maybe 7, are outside on their own nearly every day when the weather is good.  I rarely see the parents come outside.  I’ve seen a little girl, less than two, play on our street with only her five-year-old brother to accompany her.

I could never let my small children do that.  Let’s face it– I’m one of those paranoid parents who wants to mitigate as much risk as is reasonably possible without keeping my kids strapped in chairs.  I encourage lots of activities, but our kids are supervised all the time.  Yes, it was different when I was a kid (when packs of kids roamed neighborhoods on their own until dinner), but that really isn’t considered acceptable parenting these days.  At least not for most families that we know. As parents, we pick up the kids from school, fill in afternoons with a variety of after-school activities and we keep the kids very busy.  It is a lot of work to keep it all going.

Like so many of my generation, my parents were divorced, and my brother and I were latchkey kids.  We walked home from school, let ourselves in the house, and entertained ourselves until our mother got home from work.  We fought, we got into scrapes, we made messes that got us into trouble, but we also became pretty self-sufficient early on.  I do understand that it wasn’t all bad.

When we lived in India, it was common to see families at construction sites.  It was very normal to see a child (aged 5 or 6) carrying an infant or toddler sibling, caring for the younger sibling while both parents worked.  These construction sites had plenty of opportunity for injury (or worse), yet somehow most of those kids seemed to do okay in what I would consider unacceptable conditions for keeping children safe.  I can acknowledge that in many societies, children are given a lot more freedom than I am willing to give my kids.

And here is where the awkwardness comes in: I’m not willing to babysit the other kids on the street.  If I let them come into our back yard to play, they will do it everyday.  Our play structure and swings are a big draw.  Then I would be responsible for these kids every afternoon, and I’d feel compelled to bring out snacks, and we’d become the place where all the kids on our street hang out.  There could be liability issues if someone got hurt on the play structure.   But the biggest issue is my not wanting to take care of anyone else.  I have four kids, which feels like a lot, and I have no interest in being the caregiver for the neighborhood.

I know it sounds selfish.  I’m not proud to admit it.  But I have enough on my plate.  So I end up limiting our kids’ playtime with the neighbor kids to when my husband is in the front yard, working in the garden.  When he can supervise them, I’m happy to have our kids in the street, playing with the neighbor kids.  I’m happy to bring out snacks for everyone.  I’m just not willing to do it all the time.

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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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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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.