Parenting lesson #30: Getting away gets easier

The lake view from our balcony as the sun set

When you’re a parent, a family vacation does not count as vacation from working.  So I have found that for me, getting away without the kids is super important if I’m going to feel refreshed.  Greg and I just came back from a four-day lake trip with old friends, and it was heavenly.  I can honestly say that if you need assurance you can escape for some adult time, our experience is that it gets easier over time to leave the kids behind.

Perhaps you are a parent that doesn’t believe in ever leaving your children behind for vacation.  (As my high school student government teacher used to say, you are entitled to your opinion, however wrong it might be.)  Or maybe you think someday you’ll do it, but not until your kids are much older.  (Completely understandable, but still wrong.)  Or maybe you’re interested in doing it after you’re no longer breastfeeding, whenever that day seems to come, or even a soon as you can find someone willing to give you the break.  (I was one of those, so of course I think I’m right.)  And though I will admit it is difficult to do, I would highly encourage it for the sake of your marriage and sanity, provided you have friends or family you would trust to take care of your kids.

I have come up with a definition of stay-at-home parenting.  It is like having a challenging, awesome job, mostly because things are always changing and you adore your colleagues.  But the difference between this job and all others is that you live with your co-workers, too.  So even though you might not be working 24/7 per se, your boss and work friends are always around and you are inevitably immersed in work conversations, gossip and to-do lists.  I don’t see how anyone could do it without needing some time off, not only to refresh but also to remember that there are other things going on in the world.  (And this need I’m sure heightens for working parents.)

When Eliza was about 11-months-old, Greg and I took our first overnight trip away.  We left her with both of my parents at our house and about a two-page detailed instruction guide regarding her schedule and every potential scenario they might face and how to handle it.  We ended up at a restaurant about 2 hours away where we did not have cell phone reception.  (This was not on purpose.)  It was unnerving, especially because I was pregnant and thus not willing to use a good cocktail to calm myself.  But the restaurant called our house for us and reported that all was well.  We were able to breathe a bit easier, relax and enjoy ourselves.  It was the first successful attempt and it worked: Eliza and my parents survived unscathed.  We were gone a total of about 16 hours.  And it was amazing.

Then a few months later we took a “babymoon” outside of the country.  We left Eliza with my mom for nearly six days, again with detailed instructions.  Both my mom and Eliza came out of it alive.  Each time you successfully leave, it builds confidence that you can do it the next time.  (And video chatting helps!)

Then along came Zach.  That complicated things.  It’s one thing to leave a single toddler behind.  It’s another to leave a baby and a toddler.  We took our first overnight trip away when Zach was 7-months-old and Eliza was about to turn 2.  We of course left detailed instructions and I had to pump a lot.

And now, here we are.  Zach is 20-months and Eliza is 3.  Though Zach still isn’t the perfect sleeper, he’s generally now in a phase where he’s done teething (until those 2-year molars come in), he eats table food, and he and Eliza play together.  This time, I left my mom behind without a schedule or instructions and a hurricane approaching.  She knows they nap in the afternoon and when they generally go to bed.  They can feed themselves.  They tell you when they’re hungry and thirsty.  (Well, Zach pretty much just points and screams, but I consider that communication.)

The point is that I’ve never been as comfortable as I was this time around.  I had less of an idea what they would eat and do than ever before, and I was okay with that.  Time spent getting spoiled by grandma is important.  And though I missed the kids terribly, Greg and I were able to celebrate our ten years of marriage by having fun and enjoying each other, which is what made us want to be together and have a family in the first place.

So, if you’re waiting until it “feels right” to leave your child or children at home (even just for a date night), I would highly encourage you to get out and do it.  Because marriage is hard work that’s worth working for … and sometimes that means taking a vacation.

When traveling, in the words of Lone Starr: “Take only what you need to survive.”

Spaceballs is a fantastic movie, a true classic.  There’s a part where Lone Star tells Princess Vespa to pack lightly for their walk through the desert.  They discover she has brought …

LONE STARR: What’s this?  I said take only what you need to survive.

PRINCESS VESPA: It’s my industrial strength hair dryer.  And I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!

LONE STARR: Okay, princess.  That’s it.  The fairy-tale is over.  Welcome to real-life.  You want this hot-air machine?  You carry it.

The definition of a vacation, according to, is a “period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday.”

Why is it, then, that I usually come home from a vacation feeling like I need a vacation from my vacation?  Let’s face it: when you’re a parent, getting away with the kids is not going to magically suspend parental duties; and getting away without the kids leaves you with the stress of worrying about them while you’re away and a keen awareness of what’s piling up at home.

What makes it even worse is when the packing and unpacking become chores.  I spent four straight weekends from late March through late April traveling.  It seems the more into motherhood I get, the longer my suitcases, shopping bags and laundry piles remain sitting out somewhere they shouldn’t be once we’re home.  Sometimes it makes me wonder if traveling is even worth it.  Thus, here are some tips I’ve come up with to ease travel burdens (and I’m going to try to follow them ALL the next time I go somewhere):

1. Keep an electronic checklist of what you need to pack for each family member.  I especially found this helpful when I had to travel with pacifiers, bottles, pump parts, and the like.  I just keep adding and subtracting to this list every time we go somewhere.

2. If you travel often to the same place (as we do to Florida and Colorado to visit family), leave what you can there and keep an electronic, updated list of those items.  Then refer to it every time you are packing so you can know for sure what you don’t have to bring.

3. Keep a dopp kit for each family member that never gets unpacked.  It should have all the essential toiletries.  Remember – the key word is essential.

4. Buy sample sizes of hygenic items or make your own with small plastic bottles and tubes so you don’t have to pack or unpack the big bottles.  If you come back from a trip and the little shampoo bottle is running low, refill it right then.  All of your liquids SHOULD fit in a quart-sized zip top plastic bag.  Keep this bag packed and ready to go so all you have to do is grab it.

5. Leave the industrial strength hair dryer and other items you really can survive without at home.  Now that I’m a mom, I rarely take jewelry or non-essential makeup on trips.

6. Be creative with what you take so you can mix and match four items to make six outfits – a skirt, a pair of shorts or pants, and two shirts should allow for six combinations of outfits.

7. If you can’t plan to do laundry and the weather is pretty predictable, pack one extra outfit in your carry-on and otherwise, pack exactly the number of outfits you need for each day you’re gone – and no more.

8. For short trips, choose items from your closet that will all go with the same purse and shoes.

9. Stuff socks (or bras or panties, if you dare) in your shoes to save space.

10.  Inevitably, things don’t fit back into your suitcase to come home as well as they did when you left.  I always pack folded clothes on the way out and then roll each item to re-pack the suitcase.  Rolling your clothes makes them take up less space, making room for the items you (inevitably) bought.

11. Take extra plastic bags for dirty clothes or wet ones; when re-packing to return, I always make a “dirty clothes” suitcase filled with everyone’s dirty things (that are literally just thrown in) and a “clean” suitcase.  The dirty one goes straight to the laundry room and the clean one goes straight to a bedroom (where it often sits for days on end).

If I follow all the above tips the next time I travel, I know I will be more at ease and have less stress upon return, when life goes back to “ludicrous speed.”  You just gotta love that movie!

Parenting lesson #9: When it rains, it pours, so make sure you have a good umbrella

Blue skies are ahead if you keep looking up!

Sometimes things just stink.  Sometimes you throw your hands up in the air and ask in a very sarcastic voice, “Really, God?  Is there anything else you want to throw my way right now?”  And sometimes, the answer to that is, “Yes,” and then things stink harder.

You might recall from my last post that two weeks ago we all had sinus infections and began antibiotics.  This has been a house of illness since then.  I’ve had what we’ll call “stomach” issues for two weeks.  Zach came down with the chicken pox on Saturday.  (It’s a long story.)  The urgent care doctor also said he has mild pneumonia.  He has to stay in the house for a week.  I came down with an ear infection Sunday.  Something is “off” about Eliza, where she doesn’t want to go to school and is super clingy.  She busted her upper lip Sunday and had to go to the dentist.  Last week our fridge broke.  Last night the dishwasher did.  Greg is moving into an office amid all of this.  I think I’m forgetting something.

People say “When it rains, it pours,” and sometimes that is the case, like with the past several days for us.  But it’s when we are at our weakest and most needy that God provides a big umbrella.

We have been covered with offers for help.  One friend lent me numbing ear drops so I could sleep Sunday night before being able to see a doctor on Monday.  Two friends – one who has three of her own kids – offered to take Eliza off my hands, and so I was able to get her out of the house for three glorious hours yesterday.  Two friends offered to bring us dinner.  One of them – another friend with three kids – made us a fantastic meal Monday night that saved the day.  My next door neighbor picked up milk for me and I ordered the rest of my groceries online through Peapod.

There was a time when I thought reaching out to others for help would somehow reflect weakness on my part.  But since having kids, I’ve realized it’s impossible to live life without community.  And in our recent time of need, my friends and neighbors have really covered us and blessed us.

It’s only Wednesday and I already find that we’re coming out the other end of this.   And that’s how it is with life’s ebbs and flows and calms and storms.  The current stench is lifting and I smell a brighter day – one when I can help others in the same way they have helped me, because when your life is full of sunshine, you should have an umbrella to spare.

Sometimes grace is all you’ve got

Today, simply put, is “one of those days.”  And it’s only 1:23 in the afternoon right now.

Last night I wasn’t tired when I went to bed, so I allowed myself to go to sleep late.  I said to Greg, “Gosh, I hope Zach doesn’t get up at 5:30 again like this morning.”  I prayed, wanting to have a good attitude, asking God that regardless of when I would be woken up, that I would be the mom He wants me to be.  Of course, I also requested that his will would coincide with mine, meaning an appropriate wake-up time would be around 7 a.m.  I asked God to give me the strength to love Greg and our kids the way He wants me to love them.  (This is a consistent prayer of mine.)

Then God, or Zach, or both of them, woke me up at 5:07 this morning.  It’s only mid-day, and I’ve already been working more than eight hours.  When my day starts like this, it’s so easy for the runaway train of negativity to take over my thoughts.  Exhaustion for me leads to impatience, lashing out, and a slew of other not-so-beautiful traits.

The day has not presented itself with more challenges than any normal day would with a 27-month-old know-it-all toddler and a 10-month-old curious and fast-moving baby.  But every tug on my pants, temper tantrum and trip over the dog is just that much more difficult to suck down with a smile than usual.

Speaking of the dog, she really has a barking issue.  When anyone comes near the door, she sometimes barks so forcefully that it shoots a poop nugget out of her butt.  I’m not kidding.  We’ve seen it happen.  Today during lunch, a UPS guy dropped off a package and Abbey went crazy as usual.  I was finally enjoying a few bites of my food when I thought I smelled poop.  I looked behind me and Abbey was dragging her butt on the ground.  Apparently two poop nuggets strung together by – something (hair?) – had shot out from the attempted delivery man assault, but not all the way.  This was the capstone to my already “crappy” morning.  I shouted at her to get outside and then Clorox wiped the floor that had just been mopped an hour earlier.

And now, looking back, while God is giving me a respite while the kids nap, I am thankful for the peace and quiet.  And I am laughing at how ridiculous it is that my dog does that.  Right now I can pick up my Bible and spend some time reading.  But before I do that, I have to admit I’m a bit sad, disappointed in myself for my lack of self-control in the tough moments.  I wish I were more capable of handling every situation with poise.  I wish that every time I prayed for peace, joy, patience and restraint that I would have them.

When I feel like a bad mom for blowing up or losing it, I have to remember that God not only covers a multitude of sins, but in the words of Pastor Bob Coy, He covers a multitude of scruples.  I am so thankful for the grace He gives me, and the grace my kids do, too.  I am praying I can be as gracious to them this afternoon.

So Lord, please bless me in this short time I have.  I want to spend time with you and I want to take a nap.  But it’s already 1:47.  Please let them both sleep until at least 3 p.m.  But if not, help me to be okay with whenever I am back on duty.  And help me to have a better attitude this afternoon than I did this morning.  Amen.

I get by with a little help from my friends. And Greg.

This weekend was exactly what I predicted – magical.  But it almost didn’t happen.

Last week Eliza got what I thought were bug bites right along her diaper line.  They continued to get more red and actually enlarge, such that on Thursday, I started drenching them in Neosporin.  On Friday, the ointment didn’t seem to be doing much to help.  Also on Friday, I decided not to budge when Eliza didn’t want to eat what was in front of her.  So, when she didn’t finish her eggs for breakfast, I offered them – and only them – to her for her snack and lunch as well.  She refused to eat.  I told Greg we must not give in to her strong-arming antics.

On the way to the airport, and I mean, FIVE MINUTES from being dropped off for my weekend getaway, Eliza made a bit of a choking noise from the backseat, so I looked to see what was going on.  She had puked spinach and cheese omelet combined with milk all over herself and had tried to breathe in during the process.  It just kept coming.  When she was finished she whimpered, “Towel?  Towel?”  I grabbed napkins from the glovebox and tried to reassure her as she wiped herself off a bit.  And thus began the downward mental spiral.  “She has a stomach virus.  That’s why she hasn’t wanted to eat all day.  I’m a bad mother for forcing her to try to eat her eggs.  She must have been nauseated all day and I am the jerk who kept trying to make her eat.  How can I leave her at a time like this?”  We pulled up to the curb and Greg cleaned up the mess while I tried not to freak out, especially about missing my flight or leaving them in their predicament.  I knew Greg would have to come home and wash her car seat straps and cover.  Eliza felt hot.  She was going to have to ride home in a diaper.  And I just said, “Greg, can I go now?” in an annoyed voice.  I was afraid he would say, “You’re really going to leave like this?”  But instead, he just had me put Eliza in the car so she’d be safe and off I went with Zach, beginning to feel nauseated myself.

I spent the entire flight thinking I was coming down with whatever stomach virus Eliza had, making sure I had a barf bag at the ready.  I imagined Eliza yakking all over herself on the car ride home, and Greg trying to take care of her, and her crying out for me, the mom who had deserted her in her time of need.  How could this happen exactly when I was supposed to get a weekend off?  I sent Greg a text when I landed, and I didn’t receive a response.  I immediately assumed he was dealing with a hysterical child who was severely ill and could not be consoled.

We finally talked later on, and he told me Eliza hadn’t gotten sick again and was sleeping well.  He said her butt, though, looked awful and he was guessing it was a staph infection that was spreading rapidly.  My mind jumped to the worst.  I have a friend whose son has had a handful off staph infections in the past few months, and he has had multiple surgeries on them.  It has not been pleasant, to say the least.  In this moment, instead of being rational, I immediately got more concerned again, thinking she would need to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night and have emergency staph infection removal surgery.  Greg actually got annoyed that I was being so meddlesome because he was in control and was going to take her to the pediatrician in the morning.  I continued to wonder how I could be such a horrible mother, leaving them both at such a time.

Missy offered to drive me home, but I knew that was irrational.  I kept praying for God to protect Eliza and take care of her.  The next day, after getting seven straight hours of uninterrupted sleep, dropping Zach off to be babysat by a friend’s mom, and receiving a call from Greg confirming Eliza had impetigo but was being treated and in good spirits, I began my magical day.  I was finally, FINALLY, able to relax.

Why is it so easy as a mother to feel so guilty about leaving your children when you know you need the break?  Why did I immediately assume the worst when Eliza threw up?  Why does it seem so wrong to expect anyone other than myself to clean up barf, deal with sick kids who can’t sleep, or make doctor visits?  Why does it turn my insides out to imagine my sick child calling for me but for someone else to answer that call?

I needed that trip to remind me how to “let go and let God.”  I must remember, always, that taking a break doesn’t make me a bad mother and I can’t allow the guilt to creep in for needing “me-time.”  I can’t say nor believe bad things about myself because I am not perfect.  Because I have to tell you, this weekend was really awesome.  And Eliza’s impetigo is healing (praise God).  And this, too, shall pass.

How do you feel like “you” again? (And do you ever?) I might know.

Because I went from being pregnant, to nursing, to being pregnant and nursing, to being just pregnant, and now to nursing again, I am currently at 2 2/3 years without having a “normal” hormone level.  I’m not really sure if there will be long-term repercussions of living like this (and I have no idea how Michelle Duggar has survived!), but I can say that I struggle daily with my identity as “Christine” and not just my identity as “Mommy” or “housewife” or “maid.”  So sometimes, no, often times, I find my sanity comes from doing things that I did before kids.  I must say that these little mini-breaks are my current life preserver.

Today’s time to myself was a visit to the salon for a cut and color.  There is something super-restorative about having someone else figure out how to make you look amazing and then do it for you.  I have the BEST stylist in the world (Holly, you rock!), and every time I get my hair done, I leave feeling like it has never looked that good.  And the process – OH THE PROCESS – of getting a head massage, and sitting and reading (yes, US Weekly or People, and no, I’m not sure why because now it seems like every page is full of “stars” I don’t know), or sitting and knitting (which I also did), is pure bliss.  Someone else was feeding and playing with Zach.  Someone else was entertaining Eliza’s constant chatter, demands for attention, and temper tantrums.  And I was doing … whatever I wanted to do.  It’s a flashback of what life was like before kids, and I would be institutionalized if I didn’t do this.  Some women have endless supplies of God-given mommy patience; some get medicated; I get a babysitter.

The point is that we all have to find what makes us tick and then make those things priorities.  I try to schedule a hair appointment for every 9 weeks, get regular pedicures, and go shopping with a friend once in a while.  But more often, I find respite by getting to the grocery store alone, or taking a bath at night, or having Greg take the kids for 2 hours while I run needed errands by myself.  This weekend, I’m taking a trip to visit my college roommate while Eliza stays back with Greg.  We’re taking a cooking class and going to tea, and having a babysitter for Zach while we do these things.  And it is going to be magical.

I know that I am a better mother when I get breaks from my kids.  My life changed forever nearly two years ago when Eliza was born, and though my hormones might not be the same (and I probably am a different person now), I take every chance to return to “normalcy” that I can.  What do you do?