Getting away will cost you: the aftermath of grandma

We're on a boat ... without the kids!

I came home to my normal life from our anniversary getaway and wondered how on earth anybody does this.

Before I begin, I know my mom is going to read this, so first of all, mom, you know how I feel about you and this is not reflective of you doing anything wrong; rather, this is more about the grandma’s right to spoil her grandchildren.

Getting away without the kids was fabulous.  There was peace.  There was quiet.  I even read for fun, instead of all the non-fiction how-to parent stuff.  But after being home from our trip for about 15 minutes, I realized my life is consumed by constant, loud noise: Eliza singing her ABC’s on repeat; Zach screaming at the top of his lungs to get my attention, clenching his fists by his side like he just kicked the winning soccer goal in the European Cup; Eliza tapping on me in mid-conversation, saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy – look at me!”; me asking her to give me a few minutes to talk to Omi (grandma); Zach crying because Eliza took away his car while singing her ABCs; Eliza switching to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” because I asked her to sing something different (funny – different words, but same, darned tune).

Unless they are sleeping, there is always noise.  And if there isn’t any noise while they’re awake, then there is trouble.  You can’t win.

The contrast is stark between the quiet of an adult-filled lake house and the ear-damaging loudness of my kid-filled house.  It was amazing to realize just how much ambiance I hear on a daily basis.  But there was something else.  I also realized the kids were tired and more used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it.  There were more whining demands and tantrums.  It has been tough adjusting.

I’ve tried to embark on a re-training schedule.  Even today, Eliza whined to me that she wanted to go downstairs to play with her kitchen, so I turned off the TV and starting to go with her, and then she threw a fit about wanting to finish what was on TV.  In that moment, I felt like a puppet, and instead of caving into her antics, I picked her up, took her to bed, and told her it was nap time.  Her tantrum got worse, turning into one of those times she could barely get her words out amid her tears and gasps for air.  I kept my cool and didn’t budge, and she realized her efforts were futile.  I walked away.  She fell asleep.  Which is exactly what she needed.

I read one mom’s perspective today that when her kids were little, she could never get enough sleep.  And when they were toddlers, she never had enough patience.  It’s so true.  Although I still don’t get enough sleep, patience is really what rearing toddlers and pre-schoolers requires.  I am a broken record of behavior correction and modeling.  Sometimes I am dumbfounded by how many times both Zach and Eliza will test whether I mean what I say.  And since grandma came, I’ve had a lot more testing.

But our trip was still worth it.  We’re getting back to normal, little by little (which is to say a place that still requires vast vats of patience).  It is really hard, but it is also really awesome.  And at least today, I know I can do this.

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!

How to survive a lengthy road trip with young ones

From December 6th through January 6th, our family slept in 8 different places.  We packed up our new minivan with the kids and the dog and headed south to see family, friends, and go on a cruise.  It was … amazing, fun and exhausting.  It made me realize the extended road trip can be a part of the type-A mom’s travel repertoire with the right tools.  Here’s what I learned that I will remember for the next one:

1) Drive as much as you can when your kids would normally be asleep.  If you have young children like we do, this is a must.   We had a 15-hour drive, and we set out right when afternoon naps should have begun.  They slept well, then hung in there a couple of hours until we stopped for dinner.  After dinner, we drove another four hours before stopping for the night – and they slept then, too.  So we made it halfway without the kids really making any noise at all.

2) Break up the drive. Don’t expect little kids to be able to sit in their car seats for more than about three-to-four hours at a time (whether they’re sleeping or not).  You can plan fun, half-day stops at destinations along the way if you’re not on a timetable (think South of the Border).  Or if you just need to “get there,” seek out the Cracker Barrels (because between the rocking chairs and store inside you can keep a two-year-old entertained) and the Chick-Fil-As with indoor playgrounds (so your kids can spend some energy regardless of what the weather is like – and sanitized hand wipes are provided).

3) Have a portable DVD player. When we recently bought our minivan, Evita the Silver Bullet (aptly-named because she has liberated us and has 248 horsepower), we decided against the installed entertainment system.  Instead, for a third of the cost, we purchased an iPad and bought the case that attaches to the back of a headrest.  This was the most important item we had for achieving peace in the car.  We loaded it full of episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and a few movies, as well as educational apps that entertained Eliza for 15-20 minutes at a time.

4) Pack a lot of snacks. It’s amazing how tiny pieces of food can not only stave off boredom and hunger, but also buy you quiet time.  Raisins, Cheerios and Goldfish are some of the best options for keeping kids happier longer.

5) Sit with your kids. For parts of the drive when we knew both kids would be awake, one of us sat in-between the two car seats to help entertain them.  This especially made a difference with Zach, our one-year-old.

6)  Pack long-term and short-term bags. Put items you won’t need for the drive in heavier, larger suitcases that get packed underneath everything else.  Pack smaller, weekender-type bags with all the essentials.  That way, loading and unloading all of your stuff along the way into random hotels won’t be as much of a hassle.

7) Play games and sing songs. Take turns choosing who gets to be in charge of the radio and make sure your kids hear some music that they like.  When my kids get older, I know I will play the same game my parents played with us.  If you grow up near farmland, you will inevitably see cows.  My parents always promised us a dime for every cow we caught peeing and a quarter for every one we caught pooping.  You’d be amazed at how long you can entertain children who are straining to see whether a cow is peeing or pooping while they fly by your car window at 70-miles-per-hour.  I have also pre-emptively bought a “ROAD TRIP BINGO” game.  (  I’m excited to play that when the kids get older.

Our maiden voyage in Evita turned out great, and we look forward to the next trip, whether it’s just a weekend or another whirlwind.

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?