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!

Becoming a mom can make you ugly – really

I was just jarred by a memory that I had long forgotten, probably because the part of my brain that controls self-esteem made me forget it.

In the days and weeks after having a baby, you really can look and feel like crap.  You still look pregnant, even though the baby and all that junk that comes with it (holler if you looked at your placenta and wish you hadn’t) are out.  And you can’t really find clean clothes and remember to brush your teeth, let alone put on makeup.

Eliza was maybe two-months-old, and I had a rare moment to get out by myself and feel like a person, so of course, Greg whisked me away on a romantic date, the kind you see in diamond commercials.  Okay, no really, I went to the grocery store alone.  I started my journey through the aisles, basking in the ability to focus on … whatever the heck I wanted.  Early on, I passed a woman who smiled gently at me, making eye contact, and I didn’t think anything of it.  Then I passed her again somewhere in the middle of the store and she did the same thing again.  It made me wonder if I knew her, and I tried, in my sleep-deprived, round-the-clock nursing and pumping state to conjure up a memory of this person because I was sure my brain was misfiring.  And finally, in the freezer section, it happened a third time.  But this time, she approached me.

Now, let me set the stage by saying I am pretty sure I had changed out of pajamas, grabbed a purse instead of a diaper bag and showered that day.  In my mind, I was not someone in need of a “What Not To Wear” intervention.  So this woman said very gently and sweetly, “May I give you one of my business cards?”

I am being totally honest when I say my first thought was, “This woman thinks I look good and wants me to model for her.”  Remember, I’ve already mentioned I was beyond sleep-deprived, and, of course, on the hormonal roller coaster that is life with a newborn.  I’m sure that visions of grandeur are par for the course, perhaps as a defense mechanism.

So I said, “Sure.”  And she handed me her card, smiled really big, and I walked away.  And then I looked at the card.  She was a Mary Kay consultant.  This woman thought I needed makeup.  She didn’t think I looked good.  She thought I looked like crap.

I was devastated, defeated and disappointed.  This woman had NO IDEA what I had been through, having a child get stuck all up in my junk for 30 hours before flying out like a cannon ball on the third suction attempt and ripping what was two holes into one big gaping mess.  My moment that was making me feel like an individual who had freedom to do normal things like go to the grocery store (on a Saturday night) was stolen from me by a woman who – seriously – was not attractive herself and had on way too much makeup!  (Take THAT!)

Fast forward to now, when thinking about this upcoming weekend brought back the memory.  A friend just started a Mary Kay business and she’s going to “fix me up” on Saturday.  And I’m here to tell you that if you’re in the ugly phase after having a baby, please know that all mothers have been there and it does go away.  I’m not offended by getting made up by a Mary Kay consultant now because I’m in a totally different place.  I can safely say that my body, my brain, and my life seem so much more like my own again.  It just takes a little (or in some cases, a lot of) time.

And of course, having had several good dates with my husband since then has made a difference, even if they didn’t include receiving diamonds.

Breaking out without breaking the budget: creative ways to get me-time

This morning Zach woke himself at 5:40 by pooping.  I changed his diaper, put him back in his crib with a few toys, and told him he needed to give me at least another hour.  By 6:24, he was crying again loudly, so in an effort to keep him from waking up Eliza, I covered his mouth firmly with my hand and stubbornly yet gingerly made my way down the creaking stairs.  I actually sat him on the sun room floor in his hysterical state and yelled at him to stop crying because it was too early for me to deal with it.  Of course, Eliza found her way down the stairs a few minutes later.  This has for some reason been the story of my mornings for about two weeks (since he got the chicken pox).  Well, not the yelling part, but the getting up part.

Needless to say, I need a break.  But I always need a break.  Every parent – working or not – always needs breaks.  I love my job and I love my family, but I have to get away sometimes.  It can be really challenging both financially and emotionally to break out of the house.  But I know I have to find ways to do it.

So, here are three suggestions:

1. Swap babysitting with a friend – I think my mom friends and I talk about this way more than we actually do it, but it really does work.  I’m going to challenge myself to commit to doing this for two date nights a month (so with two friends a month).  On Valentine’s Day, I babysat for a friend with three kids.  I put my own kids to bed, drove over to her house, and from about 7:30 until 9:30, she and her husband had a date night for I’m guessing about $30.  Her two eldest were awake and we just watched a movie and read books and they went to sleep at 8:30.  Then I read a book in the peaceful quietude for an hour.  It was actually a lot more restful than being in my own house.  What’s funny is my friend thanked me profusely, but said how much she felt guilty about having me care for her kids.  How silly is that?  I’ve put lots of my friends who don’t have kids yet to work so Greg and I can get alone time (thanks Jenn, Josh, Amy, Andy, Brandon and Gaby – just to name a few!).  There’s nothing to feel guilty about.  Real friends help each other out – even if that means sitting in your house for you so you don’t have to be there.

2. Start a Mom’s Night Out – Just today, I finally sent out invitations to the neighborhood moms I know for a monthly night out.  I polled everyone for their weeknight availability and we set a standing date and time of 8 p.m. on the third Monday of every month.  There are only two rules – stay under $20 a person and 20 minutes of travel time.  Starting it that late means that kids will be sleeping or close to it when we meet.  We will all rotate the responsibility to plan the event, and I’m sure we’ll do late dinners out, coffee shop meetings, and the like, but even doing chick flick nights or manis and pedis in someone’s home would be enough of a break.

3. Share babysitters – It’s a lot of fun to get together with moms during the day while your kids play with a babysitter.  You can do this pretty inexpensively and possibly even find a mother’s helper who is home-schooled or can come over after school.  My friend, Tracy, organizes bi-weekly meetings like this at her house where we drink tea and (in theory) knit.  I LOVE these.  We all pitch in for the babysitter and rotate bringing snacks.

If you have a great idea of how you balance your budget with your need to get away, post it here in the comments section!  I’ll probably read what you write sometime around 5 or 6 tomorrow morning – unless Zach decides to have some mercy on my tired soul.

I really can’t even pee in peace.

As a mother of two children younger than two, I find that many days I can’t even pee in peace. (In fact, sometimes I end up holding it far too long for the right moment when my 22-month-old daughter, Eliza, won’t try to shove something into my 6-month-old son, Zach’s mouth; I am convinced I will be in Depends in my 50s, and I will blame it on my children. But I digress … )

This blog is going to be about sharing successes, failures, and tips – from me to you and you to me. I know I am not the only at-home mother living in madness on this block. Before I became a mom, and then one who quit her job to stay home (wait a minute, why did I do that again?), I had my good days and bad days at work. But my life was my own. I made most of my decisions based on what I wanted to do. Things completely changed, and I know everyone warns you they will, but there is really no way to prepare for motherhood. Especially if you are a Type-A personality whose:

– idea of chaos was not having the laundry caught up (LOL!);

– concept of lack of sleep was based on going to bed at midnight and having to get up before 7; and

– idea of “put-together” changed overnight from having a pedicure, makeup applied, nice clothes, strapless bras, and 3-inch heels (I don’t know how anyone finds anything taller than that comfortable) to feeling pretty decent if I’ve managed to brush my teeth, get a shower and change out of my pajamas.

I could go on and on. But I won’t. (At least not in this first post.) I hope that if you visit, you will be affirmed, inspired, and perhaps learn or share something.  But I must go – BOTH kids are napping at the same time (hallelujah!) and nature calls!!