Traveling with kids, Pt. 1

Many people think my husband and I are crazy. Or brave. I’ll tell you: its an intoxicating mix of both. We travel pretty regularly with our kids when we can, and at least one major trip every year. We took the big plunge in September of 2013 with a trip to Rome with our just-shy-of-one-year-old son. We’d taken a few domestic trips with him and thought, Why not? We can do this!

I’m not really sure what drugs we were taking at the time. I wish I could remember because I could really use some of that shit right now. ROME. A 9 hour flight with a wiggly kid who is just on the verge of walking. Brilliant! The time to travel is when they are INFANTS, people. Little slugs that lay around and sleep. Pack ’em up and go go go. Use your maternity leave to work on that bucket list. It’s infinitely easier. Sure, you’re lugging diapers and wipes and maybe a breast pump around, but trust me when I tell you that all of those are easier to carry than a one year old that wants to go places. On his own. Without you holding him down.

Some folks told us to give our kid Benadryl. And we were all, “Drug our child? No! Why would we do THAT??” Idiots. (Us. Not them.)

But really, no big deal. We were going to Rome! Land of cobblestone streets and stairs! So. Many. Stairs. Should I add that neither of us had been to Rome before? Nah. It doesn’t really matter. Because even if you have been places pre-kids, you are never looking around going, “Yeah, this would be a really easy/hard place to come with a baby.” And if you are, then you have some special kind of superpower and I would like to meet you and read a comic book about your life.

So, we packed up the diapers and the kid and our sense of adventure and we went to Rome. If memory serves (and it’s crap these days) he slept for 2.5 hours on the way over. And the other 6.5? ALL ACTION. Squirmy wormy action. It was an overnight flight and we arrived at 6am utterly exhausted.

But let exhaustion stop us? Never! If I could pinpoint our biggest mistake (No, it was not our decision to go), it was doing too much in the first few days. With jet lag those first days were a blurry mess, and we tried to hit the town and see the sights. Did you know Rome is just FULL of SIGHTS? We should have been finding nearby playgrounds and taking lots of naps. But no! We had paid good money to cross an ocean and we were going to go SEE ALL THE THINGS. Our poor childless-at-the-time friend from London came during those first few days and stayed with us. Let’s just say they were not our finest moments. We were seriously afraid for a while that we had scared him off having kids forever.

We stayed in a lovely AirBNB in a central location. Mom Tip: In many instances renting a house or apartment is the way to go. It gives you the space and amenities that make things feel a little more like home. (Now, if you are going to a resort-type place with a swim-up bar and kids camp, I’m willing to make exceptions)

We eventually settled into a routine. Elliott would wake up super early (like 5/530). I would get up and pop him in the stroller and we would walk the mostly empty streets of Rome. I’m so very NOT a morning person, but having the streets all to ourselves, without hordes of tourists, was pretty amazing. We would walk by the Pantheon and choose a small cafe. I would get a coffee and Elliott would destroy a pastry. We enjoyed our lovely breakfast together and then continued our walk. About an hour later, my husband and I would swap, and I would take a nap. We would reconvene as a family of 3 and hit one major Rome must-see. Then, and probably the best part, a big delicious lunch and a bottle of wine, and back to the apartment for epic naps. We would hit another attraction in the late afternoon or just walk around exploring a particular part of town, and then dinner.

One of the best discoveries of our trip is that Italians love kids. Maybe it helped that Elliott was impossibly blonde with blue eyes, but whatever the reason, I felt people went out of their way to be nice to us. Waiters in particular were the best. They would bring us child sized versions of menu items, offer to play with Elliott, and one waiter at a pizza joint took off his own belt to fashion a strap on a broken high chair for us.

Of course, just as we felt like we had confidently found our groove, it was time to go home. I wish I could say the flight back was easier, but…9+ hours with a wiggly kid and this time he slept all of 30 minutes. Josh and I worked in 20 minute shifts. One of us would read or watch a movie for 20 minutes and then we would switch. It was all we could manage. Back and forth trade-offs across the Atlantic ocean. Are we there yet?

It was crazy. It was fun. It was crazy fun and it made us some great memories. Ok, well, Elliott won’t remember it, but we will. Out of this trip grew our motto “We would rather be traveling than not traveling.” We say this to each other occasionally when we travel and things get tough. But really–being in a new place, eating new foods and seeing new things will always be awesome, even with littles in tow. Sometimes that means standing in the Roman Forum with a sweaty crying toddler, and sometimes that means watching your kid excitedly devouring Roman-style pizza from a rickety wooden highchair with a makeshift seatbelt fashioned from an old man’s belt. And both of those things are fantastic.

Turning a Terrible Two

JULY 2

My youngest turned two today and I’ve been a little teary. It started last night. I took some video of him running around with balloons we got from a friends birthday party earlier that day to use it as a Happy Birthday Facebook post for him. He’s so joyful in the videos. SO BIG. Running around with confidence of a boy, not the wobbly baby run of 4 or 5 months ago.

Then I put him to bed. Bittersweet. Last night as a one year old. I hugged him tightly and laid him down in the crib (how much longer until we change to a toddler bed?). Then I stole one last sweet kiss through the crib slats and closed the door with a sigh.

He speaks in multiple word sentences (granted, 99% start with “I want…”). He runs and jumps and climbs, and SO FAST. He started day care a couple weeks ago, and goes 3 days a week. It’s not just him and me every day now. His world is expanding.

He is two. And two for this kid is a whole different ballgame than it was for our first. Townes became a terrible two a few months early, and it’s been trying. Despite being veteran parents of almost 5 years, we don’t quite know what to do with this one. He throws us some mean curveballs. I suppose every kid gives you something different that makes you feel like a first time parent all over again, right? Bumbling, unsure of yourself. All out screaming at the drop of a hat for no apparent reason? Check. Turning into a total terrorist every time we go out to eat? Check. Shrieking at ear-splitting decibels the instant you tell him no? Check. Check. CHEHHHHCK.

But he’s also the sweetest (when he isn’t screaming). When he is giving kisses, he gives them liberally, and after giving one to you, will say “Elliott kiss!” and run to give his brother one. He is an enthusiastic giver of cheers and sometimes dinner can’t start until we complete several rounds of cheers at Townes’ insistence. Our oldest son is very into baseball and Townes is voluntarily Elliott’s Bat Boy, running to pick up his bat when he drops it to run to first, and collecting hit balls and returning them to his brother. We call Townes the Barnacle because he has a special attachment, both literally and figuratively to me, and while sometimes this is exhausting, it is sweet and I know when he stops wanting me to hold him I will be heartbroken.

Such is the mindset of the mom watching her last baby grow up. (And to the people asking me if I am going to have any more, I’d be happy to show you a video of one of Townes’ epic meltdowns). He might be a terrible two, but I’ll take it.

Party Pooper

Stick a fork in me. I am DONE.

I just spent 3 hours at a 5 year old’s birthday party, and I would like to make a confession. I hate birthday parties. I hate planning them. I hate going to them. (To be clear, I’m talking about kid parties, but you probably got that.) I do realize this is totally not about me. My son had a blast, and to be fair, it was a fantastic party at the science museum. They had breakfast, did some coloring, and then saw the butterfly exhibit. After that, a discussion of vertebrates and invertebrates where the kids got to touch a turtle, a salamander, a ferret, and see a scorpion light up under a blacklight. And then cake. So yeah. Pretty cool. Thanks kid parents! Now you’ve upped the ante and I’m totally stressed about MY kid’s 5th birthday party. Did I mention I hate planning parties?

Due to work scenarios, I am often the parent that goes to birthday parties. Now, remember, I have two kids. One is a fairly mellow, rules-following, people-pleasing 4.5 year old, and the other is the rules-don’t-apply-to-me, bull-in-a-china-shop almost-two-year old. Elliott, the 4 year old, wants me to sit with him and participate with him in the crafts or activities that are happening. Townes, the 2 year old wants to be running headlong in the other direction to get into something he should probably not be getting into. Then there is me. Caught in the middle, trying to please one kid, and keep the other from killing himself, while simultaneously trying to connect with the parents because I’m new-ish to this city and I’m trying to make and nurture new friendships. Juggling act.

Parties in someones home are ideal for me, although admittedly maybe not as fun for the kids. I like a finite space. Museums have twists and turns and stairs and corridors that Townes will surely want to explore and can disappear down one in the blink of an eye. That kid is FAST. Although in any setting, he will find a way to keep me on my toes, whether its grabbing a water bottle and tipping it all over himself, or pushing a chair up to the counter and attempting to get into the birthday cake. Oh yeah–and I was in the middle of a conversation with that mom about their summer vacation plans and I just freaking ghosted her, and probably will not see her again until next birthday party.

I find myself saying sorry a lot at birthday parties. Sorry to Elliott, who thought I had abandoned him as I raced around the corner to find Townes. Sorry to the host that Townes just destroyed the pipecleaner bracelet station, sorry to some parent that I had to turn and bolt in the middle of our conversation.

Birthday parties we’ve hosted up to this point pretty low key. Invite the kids over to our house to run around and be crazy, maybe color or run through the sprinkler or have a mini baseball game in the backyard. Hot dogs and cupcakes, beer for the parents. Basta cosi. But I feel like 5 is the gateway to the other side. Renting rooms, booking kid gyms, having cooking classes. My laissez faire party planning ain’t going to cut it anymore.

End of the party! Time for party favors! Guess how I feel about party favors? UGH. Bags of tiny things that the 2 year old will want to grab and possibly eat, and the 4 year old will be enamored with for 15 minutes then will get scattered to the winds in my house. Cheap trinkets that I will surreptitiously round up and dispose of as soon as I’m sure Elliott has forgotten about them. And we all do it, because we all do it. Its a vicious cycle. You gotta have party favors! Have a party with no favors? Unthinkable.

We take our gift bag and say our thank yous and head for the door. Lather, rinse, and repeat. We have another birthday party tomorrow.

The Cult of Motherhood

So, raise your hand if you participated in some Mother’s Day tea or other event at your child’s school this year. Adorable, right? I imagine these things are all pretty similar, so you probably had a morning much like mine. I showed up to a little breakfast of danishes and fruit and juice. (My toddler was thrilled because there is only one food group to a toddler: carbs). We all sat in a circle on the rug and the kids sang songs to us. You Are My Sunshine, Happy Mother’s Day to You! and my own personal favorite: MOTHERP. Oh, you don’t know MOTHERP? I didn’t either. Here goes:

M is for the Many things you gave me
O is for the Other things you gave me
T is for the Thousand things you gave me
H is for the Hundred things you gave me
E is for Everything you gave me
R is for the Rest of the things you gave me
P is for the Presents that you gave me
Put them all together and they spell MOTHERP!
(children dissolve into giggles)

The kids then went around and took turns saying “I love my mother because…” First up was Emme, who revealed “I love my mother because she lets me help her do laundry.” Right on, kid. You are welcome at my house anytime. Elliott offered up “I love my mother because she takes me to play basketball at the basketball court.” Hmmm, well…it’s actually Dad that does that, but OK. I’ll take it. I freeze when I’m put on the spot like that too. We were then presented with handmade gifts. Elliott’s class made necklaces. That’s a picture of the one he made me up there at the top of this post. I love it! Not made of macaroni, and thus pretty wearable in public. All in all, super heartwarming. File it in the memory bank to keep you warm when they become ungrateful teenagers, right?

And so here we are. Mother’s Day has passed, and school ends next week, and then summer vacation. Oh and somewhere there in the hazy heat of summer, Father’s Day happens, doesn’t it? Fathers don’t get invited to school for a breakfast in their honor. Father’s don’t get serenaded, and told why they are loved in front of a whole class of kids. (Fathers don’t get handmade necklaces, but they’re probably not too broken up about that.) In the midst of summer vacation, our dads are getting shafted, which is why I think we need to move Father’s Day up a bit (or have year-round school, but that’s an essay for another time).

Sure, you can have your own Father’s Day celebration at home and do all those things-make breakfast, sing songs, etc. But I think there is something to be said about preparing as a class and giving the idea that dads deserve praise too the reinforcement of a group celebration.

What I’m getting at is the abolishment of the Cult of Motherhood. Having a class party for moms and not dads enforces the idea of the Cult of Motherhood for our offspring’s impressionable minds. Yes, it’s super awesome to have a day and a celebration for the hard work I do as a mom. And yes, I think that even today moms still do in many circumstances more of that heavy lifting of parenthood for a variety of reasons. But dads are in the trenches too, and the more we send a message of equality to our kids, the more equal the future will become.

The Cult of Motherhood is killing us. You know what it is, even if you’ve never given it much thought until reading these lines. The Cult of Motherhood says that being a mother is the most important job a woman can do. The Cult of Motherhood degrades those that can’t have kids or don’t want to have kids. The Cult of Motherhood shames working moms, and lays guilt at all of our feet whenever we choose something for ourselves over our children. The Cult of Motherhood celebrates Pinterest Moms and perfect homemade birthday cakes, and highly-planned crafting afternoons that most of us won’t ever live up to. The Cult of Motherhood has got to go.

Every time you watch a movie where the dad is a bumbling idiot played for laughs, know the Cult of Motherhood is alive and well. Have you ever seen a woman out in the wild with a misbehaving child? Chances are the people around are wondering why SHE can’t get her child under control. See a man out with a child having a tantrum, and I’d place bets that people are thinking, “Aw. That poor dad sure is having a hard time!”

I watch competent dads every day. Dads that I am exposed to are not these bumbling sit-com fathers. They are killing it. And if they aren’t killing it, they are having the same struggles of parenthood that moms are. We can’t keep putting moms on on a pedestal and expect them to know everything, while we perpetuate the idea that fathers know nothing. Fathers know. Fathers parent, they don’t babysit. Let’s raise up the dads and tear down some pedestals and start leveling this playing field a bit.

Equality will only come from a shift in thinking that includes dads more, and singles out mothers less. We don’t need to fight for maternity leave, we need to fight for parental leave. Every parent deserves to bond with a new baby, and have time to adjust to the upheaval that brings to your life. And it needs to be encouraged that dads TAKE that paternity leave. Just to have it available and not use it does nothing. And Dads need a celebration all their own with a classroom full of kids singing to them.

So, let’s move Father’s Day up to the 2nd Sunday in April, and get some lyrics together for a new song called FATHERP. Get crackin’.