Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Achieve Enlightenment at an Airport with Children



The kids and I recently went to New York to visit my sister and my nephew. We had a marvelous time and tortured all of facebook with our million pictures. We saw all the things. We did all the stuff. We spent all the money. We touristed and ate and played and it was glorious.

The story I’m going to tell now is not about the glories of a fun NY vacation, however. It’s about the glories of airport travel. It was an experience. It was an adventure. I am enlightened and transcendent. 

Leaving Denver on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in February, I naively anticipated a smooth flight. We dutifully got to the airport two hours early, like 8am-ish, and got through security and to our gate at 9am with over an hour to spare before boarding. My lovely children, almost 7 and 5-1/2 years old, were pleasant and cheerful and well-behaved as they drew pictures in their notebooks while we waited. 

Fast-forward five hours. Yes, five. I guess weather on the east coast was effing everything up. At 2pm we finally boarded. 6pm we finally landed (8pm EST, mind you). SO. Not only did I have to entertain two kids for *five* hours in the airport, but another 4 hours on the plane—because, of course, we had to chill on the runway for extra time, for funsies. SOOOO. 10 hour day for what should have been a 3 hour flight.

And no m-f-ing iPad.
We colored and drew pictures and read books. On actual paper, people. Like barbarians. 

And yeah, DUH we sat at a bar for a couple hours and got lunch. And drinks. At 10am. I tried the "Manmosa". And a beer. But the best part was that my kids were freaking delightful ANGELS and we made it to LaGuardia intact (and they gave me a Bailey's and coffee for free on the plane!).

The pickup area was another story. I struggled to hold on to both kids while dragging a 50-pound rolly bag with two car seats unsteadily stacked on top, though lane after lane of jumbled cars, taxis, and shuttles amid nonstop frenzied honking. We were all wide-eyed as I pressed my phone between my face and shoulder, attempting to talk to my sister about where the eff she was as I looked wildly about for her car, clutching the kids’ puffy coats as best I could and barking ferociously for them to pay attention and stay RIGHT BY ME. It was the very definition of chaos. 

Then of course every parent knows the joys of installing a car seat. Try installing two, in the dark, in a car that is too small, in the middle of that pandemonium…trying to keep kids out of traffic before getting in the car, bearing in mind that we were totally blocking one of the lanes. I hardly even hugged my sister and nephew when we found them, and when I finally sat in the passenger seat with all kids safely in the back (okay, somewhat safely—I may not have installed them to the highest safety standards), I was ready for a stiff drink. Or five.

A week and half later after our wonderful visit and tearful goodbyes, I was foolishly optimistic about the rainy weather and our ability to fly through it on time. 

We left her house around 2pm on a wet, windy Wednesday. At that point our flight had a fifteen minute delay. No big deal. Doing anything with my sister means we’re always running late anyway. Later on that fifteen minutes turned in to 2-1/2 hours. Hmm. Deep breath. Still no big deal. We are pros. We spent five hours at DIA we can spend a few at LGA. Soon it became 4 hours. Deep breath. It’s out of my control. Inner peace. We got some airport snacks. We sat on the floor around an outlet to charge my phone. We drew, we colored, we read books. My daughter sang “One Fish Two Fish” to the whole airport and leapt and twirled with abandon around countless strangers. We did yoga. I made my son do some homework. We read. We painted our nails. 

THEN it became a 5-hour delay. We took it in stride. Breathe in, breathe out. At that point we wouldn’t be getting to Denver until midnight. I kept it together. The kids kept it together. We went to get dinner at the one little restaurant in that terminal that had tables. It was standing room only, but a nice man at one little table took pity on us and gave up his spot. I ordered a $12 German beer and did not regret it. When we finished up and were getting ready to give someone else our table, I found out it was delayed even more, but it was too late to sit back down, heartbreakingly. 

So we walked up and down the terminal some more and sat in all the places. The kids charmed everyone they met with their adorable antics and excellent behavior. They glommed onto a nice gal from Wisconsin who let them play on her computer with her for a while. My girl asked about seeing her way after that. They had bonded. Her name was Maggie.

You know my blog wouldn’t be complete without a poop story so here it is: the boy had a tummy ache. I took him to the bathroom like three times but he couldn’t do it without privacy. At home, he takes all his clothes off and spends like thirty minutes alone in there to do his business; that’s not really an option at a crowded airport. I pleaded with him to go potty before we got on the plane, but to no avail.

Sometime between 11pm and 12am EST, after three gate changes and a plane change or two, we were finally boarded. The parked plane was rocking in the wind. There was lightning. Sideways rain. Apparently wind shear was an issue. Once seated, my little guy was moaning about his tummy. The flight attendant told us once we took off he absolutely couldn’t go to the bathroom because it would be a very bumpy flight. After going back and forth a few minutes, he caved and trotted back to the teeny tiny airplane lavatory and immediately DESTROYED IT. 

Luckily for everyone aboard, after thirty minutes of taxiing around, LaGuardia grounded all flights and we went back to the gate. #brightside 

It was probably almost 1am when I called and woke up my sister to see how she felt about coming to get us. She said she would but was less than enthusiastic about waking up her son and driving an hour in the storm and trying to figure out how to get us back there the next day with work and school to deal with, and the more I thought about it, I was less than enthusiastic about waiting an hour only to go through the all that pickup/car seat chaos again. I just wanted to be done. As soon as f-ing possible.

The airline didn’t offer any hotel accommodations or discounts, so when I approached an airport employee asking about our options, he told me in very broken English to hurry to the third floor if we wanted to get a “couch” before they were all taken. 

At that point I was floating around on autopilot, dragging my bewildered, sleepy children all over the world, and just did what the man said. Let’s just check it out, I told myself. So up we went. 

It was an enormous room, as big as one end of the terminal. It was empty except for the hundreds of camping cots lining the walls. We arrived looking lost and were hastily directed to one of the few spots left with three cots together. I nodded blankly and followed. 

“Isn’t this awesome, kids? It’s a CAMP OUT!” I said. 

It looked like a refugee camp. Bedraggled masses with their luggage. Many people were already snoring, blankets over their heads. Lots of them were reading or looking at their phones. It was brightly lit with intense fluorescent light, which was not dimmed in the slightest at any time. 

Nonetheless, my zombie self spread out the giant paper towel sheets on the cots, put on the paper towel pillowcases, and covered the kids with blue fleece airport blankets. After a few minutes of very excited whispering, my daughter was out almost instantly. My son read Dr. Suess quietly to himself like one of the grownups and then fell asleep around 2am. They slept soundly through the night (if you can even call it night, seeing as they kicked us out by 7:30am). I still don’t know HOW they did it. 

SO. There was the bright fluorescent lighting to contend with. There were whispers and murmurs and giggles. There was the myriad of strangers snoring at a wide variety of pitches and tempos. There was the incessant, frantic honking from traffic outside—also with diverse pitches and tempos—yes, even at 3am. There was the crinkly paper bedding. There was the creaky folding cot that tipped forward if you put too much weight on one end and then came crashing loudly to the cold, hard floor with a metallic clang. There was the airport loudspeaker announcement every 20 minutes: “ATTENTION! Do not leave your luggage unattended…!” I’m surprised I don’t have it all memorized, actually. There was the very nice security guard strolling back and forth with his very squeaky shoes and his loud, startling walkie talkie. Then of course there was the gang of construction workers working on this heavy duty security garage-style door with their FREAKING POWER TOOLS.

But I wasn’t really there. I had transcended the situation. OR maybe I had just gone crazy. But I was laughing as I pulled my beanie over my eyes to “sleep”. It was surreal. One of those “if you didn’t laugh you’d cry” scenarios. 

The earliest flight to Denver on Thursday wasn’t until noon. Like a monk after meditating in a cave for thirty years, I took it all in stride. Or like a brainless zombie. Whatevs. Not only that but it was a flight to HOUSTON…ultimately getting us back to Denver at 7pm. As I see it, we were up at 7am EST, which is 5am MST, so by the time we landed we’d been at it for 14 hours. But on the first flight I got another free drink (a Leinenkugel's cranberry ginger shandy), then we got tasty cheeseburgers and quesadillas at the Houston airport, and I tried a tasty alcoholic beverage with mint and lemon and strawberry, so there’s that.

Shout out to my freaking amazing kids though. I really don’t know how they did so well. They were troopers. I think they actually had lots of fun living the airport for three days. Minimal whining and/or fighting—only adorable awesomeness. They discovered adventure and endurance, and learned how to entertain themselves for days with just two stuffed animals, a drawing pad, and some books; I discovered serenity and fortitude through surrendering to my own powerlessness and rolling with the punches.

What I’ve learned (beyond inner peace and unearthly patience, of course): Never. Travel. 

Ever.

Never ever ever again.

And maybe, if I do, to pack more snacks. And an iPad.

And that people can be super nice at an airport. Especially if you look desperate and have two kids.

And the boy needs to learn how to poop in public.

So the moral of the story (beyond never travel ever ever ever) is this: to achieve enlightenment in an airport with children, you need the following: lots of booze, sleepless bewildered delirium, and perfect children.

CAKE.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A NEW ERA



Well several major life changes are about to happen. The biggest changes we’ve had since buying our first house and having kids. Even bigger than having someone else's baby (in terms of our lives, that is)...

--Starting late August, my kids will both be in school full-time. Kindergarten and 1st grade, baby.

--I will be working full-time. For the first time in five years. At a job I’m actually very excited about.

--We will be moving. After almost seven years in this house, we are leaving our first family home.


I am such a crazy mixture of excitement, sadness, and fear. So much sweet and so much bitter I can’t even comprehend it. 

All these crazy years I’ve been staying home with my babies as they grew into walking, talking humans—whether I was working part-time or home full-time, I’ve been dreaming of the illusory freedom of some distant fantasy future. I didn’t think it would ever come. I missed adult interaction. I was tired of cleaning poo. I wished I had a reason to put on pants more often. Real pants. And maybe some cute shoes. I wanted to feel like I was doing something more important than being “just a housewife”. I often felt like my brain was draining away. I often felt trapped.

Of course I mostly loved being able to be home with them. It's definitely love-hate. I am so thankful I was able to be with them during their littleness. I love them more than anything. And I would never trade my time with them for any career, ever. As my older blog posts have demonstrated, it just made me batshit crazy at times. And lonely. And depressed. And into the most antisocial hermit ever.  But I recognize that there is nothing more important that I could have done with these years. Nothing. 

My son was born a month after we moved into this house. I was able to stay home with him for six months, after which I worked at a childcare center so I could still be with him all the time. When my daughter was born a year later, I took to waiting tables nights and weekends so I could be with them during the day. I also taught art classes at a couple places, part-time, and have the occasional commissioned painting. HowEVER, my new job will be my first experience being away from my babies, "full-time".

I am both heartbroken and elated.

Which is also how I feel about moving. Leaving this house. Our first home. The “needs work” HUD home with purple carpet that we were able to buy with first-time homebuyer incentives when I was 8 months pregnant. The house we tried selling twice before but weren't ready. The house on two dry acres of middle-of-nowhere prairie where the kids drove their little electric cars and we kept my in-law's horses. The house where my sister and I rolled out a tiny patch of sod so the kids could have a lawn. The house where they played in the mud as toddlers. The house where they grew from newborns into kids that read and write. The house where my husband finally built us a magnificent new deck. The house I’ve lived at longer than any one place in my whole life. The house where we’ve worked and cleaned and painted and mowed. The house where we screamed and yelled and laughed and cried and played as a family. Our home.

I hate how far we are from things and how some nearby dogs never stop barking, but I will really miss it here. I always thought I would be happy to move, but now that it’s a reality, I am torn. I had a completely unexpected nasty snotty sobbing breakdown a few days ago when we first listed the house for sale, and I’m still pretty sad about the whole thing, but I think I’m coming around.

I think I’m ready for new things. I've been looking forward to this for years in many ways. But I am scared of change. I’m scared of what we’re losing. I’m scared I will miss the kids. I’m scared I won’t be able to function in a real person job, using my long-dormant brain and social skills. I’m scared I won’t like our new house. I’m scared I will miss my sports bras and sweat pants. I'm scared of how much work packing will be. And I’m scared we’re making the wrong choice.


But the more I think about it, everything has fallen into place in such a way that it must be the right choice. Maybe I’m just telling myself that, but there are a few things that make me think so:

--My husband got a great new position at work that he’s very happy about, but he will need to commute more often. He already drives over an hour each way, but now it will be 5 days a week instead of 4 out of every 8 days. That alone is a good reason to move closer.
--I got an awesome job managing a new paint and sip studio in almost the same part of town where he works. I don’t want to spend 2-3 hours in the car every day. It really makes no sense for both of us to commute that far.
--The couple buying our house loves it. They have a baby boy of their own. They have horses. We listed our house for sale on the *same day* they got out of a problematic contract with another house. I’m told that the wife said something to the effect of “Everything happens for a reason…this is the one". This makes me feel good. I feel better about giving up our house to them, even though I’ve never met them. Almost like it's meant to be.
--They are willing to let us stay here for up to two months *after* closing, allowing us more time to find a new place. This is huge because we would have had to crash in a friend’s basement or our parents’ house if we closed on this house but had nowhere to go—with two kids, three dogs, and two cats, it would have been quite the hassle.
--Our house sold in four days. Four. Days. Over full price offer. Even a little bidding war.
--There is a little more inventory on the market now for us to buy. Although the options are still limited, it’s not so dire. And now we can take a little more time in finding one. Maybe we’ll find a place where we walk in and can say with confidence “This is the one”. Fingers crossed.

SO... On with being terrified and thrilled and happy and sad all at once.

This is a for real whole new chapter in our lives. My stay-home mommy time on the prairie is over. Sadly. But my art business boss in the city time is coming, which is super awesome. (Although we can’t totally commit to living in the city, so we’re looking in the mountains thirty minutes from the city.) So I guess my art business boss in the city-slash-mountains? Whatever. It’s exciting.

BUT CHANGE IS SO HARD. So much anxiety. So much. Both good and bad anxiousness. Letting go of the familiar is hard. Leaving your comfort zone is hard. I am mourning and rejoicing. It’s weird. So this is my new mantra:







Now begins the Great Purging of seven years' hoarding. Wish me luck.


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Mom You Want Them To Remember




It’s no surprise to those closest to me that I sometimes get depressed. And angry. And overwhelmed. And anxious. Irritable and distant and lethargic and apathetic. Short-tempered and impatient. Not just when I haven’t had coffee. Not just if I’m PMSing. Sometimes for no reason at all. I think we all do from time to time.

When I’m feeling that special kind of crappy and the kids are around there’s a whole new layer in this delightful cake called guilt. Because then I am such a mean, boring, awful mom. I am so annoyed at every sound they make and every thing they do. I feel tremendously inconvenienced by them, as though they were interrupting some very very important work, which in fact is usually just mindless phone or computer drivel. I completely tune them out, grunting non responses to their questions and comments. I give super inane excuses when they ask me to play with them; too often I say "not right now", but sometimes I'm too lazy to even make up a lie so I just say no. I snap at them. I am even annoyed when they get hurt. And finally when conflict inevitably erupts between them or they misbehave in any way, I blow up and go absolutely crazy. 

The worst part is I am aware of how shitty I am being while it’s happening. I fully understand how terrible I am when I am checked out and ignoring them, but I am unable to flip a switch and engage. Even while I’m yelling I can acknowledge mentally that I’m overreacting and being a little bit of a psycho b-word. Does that stop me? No. I can’t not be terrible when I’m in my special crapzone. And I feel so overwhelmingly guilty the whole time. 


But then a flip switches, inexplicably, and suddenly I want to play with them. I want to wrestle them and chase them and tickle them and squeeze them and kiss them until they pop. I am overwhelmed by my love for them and I can’t get enough. And it is so much fun and I am so happy and they are so happy and there is so much love and joy and I wonder how I could ever possibly not want this. It's as though the bad time never happened.

And then we sit down to watch TV after eating a hastily prepared leftover medley for dinner, and they both want to cuddle. My 54-pound six-year-old boy on one side and my 31-pound four-year-old girl on the other, smushed together on top of me, melted into the corner of the couch together; nobody is arguing and everybody is content.

I ask them abruptly, “Do you guys think I’m nice more or mean more?”

Surprised by my question, they don’t answer immediately. This shows me that they are really thinking about it and not just telling me what they think I want to hear. But then they each, in turn, tell me I am nice more.

“You’re the nicest, prettiest mama in the whole world!” says my sweet little girl, touching my face with her tiny, perfect fingers. “I love you so much, even when you’re mean!”

I then relate to them, after swallowing the knot in my throat, how I feel sometimes when I am acting grumpy, and how that makes me feel bad and how sorry I am. It’s not the first time I’ve apologized to them for losing my temper, but maybe the first time I’ve talked about my feelings in more drawn out detail, almost the way you would talk to an adult.

My sweet little boy squeezes my arm against him and smiles hugely. “I’m gonna cry,” he giggles, seemingly overcome with emotion, and maybe a little embarrassed. “Can you see any tears?”

Tearing up behind my own smile, next I ask, "Do you think I am a fun mom?"

The response to this one takes a little longer because I am the put-on-your-coat-eat-your-dinner-do-your-homework-that’s-not-polite-wash-your-hands-brush-your-teeth-watch-your-attitude parent, every day. They conclude that yes, as a matter of fact, I am a fun mom. I remind them, and myself, that every day does not have to be a science experiment day or a zoo day or a beach day. And I can't always be a fun mom. And that’s okay. They accept that. 

They seem very pleased to be asked these questions. Honored, even, for their thoughts and feelings to be valued in this context, to be given such power and importance. I was impressed by their thoughtful answers and their enthusiasm on the matter. They were so open-minded, loving, accepting and forgiving. So compassionate and eager to help. Seriously such sweet hearts—not “sweethearts”, even though they are, but “sweet hearts”, because it’s really what they have. At the risk of sounding overly metaphysical, they are such pure souls.

Yes kids are complete jerks a lot of the time, and so are parents, but the unconditional love is reciprocal. Even with the little ones. I still want to be my better self for them more often, but when I get crappy I need to avoid the spiral of guilt. 


I recently read a quote that stuck with me: “Be the mom you want them to remember”. I feel like this is a very valid sentiment (in fact I had it twice on Pinterest), but also puts a lot of undue pressure on parents. I think kids will remember your heart, because I think they get it—if you open it up to them. We don't give them enough credit. My boy doesn’t fixate on the time I came completely unglued on him when he wouldn’t put his shoes on; he remembers that one time, over a year ago, that we went on a “date” to the cookie shop. My girl doesn’t remind me about how I screamed at her when she wouldn’t pick up her room; she talks about that time we played mermaids at the hotel swimming pool. They don’t remember nagging and yelling and ignoring; they remember mud and paint and pillow fights and camping.



I am marveling at how we can go from a chaotic afternoon of yelling, arguing, and crying to such a blissful evening, and trying to puzzle out the magic spell. I am marveling at what amazing little people I have, and trying to forgive myself for not always being my best for them. I am moved and humbled by the fact that they—my babies—understand. And they forgive me. And they love me.