Thursday, March 31, 2011

Store? London? Same difference

I'm pretty sure my kids think I'm at the store. 

On the Friday I left for London, I was ready for a dramatic good-bye.  I had been preparing for this moment.  Would they throw themselves on me, taking hold of each leg and an arm to prevent me from leaving?  Would their tears make me rip up my paperless e-ticket, throw my arms around them and tearfully admit that I'll never leave them?

After all, the trip was a big deal for our family.  Mommy was taking a two week vacation.  How would everyone deal with the fallout from this ground-breaking event?  We are a team.  We plan our days around each other.  And while I was gallivanting around London, I just knew their little hearts would be broken, feel abandoned...where was Mommy to tuck them in at night?  Where was mommy to read a story?  Where was mommy?

I was relieved when I left that morning because they were so strong.  They gave me enthusiastic hugs, wet kisses, and shouted loud "I love yous" while I was driving away.  As the car turned a corner I marvelled at the strength and resilience of children while I broke down and cried like a baby. 

But I knew the phone calls would be tough.  I got on the phone with my youngest who has been attached to my hip since he was a baby.  I steeled myself to sound strong and remind him of how much fun he was having with Mika and Pop. 

"Hiiiiiii Mommmmmy!!"

"Hi, baby boy.  I miss you.  I love you soo much." I'm sure this was difficult for him. 

"Hiiii Mommmmmy!!"

"Hi, buddy.  I really miss you.  Are you having a good time with Mika and Pop?"  I shouldn't have asked a question that would only remind him of my absence. 

"Hiii Mommmmy!!!"

"Hi back.  I miss you so much, little man."

"Where are you, Mommy?"

Here it is.  Answer with a strong mommy voice.  "I'm in London bud, remember?" 

There was a short pause.  Poor guy.


Oh, okay.  That went better than expected.  It's not like I want him to be sad. It's good that he can be flexible.  This means good parenting, right?

Yesterday, we got on Skype and video called each other.  Their sweet faces drove home the reality of how far away I am.

My oldest gives me a list of the things she's done since arriving at Mika and Pops.  "That's great, honey. I'm so happy you're having a good time."

"We are mommy, we really are.  And today we are going swimming!!"

Knowing how often I have to change our plans for some reason or another I say gently, "That sounds like fun, but remember that sometimes plans can change."

She smiles and says knowingly, "Well, Mommy.  Mika's plans never change."

She's not wrong.  Mika has a knack for sticking to a plan.  I, on the other hand, do change our plans around a lot.  But it sounded like she missed me and my crazy plan-changing habit, right?

My baby girl gets on the video call and we chat for a bit.  This separation would be challenging for her as lately she always breaks down in tears when her daddy leaves for a business trip.

So I focus on the positive bit about coming home soon and say, "I love you and can't wait to see you in a few days, honey!"

"Sure, mommy.  Or maybe we can just Skpe.  So, Skype ya later!!"

Perhaps it's not the kids who have been most affected by my absence.   It's me.  I miss my role more than my role misses me.  Because what I do best is not making great breakfasts, helping with homework, making beds or even reading a story.  What I do best, what Max does best, is to love our kids.  They are assured in our love.  So that when we cannot be right by their sides, they are more than okay.  They are happy and having fun. 

So even though I am thousands of miles away, to them it just feels like I went to the store. 


Friday, March 25, 2011

Sleeping in London

Big Ben, Kids!

I've crossed the pond*.

(*please see below for american translations)


Before the guilt of my decision comes slamming down I will say this first. 

I have had constant companions, wee yins by my side, attached to my hip, and glommed to my front, for the past 6 1/2 years.  I have cross-country road tripped with our bairns, travelled by planes and autos, been delayed for hours in dirty airports, and taken toilet stops for potty-training little ones in shady gas stations with a single light bulb swaying precariously above a dark shunkie.

A sunny day out with my sister,
the Scotsman and the sleeping babe
Haven't I earned one teeny, weeny trip to see my newly arrived, precious bundle of a niece?  A sweet baby girl who just happens to live in North London with my sister and Scottish brother-in-law?  Och-aye.

And so I spent the majority of last week battling the guilt of abandoning my kids for two weeks for the excitement of exploring an amazing city with my sister.  Granted, in the years since my first was born, I have only traveled away from them twice, each for three nights.  So after the thrill of purchasing my airline tickets, updating my passport and shopping only for essential items from The Buckle, the reality of what I was about to do sunk in.

I was not going to see my kiddos for 16 days and nights.  No bedtime stories, goodnight kisses, hugs to heal a hurt, help to end a fight, small hand to hold, precious nose to tweak.  I questioned my decision.  Could I really do this?  Would I just become a sobbing, childless mess?  Would I break down at the sight of another child with their mother?  Would holding my niece wrack me with guilt?

Could she be more adorable?
I'll tell you the answer although it doesn't make me sound good.

Yes I could do this.  And, no I'm not a mess.

I have slept through each night of my journey since Saturday night.  I have experienced no jet lag.  I have slept blissfull nights of sleep.  Brilliant nights of sleep.  Gorgeous nights of sleep.  And when my body and mind have had enough sleep, I awake each morning by simply opening my eyes, stretching, and langoriously climbing out of bed, making coffee and then drinking that coffee while it is still hot.

And I've had dinners out, eating at my own pace and leaving when I'm ready.  (My niece is a truly amazing, chill baby who was apparently born to please her parents and make their life easier.)  I'm exploring London by foot and enjoying absolutely every minute of my visit.

But my sister reminds me that it doesn't mean I don't miss or love my kids.  She's right.  I do miss them. Terribly.  In fact, I packed up that part of myself and put it in my internal carry-on until I can return to them.  Otherwise, I probably would be a mess. 

But, to all you moms out there.  It's good to have a break.  You deserve a break.  Even if it's just one night of sleep uninterrupted.  Or a night out with a friend or husband.  I will return home next week from holiday more refreshed then I have been for years.  Ready to jump back into my starring role as mom.

Sleeping, eating and drinking hot coffee is a reminder of the easy, relaxed days before our kid invasion, but it's not a substitute for all the moments since.  All the amazing sweet memories we have made with our brood. Laughing together at Daddy's monkey face, playing Blue 42 tackle, building a lego city, taking our first family hike that ended with loads of crying and a bloody knee, and even the road trips.

So, my guilt is gone.   Because taking time for myself is not a selfish thing.  It is only selfish if it's meant to make me happier in spite of all those I love.  I am happy.  I am content.

       But crikey, the sleep is gorgeous.     

Translations for the Americans 
Pond: the opposite of a stagnant pool of water, the Atlantic Ocean to be precise
Wee yin:  a small person, like a child or just something your brother-in-law calls you and it makes you feel like a small person all young and sweet
Bairns:  small children
Toilet:  as in "Excuse me but where are your bathrooms?"
Shunkie:  Scottish slang for disgusting public toilet
Och-aye:  Scottish for "Right", "Absolutely" Or "Yes, Melissa you really do deserve this trip, it's okay"
Abandoning:  dramatic way to say I'm leaving them with their loving father and doting granparents
The Buckle:  a store you must visit if you love jeans and want a personal shopper
Brilliant/Gorgeous:  An English way to say awesome or cool but sounds way cooler and
less surfer-like
Holiday/Hospital:  Same meaning, just said without the pesky use of "my" or "the"
Kid Invasion:  Not a British saying at all, just an obvious play on the American description of Beetlemania as in the "British Invasion"
Crikey:  A really fun way to say something


Monday, March 7, 2011

Hippopotamus vs. The Bathing Suit

Children may be small, think fecal matter is fun to squish, and laugh hysterically at loud toots, but...sometimes they can be wise beyond their years and offer sage advice far beyond their vertical stature.

It's true. And often times, those insightful moments can be the most humbling few seconds of my day.

I am not a perfect mom. 

I get frustrated with small things.  
Spilled milk. 
Lost socks. 
Small feet that move slowly.  

Angry with learning moments. 

I am an average mom. 
Laundry piles high above my head. 
I clean inconsistently. 
Some days I let the kids watch way too much TV. 
I seek out alone time when it would be an ideal chance to be with my little ones. 

I sweat the small stuff. 
I cry in front of my kids. 
I yell when I shouldn't.  
I can feel helpless, ineffective, a failure.  

I do one thing really well.  I love my kids.  I adore my kids.  But they are not perfect either.  Who wants to be perfect anyway?  It's our imperfections, our ability to recognize our flaws, that makes us real.  It makes us humble.  It makes us better....better moms, dads, kids, people.

When I have a "could have been a better mommy" moment, I say I'm sorry.  I swallow my pride, go to my kids, hold their hands and say, "I'm sorry. I should have tried to use my patience.  Just like I ask you to do.  I'll try harder next time."  And they say, "Mommy, you don't have to be sorry.  You are a great mommy, the best mommy.  We love you so much." 

Their capacity to love and to forgive is breathtaking. 

Yesterday, Max and I took the kids swimming.  It was one of those family days.  The kind that build memories.  We had just submerged ourselves into the lukewarm indoor pool water.  It was cold.  Indoor pools always are.  My 4-year-old baby girl immediately says, "I have to poop."  Of course.

I take her hand and we climb out of the water and shake, shiver and chatter our way to the locker rooms.  I help her pull down her suit and we wait while she quickly does her business.  I am so cold.  I just want to get back in the pool and continue making family memories.  So, I try to hurry it up by quickly pulling her suit back on.

Unfortunately, wet bathing suits do not go back on "quickly."  It is a slow, laborious process of inching the suit back on. And the cheaper the suit, the longer it takes. 

My patience begins to slip. Maybe it's that time of the month.  Or the fact that my blood is freezing in my veins.  Or the fact that my precious middle child is the one who is never in a hurry. The one who often counteracts my attempts at hurrying her by swinging on door knobs when we're late for the bus, or changing her shoes, shirt and hairstyle when everyone else is waiting in the car. 

I start to yank the suit back in place and exasperated say, "This is so hard!"

She looks up at me with her beautiful, brown eyes.  "You are so right, Mommy.  This is really hard.  But not as hard as picking up two hippopotamuses."

I stop my fruitless tugging.  She is so right.  Really, not much in life is harder than picking up two hippopotamuses.  I hug her fiercely.  Tell her I love her.  Then gently begin pulling the suit back in place, like I would a pair of nylons.  It really wasn't that difficult.

Hand in hand, we walk back to the pool, shaking, shivering and chattering.  And filled up the rest of our day with the kind of memories that make up a family.