How Do You Do It?

IMG_0495
Recently at an event of my son’s I go the working mom question. Some of the other moms, a mixture of both SAHMs and working mothers, were admiring my six layer rainbow cake. One mother marveled at the deliciousness of the cake (admittedly, it was really pretty and tasty :) and wondered how I found the time to do it while being a full-time teacher and mother of two. And somewhat biting and with a little dose of snark, she made the inevitable comment, “How dooooo you do it?” I laughed and went to my typical response, “I don’t sleep!” Laughs and chuckles all around as my little white lie reassures them all that I am indeed not any better at this mom business than any of them are.

Yet, the truth, the real truth, is the answer I gave my sister when she asked that same question, though with much less snark and more pity head shaking. I don’t do it. I don’t do it all. Never have, never will. The real truth is that I am part of a parenting team. I don’t do it. We do it.

While there are plenty of times in my life where I prefer to go it alone, parenting is not one of them. Parenting is tough, really tough. It takes an exasperating amount of energy which no one outside of toddlers themselves possess. It takes patience. Patience that Zen monks have because they are meditating on mountains while the rest try not to lose it. I would love to see those monks be patient trying to get my daughter out the door. They would be back up in those mountains in no time! There are days when parenting feels like climbing Mt. Everest and days where parenting feels like you are placing a flag on the summit (anyone who has ever potty trained their child knows all about this!). But just like climbers, and even those monks, no one gets there all by themselves.

Today is Father’s Day and I am very privileged to have my husband as a father to my children. Together, we do it. That cake got baked because he put the kids to bed. He packed their lunches for the next day while I packed ingredients into the mixer. He folded clothes he washed while I folded the batter. He arranged play dates and our upcoming calendar while I arranged Skittles into a rainbow on the top of the cake. He picked up my daughter and in-laws to attend my son’s event while I picked up my classroom at the end of the school day. Together, we do it.

My partner in crime with our two little convicts.

My partner in crime with our two little convicts.

While I am referring to my husband, the whole pictures includes much more than him. We have in-laws, aunts and uncles and “aunts” and “uncles”, and friends that help us through with G&Ts that keep us from joining those monks. The thing is, no matter what the arrangement of your family or circle is, none of us do it alone. Yet, all of us mothers seem willing to ask or have to answer the question, “How do you do it?” I doubt my husband has ever had to ask that question. I doubt that other dads stand around asking each other this question over cake. Yet, the question is as legitimate for him as it is for me.

Which brings me to the point- this question is not legitimate. We need to stop putting undo pressure on ourselves and other mothers to “do it all”. We legitimately need to acknowledge and respect the partners on our side. Dads do not babysit. They parent. Parenting involves all sorts of people and groups. Let’s replace the question “How do you do it?” with the question “How can I help?” Because let’s face it, parenting is tough. Let’s not making it any tougher than it already is by trying to go it alone or by leaving each other alone in our struggles. Together, we can do it.

When we together, it's a piece of cake :)

When we do it together, it’s a piece of cake :)

Game On!

With the holidays right around the corner and three weeks of break headed my way, one can imagine long, peaceful days reading next to the fire with warm cups of cocoa as I watch the snowflakes fall. Did I mention the word “imagine”? Because, let’s face it, holidays are nowhere as calm and peaceful as the Christmas songs make them out to be (chestnuts roasting on an open fire, my ass!). Instead, the holidays can often vasicillate between crazy, hectic, sugar-fueled madness to the long, slow, he’s-breathing-on-me insanity.

While the electronic screen can easily provide hours of distraction, there are others to pass the time slightly more peacefully and productively- games! Simple, straight-up board and card games can provide golden family time without ridiculous theme songs. While they may not always be peaceful, they can give families the opportunity to enjoy some quality time together and have a little fun.
img_4564
Looking for some diamonds in our midst? Consider these:
Old Maid (Schwarzer Peter): A simple card game that can be played with young and old alike. Basically a game of chance that helps younger children recognize pairs and older children attempt to strategize their picks.
Snail’s Pace Race (Tempo, kleine Schnecke): Made for little ones but there is definitely added fun when you get bets going with older kids :)
Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders): Another simple game that relies on chance and builds with excitement in the hopes of making it past the snakes to reach the top.
Monopoly: The original version is actually crazy complicated (did you know you could take on mortgages in the game?) but simpler kid-friendly versions are out there too. We love the Monopoly World Edition that has kids collect stamps on a passport instead of purchasing properties (kind of like our lives, too!).
Trouble: I just cannot help popping that bubbble over and over and over again. Plus, there is something so deeply satisfying about landing on someone and sending them back!
Sorry (Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht): Another classic that also includes satisfying sending of opponents back.
Enchanted Forest (Sagaland): An 80s game that I love to this very day involving story book characters in a forest with trees. Essentially an elaborate memory game where you get to peek under trees.
Candyland: Always makes me a little hungry but the visuals alone make it appealing.

I could go on an on with games that my family loves to play together and there are thousands out there. What they all have in common, however, is that they offer the possibility of family fun that does not revolve around a screen and probably teaches some other skills while you are at it. Whether it’s building memory, developing number sense or building a sense of fair play, games give us all room to grow. Years in early childhood education has shown me over and over again that play is critical to learning- and this goes for older children and adults as well. We can tell our children about fairness and being a good sport, but it is actual practice that teaches. We can practice rote counting all the way up to 1000, but it is the movement of the little marker around the board that often makes it stick. While life lessons taught during gaming are often not pretty (my son ends many a game with tears, time outs and, “I’m never going to play with you again!”), they are indeed lessons to be learned in between the victories and losses. When it comes to gaming, we all have something to win.

TIPS: On the go for the holidays? Many of the little travel versions of the games are great for on the go and for restaurant visits. Most toy stores here have a seciton dedicated to them and they often run great sales.
fullsizeoutput_3d19
Looking for new game ideas or a way to kill time during the cold winter days? Head over to the Spielebox in the 8th district. http://www.wienxtra.at/spielebox/ With over 6,500 games to choose from, kids can play in the location or you can rent games to take home and try out.

Gaming with adults? The raunchy and oh-so-revealing Cards Against Humanity can be loads of fun (especially with a few drinks!). More subdued games like Mexican Train with double 12 dominoes provide fun for all ages. And if your family is anything like my loud and vibrant Italian-American crew, Pictionary can be an all-out war!

Losing Our Sense of Loss

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day and I am at a loss of how to best honor this day. I know too many of us woman who have had to suffer the loss of a pregnancy or an infant. Every situation is different, every woman’s experience their own, except that in the end, all of the women had to deal with the loss. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “Studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.” That means that an average of 1 in 6 pregnancies end in a loss. That’s a lot of loss.

Yet, there is a not a lot of discussion or acknowledgement of that loss. Many women view this loss as a private matter, hiding it even from their partners. Other women express feelings of failure, as if they somehow were not living up to their jobs as women. Some women do talk about their loss and share their experience with family and friends. Truly there is no judgment here or easy answers of how to deal with loss. Much like every woman is unique, so are their struggles and experiences.

Personally, I have had miscarriages. The first time round I did not say anything to anyone. The times after I did. I was hesitant to do so but was surprised when sharing just how many women shared back their experiences. It opened a whole new world to me of loss and how different women deal with it. I was shocked at how many women I knew, some very well, and yet I had no idea of just how much they were dealing with or had experienced. It opened my eyes to see a world in which loss was significant and I was significantly lacking a sense for it.

After battling two very difficult pregnancies with hyperemesis, having more children is too big of a risk. When people often ask me if others are on the way and I laugh it off, but behind the laugh is the sadness of a choice taken away from me. Upon reflection, however, I realize that I am just as guilty when it comes to this. Some of my well-meaning comments, jokes or questions could have been painful. My seemingly innocent queries into when a brother or sister might be on the way could have triggered pain. My joking about who might be next woman at work pregnant might open a world of worry, shame and hurt. Talk of that nature is common and a topic of discussion for families, friends and colleagues. Looking around, it appears that while we do not talk about loss all that much, we do like to talk about a woman’s family planning quite a bit.

We cannot do much to prevent loss of pregnancies and infants. It’s not really in our hands. What is, however, is how we approach woman and family planning. So to honor today, I am taking a pledge to be more aware of loss. I will do my best to keep my comments and questions about a woman’s family planning to myself. I will lend a listening ear and wait for what is offered me. I will offer support, share in loss and be there for any woman who sees fit to share with me her personal and unique situation. I will celebrate the joys of woman in pregnancy and childbirth, but will also try not to forget the struggle that can be associated with those triumphs.

Today at 7pm in every time zone, there is an international wave of light for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I offer my light, and my hopes that we can all develop a better sense of loss.

The Ones That (Never) Got Away

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, expatriate is defined as a, “person who leaves one’s native country to live elsewhere.” Simple definitions, however, can be simply misleading. On the one hand, I pretty neatly fit that definition. I left the United States 14 years ago and have resided elsewhere since. On the other hand, my children have never resided in the US and so while they never left, they can also be considered expats. Indeed, it can be a struggle to define native country and so often the question, “Where are you from?” can trigger as much confusion as clarity. We come to terms with what works for us and for families. We watch with curiosity how our children define themselves, how they answer such questions like, “What is your native language?” or, “Where is your home?”

While the noun version of this word is tough, the verb definition is more unnerving.
ex·pa·tri·ate \ek-ˈspā-trē-ˌāt\
transitive verb
1. banish, exile
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country

The verb definition hits on a sore spot for me this time of year as we mark the beginning of the school year and the end of the summer. All throughout the summer we practiced goodbyes. We watched good friends pack their bags, their homes and their lives here into shipping containers as they withdrew for their next residences. For some, it was a more joyous exodus, a sign of a new position or a return to a “native” land. For others, it felt more like a banishment to a place of uncertainty, an exile to a land perhaps more foreign for comfort. Yet again, I coached my children (and myself) through the process of saying goodbye with little traditions to help ease the pain. Friendship books were made, countries to visit added to the list and contact information exchanged with promises to keep in touch. As the ones who always stay, my family bears witness to to the ones that go away. Somehow, we too feel like the “ex” in expatriate.

As tempting as it is to want to “withdraw oneself” and my family from the expat scene, we also recognize that life is too transitive to hold only one allegiance. I have learned the value of friends who can be family, regardless of how long they enter our lives. As the school year begins anew, there are opportunities to make new allegiances. Perhaps my child’s new best friend will be here for just a year, maybe 3 if we are lucky. Perhaps we will befriend a family who will share in adventures we will cherish for years to come. And although we will certainly say goodbye to ones that will get away, we will also certainly be introduced to others that will stay in our hearts.

We are expatriates. We are more than our definitions. We will not be exiled.

Saying goodbye to a good friend

Saying goodbye to a good friend

5 People You Meet at Vienna’s Swimming Spots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The summer is fast approaching and when the temperature rises, the people of the city all make their way to the closest thing to decent air-conditioning that Vienna has to offer, the Danube and other swimming spots. While my family usually spends the majority of the summer in the States, we do get chances in both early and late summer to catch some time in the water. Vienna has an amazing amount of great places to get cool, but that does not always mean that the people you see there will be 😉 Here’s a playful look at the five people you will meet at Vienna’s swimming pools and beaches:

1) The old guy in the Speedo. An old man rocking the Speedo with a belly so big that at first glance it actually looks like he’s naked. This man is most likely also an incredible shade of leather brown with skin texture to match.
2) The macho man. Perpetually without a shirt, this man roams and wonders like he owns the place. He does not swim but rather struts around, only occasionally stopping to do some push-ups or hit the chin-up bar.
3) The busy mom. A blanket spread out and covered in sand. Food in all sorts of containers but no match for the ice cream at the buffet. Cries of “Mama, look at this!” constant in between constant coaching and splash refereeing. A good summer read dying to be read but will not get touched except by sticky little fingers. Aka, me with my kids at the pool/beach.
4) The fitness crew. A group of tan and fresh youths just kickin’ it and relaxing between various fitness fun rounds of soccer, volleyball and any other sport that is physically demanding enough to match their physiques. Girls tend towards bikini and little short-short combos and guys manage a tank top that comes off for the game. Sunglasses permanent and they never look they actually sweat despite all their activities. Yes, I am jealous.
5) The love birds. The fresh air just too much for the couple in love, these two spend most of the day making out as if there was not half the city there to see. Most likely accompanied by pop music coming from their phones and giggles of kids from busy moms when they walk by.

Clearly, the trips are worth their while simply for the great people watching. Here’s my top 5 favorite spots for families that include busy moms like me (in no particular order):
1) Krapfenwaldlbad With many pools, lots of shade and bouncy fun, this makes for a great outing.
2) Neuwaldegger Pool Neuwaldeggerbad This 1920s styled pool is a quiet retreat with a good buffet as well.
3) Gaensehaeufel On the Old Danube, this large beach caters to everyone (even the naked crew!).
4) Therme Wien Thermal Baths Vienna Expensive but expansive, this bath has both indoor and outdoor options plus lots of water slides for adventurous swimmers.
5) Wasserspielplatz Donauinsel Water Playground Danube Island Part of the Danube Island’s impressive offerings, this park offers water play from the littlest to the biggest of children.

Got more time or wheels? Check out some of the lakes and river spots in the areas surrounding Vienna. Our recent joyous discovery is the Aubad Tulln, a man-made lake with sandy beaches, boats and water slides surrounded by green goodness.

Here’s to Speedos, sunshine and sandy beaches in a land-locked country!