I am on my way to a five day vacation with three women I know from elementary and middle school. We come from very diverse backgrounds and have chosen very different paths in life. Our lives and get together could probably qualify for some mid-life chick flick.
The vacation is a reunion for all of us. But what other functions this excursion has for each of us is as different as the rest of our lives.
I have a year of overwhelming commitments. I wanted to go back to work full time despite the challenge of juggling that with so many children to care for. I got what I wanted, but the price has been little time for reflection, contemplation – blogging – and going forward with my customary “strategy building” intentionality. I like to run my household by reflecting on how things are going, assessing what I would like to see continue / change, and modifying my own strategy and attitude. By committing my every waking minute, I have left myself no room for this part of my being – this crucial aspect of mothering. It is exhausting, and I can see that my family is paying the price.
I know this trip away from my family is as good for them as it is for me beyond the cliché platitude. Yes, of course a rested and relaxed Ima is a better one. But like any corporate retreat, the simple QUIET of my first hour on the airplane has given me more chance for reflection than the last six months of chaos.
I know it will be incredible to catch up with old friends, and hear how the story of their lives have been unfolding. But I also can’t wait to just catch up with myself.
I don’t have a bucket list to complete “before I die.” I was born with this strange innate clock that is always running, reminding me that my time on earth is limited so I better use it while I’ve got it. It took me a long time to realize that not everyone feels that same internal ticking. One of the reasons I remain busy (only one of the reasons) is my desire to “get it all done” in this lifetime. It is very often an inadvisable approach.
But I do have big plans to move 6,000 miles away in only six months (!!!). and it has caused me to form a bucket list of sorts and to operate that way. I have gotten to enjoy a VIP experience at a rock concert for one.
Next week I have plans to go on vacation with three friends from Middle School. No kids, no husbands… hopefully no responsibilities. The fact that all four of us are turning 40 would have been enough reason, but I know that if I don’t do this now, it won’t happen. Ever.
I won’t get to everything I would like to cross of that list before we move, but I am seriously enjoying the effort along the way!
I am aware that not all of you reading this are at the potty training stage, but for our family is has been “that time again”. I have developed my own system, or maybe more accurately described as a tradition, based on what just seems to work for us.
Rule #1: Completely different approaches for boys than for girls.
Different biology, different neurology, different potty training methods. (As well as different lots of other stuff. You already know I am a sexist.)
My daughters trained at 24 months and 17 months (!). All of my boys trained after 3 years old. That wasn’t because of me, that was them. I know that every daughter out there is different, but my girls – and many of my friends’ daughters -wanted to train. They figured it out, were super motivated and then just did it. “I can be a big girl” seemed to be all it took, and then some help from mom on getting the panties or pull ups down fast enough. I know of more than one little girl that made the decision, announced to her mother “enough diapers” and that was that. In the case of my second daughter she watched her 3 1/2 year old brother trained and declared “I can do that.” Then she went on to prove it.
Boys are a different story. “Why should I do all of that work when Ima can change me, take care of me… I get to lie down, it’s relaxing, I don’t have to stop playing to go; now why would I give that up? Ima even talks to me when she is changing me. It’s a sweet deal.”
None of my sons were in a rush to train. With my twins I was all charged up to try at three… and had to give up for a few more months.
#2 – There is NO peeing standing up. We always sit down. All of us.
I like potty training. I don’t mind cleaning up pee from the pants, and the floor and occasionally a chair. But urine all over the bathroom? No thank you. They all learn sitting, and it encourages them to maintain the practice later in life. 7 males in my house; you can imagine my bathroom cleaning efforts as it is. No target practice, thank you. Always sitting. I know some moms have used the target practice idea as a motivator, but I think one loses more than one gains.
#3 – Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda.
… Well, I am a PR consultant. I spend easily a month prepping for the big event. While still in diapers, we talk about the exciting time when we will go on vacation (see #4) and say bye bye to diapers. We create lots of “buzz.”
This is followed by an obnoxious repetition of horrid children’s videos singing bouncy tunes about potties, toilet paper, underwear and the joys of being dry. The songs are so catchy and are repeated so often that the older siblings are plagued with singing them around the house without even realizing it… thereby increasing the propaganda level for the young potty trainee.
Then our little trainee gets to watch the bouncy, repetitive videos while sitting on the potty. And sitting and sitting and sitting. Zombified by more television (video) than the trainee will ever watch at any other point in life while still living under my roof.
Of course success in the potty, (albeit passive while sitting in front of a video) is then met with the customary fanfare and hoopla, forced onto the rest of the children in the family who are order to participate. Someone did it for them, they can do it too….
This massive influx of adulation and attention in a family where attention is always in more demand than supply is like a sweet intoxicator, more powerful as a motivating force than any chocolate chip or M & M could prove to be. At least I think so, since we don’t do candy.
#4 – We potty train (the boys) while on vacation.
What?!? Vacation? Around a potty? What a way to spend vacation, right?
Well, the lack of regular routine and structure, the customary increase in numbers of adults around and the being-away-from-the-neighbors-when-the-child-is-constantly-naked all seem to help.
This also makes it easier to force the siblings to engage in the fanfare and hoopla, since they are around as well.
As I said, this is what works for us. I don’t know if everyone wants to spend a family vacation this way, but I don’t get out much on vacations anyway. While it may restrict me slightly while away, it results in a whole lot more freedom when I get home!
Any guests that want to visit us at the beach simply have to love us enough to accomodate the potty chair in the middle of the living room. And the naked child running around…. and the occasional obnoxious and catchy potty training tune unconsciously being sung by other family members at odd times.
#5 – Don’t tackle nights for quite a while after days.
I know there are parents who try to train at night right after the day. Perhaps they have drier kids than I do. I just have to pick my battles. I wish I were past the stage of frequent wet beds, but I am not. Until I am, the youngest can stay in pull ups at night. Sorry kiddo; sometimes it has to be about me.
#6 – Don’t sweat the accidents. But don’t be afraid to throw away underwear either.
I am proud to say that when I was training twin boys I simply cut off and threw away several pairs of pooped-in underwear. I was just not going to clean that up. I expect the accidents, and since they don’t ruffle me, they don’t cause my kids to panic. Having said that, if it’s a gross mess, I can afford to buy a few more pairs of little underwear. I can keep my cool, but when there’s poop involved, I have my limits.
I am about to send my youngest off to day camp in underwear. This is an exciting new phase. The thought of using up the case of diapers we have for nighttime and for long trips makes me 100% happy and not one bit sad to see it end.
Okay, so maybe I can say that since my 3 year old still sleeps in a crib and still wants to “cuddle in my nest” most days. For now, he still needs my help more often than not. He still wears footsy pajamas and wants to know if that shoe goes on that foot.
It has been almost a full month since I last wrote a blog post. I am not sure if this is an indication that I have truly spent the month on vacation, or precisely the opposite.
Being at a house by the ocean that is not my own with a stream of visitors and visiting time withgrandparents has been wonderful. I am not sure I would use the word “leisurely” or “relaxing”. The lack of school structure for six kids for one month certainly might have eclipsed my ability to blog, beach house notwithstanding. I feel like I have been busy, and tired. I have spent a great deal of time shopping, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.
I wrote last year about finding the moments of personal vacation within my family vacation, and every year this is a different experience, since the ages and circumstances of the family are always changing. I discovered kayaking this summer, because our old, dear and generous friends lent us theirs for two weeks. Out in the kayak in Barnstable Harbor, there was more than one moment this month when I could not hear a single sound. Not a child, not a phone; not even a boat or seagull. And I love the fact that my older brother showed me the ropes my first time out. No spa visits like last year. Not even some “escape shopping”.
I am experiencing a different kind of relaxation… and that is the sort of phase II with my family. What I mean is that we don’t have any babies, nor are we expecting one (right now). After years of vacationing with strollers and car seats, middle of the night nursing, bottles and diapers and bouncy seats and carriers, we are just a family with a gang of kids. Day trips are suddenly possible. The kids can buckle themselves in the car, or at least buckle each other. No sunscreen battles, or constantly running after a destructive 18 month old.
We are still in transition, don’t get me wrong; we are potty training, and still planning around the “baby’s” nap. But 3-11 years old(My SS sadly didn’t join us this year) feels REALLY different than a house full of babies and toddlers.
My pockets of personal vacation are less about escaping all of the child care because the child care is less intense. This is probably just the calm before the storm, (right Miriyummy?) given that they will all become teenagers practically at once – and then I am thinking “intense” will become a fitting description again.
I have found that as in a traditional vacation, this year has been more about an escape from much of the long list of responsibilities I have. No escape from the childcare or housework ones, of course, but a break from work, my house, my scenery, my routine.
A break that has been in blessedly gorgeous surroundings with quiet bay waves, lovely neighbors, gorgeous hikes and silent kayaking.
Wow. After all of these years I guess it has started to become a vacation.
We are trying something new this year. We are away for an entire month. Every year we spend some time up near my parents’ house by the beach. When my children were younger we came for a week, then ten days. Last year it was over two weeks.
As anyone with a large family will tell you, once you are packing for two weeks, another two makes very little difference. We are fortunate that my parents generously rented us a house. There is just no way we would have been able to spend the month living with my parents. I want them to still love my children – and me – by the end of the month!
I am looking forward to getting settled and being able to stay that way, even if for a little while. Having said that, family vacation doesn’t generally feel like much of a vacation for me.
I have also upped the ante by deciding that this is the time and place for potty training! (That’s a post for another time.) This year I am adding to the challenges of being with my relatives, hosting other guests, trying to give the kids routine, limitations in kosher food and the sand, sand, sand. I also have to continue to work from home while away.
Still, with all of this going on, the biggest challenge for me while away is not finding time to myself. Who is used to that anyway? So far I have logged one hour of blissful reading ALONE in the sun, and a whole fifteen minutes on the beach walking with my husband while the children circled and hovered.
What is harder is finding my relationship with Hashem here. The beach in New England is relaxing and beautiful, clean and charming, with p0lite tourists and locals. But there isn’t a Jewish community, people to enjoy Shabbat with, etc. Our second day here my husband and two sons walked 4.5 miles each way to to a Chabad minyan without carrying even a water bottle. While my husband may want to try it again, the twins won’t, and I am not so keen on spending Shabbat until 3:30 with six kids by myself.
Finding G-d in the gloriousness of the ocean views isn’t too hard in a spiritual sense, but carving out time for rituals, davening and Torah is a bigger challenge here. Dressing the way I do sticks out A LOT. I have already had to answer “kippah questions”. Maybe this year, the first with no babies in the family, I may just find the right religious balance.
As for beach adventures so far, I missed the giant spider crab with her babies yesterday that my kids found, so I have no good photo of it for you. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
Commenting on my last vacation post, Miriyummy pointed out that when we go on a family vacation I am “the facilitator of fun” much more than I am actually having it. At least most of the time.
I have found over the years that I have to find the pockets of pleasure for myself within the family vacation.
Sometimes I leave the kids with DH and a mother’s helper (and/or my parents) and I steal off for an hour. It can be window shopping, getting a pedicure or sitting with a friend, but I have to leave the family for a while and go indulge. I confess that while on this particular annual vacation the indulgence is often Ben & Jerry’s or ‘bake yourself’ frozen chocolate chip cookies; this doesn’t help my figure much.
Sometimes I have to make the family agenda what will make me happy… and of course since my mood sets the tone for better or worse, this usually does work. This can mean we go to the park instead of the ocean, or play the board game together as a family that I want to play.
Sometimes making it feel like fun for me means plunging in and deciding to have a great time doing what we are doing anyway whether it is what I would normally enjoy or not.
Mostly this means enjoying little – sometimes tiny – pockets of serenity that pop up in the midst of lots of effort. For July Fourth I sat on the neighbors’ lawn with a neon multicolored sunset over the water off in the distance, twenty different fireworks displays visible in towns miles away on the shore line, and our own private display by the family one lawn over down the beach. A wine cooler, pleasant company and the perfect summer beach night weather (the bugs weren’t so perfect.) While enjoying it I let it infuse me; making it a memory while happening.
It isn’t three days of solitude in Bermuda, but in those few minutes I was alone, in peace and serenity… and bliss.
When I am lucky I have enough little dots of vacation to connect at the end, so that in the end, I feel that I too had a enjoyable getaway.
This i s day four of our annual family vacation. After feeling like I have been running up a steep hill for the first three days, I am finally hitting my stride, reaching that ”aahhh, I am on vacation” feeling.
Believe me, it won’t last for the duration. It will come and go like the tides of the bay on Cape Cod that I am gazing at as I write from an adirondack chair on our rental front lawn. I am close enough to the ocean to see the fishing pole of my neighbor out on his boat, but close enough to the house to enjoy the benefits of the wi fi, and check on lunch for the expected onslaught of hungry children.
My parents live on Cape Cod year-round, and we make one extended and difficult trek up for a glorious couple of weeks every summer. Not only do we enjoy a vacation I cannot afford, but they are here to help, visit with, and spoil us. Over the years, they have learned progressively to find a balance between family time and enough space for themselves to truly enjoy the disruption that comes with the arrival of our large family. (Translation: they don’t want us around every minute. It stresses them out beyond belief.)
The packing to get my family satisfactorily situated in a rental home for two weeks is a tremendous undertaking. Unfortunately, it is also one of the areas in which I do not seem to successfully delegate. This year I packed the majority of our suitcases before Shabbat and drove on Sunday morning. This definitely improved things.
My husband and I drove up separately. This meant I only had to travel with three kids in the car, (an amazing experience I don’t remember ever having,) but it also meant driving five and a half hours straight by myself.
When we arrived it was too early to move into the rental. I needed to pacify and settle the kids, unpack a limited number of things, and try my best to prepare for the second wave once DH arrived. I wanted to collapse, but of course the baby my two year old woke up at five am disoriented and confused.
I moved everything into the rental house the next morning with two HUGE vanful trips (one trip with items I had packed, one with items that were at my parents’ house). I unpacked and assigned bedrooms, fed kids and bought supplies. Then I kashered part of the house, assessed what else I needed from my mother’s kosher kitchen, found switches and towels, then did more moving and shopping.
All of this was done with tremendous sleep deprivation and constant – CONSTANT – complaining from my kids. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on that my kids were bickering, fighting and whining the entire time. They are on a beach vacation! There are televisions in the rooms (!). There is an ocean view out of lots of windows, and Saba and Safta give kids ice cream unlike their mean parents. I was the one doing almost all of the work. What could there possibly be to complain about?
Of course I knew in the back of my head that their moods are always dependent on mine. This is the principle of motherhood which blind-sighted me the most, and with which I have the most trouble. It is hard enough for me to remain positive instead of cranky without the added pressure that my tone is the one that sets it for the rest of the house. I hate that. I wish someone else could have that job, and infuse me with a positivity that gets me out of my funk, instead of the other way around all of the time.
So, today, I stopped chugging. I stopped packing, loading, unpacking, rushing, huffing and puffing. I watched a movie with DH last night that I had really wanted to see, which included a good cry and laugh. I sat out in an adirondack chair, enjoying the view and starting this post. (It will have taken me the whole day in spurts by the time I am done.) I will enjoy the beach and the visit of a friend.
Magically, miraculously, the complaining, whining and bickering has stopped, at least for now. The “aaaahhh” is a collective one.
My blessed pre-teen said today “is a perfect example of pure happiness.”
In the midst of the chugging, I really couldn’t remember why I do this to myself every year. In the same way that I forget the pain of the getting here AND the going home from year to year, apparently I forget the bliss of an entire family going “aaaahhhh”…..
As we plan to head back today on a school-is-out celebratory trip with friends, I wanted to write about the Zoo itself.
We LOVE this zoo. I do not know if it is just because it is a zoo, or because of familiarity with this one, or because of particular things about the Philadelphia Zoo. We have been to this one many times, and I don’t remember taking my kids to many others.
We have been to the Zooquarium in Cape Cod, but I found it disappointing.
My generous parents have gifted us a zoo membership for a number of the past few years. This includes zoo rides, such as ponies, a carousel, and a hot air balloon ride. While the rides aren’t my favorite part, they make it much easier to take a mixed-age crowd such as mine. Needless to say, with a brood our size, the parking, one visit and one set of rides by six kids paid for the membership. (The rides are expensive otherwise, at $6 per ride kid for some of them. )
The pony ride.
The designated parking lots that are free if you are members make getting there much easier. The park is amenable to bringing your own food, which makes it an easier trip than most for anyone keeping kosher.
There are a nice combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits positioned in such a way that we can enjoy the zoo in the winter, when it rains, and even on a ninety degree day, such as today threatens to be. While I love to explore and see new things, the zoo is just one very typical example of how my children crave familiarity. The fact that the zoo has been seen so many times seems to make it comfortable to them, and give them a sense of mastery, not boredom.
On our last trip I wanted to make the trip more interesting for the kids, and easier on me. I went to their web site looking for some on-line activities for the kids to do when we got there. I couldn’t find any! The web site has a great section for educators, but the material there is mostly designed for in-classroom lessons in preparation for a field trip.
I did find these great scavenger hunts at other web sites:
The kids really enjoyed them, and had more focus. I have since been in touch with the Philly Zoo about this, and I was amazed that they returned my call. However, that follow up has not yet resulted in a change to the web site or any Philly Zoo scavenger hunts being emailed to me although I was told they would be. I hold out hope.
I used to want to take the kids on a lot of different adventures. I have learned to take them where they know, where they want to go, and where I already know how to easily find a bathroom.
I find most museums to be more expensive, and hard to suit to a wide variety if ages. I would love to hear your recommendations for other trips/spots.
I also welcome any suggestions on more strategies for trying something new at the zoo.
I had a glorious day this week playing hooky with all of my kids.
We own a game that is no longer produced (by Mattell) called Chatter Matters.* It is a very hokey family game designed to get the family “talking”. One has to answer questions about how well they know other family members, about their own childhood memories, etc. Part of the shtick of the game is that each player gets to choose their “prize” from a list at the beginning of the game that they will get if they should happen to be the winner. The list includes things like “the dessert of your choice alone with the family member of your choice” & “movie night at the house one night, and you pick the movie.”
This game became very popular in my house over the long Pesach break, and led to many very sweet family conversations and moments. It also led to one child winning a trip to the zoo on a school day.
So, this past week I took off of work, pulled all the kids out of school (except dss), and too off for a day at the Philadephia Zoo.
I was quite excited at the prospect that on a school day it would be deserted and we would have full run of the place. Imagine my suprise when I pulled up and not only the two closest parking lots were FULL, but there were 90 buses lined up on the street parked as well. (An employee told me that was the actual number the next day.)
We managed to avoid the throngs of school children for the most part. This was one of the many aspects that made it easier to have gone to a place I already was very familiar with. We enjoyed the zoo tremendously, and we love the Philly Zoo in general. So much so, that I have decided that I am going to write a separate post altogether about the zoo itself.
I wanted to make separate, and I hope not too obvious points.
The Zoo itself was part of the reason that I was able to take six kids on an adventure by myself, and part of the reason we all managed to have fun. However, the kids were really in a great mood simply because I had taken them on a school day. I dropped my work and we just had a one-day mini vacation where it was all about them. The impact was tremendous. Maybe other people get to do this more often than we do, but with so many kids it isn’t easy, and I know in Israel Sundays aren’t time off and here they seem to get swallowed up by simchas and the insane birthday party circuit alarmingly quickly. They felt loved, and they actually said so.
I also told them that many people would consider it simply crazy to take six kids ages ten and under on an outing for the day without another adult. That it was in their hands; they could prove it can be done by listening and cooperating. That it would probably encourage me to be brave and try it again. Or, they could show me that it really is crazy, and I just won’t try it anymore. Somehow, by some miracle, they seemed to get that. I am consistently re-amazed at the efficacy of a good in-car, pre-event pep talk. By the end of five hours at the zoo with 90 degree weather there was admittedly some melt-down commencing, not entirely on the part of the children, but everyone, including ima2seven, managed to keep it together.
I did call poor husband who had to go to work instead of coming out to play hooky and ask him to have some dinner for us when we walked in.
The last comment I want to add is that (of course) they learned a ton. And (of course) not just about animals. I have a tough time believing they would have learned more had they been in school. And even if they did, I wouldn’t have been right there, eating up every minute of it.
*The link to this game from Amazon sells the game. I think it is worth it. For a better description you can visit this other link, where they are selling the same game for $110.95.
Today is day 3 of the kids being home for winter break. DH and I planned a day at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Needless to say, such an outing, even with only six of the seven kids, is a production. Lots of planning…..
DH broke his toe last night (I can’t even begin to explain.) So either we had to cancel, or I had to take five of them on my own. That wasn’t going to happen. Especially after yesterday’s near melt-down.
One rule of thumb I learned (the hard way) a long time ago is that I don’t discuss big plans like these with the kids much ahead of time. This way when they don’t work out there is little whining and disappointment.
Another, is that kids like small, easy and familiar outings as much if not more than a big production of a trip that requires travel, planning, and is usually exhausting.
Today was a case in point. Instead of our big day at the museum, we counted out the money in their banks, did lots of fun math to total the amounts, and trotted off to the local bank to open FIVE student bank accounts. This including explaining to my four y.o. at least ten times that she would still have her money, just at the big bank not in her piggy bank. Luckily someone came in to use their safety deposit box. She sort of interpreted what I told her to mean that she was going to have her $18 stored in one of those… and I let her leave believing it.
The people at the local PNC branch deserve a lot of credit for their patience.
We then went to a friend’s to watch an American Girl movie on DVD…. for some reason the fact that it took place during the Great Depression was enough to get the boys to watch it. Everyone loved the movie. My eight year old son got a lot of pleasure out of the fact that Ima cried at the end, for some reason.
The last exciting outing of the day was a trip to Target to use the gift cards the children received for Chanukah. That was my idea, the gift cards. I must remember to post a blog about what a terrible idea that was.
They were thrilled. A full and fun day. So, so, so much easier than a 90-minute each way trek into NYC to the Museum of Natural History on a day with record freezing winds…… and, for the record, I spent absolutely nothing.