Thursday, August 9, 2012

traveling trials

It's been a busy summer. Lots of travel, which I'm coming to realize is going to be the theme of our summers for some time now (various reasons for this). That's okay I think. But it does wear the kids out, so I'm going to have to be more strategic about the schedule.

A short recap of the summer thus far:

Clark's school finished a week before Frances', so he and I had a week to hang out with not much to do. Then immediately after Frances' school ended, the kids did 2 weeks at a summer day camp (with which I am in love). The next week my mom and aunt were here, then a 2 day break before my dad and his wife came, then 3 days before we packed up and drove to Michigan to stay with Mitch's parents.

Then, as I have mentioned before, something extraordinary happened. Mitch and I drove back to Rochester without the kids. I've been away from them a good bit, but always when I've gone away, and not for almost a whole week in my own house.

It was a very quiet week. And when I straightened things up, they stayed straight! Magic! One of the first nights we hung out with some friends at the pool, then decided (impromptu!) to go out to a nice dinner. (The restaurant was crowded so we sat at the bar and I realized the folks all around me were folks I never ever see in this town. They are at work when I'm out and about, and they go out while I do bedtime routines at home. It was like a secret glimpse into another planet.) Then we had to drop something by a friends' house and they invited us in and we stood around and talked as long as we liked! It felt so... odd.

It's a funny thing, this having young kids. Because they move so fast and need you so much, it's very hard to look around and get a lay of the land. It's like a sport, an intense physical activity. Focus focus focus. But with a sport, the game ends and you get to relax. Not here, as anyone who has done this knows. Because the focus is so honed and because there is so little relaxation, your brain becomes confused, and you sort of forget that you're doing anything unusual. You start to think this crazy pace is normal. And you certainly lose any conception that it will ever ever ever be different.

So being in Rochester without the kids was very good for me, gave me a moment to see the forest from above rather than simply dodge tree after tree. What I discovered is that I am closer to the end of the forest path than I had realized. This knowledge renewed me immeasurably.

Which was good, because that next weekend we met Mitch's folks and the kids in Ohio for a family reunion / wedding reception / memorial service (all in 2 days). We arrived home from that on a Sunday near 11pm; Monday I unpacked and did laundry and repacked, and Tuesday morning I loaded the kids back up and drove to the Adirondacks for a Quaker retreat. Without Mitch.

When I drove off for the retreat I knew I was asking a lot of the kids. I wasn't sure how it would go, but it was important to me for us to be there. They had been away from home for 2 weeks solid, had tons of activity during that time, and were away from mom and dad the latter part, which I know is stressful for them. Yet, the retreat was going to have so many activities they would love: a 1/2 day summer camp filled with other children, plus a beach, plus archery and crafts and boating etc etc. There was a good chance it would go swimmingly.

It did not.

Clark, I suspect, had reached his limit before we even got in the car. Both he and Frances had moments of fun at the retreat, but both were also tired and Clark was very difficult. He refused to go to the morning camp (crafts! playground! giant bubbles!), which meant I had to take him with me to the discussion groups (which, let me remind you, are Quaker and therefore spend at least 50% of their time in silence).

Frances, I have to say, was a gem. I LOVE this stage she is in. She is cooperative and good humored (for the most part) and helpful and charming. Unfortunately, this too will pass.

By Friday, though, I couldn't hold it together anymore. I wept pretty much through the entire morning discussion group. I tried to do it oh so quietly, but Clark, on my lap, kept turning around to look at me with slight alarm. Then he would say in his loud 4 year old voice, "why you crying, Mommy?" Afterwards I gratefully allowed one family to take Frances with them to the boathouse for singing, another to take Clark to the library to read, while I, all alone, paddled a kayak onto the bay. When I reached the middle, I lay the paddle across the boat and floated there. It was so quiet, the other boats far enough away that I couldn't hear their motors, mountains all around. It was wonderful.

I almost left a day early. I felt I was just asking too much of the kids, that they needed to be at home with familiar things and some kind of routine. I felt bad that I had put them in this position in the first place. While I wept into my plate during lunch, one of my friends commented that we don't know what our kids' limits are until they tell us. Yes, that's true. We do our best to read them and know what they can handle and what they can't, but it's not really until we give them a chance to show us that we know for sure.

I think these trials are worth it, weeping and all.

And now - now! - an german university student / au pair arrived a few days ago. More change! She's here for 2 months. Her arrival certainly warrants its own post and maybe will get one (who's to say?) but the abbreviated version is that it caused me more adjustment than I expected, and Clark lost his mind.

The reason it was hard for me is that I'm so used to doing everything on my own, to managing juggling fielding every. single. detail. every morsel the kids put in their mouths, everyone's safety-behavior-schedule-rest-cleanliness-overall mental and physical health, and I couldn't even tell her how to help me out. I couldn't stop long enough to figure out what would even be helpful. But we've gotten used to each other, and she's starting to understand how things go in the house and jump where she's needed. Plus, I had an appointment yesterday and left her alone with the kids for a couple of hours. PLUS her jet lag is waning. I kept reminding myself that, as much adjustment that her presence was causing me, she was most certainly more disoriented.

Clark - the poor guy just needs some calm and some normal. The au pair will eventually become normal of course, and then she will leave and everything will be adjustment and chaos and hollering again. So it goes.

I have some anxiety about the loneliness to come when she goes back to germany. They way I'm dealing with that is to remind myself that I could be smashed flat by a semi at any moment and there's no use being anxious about something that may never come to pass. In the meantime, I plan to be only thankful for the sudden two extra hands.

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