Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bang My Head Against the Wall

Bang My Head - Cross Canadian Ragweed

Baby Girl on the balcony overlooking Lake Zurich

 So…I’ve always been a bit of a stress-ball.  (I can hear my ex-coworkers in America laughing from here. . .)  I like things organized.  I appreciate soothing background music.  I work most effectively by focusing on one task at a time until completion.  I like to be in control and empowered.  I care a lot about what other people think of me.  I do not like to inconvenience others and sometimes have trouble asking for help.   I hate looking incompetent.  I sure I am not alone with these statements.  Anyone who knows me also knows that with all this stress-related energy comes great passion and drive.  I will be the first person to welcome a new employee, take them to lunch, and become a life-long friend.  I will be at the wedding, birthday party, baby shower, and Christmas party, if I’m not already hosting it.  I enjoy trying to understand why people do the things they do.  If I say I’m going to do something, I do it.  I’m forgiving.  I love to dance and give hugs.  So, in the end, there’s a balance:  stress and love.  Energy is the common denominator.
  As a parent, your life is no longer your own.  At least not in the form it was previously.  Your child has a significant influence on when you sleep and when you wake, and then everything else just stems from there.   
  One of the biggest differences between living in America and living in Europe is how public your life becomes.  For example, in America, you’re driving home from work or the store at the end of a long day with two young children in the backseat.  You and your children are tired and restless.  Tensions are starting to escalate while being confined in your 4-door car or SUV.  Perhaps one has pinched the other one and now one or both are crying.  You’re looking into your rear-view mirror, alternating between sympathy and frustration, “Are you okay, sweetie?  Did you hit your brother?  How many times do I have to tell you, No hitting!  This is your warning.  Do it again and I’ll pull this car over and put you in timeout right here on the side of Preston Road!”  At the end, both are wailing while you’re trying to keep your cool, lecture your children, and you’ve got a death-grip on the steering wheel while your foot reflexively accelerates on the gas pedal towards home.  The car next to you at the stop light, on the rare case the driver even bothers to look in your direction, sees a snow globe of activity.  They may smile at the two sweet little children in their individual car seats.  If they do notice the tears streaming down a face, with the screams muted, they may look on sympathetically, and think, oh shame, the poor little dears.  The driver looks forward, perhaps switches the radio station from the traffic report to a song, zooms down the road once the light changes from red to green, and does not give you and your family a second thought.  The blizzard of stress, screaming, and anger is yours and contained. 
    In Europe, in The Netherlands in particular, it is five o’clock and my children are sitting side-by-side in the carrier on my bike.  My daughter is nearing her ‘witching’ hour and she pinches the baby for kicks.  His screams shatter the otherwise peacefulness of the bike path all around us.  Wailing beyond belief, every bicyclist within a ¼-mile radius (and there are a lot of them) can hear the disaster I am pedaling down the road.  We are not in a bubble, but rather, we are a painstakingly clear high definition movie complete with surround sound.  Cyclists are coming towards me and zooming around me and everyone is turning their heads and staring in wonder at the absolute volume radiating from my bright green Bose speaker of a bike.  Within seconds, I pull to the side of the bike path, jump off the bike with lightning speed, lift up the rain cover and have my son unbuckled and in my arms while glaring at my daughter.  A woman cradling her howling baby on the side of the bike path in front of the most colorful bike in the country attracts no less attention.  Walking down the sidewalk pushing a screaming toddler or baby is just as much fun.  I’ve had old women in Dutch, French, and German comment to me and my children about the goings-on of the scene in front of them.  The most intense of all, is the train.  Inevitably, after physically walking all over town to get to the train station, you may or may not have had to carry the stroller plus child down an unbelievable flight of stairs and lift it breathlessly onto the train.  Every train in Europe I’ve been on has a door labeled handicap, but it beats me as to how a wheelchair is supposed to lift itself up two to three stairs to get into the train.  I have yet to see a ramp.  So you’re already low on energy, probably sweating, and your sweet child is not thrilled to be stuck in the tiny space allotted for strollers, suitcases, bikes, and whatever other large device people are taking on the train (I saw a man carrying a stringed bass in Zurich).   Your child’s mood changes from yellow to red and with that, the whining, screaming, kicking, and if you’re lucky, even hitting commences.  As a parent, your energy level is already at low point from the physical requirements of getting to the train and your patience with said child is minimal.  The people around you are stuck listening to everything you and your child are saying for minutes on end.  They don’t know you.  They don’t know that you and your child are 90% of the time sweet and loving towards each other.  They don’t know that you’re on holiday and sleeping a family of four in a one-bedroom hotel room which inevitably results in the day excitedly starting at 6:30 a.m. instead of the normal wakeup time of 8:00.  They don’t know that you’ve flown your family of four to another country because it was important to you to attend a wedding of one of your closest friends.  All they see is one stressed-out Mama and a screaming child (or two). 
View of Zurich from Lake Zurich
  The first Secret of Adulthood Gretchen Rubin writes in her book, The Happiness Project is “People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think.”  Okay.  Fine.  I’ll take a breath and ponder that one for a minute.  But has Gretchen ever been on a wedding cruise boat with a seasick baby and a toddler who had approximately 1/3 of her normal nap for the day?  Did she see you balancing on the boat in heels and a short dress, alternating between trying to get your toddler to go to sleep and wrestling your fidgety 11-month old to the point where you’re afraid he’s going to fly out of your arms and into the lake?  Did she see you put your glass of wine in the cup holder of the stroller only to have you knock it over and shatter all over the deck while trying to place squirmy baby back into the stroller?   Oh no.  I don’t think Gretchen has seen any of this.  But I have.  In the middle of the absolutely breathtaking Lake Zurich there we were.  I was the guest-trying-to-have-a-good-time-while-at-a-wedding-on-a-boat-with-two-children-under-two-and-a-half-years-old, which only led to Germans whispering to each other about the party foul caused by said clearly unstable American mother of two.  Or so it was.  In my head. 
   Sometimes even Mamas need a time-out.  My daughter, when I can see the restlessness increasing in both of us, sometimes goes to her crib for ‘relax time’.  I shower her with stuffed animals and books and she will read to herself, talk, and play for 20 minutes or so, until she has calmed down.  After the mortifying wine-glass-shattering-event, the boat pulled up to the dock, and as the other guests turned to enter into the reception, I grabbed a stroller and with angry and sad tears about to spill, hugged my friends, told them inconclusively that I needed to go back to the hotel, and marched off, my husband and other stroller trailing behind.
  With every vacation we’ve been on, starting with a trip to Disney World when my daughter was seven months old, I’ve had that break-down crying moment where I say to V, “Why?  Why do we even try?  We have got to be crazy!!  Why do we even try to go on vacation with one/two children?  We should just stay home.  It’s just too hard.”  This was that moment, in the hotel room between the wedding and the reception.  This was the first time my daughter was a seemingly understanding witness to the event and after fighting with me for hours (all I wanted was for her to fall asleep so she could feel better and we could enjoy the evening) she looked at me and said, “Mama’s sad.  Mama’s crying,” which of course, made me feel even worse.  “You can’t just leave it like this, you have to go back to see your friends,” my husband was saying. He was trying to convince me that he would stay with the kids while I went and enjoyed myself.  “Please, I don’t want to go back by myself,” I said, conflicted.  I was very confused as to how I was going to swing this one.  My daughter’s regular bedtime is 7:30 and that’s after her regular 3-hour nap.  It was nearing 8:00 and with a one-hour nap, I was worried that she’d continue down the path of self-destruction she’d been on for the past few hours (which, clearly, leads to my self-destruction as well.  See, we are one.)  But as she looked at me with sympathetic and calm eyes, I think, something may have clicked with her.  My son, too, was surprisingly pleasant.  So I relented.  “Baby Girl, do you want to stay in the hotel, or go to the party?” I asked.  “Go to party,” she said sweetly.  My husband looked at me with a see-let’s-do-this-it’s-worth-a-shot-type of look, and I sighed and smiled back.  I changed out of my short skirt and into pants – a much more suitable attire for chasing children, re-applied my makeup, braided my daughter’s hair, and we were set to make a determined appearance at the reception.                                             
   From the moment we stepped into the restaurant, a magical feeling came over me and I was thankful for my children’s calmness and my husband’s insistence.  We found our places at the table, complete with highchair for my daughter and M&M-filled hearts with all of our names on them.  The wait staff rushed to bring us our salads, but upon completion, we realized we had caught up to everyone else’s soup course.  In between courses, the wedding party and guests launched balloons into the starry night sky with sparklers attached.  The balloons floated across and over Lake Zurich and my daughter watched mesmerized.  “Rapunzel, lanterns,” she whispered with eyes wide.   I chatted with my friends and when they asked if I was ok, I was able to respond, “Sorry, Mama just needed a time-out.”  In the end, we stayed out until 11 and like many times before, my daughter amazed me with her grace and stamina.  After chatting with my friends, we said goodbye to them and the beautiful bride, grabbed a taxi, and headed back to our hotel up the hill.
  Both children fell into bed without a fuss.  My husband had purchased a bottle of wine at the train station across the street from the hotel earlier in the day.  We settled into a couple of lounge chairs on the balcony overlooking Lake Zurich and sipped white wine.  As we memorized the scene in our heads, complete with calming waters and enchanting lights, I turned to him and said, “This.  This is why we try.  Because we love our friends and love moments like this.”  He smiled and said, “I couldn’t think of a more relaxing place to be stressed, but yes.  Today is why we try.”    
Zurich, Switzerland

1 comment:

  1. This moment seems primed for a good old, cliched, "it gets better", because OMG IT GET SOOOO MUCH BETTER.

    Also, do you read Ask Moxie? I think you'd like her recent posts on separating the "jobs" of parenting from the "relationship":

    Also, did I mention it gets better? xoxo