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Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
The first time I tried to start my daughter in childcare, she was two months old. I cried just dropping off the check.
But I’m a freelance writer, and Corporation Me has no paid maternity leave. Before I had her, I’d determined that two months was what I could manage. It sounded like plenty.
When that two-month mark arrived, everything was in place. I’d cranked my workload back up to full speed. Roy was back in daycare full time, with a provider I love and trust, where Vera could join him.
But the reality of two months old snuggled in my arms; helpless, adorable little Vera Loraine with the easy smile and the chubby thighs and the excited screeches. If only someone would pay me to cuddle her full time. I’d be awesome at that job.
I brushed my tears off as typical. Reminded myself that some people don’t even get two months and that this was the trade-off for my incredible job flexibility, which allows me to work from home, come and go as I please, and take most Fridays off with the kiddos. “You won’t feel ready no matter when you do it,” my friend Konnie consoled. She was right.
I forged ahead. The night before her first day, as Clint put Roy to bed, Vera and I bustled about the house getting her packed—diapers, bottles, pacifiers, extra little onesies and sleepers. I laid out her first-day outfit, a cute little blue polka-dot swing shirt and stretchy pants with pink cherries embroidered on the chest. I nursed her to sleep, then sat down to write out her schedule and preferred soothing techniques, as my provider requested.
Again, tears. They wouldn’t stop. I just didn’t want to tell someone else how to comfort my two-month old. I wanted to comfort my two-month old.
When Clint came downstairs and saw me he said, “Don’t bring her in. We’ll figure it out.” He was right. The tears were excessive enough that I had to pay attention. We would figure it out.
With Roy, this would’ve been near impossible. The boy only napped twice a day for 45 minutes at a time, if that. Vera, on the other hand, is a champ napper (thank you, universe), sleeping four hours at a time with hour/hour-and-a-half periods of wakefulness in between. I managed to keep up with my full workload during these prolific naps, plus evenings and weekends, gobbling her up like a crazy woman during her brief awake times.
Flash forward a month and a half. The house is a complete and total wreck from top to bottom. Non-essential paperwork is accumulating, and likely becoming essential. We are making it work, but at the expense of things like these, which can only be ignored for so long. We are making it work, but just barely.
A month and a half is a long time to a baby. Vera still sleeps well, though less. She’s wonderfully alert and grows more interactive each day. She’s got cheeks that don’t stop, and at three and a half months old, she’s filling out six-month clothes quite nicely. She’s healthy, happy and strong, and an absolute pleasure to hang out with.
Last night, when I packed her bag, I didn’t cry. I didn’t when I typed up her schedule, either. I did when I dropped her off, of course. Who wouldn’t, handing over those tiny onesies, eensy diapers and wee yellow sunhat? The directions, the bottle of milk and then the little baby chubby cheekers, smiling that wide, toothless grin?
I cried all the way to the gym, where I logged my first 5K since she was born. Running always helps me.
We’re starting with a half day. I’m focusing on how lucky I am that my job’s flexible enough that I can ease us both in like this.
I’ll probably look at that photo above, taken over last week’s trip up north, a hundred times before I pick her up at noon. It makes me smile.
So how did the first drop-off day go for you?
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Monday, October 24th, 2011
Admit it. You’ve considered it. Chucking it all and taking off, kids in tow, the world your classroom? I sure have.
Travel writer Jennifer Wilson not only considered it, she saved her pennies and did it, abandoning her cushy Iowa life for the tiny Croatian mountain village her ancestors fled decades earlier.
She chronicled her family’s adventures in “Running Away to Home,” just published by St. Martin’s Press. Wilson agreed not only to a frank Q&A on her family’s sabbatical, including tips on how to take your own, she’s also promised a signed copy of her book to one lucky Love & Diapers reader. (Details below.) Her graciousness may or may not be attributed to the fact that we’re friends—she comments here at L&D under the handle anti-jen.
A story-setting excerpt from the book:
“Jim and I looked at each other across the shopping cart one Saturday afternoon, both of us holding the Starbucks that accounted for $150 of our monthly household budget, SUV idling in the parking lot, kids grousing that the Lego set they’d chosen was somehow lacking, and asked ourselves: Is this the American Dream? Because if it is, it sort of sucks.”
L&D: Did you at all feel somewhat loony, lifting your family up out of its comfy Midwestern existence and plopping them into a relatively desolate Croatian mountain town?
Jennifer Wilson: Often times, yes! I appreciate how delicately you put that, Berit. We were at a point in our lives where we had everything we supposedly wanted—good jobs, nice house, sweet kids—but things felt weird. We didn’t feel very connected to any of it. I think we spend a lot of time talking about what we want from marriage, from work, from friendship. But how often do we talk about what we want to be as a family? We wanted a time-out to recalibrate, and frankly, the fantasy of the Croatian mountain village just hit at the right place at the right time in our lives. And off we went for some family recalibrating!
How did the kids feel about that?
Weeeeeell, my son Sam, who was 6 at the time, flat-out refused to go. We had to blatantly bribe him. Zadie was almost 4 and had no idea what “going to Croatia” meant. So of course she agreed—she’d be spending all her time with her family, and so it was awesome!
What was the reality of village life like?
The village was small … and quiet … and that intimidated me a lot at first. I describe it in the book as a handful of gnome houses in the crease between mountains. The backyards all melded together into giant fields and meadows, and my kids got to run free all day every day for the first time in their lives. For them, it was heaven, from climbing trees to eating wild strawberries in the field. They were more independent than they’d ever been, and I realized just how much face time parents and kids are forced to have these days. Sam and Zadie really thrived with the freedom, knowing that we were always close by if they needed us.
Sounds as if you hit the jackpot in the simplicity department. Was it the cure-all you hoped it would be?
Having a much smaller place was great. We live in a big renovated house here in Des Moines, and it can be a bear to keep up. So having just one big dorm-like space was pretty heavenly. It was also great to have our own schedule—no playdates, no practices, no real work deadlines. The simplicity of time was so freeing in that way. Our time was all our own. It made us realize how much we sort of manufacture our own schedules, and how overscheduling separates us from connecting with each other.
On the other hand, simplicity can also be a nice way of saying “boring.” Having huge tracts of uninterrupted time was weird for me. The kids and Jim relaxed right into it. Sam and Zadie were so happy to have nowhere to be, ever. When Jim got bored he’d pick up the atlas and plan a drive, or embark on an epic cooking adventure, or just accept the boredom. One day he decided to make burgers, and it took him all day just to find all the ingredients.
But for the busy mom here, huge tracts of do-nothing time made me feel almost agoraphobic. I am the captain of our home schedule, and when nobody needed my services anymore, I didn’t really know what to do. I admit I had my fair share of panic attacks at the beginning. But the more we became enmeshed in the village, the more things I had to do: Learning old recipes with the neighbor ladies, interviewing people about history, learning how to be really good at hanging up laundry on the line, sleuthing down old family members. Still, this experience made it very clear that I’m the restless one in the family. I don’t do downtime very well. It’s just my nature.
In what ways did these revelations change your family life back here?
It’s more of a priority to stay connected, as a family. We still have activities and tend to run around, but I’m quicker to put on the brakes and make everyone get in pajamas to read “Hatchet” together on the couch. Being present with each other is a daily priority.
Being connected to our food source has remained a priority and gotten more important. We eat clean local food as much as we can. We have our own garden and chickens. We buy fresh food daily, in season. Although the kids won’t appreciate that lesson ‘til they’re older—they want junk, and can’t figure out why we have to eat things that look so close to original form. So we still take plenty mac and cheese or fast food intervals.
Any advice to a family thinking of taking their own similar type of time-out?
Get “The Family Sabbatical Handbook” by Elisa Bernick. It is essential, comprehensive, and we followed it to the letter. It was infinitely helpful.
Also, take a scouting trip first if you can. See the lay of the land, make some contacts that you can email with questions, whether it’s the tourism person or a landlord or friends you meet while visiting.
Last, prepare for a challenge. A family sabbatical isn’t for the weak of knees. As with all travel, it’s 90 percent work, 10 percent glory. And of course, buy “Running Away to Home” to get some idea. I write about the good, the bad, and the in between. I don’t sugarcoat it, yet you’ll get an idea of the unique beauty of taking this kind of leap with your family.
Win your very own SIGNED copy of “Running Away to Home” by leaving a comment below by the end of the day on this Friday, October 28th. Anonymous comments and those without a valid email address will be disqualified. The winner will be chosen at random, then contacted via email. If I don’t hear from a winner within five days, a new one will be chosen. Please enter/comment only once. Good luck!
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Monday, August 1st, 2011
Safe in the crook of Paul Bunyan's crotch
We’re back! Man, I needed that. It’s been so long since I’ve had a real vacation. I started out my career as a travel writer, and I still sometimes write travel stories, so whenever I’m on the road I compulsively take notes. Either because I have to, or just in case. It’s a nice gig, for sure, but analyzing every detail—the server’s casual colloquial comments, the water’s exact shade of blue—does tend to prevent one from winding down.
So there’s that, plus the fact that we have a toddler. We really haven’t set aside vacation time for the three of us because, well, why? Why take precious time off, pack up all the comforts of home and pay good money to gamble that he’ll weather a museum visit without a major meltdown, chase him around a foreign restaurant and then sit around in a pricey hotel room all afternoon while he (hopefully) naps? It’s easier on everyone to enjoy one choice local sight and then have the boy home eating a black bean quesadilla before noon.
This vacation was an exception. We moved into a home, full of other adults just as capable of occupying a toddler as we are. The activities available were beautifully minimal. There was no plan. We were free to act moment to moment. Feel like a bike ride? Go for it. Rather take a nap? No problem. Want to plunder the mountain of snack food? Do it. It’s about time you learned what new flavors the Pringles people have dreamed up.
Roy really loved it. He loved stealing Papa’s hat and getting chased around the cabin. He loved playing trucks with Uncle E. He loved applesauce with cinnamon as doled out by GGO. He loved begging sips of water off Grandma Nancy. When I tried to put him down for naps, he’d resist, sobbing, “Boat! Boat!” Thankfully, all the activity and fresh air would work its magic against his will, and he’d eventually snooze for three hours straight. When he awoke, we’d head out on the boat.
Now we’re back, unpacked, with the last load of vacation clothes spinning in the dryer, and ready to tackle real life with fresh energy.
I’m curious about your method of tackling vacations with toddlers. Success stories and cautionary tales welcome.
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Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
We’re a little busy this week.
Today, for example, we have a lot of eating, boating, shop-browsing, reading, game-playing, biking, lounging, napping and visiting with family to do. Such is life at the lake in northern Minnesota.
Roy absolutely loves hanging out. So many people to offer cookies and help steer pontoons and chase around the cabin! How valuable, this leisurely face time that cements already strong bonds.
With a schedule like this, however, I can’t guarantee I’ll be posting much this week. The cabin is gorgeous—comfortable, with lots of space for everyone, and stocked with enough snacks to fuel a teenaged slumber party. One thing it doesn’t have, though, is wi-fi. I am OK with this.
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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
While sifting through a thrift store, my carpenter hubby was drawn like a magnet to this book, “Nomadic Furniture,” by James Hennessey and Victor Papanek (Pantheon, 1973). Awesome rambling subhead: “How to Build and Where to Buy Lightweight Furniture that Folds, Inflates, Knocks Down, Stacks, or Is Disposable and Can Be Recycled. —With Many Easy to Follow Instructions.”
There are lots of cool projects, including a drop-down table (it becomes a pin board, when not in use!) and a bean bag bed. Our favorite, though, has got to be the disposable car seat.
We live in an age where children are required by law to be five-point-harnessed into expensive, crash-tested hunks of strategically-padded plastic, whereas our parents were free to simply cobble a booster seat from an old case of Hamms and toss us into it, face forward and seatbeltless.
It brings back fond memories of our family trips, with my little brother and I knocking about in the way-back of the old maroon wood-paneled station wagon. We’d set up our sleeping bags and organize our toys and move about as we pleased. It was a like a giant, speeding play pen.
Those were the carefree days of helmetless biking, knee pad-free skateboarding, and lawn darts with actual metal tips—my god, anyone else remember those emergency room-visits waiting to happen? I know we’re safer now, and that’s a very good thing. But I have to admit that part of me mourns the innocence lost.
It’s quite possible that this is just a new parent talking, but it feels to me that there’s a whole lot to worry about these days. More so than back when a cardboard “car-safety” seat was a completely earnest craft project.
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