How To Keep That Vacation State of Mind

This relaxed state won't last much longer. Promise.

This relaxed state won’t last much longer. Promise.

I’ve got the glow. The family-vacation-went-better-than-expected glow.

Like childbirth narratives, vacation memories are subject to reinvention. Instead of recalling the intermittent pain of persuading four genetically related, stubborn humans to agree on everything from meals to water play, I only remember the laughter and bonding – togetherness times ten.

Our family memories will last a lifetime.

My vacation-induced glow, however, will last only until we step through our front door. That’s when the real fun starts.

If you’re like me, the overwhelming affection you feel toward your loved ones and the relaxed vacation joie de vivre last just long enough to survive the trip home.

Once real life intervenes, the vacation glow peels off like a wet tankini, leaving piles of laundry, kids with no bedtimes, and sunscreen-induced acne behind.

I’m a great vacation mom – my yeses outweigh my nos ten to one. Want to eat gummy bears for breakfast? Again? Sure. Just be sure to wash them down with fruit punch. You best stay hydrated. Not shower for a week? Who cares! Lake water is clean enough. Jump head first off a floating trampoline? Why not? You’ll learn to swim on the way up.

Once home, I’ll have to slay the monsters I created. Or send them to your house.

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“How can we keep this vacation going and enjoy these last few weeks before school starts?” my husband said.

“We can ditch the kids and jet off to Bermuda for the rest of the month,” I said. “Right now I’m feeling relaxed and loving and up for anything. The second we get home, I promise to be a raving bitch.”

And so it will be. God help us all.

How do you keep that vacation state of mind going once you return home? Is the transition home after a vacation hard for you – or is it just me?

Souvenirs For Everyone

imagesI fanned my neck with the Shedd Aquarium map and searched the signs overhead for the entrance to the dolphin show, oblivious to the dangers lurking behind me on row upon row of overstuffed, expertly lit shelves. Only when my daughters dry humped my legs, their squeals of excitement echoing through the crowd, did I turn toward the source of their frenzy.

The museum gift shop.

Specifically, the stuffed, near life-sized beluga whale display.

I gripped my purse strap tight to my body, as if that simple act would protect me from the onslaught of their impending souvenir attack, and searched for a distraction. Sharks! There’s nothing like sharp teeth and beady eyes to distract frenzied, pint-sized consumers.

Without comment, I quickened my pace and headed toward the Wild Reef exhibit.

“Mom, come back! These beluga whales are only $4.99! Can I get one? Can I?” Ava said.

I should have used my well-honed selective hearing and kept walking. Instead I looked at the price tag – $49.99.  Whaaaat? Did my kid need glasses? Or a remedial math lesson?

“Can I get one too?” Rhys said.

Baby beluga, how did I not see that coming? stuffed beluga whale

“No. These whales are expensive. Let’s go watch the dolphin show.”

“But Mom, you can get it for my birthday next week,” Ava said.

“Me, too.” Rhys said, forgetting her birthday was in May.

Unwilling to be the bad guy yet, I said, “I’ll think about it. Let’s go see the dolphins.”

As the dolphins flipped and splashed, Ava elbowed me every three minutes to ask, “Did you think about it yet?” I cursed the gift shop and myself for my rookie delay tactic.

My children aren’t easily dissuaded. Like Great Whites eyeing a shiny appendage, they smell my discomfort with saying no, then circle, strike and clamp on for the kill.

If I didn’t handle this firmly and decisively, my daughters would badger me incessantly, like feral birds nipping at Tippy Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film.

“Girls, we’re not buying souvenirs today. Our gift is coming to this museum.”

And then we held hands and skipped off together to fondle the live stingrays.

Yeah, right.

Thankfully, the hallway outside the gift shop was filled with moans and wails from other kids whose parents refused to buy another stuffed anything.

I wanted to tantrum too. But first I needed a snack.

As we ate our popcorn amid exaggerated silence and pouts, I wondered how fun mommy had quickly morphed into tired and pissed off mommy. Screw that. I decided to have fun even if my daughters were disappointed and sullen.

Once I made that decision, I ignored my kids’ exasperated sighs and complaints and enjoyed the rest of our oceanic outing, especially the playful beluga whales. I may buy myself a stuffed one. Just for fun.

Making Room For Chaos

I’m having one of those days. An agitated, pissy, every shade of bad mood kind of day where each whine from my kids rubs against my insides like a potato over a box grater. A day where every question feels like an intrusion; every request a resentment in the making. My insides feel messy and chaotic, and I’m convinced my skin is sewn on wrong.

For those of you following along at home, these visceral emotions translate into angry, lonely, hurt and sad on a standard feelings chart. I’m also feeling a smidgen of jealousy. Just for fun. Actually, the smidgen is a big win for me. Usually, I like my jealousy in big heaping tablespoons.

Photo courtesy of www.thisnext.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.thisnext.com

We’re big on identifying and expressing feelings in our family. Although my husband and I aren’t aligned on every parenting issue, we both value and are committed to teaching our kids that all feelings are welcome in our home.

But just because we say we value feelings doesn’t mean we know what the f**k to do with them when they show up uninvited and without a hostess gift. Did I mention how much I’m hating being a parent today?

As someone who pushed all my feelings down deep into the dimples of my thighs for much of my life, learning to express my emotions while teaching our kids to express theirs is a big, messy experiment, similar to mixing Pepsi with Mentos. Feelings mean chaos, even and especially the happy ones, and I don’t do chaos easily, even after nine years as a parent. And more than five times that as a human.

I would prefer emotions expressed on my timetable.  When it’s convenient for me and I’m feeling loving and receptive, bring ‘em on. I’ll love myself and my kids through the hardest ones.

Other times, I want to fix and manage and get through those feelings in record time. Ok, kids, double time now, get those pesky emotions under control. Tick tock.

There’s a scene in the fabulous Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, which resonates with me on many levels. The characters sing a tongue-in-cheek song about the value of pushing down unwieldy emotions, pretending they don’t exist and choosing not to feel anything painful. The catchy, upbeat lyrics to the song, “Turn It Off,” go like this:

“When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, don’t feel those feelings, hold them in instead. Turn it off, like a light switch, just go click … What’s so hard about that?”

If only that worked.

Teaching my kids to express their feelings responsibly means looking at and accepting my own. And today may not be a convenient day for me. I don’t want to deal with other people’s emotions today. I don’t want to listen to screaming unless it’s my own. I want to be the only one who gets to be angry and pissy and pouty. Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, when I don’t express my own anger, my kids act it out sideways. This morning, as my own pissiness peaked, Rhys (4) hit Ava (9) on the leg with a glittery magic wand.

Although I reminded Rhys that we don’t hit other people and helped her hit pillows instead, I was aware that I wanted to whack someone with that wand too. On the head.

Maybe I should thank Rhys for expressing my frustration for me. Or not.

Instead I need some self-care and some time with the punching bag in our basement. Mostly, I need a hug. When I’m feeling this out of sorts, my instinct is to push everyone away, to prove to myself that my feelings are toxic and hateful. But in reality, I’m human and every cell in my body is screaming for connection and love. And that’s the hardest lesson of all.

There Will Be Blood

Do any young girls react positively to the news that they’ll bleed for several days each month for the next forty-plus years?

When I recently explained the basics of menstruation to our daughter, Ava, she cringed and moaned in disbelief, throwing her hands up to cover her face before warning me that she might throw up.

I wanted Ava to hear the details from me, before she heard them from a stranger at school next week during a Health & Human Development seminar. Although Ava is unlikely to start menstruating for at least another year or two, a few girls in her fourth grade class have already begun. I’m grateful her school addresses the subject, but I knew my daughter would be devastated hearing these life-altering details for the first time during a class with her peers.

Although I was prepared to explain to Ava the blessings of a fully functioning female anatomy, the truth is I’ve always dreaded getting my period and hated its personalized accoutrements:  bloating, exhaustion and flash anger. It’s only recently, now that I’m galloping toward menopause, that I’m grateful to feel the pang of cramps every month. (My appreciation is momentary, only long enough to swallow enough ibuprofen to shock Lance Armstrong.)

And at least one of us is terrified of her growing up. In my mind, menstruation signals the loss of “little” in my little girl. I don’t know how to navigate the pain of this inevitable part of parenthood. Or how to help her celebrate this routine rite of passage.

Even with my reservations, I envisioned sitting with my daughter for a mother-daughter chat worthy of an Oprah magazine feature article. I even wore my favorite flannel Scooby-Doo pajamas to lighten the mood.

But as Ava freaked, I choked, unable to find any sugar with which to cloak the facts.

I tried focusing on the future baby angle, but Ava was too far gone.

“I’ll only bleed once, right, Mom?” she said, peeking out from behind trembling fingers.

I wanted to lie, to restore some semblance of order to her world, to reassure her that yes, a period is a one and done gig.

“Mom?”

“No, honey, you will bleed once a month,” I said, looking around the room for stray sharp objects.

I may as well have told Ava she will gouge her eyes out with a Sharpie twelve times a year. And who could blame her?

“What happens to boys?” she asked, once her breathing returned to ragged.

“Boy’s bodies go through lots of changes too,” I said. “They get hair on their chests, under their armpits and around their genitals just like girls do. Oh, and their voices get deeper.

Her face twisted in astonishment.

“That’s it? Are you telling me that girls get breasts and bleed and boys get sore throats? I’m going to throw up.”

Maybe I should have softened the news with Oreos. Or tequila. Remind me to bring both when we have the sex talk.

Step, Step, Slide

As I wrote about in Life Patterns, our four year old has a new fascination with patterns. Her face routinely breaks into a smile as she spots a series of colors or shapes and gleefully shouts, “I see a pattern, Mom! A pattern!”

Yesterday during one of our afternoon dance breaks, both of us swaying to the “Grease” soundtrack, she said, “Mom, do you know our step, step, slide dance is a pattern? Step, step, slide.” (Better she focus on our dance pattern than the words to “Beauty School Dropout,” one of her favorite songs.)

As I danced with my daughter in my arms, awed by her wonder and joy, I mused on the patterns I pray she develops, ones that will sustain and enrich her life, like the patterns of believing she is beloved and of accepting herself flaws and all.

Step, step, slide.

I found myself wishing I could warn her future self to look out for patterns that will hurt her, like pleasing others instead of herself and attaching to people who don’t treat her with adoration and respect.

I considered making her a video of patterns good and bad. Or perhaps a vision board detailing my hopes for her. No pressure.

Step, step, slide.

I felt a momentary rush of fear, aware that lecturing her on life will be easier than witnessing and supporting her as she grows, develops her own patterns and finds her way.

As I breathed in her just-out-of-the-shower scent, I prayed for guidance on our journeys and acceptance of ourselves along the way.

The best I can do today is show her through my actions how to embrace all the patterns life offers, ask for help around the ones that don’t serve me and trust the process of life, love and joy. I can model reaching out my arms for love, and letting the world unfold its beauty in front of me and inside me. Gifts await. For all of us.

Step, step, slide.

Patterns For Life

Patterns For Life

What patterns do you hope your children embrace and avoid?

Never Underestimate the Power of Bacon

The bacon was the best part. Everyone agreed – even George, the shelter resident whose weary black eyes belied his quick smile and spritely demeanor. Initially partial to the homemade, vanilla-infused waffles, George quickly changed his vote once I revealed I had played bacon chef all morning.

For two hours last Sunday, our family prepared breakfast at a local homeless shelter with five other volunteer families. While I hoped we would glean some teachable moments from the experience (and some fodder for a blog post), my goal was to complete the community service requirement for our daughters’ school. I didn’t give much thought to the human connections we might make.

With only one hour to prepare a buffet spread worthy of a Michelin rating, we chopped and stirred, sautéed and diced while chatting with our fellow volunteers.

Our nine year old, Ava, played sous chef; her proficiency cracking eggs matched only by her ability to simultaneously make a new friend.

While my husband, Mike, quartered muffins and arranged them artfully on a platter, I cooked bacon for the masses and supervised our four year old’s placemat decorating efforts. Rhys lovingly drew rainbows on exactly two placemats. After encouraging her to quicken her pace, she replied, “I am an artist, mom. Don’t rush me.”

Once we’d prepared enough food to feed the Duggar family for a month, the volunteers sat down with shelter residents for a meal to rival any four-star restaurant.

“This is better food than I have at home!” Ava yelled, raising a slice of caramelized porcine goodness. The residents giggled and applauded her enthusiasm.

“Do I smell like bacon?” I asked, sitting down next to George.

“Best smell in the world, darlin’,” George said, grabbing another slice. “We’re lucky to have so many good cooks here today.”

Mike and George hit it off quickly, talking about Chicago winters and sports teams. After a few bites of cheesy eggs, even Rhys warmed to George, teasing him about eating all the bacon.

George was surprised by how many people volunteered daily at the shelter. “When I get out of here, I’m volunteering too. Pay it forward, you know.”

As we left the shelter, George, who had been out for a post-breakfast walk, approached us wearing a sky blue windbreaker, five layers too light for the frigid March morning. After thanking us for the meal, he walked away, tears streaming down his weathered face.

“Why is he crying, Dad?” Rhys asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe he’s sad he doesn’t have a home of his own. Or maybe he’s lonely,” Mike replied. “I wish I’d given him a hug.”

At bedtime as I tucked Rhys under her stack of warm blankets, she asked, “Mom, why was George crying today?”

“I don’t know, honey. Maybe his heart took in more love today than he’s used to. I bet he was happy he got to meet you.”

She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me close enough to whisper, “I think he really wanted more bacon!”

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