Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thoughts on Success

Scene: Talking with the boys about options when they grow up.
Me: If you grew up to be like Daddy, what would you do?
Austin: Go to work, drive trucks, have meetings
Me: If you grew up to be like Mommy, what would you do?
Oliver: Hang out with my friends.

This little conversation happened a while ago, and though it makes me smile and I laughed as we were talking about it, it sticks with me. Right now, I'm OK with this being the answer, but I can't be sure that when the boys are 10 and 12, they will be able to answer that question the same way, so I wanted to take a moment and capture what is going on in this life of ours in this sparse online diary.

I am happy. I stay at home with the boys. I drive them to swim practice and soccer practice and tball practice. We carpool, I volunteer in their classes. We lay around the house for down time and have excursions to the library, museums, coffee shops (lots of coffee shops). We play video games and argue about what we will watch on Netflix and then head outside to ride bikes or see what friends are home. I do laundry (once every two weeks). I cook dinner (two times per week). I clean (when the dog hair is tumbling across the floor). There are other things outside of the home that I do such as volunteer with the Dreamers, help out on the HOA, coordinate volunteers for their school, but most of my time is spent with and for the boys. And that's good.

This week I have been taking a class in mediation. I don't know if it will lead anywhere, but right now, it is FUN. I leave the house at 7:45 and I don't come home for 10 hours. During that time I barely speak about the kids besides to say I am a mom. I listen to lectures, role play in mediation, solve problems, and share in the successes of others (a girl just passed the Colorado Bar exam today). It has been six years since I have felt this kind of enthusiasm and motivation to engage with adults, to collaborate and work with, and one of the most satisfying parts of this class, is feeling a sense of accomplishment and value that doesn't really occur that much when you stay at home.

Recently I was out to dinner with a couple of friends and my sister, and we were having a conversation about my upcoming class. I was thinking out loud of what careers I could look into as a result of this class and I vaguely compared mediation to counseling as that is what people who work in mediation will do and so I have picked it up as a reference point. I was not saying that mediation is counseling, but that the two careers are meeting with people in high stress situations and are trying to help find a resolution to their pain or hardship. One friend we were with recently just earned her Masters in counseling. The comments I was making was in an effort to recognize that I didn't want to go as far as counseling or take on that much in schooling, so a step before that level of commitment would be mediation. I have no idea if our friend found my comparison to be offensive, but my sister did as she later pointed out to me that our friend had just spent 3 years working towards this degree and it would be presumptuous of me to compare myself to that level. I agree (even though as far as I know, our friend wasn't offended, I wouldn't have minded if she had felt that way). The point being that she has worked her butt off and has been validated for those efforts in the form of an MS. And I think to myself, what a neat little system we have here. EXCEPT when the job being done isn't easily evaluated or have an authority figure.

I see my friends, old colleagues, and my sister succeeding in their careers. I hear their grumbles over lower raises, and being looked over in a meeting while at the same time I celebrate their successes and bonuses and degrees earned. I support Chris in career changes and tactics used in meetings and am (VERY) happy when he achieves raises and bonuses. I discuss the kid's successes and achievements with people and we celebrate with ice cream and extra stories at bedtime. I am happy for them all. And yet, not having any measurable success of my own and feeling like it might be embarrassing or a put down to compare myself to my friends doesn't feel all that good.

To stay at home, you need to find your own success and I'm not talking about feeling great when you have finally finished every piece of laundry in the house. I need (and I think it's safe to say that many stay at homers need) to find peace in the monotony. To understand people are not going to come give you a pat on the back when your kid learns to swim as that isn't your success, it's your kid's. To understand your success is that you created an environment where your kid had access to the pool, the time to learn it, and the confidence to try, and to know that that won't be acknowledged by most. I need (and I have) a partner that understands this and is amazing at communicating how happy he is, or grateful for the life that we have created for ourselves, and that feels good. To stay at home, you need to feel successful when that success is not measurable.

So, back to this has been such an incredible experience, or a gift to myself, to see that I still have the desire to be beneficial to this world around me. That I enjoy when my thoughts are valued outside of parenting and that my vocabulary has not disappeared with my paychecks. And I think to the future, and I try to think about what that might look like, and I have to think that this part of me, the happiness that resides in being involved in things outside of our family will have to have some attention as the kids get older and aren't with me the majority of the time. And yet I am also so happy that this little test has shown me that no matter how much fun I have conversing and being with adults, there is nowhere I'd rather be at this moment then with the kids. I never pictured myself as staying at home, and yet I know without a doubt that there is nothing else I could do. For these few years, my place is at home, Chris is my sounding board, and the quality time with the kids is my paycheck. And that feels like success.

Friday, March 8, 2013


When the police force of Nicaragua make an equivalent of $5/day you come here expecting that people will be asking for money. In Mexico, Dominican Republic and Belize we were constantly sought out by the locals that were selling goods on the beach, on the streets, or kids coming to sing to us in exchange for a dollar or two. Here, it has been surprising, but I've been asked for a handout only once, in a market by a man who looked like he severely needed it. There are no women walking the beach, only the fisherman heading out every morning at 5:30, some in paddled boats, to sell fish at their markets for 30C ($7.50).

Yesterday afternoon the little girl who lives here came to play in the pool with the kids and I and my dad took the opportunity to go for a long walk. When he came back we looked down the beach and he had two small shadows in the shape of some local children. We laughed as he tends to be a magnet for the small folk, but were a bit more surprised when they followed him up the 56 steps to our house. They were asking for money which I think my dad agreed to, but then they saw the fun in the pool. Eyes got big, and you could see the excitement and disappointment in them as they were in their clothes and covered in sand. I showed them the outdoor shower and that was all it took, they were sopping wet and diving in by the time I got back to the pool, a surprising play date took place! Snacks of cookies and apples, goggles for all, a rousing game of bumper tube and diving for matchbox cars occupied us for the next hour all while communicating in broken languages and laughter. Adrianna was then called home, our two wanted to head to the beach and I was water logged so we called it a day. My dad took the four boys down to the beach where Carlos (9) and Mario (11) caught crabs for our two and at the end of it sent them on their way with 100C ($4). They were THRILLED. They jumped, they ran, they passed the bill back and forth. 20 yards away they turned with huge smiles and yelled MANANA!!

The day seemed fun, spontaneous, and yet, so normal. And how can that be? I'm quite sure I would be pretty put off if in a couple years Austin came home telling me he met a man who doesn't speak English (or any man for that matter), but he went to his house, had snacks, played in his pool and then received money for the day.

Strange of not, I do hope we see the boys again as Austin is already asking for them and $4 seems like a cheap hourly rate for childcare!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Welcome to Nicaragua

We sit. We watch the waves. We take dips in the ocean and pool. We eat and play board games. We read. The boys constantly kidnap Mike to pull him to a hammock, a couch, a bed for another story. "Tell us about Muck the dump truck and Sir Lancelot and Santa." This house has five gathering spaces and one little television tucked away in a bedroom that nobody can understand any show anyway. For the first four days we had no Internet, no phone and all day yesterday we had no power. It's perfect.

The flight down to Nicaragua was one of the easiest I've ever traveled. Security was a breeze, we went to a kid's play place during our layover in Miami, everybody was happy and flights were on time. When we arrived we had a bit of a wait to get through customs and getting the rental car was by far the most patience inducing. We arrived at our hotel around 11:15PM and all went out to dinner. Surprisingly the boys were still doing fine! We slept well, swam in the morning and met a man to follow out to the coast to the beach house.

Driving in Nicaragua is a fun experience for the riders. You can take in the mass of traffic, spot the horses and ox among the cars and buses and get a full feel for the chaos without actually having to navigate through it. Stopped at lights, women walk through with fruit on their heads, men hand out water stored in baggies and even a make shift hardware store was there in the case you needed to purchase a saw at a red light. My dad did a great job of making it through a traffic jam where people would just hop curbs to get into lanes heading the opposite direction and didn't flinch when a bus came within 5 inches of our doors as it bumped over the curb in an effort to make any sort of headway. Semi trucks were inching through and amazingly we felt safe. I've been more nervous heading down I70 when there were only 2 other cars next to me. You feel as if this is the way it's supposed to be. After we left the city of Managua and headed through the fields towards the coast you get an appreciation of the amount of work that goes into maintaining these roads. Miles and miles of cobblestone roads make up the highway. Pavers placed individually by hand and we only came across a few potholes, all marked by cones and workers there to pound a new stone back into place.

We saw farm fields being cut by men and machete's, ox pulling loads of sugar cane? we weren't sure. Horse and buggies making their way from one town to another, a thing that took our car about 2 hours to accomplish. Homes that can only be described as shacks with people who sat outside smiling.

Pulling into our neighborhood we found pigs on the side of the road, chickens pecking at the ground and homes not bigger than 20 feet by 20 feet. They are made out of tin sides and roof, holes in the walls and have big water cisterns in the front that we have seen people bathing from. A scene that would cause an uproar in papers across the US is standard living down here, not 50 yards from where I sit. Then you reach our house. Manicured lawn, a half acre of paradise that is worthy of any magazine. Three buildings, two for bedrooms, one for a kitchen. An outside living and dining room with nothing besides a grass top roof and no walls. A tiled patio and small infinity pool overlooking an amazingly clean and open beach.

This house, this place, this way of life that we get to experience down here (without sounding overly dramatic) is food for my soul. There is quite literally nothing to do other than play games, read, swim and drink a pina colada. The house manager tells us we should just have groceries delivered, that they will keep a tally and we can pay on a weekly basis. There is no laundry on site, so we will send it out. Living like this in the backyard of people living like they are can't but help lend a feeling of intrusion. And yet. And yet catering to homes like this provides an employment that pays and a life out of a shack. The groundskeeper and his family live on this little piece of paradise and spend their day similar to ours, though minus the pool while we are here (though their little girl has come swimming with us). They look out at the ocean, sit with their family, and their three year old plays tag on the lawn with her mom. We haven't really ventured into the town yet as we can't help but feel like simple observers with no real way to communicate. We have found one other person who speaks English and none of us speak Spanish though Oliver is great with his "Hola!"'s. It's a strange feeling that I can't seem to wrap my head around. Simplicity is a life I love, yet if I really lived it, would it be something that I actually enjoy? Does the constant stress of success in the US provide purpose or is a life surrounded by family, quality time and not much else provide happiness? I am quite certain that I am seeing the best of worlds. I love that the past two years my parents have provided this month of nothingness. A complete getaway where quite literally there is nothing to do besides talking to one another, watching the boys create games (currently Ollie is sitting in a toaster box and Austin is trying to pull him around on the tile with a jump rope), learn to swim, to duck waves, to chase birds and giggle. After we have had our fill of rest we will rejoin the world of successful companies, education, friendships we love and dream of the next March :)

Coming up: Trips to market, a volcano, bat cave, and an old underground jail that is now operated by Nicaraguan boy scouts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Disney Trip Part 2: Disneyland!

When you have been planning a Disney trip for months and you have put all your money into one day of tickets and you then give your kids only 4 hours of sleep before heading off to a huge amusement park without a stroller of any kind and only packing teddy grahams in your snack bag, you are kind of rolling the dice that the day might turn out to be an incredibly costly disappointment.

I am pretty sure we had the best Disneyland trip in the history of Disneyland trips. Just sayin'.

For somebody who does not like crowds, I entered the park thinking that I was just going to have to relax and not charge into my Bull mode. This causes me to walk very fast to get through crowds and get a little annoyed when people can't keep up. I would like to congratulate myself on not acting like that as it tends to spoil the moment. It might have helped (a lot) that the park is laid out so nicely. We completely understood why Disney can charge the amount they do. The park is clean, the walkways are wide, the employees really are paying attention to what they are doing, lines are always moving and there are actually good places to eat!

Radiator Springs was the first stop on our list as the boys couldn't have cared less about the rest of the park, they wanted Lighting McQueen and Mater. On our way to that area we passed a loooong line. We saw signs for the Cars characters and finally asked somebody what they were standing in line for. The fast passes for the Cars area. Great. Because we didn't know if the kids would even like the rides, we were not going to spend extra money on a fast pass, so we went on. There are 3 rides in Radiator Springs and we went for the most popular first, it was closed for maintenance so we went and rode on Luigi's tires, a ride where you are basically riding around in tires on a giant air hockey table and had to wait for a grand total of 15 minutes. This seemed to pump the kids up and we went back to the Radiator Racers which had just opened. We got in line, waited for 20 minutes, scored with our car as it was actually Lightning McQueen and zoomed around on what could be called the boy's first real roller coaster ride. When we got off the ride the line was already at a 1.5 hour wait and the workers said it would average a 2 hour wait to get on, so we called the experience good and went on to the rest. The boy's favorite ride was Mater's Junkyard Jamboree where you are swung around in the back of a tractor and we rode this no less than 4 times.

The rest of the park was empty, we waited maybe 5 minutes for any other ride and got to walk the entire California Adventure side as we only paid for the one park for the day. When the kids played the games, they were the only two at the stand so of course they were going to win a stuffed animal. We paid $20 for them to play games which got them 4 games each. On the last, a fishing game where everybody wins each time Austin won the "big" prize and Oliver picked a small prize. The Disneyland attendant congratulated Oliver on his "big" prize too and handed him the other big stuffed animal. Little things like that made the day and we walked away with two incredibly happy kids.

We headed back to the hotel at 4:30PM for a little rest and then brought a sleeping Oliver back to the park around 6:30. Night rides were fun and there was a show that I thought we'd like. The kids looked at us around 8:30 and said they wanted to go, we called it a night and a job well done.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Disney Trip Part 1: The Surprise

Plans were put in place. We would pick Austin up from school on Wed. and surprise the kids that we were leaving for CA that afternoon. Chris and I had butterflies in our bellies. We had barely told anybody we were going as we didn't want the surprise to slip with anybody wishing the kids a good trip or saying goodbye. 

I picked Austin up from school and when we got home we told the kiddos we had some fun options for the afternoon so they should sit on the couch for a family meeting. They knew something was up as we were recording the conversation. As we mentioned different activities for the afternoon they perked up with each suggestion...reading together, playing outside (it was cold), or going to CA for Disney! This is where the opposite personalities of our children are revealed. Oliver could have been any kid in a commercial for Disneyland. You can practically see the magic coming from his eyes. "Really! Really? Are you joking?" He starts bouncing around the house so much that he turns off my phone and the rest will need to be written out. 

Austin breaks into heaving sobs. He wants to go, but not NOW. He will miss the snow. He will miss his friends. His teacher and friends won't know where he is and now he will miss Halloween. He wasn't whining, but was just feeling heartsick about not having everything put into place for his absence of four days. When this was going on, Chris and I looked at each other with complete understanding. This was our kiddo who wants to know the lay of the week if not the month. Many mornings we talk about the schedule for that day...who is driving to school, who will be driving tomorrow. What will we do after? We talk about upcoming holidays for weeks before so he remembers the traditions that go along with them. He says he likes surprises, but not big surprises. We gathered him up, assured him we had talked to the right people, he would be back for Halloween, it would snow again, and yes, we packed his blanket. When we got to the airport and asked if he could carry his booster to the baggage check, he jumped up and said, "I know how to do that!" and was all smiles from then on.

As we pulled up to the airport Oliver was still wearing eyes of wonder. "I really thought you were joking!! Are we REALLY going to Radiator Springs?!" 

6:30 was take off time. We got there with 20 minutes to spare. Perfect. Crew wasn't there yet, so flight was pushed to 7:15. Even better, we thought, as we grabbed some dinner. 7pm hits and so does the snow. Huge flakes coming fast and furious. Ok, we'll probably be de-icing. We board and the boys break out there work books. They watch the snow. Oliver wonders, "Will the Cars still be awake when we get there?" "No," I say. "They'll probably be asleep in their garages." "Even the SHERIFF? Some sheriffs stay up all night!" he says. "I don't know kiddo, that will be a great question for him when we get there."

De-Icing has been pushed to 8:15. 8:30. 8:45. Finally at 9:10 we head on over. The process takes till 10:30 and Chris and I are thinking they will just send us home as they can't de-ice us faster than the snow is falling. But! We take off. The boys were amazing which is one of the reasons I love to travel with kids. They are so adaptive at times and as long as they feel safe and secure with the people they are with, they can really hang in there so well. We heard a lot of grumbling from adults around us, but the kids sat for those 3+ hours on the runway and would just laugh that we were still sitting on the ground. Around 10:30 we told them it was bedtime and they laid their heads down and went to sleep till we landed.

12am CA time we land and head for the car rental. 2am we leave for the hotel and 3am we collapse into bed. Will we really take on Disneyland, a day of $330 tickets, with a 3 and 5 year old that have pulled as close to all nighter as they ever had? Oh yes we will and it will be one of the best days this family has spent together!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The perfect day and the untold story

Saturday has been on our calendar as Fall Family Day for a little while now. Living so close to family and having this network of friends is 98% wonderful, and 80% very busy so once in a while I mark a day or night off that we will not see anybody else besides the four of us, though the dogs are sometimes welcome to join. We are having a beautiful fall, my favorite time of year, and I wanted to capture some family pictures of us enjoying these mountains that surround us. Last year found us on a yurt trip enjoying the fall weather and having nice pictures to remember it all by and I wanted to have a lazy day that we sipped hot cider, crunched some leaves and hiked through the golden colors of autumn.

I could tell you this and it would all be true:
We woke slowly all piled in our bed and came down to a breakfast that we all sat around the table for. The kids and Chris played legos as I read the paper and got ready for our excursion. We rode to Estes, stopping for gas on the way and the kids piled out of the car to help Daddy wash the car with the wiper wands you see next to each pump. We got to Estes and went to the fun center where the kids squealed with laughter as we played mini golf, running from hole to hole on an empty course, proudly declaring they got a hole in anywhere from 1 to 10. We snapped a few pictures next to a river and enjoyed the huge rainbow slides, Austin declaring he thought he was going to fly right off the slide. After the fun center we headed out for lunch and grabbed some sandwiches, salad, lemon cakes and coffee and took it to a pond where a group of kids were catching water skippers and driving a remote control boat. When we were full we packed it up and headed into the national park where we got to see herds of Elk being lazy under the fall trees and on our way home we stopped at a little farm stand for some cider to complete the day.

What I would have left out is this:
While Chris and the kids played legos they started telling us they do not want to to the mountains, it is too far away. The whole way to Estes the questions of how long it will take to get there did not stop, and consequently the various arguments that I am not going to repeat myself began. The trip to the gas station took over 20 minutes as we also had to get more oil and fill the tires with air. This put our arrival to Estes right at lunch time, which for some reason made me angry (hungry? now we only have half a day? who knows). The gondola we wanted to take to the top of the mountain was closed for the season, so we chose to do the fun center instead. The fun center was fun indeed, but we were also met with cries that the bumper cars weren't working and a full melt down from Austin as we left for lunch to the point where our usually easy kid sat on the sidewalk and didn't want to walk with us anymore. Lunch was a struggle as the kids didn't see anything they liked, we chose a table that was surrounded by bees and had to re-pack everything to move down to the pond. During lunch both kids are sitting there crying that they have to eat their chicken and salad before having their lemon cakes and I start ignoring them while Chris is trying to convince a 3 and 5 year old they should be "grateful for this fun day Mommy planned." I declare we should go home, hysterics ensue that result in the kids gobbling their food (what do you know! "This chicken is good Mommy!, and I like this salad!"). We pile into the car with me being grumpy, the kids half whining and Chris trying to talk to all of us with limited success. He also chooses this point to remind me that he wanted to be in Breckenridge this weekend, but I chose Estes for one day. That didn't go over well. The national park happens to be a free day which means half of Colorado is there and we are stuck in traffic trying to crane our necks around people to get a glimpse of the animals which lends itself to feeling like we are actually in a zoo and not in nature. Hiking trails are crawling with people (probably all out trying to do exactly what I had tried to do) and the kids and I all look at Chris and say we just want to go home. On the way home, I spot a cider stand, we flip a u-turn to enjoy some cider, damnit. The cider is cold, not hot, and the seating is on the side of a highway in direct sunlight which is nice, except we are dressed for fall and it's close to 80 degrees out.

This is sometimes just the way the day goes. The untold stories of families everywhere are there and that is why when we get together with other parents we understand the joys and tiredness of everyday life. We have entered a period of time where the kids are a bit older and have opinions on what they would like to do for the day and for the most part, our plans agree with one another. On the days they don't, I am usually able to view the days as version one above and forget about the trials, but on Sat., I could not snap out of it. The whines felt like being hammered in the head, the traffic felt like it would never end and my grumpiness turned into a sense of discomfort that would not end until I got home and in some sweat pants.

Thankfully fall has just begun, the sun is still shining, and that night Chris and I enjoyed a fall harvest dinner outside in our community garden which left me with feeling of happiness that I couldn't find earlier. Sunday came, our family was together at home, and we ended up having a fall family day with barely leaving the house.
(untold story being a trip to toys r us, birthday party, work at rental units, and a day of fall cleaning).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pillow Talk

Scene: Mom, Oliver, Austin and I pushed together two queen beds in a hotel room. Boys are in the middle. Mom and I are pretending to sleep.

Austin while rubbing Olliver's face:"Ollie, when we get home, you can sleep in my bed because you make me feel safe. You are a scratcher and you can scratch all the T-Rex's away, so you make me feel safe."

Oliver: "O-tay. Scratch my back."

Austin scratches for a 2 minutes or so: "Does that feel nice? You have such a cute face. I love you. Does that feel good Ollie?"

Oliver: "Yes, scratch my back."

Austin: "Okay, but my hand is getting tired."

Oliver: "Scratch my back."

Austin: "Oliver, my hand is getting tired so, I'll just scratch with one finger."

Oliver: "No, more"

Austin: "Ok, I'll use my two fingers. But Oliver? My hand is getting really tired."

Oliver: "O-tay"

They lay there.

Austin: "Ollie? Will you scratch my back?"

Oliver: "O-tay."

Scratches for 5 seconds

Oliver: "That's enough!"

I am pretty excited to listen to their conversations when they start sharing a room :)