The Berenstain Bears’ Lessons on Grumpiness

Ah there’s nothing like that 7:00 a.m. rush to get the kids out the door in the morning. The calling out from every which room in the house, hoping your voice reaches the crevice where your kid happens to be tying his shoe or changing into “more comfortable underwear,” asking, “Did you pack your lunch? Be sure to grab your jacket!”

Inside my head I think, “The sooner you leave, the sooner I can take an actual breath of air and think for half a second. Maybe even my ass will unclench.” I hand off a jacket and a lunch box amidst grumbles of “I don’t need a jacket!” and “How come you didn’t buy any juice boxes? How can you expect me to eat lunch if I don’t have a juice box?!”

But this is a story of too much grumpy togetherness created by two weeks of Christmas vacation in a house with two school-aged kids, a teacher dad, and a back-to-school mom. That means we had nineteen days together over the break. Nineteen days all together.

So, Buh-bye, kids. Off to school you go! March your little seven- and nine-year old selves with your smart, back-talking mouths into school! I hope that you come home repeating something your teacher said, because when you talk about your teacher I know that means that was an interesting part of your day that you enjoyed. I hope that you sit with your friend on the bus in the afternoon, and I hope that you have friends to play with at recess, you beautiful kids that I love more than anything in the world.

But let me remind you of what the past two weeks looked and sounded like around the house to give you an idea of why I’m excited you are heading out to school today.

To steal the generic intro of a Berenstain Bear book, I’m not sure when all the grumpiness started. Maybe it was too much fighting over the video games. Maybe it was the fighting over which toys belonged in the playroom, or maybe it was the complaining (screaming version) that I had the gall to invite a friend over to play with you because I was tired of listening to you two kids yelling at each other day after day! Don’t forget, moms: no good deed goes unpunished!

But here’s one re-cap that might help un-fog your memory. Remember the car ride to Chuck E. Cheese yesterday? First of all, you kids got to have sleepovers and as soon as your friends left, you complained you were bored. Midway into the long, rainy afternoon Daddy announced he wanted to eat at the Mexican restaurant and Mommy said that would be fine if she got to play a quick game of Skee ball at Chuck E. Cheese first. One kid cheered; the other kid who had been griping of boredom the entire day said, “But then I won’t be home in time and I have so much to do!” The irony alone makes me want to just throw my hands up in the air. Or take shots of tequila.

My husband helped me power through the complaining about going to Chuck E. Cheese and we hopped into the car. “The thing I hate about my sister is how stubborn she is!” spouts out the anti-Chuck E. Cheeser. “Whoa! That’s enough!” I butt in. “Right now I want you to give a compliment to each person in this car.”

“Daddy, I love you SO much!” the little Eddie Haskell replies.

“That’s not a compliment,” I retort.

“Daddy, what I like about you is you are so lovable,” she clarifies.

“Ok, now compliment Mommy,” the Hubs prods.

“I like your hair.”

Little Haskell turns her attention to her sister and, because she is forced to give a compliment, offers, “You have cute butt cheek dimples.”

She is genuinely pleased with herself for having completed the task of forced compliments. I, on the other hand, was wishing I was already at the Mexican restaurant because those images of tequila shots suddenly come rushing back to mind.

For the record, Mommy had a very pleasant two rounds of Skee Ball despite a rogue family of three sprawling out across five lanes so that I had to challenge the Hubs one game at a time. I beat him in the first round and by the second round was ready to bolt out of that zoo of flashing lights, children running and shouting, and the animated mouse singing and dancing. It was time for dinner and a margarita! (You didn’t think I’d refer to tequila for no reason, did you?!) Naturally the kids were not ready to go, including the one who didn’t even want to go to Chuck E. Cheese in the first place. Shocker. Also for the record, my children were of course on their best behavior there in that seventh circle of hell. Go figure. So here’s to a New Year, a new semester, and hoping that some of the grumpiness will dissipate with a little less together time now that school is back in session!

 

I never knew what a Daddy’s girl was … until I gave birth to one

No, it’s not cute and it’s not sweet. It’s actually insulting as hell.

A little over nine years ago our first baby was born. A sweet little girl. We both cuddled her, diapered her, and burped her. I nursed, but later on the hubs fed the baby her bottles, too. So when a neighbor commented, “Awe she’s so cute. I bet she’s a Daddy’s girl!?” I didn’t know what to say. “Of course she loves her Daddy,” I thought. Little did I know what life would look like a few years later.

Our kids are nine and seven years old now. The oldest daughter is for damn sure a Daddy’s girl. The youngest is, well, normal.

What exactly is a Daddy’s girl? Well, in my house it looks like this … When the hubs leaves in the morning or goes to play poker at night, she spouts out, “Please drive safely, Daddy!” When I leave the house I’m lucky if I get a “Bye, Mommy.” At night when we tuck the littlest one in we say good night, I love you, sleep tight; and she says it back. We tuck in the oldest and she says, “Good night, Daddy. I love you SOOOOOO much!” When it’s my turn, I get, “Good Night, Mommy. I love you.” What the hell?!

I always thought of love as an equal thing. I loved my mom as much as my dad and my sister as much as my brother. I loved my grandma as much as my grandpa and both of them as much as my other grandma. I loved everyone equally. (And still do.) So where does my kid get this favoritism crap from?!

Maybe it started slowly when I was pregnant with our second baby. Like I said, I nursed and nursing our first was a doozie – cracked nipple, low milk supply, pumping between feedings, and consuming so much fenugreek that I could smell a sweet syrup scent through my pores. So I spent a lot of time with my girl. And back then my husband was working and coaching high school basketball, so he was home very late many nights. There were so many days I glanced at the clock then back at my toddler’s expecting eyes and wondered what in creation we could do to pass two more hours before the bedtime routine. Answers included a) drive to McDonald’s for a 5:00 coffee which killed forty minutes b) toss a toy ball to each other which killed twenty minutes and c) who knows because that was nine years ago which feels like a lifetime ago!

So while I felt close with my little toddler, my husband began running to the grocery store with her in tow and sometimes went to get a bagel together on Saturday mornings. Well, the women of my mom’s generation couldn’t believe that type of daddy involvement and praised him for it – not only going to the grocery store, but withthe baby! Which in turn I’m sure fed his ego and led to more outings.

Then after the second baby was born, it was convenient for the hubs to take Big Sister out of the house when I stayed home with the baby for her nap. Somehow it continued to evolve – the oldest started playing sports first so the Daddy/Daughter duo headed out to practice golf and basketball … then they added a ritual of a Friday night Mexican meal. Meanwhile I was at home making sure that our youngest was able to get to bed on time (instead of falling asleep in my lap at a restaurant at 7:00 pm.) Eating one-handed while trying not to drop taco salad on your kid’s head is only so much fun the first couple times.

Now I’m a forty-one year old mom mad at a nine year old kid and jealous of my husband because he gets more love from her than I do! (Don’t worry – getting a therapist is on my list of things to do.) But wasn’t it just yesterday that my baby had separation anxiety and cried every time I left the room?! Didn’t she sit on my lap at every restaurant meal that summer vacation of 2010?! Didn’t I hear the name “Mommy” 1,000 times each day?! Didn’t she tell me at naptime, “Can you put your head on my peewoow?” Meanwhile I’m working on tipping the balance back into equilibrium. I’m sorry, Hon, I know you want to go practice your golf swing, but you haven’t taken a turn driving our youngest to dance class in a month. Time to swap. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be browsing through old photos and sending a rush order to Shutterfly so I can recall the days of toddlerhood when Mommy was still #1.

Have a Good Day!

“Have a good day, Mommy!” the oldest shouts toward the open car window as she and her giant purple backpack head to school, purposefully ten or so steps ahead of her younger sister. “You too!” I attempt and fairly well succeed in a sing-song voice as I roll up the windows and mutter under my breath, “little knuckleheads.” But if you know me or hung out with me after two beers, you know what I really called them.

Why would I say such a thing to my precious children, you ask? First, for the record I love my kids. Second, let’s rewind, shall we?

At 5:50 a.m. I flung my arm out of bed and reached for my cell phone to turn off the alarm before my husband could groan about it. I put on my gym clothes and took a photo of my six pairs of Saucony shoes to post to Instagram later. Wtf? Idk. Ridiculous habits of 2018. I tied my running shoes and headed for the basement to walk on the treadmill for twenty minutes to do one thing for myself before we had to go wake up the kids. I heard footsteps above me and knew Ellie was probably awake, so I expedited my workout (skipped a bunch of stuff and stretched a bit instead) to make sure she wasn’t afraid of the dark house.

I walk into the kitchen where Ellie is tearing a frozen waffle in half. I stare at her trying to figure out what her plan is until I see her face drop, tears flow, and arms fold in front of her chest. “What are you doing?” I ask. “I wanted to see if it was bendy,” she replies. I put the two halves of waffle in the toaster and add a harsh, “I hope this doesn’t start a fire.”

Realizing I’m a little grumpy I go check in on the hubs. We chat through the shower door for a minute until I can’t stand the screaming coming from the kitchen one more second. The waffles “popped” but didn’t pop up since they are only halves. “Here,” I say grabbing them with tongs and plopping them onto her plate. Her tear-stained face does not look satisfied. She stares at the waffle halves completely insulted. I hear my oldest coming down the stairs, and pleased with that progress, I go to take my shower.

Finally starting to feel awake from my shower, I begin to put on a happy face when suddenly the door flies open and both kids run into the bathroom, elbowing each other in the ribs as they hurry to get to the sink first. How my sink became the designated teeth-brushing sink I do not know. “I was here first!” “No! I was here first!” They continue to duke it out. There is another sink in our master bathroom, not to mention four bathroom sinks in the entire house. But I don’t mention this point; it’s useless. I get dressed and go check on lunch boxes.

The hubs has already packed snacks and half of Ellie’s lunch. I nuke some mac’n’cheese for our vegetarian’s lunch. Last year school lunch was all the rage and dare I mention that neither MY mac’n’cheese nor my grilled cheese could hold a candle to the lunch ladies’ mac’n’cheese and grilled cheese. Just another argument I won’t win and won’t bring up today.

Our oldest remembered she needed to return her Friday Folder to school (since we had forgotten yesterday – yay parenting!) and grabbed it to stuff into her backpack. “Way to be proactive!” I cheer her on. Proactive is a catch phrase they are responding to the past couple of weeks, so I’m gonna board that praise train and roll with it while it works.

“UGH!!! MY HAIR!!!!” Ellie shouts as she stomps her way through the kitchen with a scowl on her face. “We’re gonna be late!” Sammy shouts, in an unconvincing manner to try to get Ellie to leave her hair alone. “And it’s all gonna be your fault!” she continues. I’m pretty sure this is where my first or second outburst occurs. Oh that’s right the first one happened when the box of Cheeze Its fell on the floor and scared the bejeezus out of me, to which I responded, “What the ..?!!!?!”

Chasing Ellie is like playing Pac Man when you try to eat the orange or the banana or pretzel for bonus points while it keeps floating away from you as you dodge obstacles. I snap at her to stay in one spot. “And quit moving your head while I’m doing your hair!” I snap again. Clearly I am owning this day in model Mother of the Year fashion.

“Time to get in the car,” I announce. Ellie looks not at the clock in the car, but the brightness of the morning and groans, “It’s already DAYTIME! We’re gonna be late to schooooooool!” “Well if you hadn’t re-done your ding dang stupid hairdo, we’d be on time!” “BUT IT HAD A POOF IN IT!” “As if anyone is gonna notice your poof. GET OFF MY BOOKBAG! YOU STEPPED ON MY BOOKBAG!” Exactly a minute and a half after this berating attack on her sister, she smiles at me from outside of the car and tells me to have a good day.

Gotta love those knuckleheads.

 

 

 

No Hola?

El verano pasado pasaba diez días en Madrid a mejorar mi gramática. ¡No me censures! Ya lo se que no es perfecta. Español es mi tercera idioma y estoy intentando a mejorarla. Y que manera mejor que escribir?! No me siento segura escribir en español, pero lo hago de todas formas.

Buscaba meses a encontrar la mejor escuela de idiomas en España hasta alguien me recomendó la escuela LAE Madrid donde es posible tomar clases de solamente una semana. Solamente una semana?! Si. Porque no quería dejar mi familia mucho tiempo (y había planeado un viaje a Noruega después de mis clases!)

No conocí a nadie en Madrid. Gracias a la escuela, conocía a otros estudiantes y un vecino al lado de mi apartamento. Entonces, necesitaba buscar a mi mismo entrentamiento.

Por supuesto caminaba por unas de las muchas tiendas Corte Ingles. Me encantan las tiendas departamentales. En contraste de caminar por el parque, explorar una tienda departamental es útil porque se puede ver mucho vocabulario en los departamentos diferentes y se puede hablar (y escuchar) de manera práctica. Por ejemplo, “Hay libros de Junie B Jones aquí?” (Compré cuatro o cinco libros de Junie B. Jones y unos más y no lo recomiendo porque al fin de mi tiempo en Madrid, y gracias a la ropa de Primark también, mi maleta pesó mucho!) Además me sentí muy segura allí porque como niña pasaba muchísimo tiempo en el centro comercial.

Caminaba horas por las calles de Madrid, especialmente las calles cerca de mi apartamento en el vecindario Argüelles. Al principio caminé solo cerca de mi apartamento porque no quería perderme. (Y mi primer día en Madrid mi cellular tuvo solo 1% batería. Este día caminaba prácticamente en circulos alrededor de la Corte Ingles más cerca de mi apartamento!)

Por suerte mi amiga loca me visitó un fin de semana en Madrid. Fuimos con el teleférico, bebimos sangria en el Parque del Retiro, buscamos la estatua del oso en la puerta del sol, vimos el Palacio Real, bebimos otra sangria en la Plaza Mayor, encontramos el restaurante más antigua de la ciudad, comimos churros con chocolate en San Ginés, caminamos por todo el Gran Via, y visitamos un bar.

Con razón era un poco más difícil divertirme después de mi amiga salió. Mi paseo favorito cada noche era el paseo a Templo de Debod. Allí se puede ver la puesta del sol muy hermosa. Pues, a las 21:30 no quería ir a casa ni quería ir sola a una discoteca. Decidí regresar al bar donde bebí cervezas con mi amiga, pero era todavía un poco temprano. No había mucha gente en los bars. Además me sentí un poco tímida visitar un bar sola. Mejor visité otro bar donde vi unas personas por la ventana. De inspiración de gran anuncio de Schweppes en Gran Via, pedí un Schweppes raspberry. No lo recomiendo. Es que solo no quería emborracharme. Después tomé una cerveza a mejorar el sabor en mi boca y a ayudarme a entrar el otro bar. Pues, por valor bebí una cerveza más.

Pasaba el bar de la noche anterior dos veces. Pensé, “beber una cerveza en el bar sola es mejor que mirar el unico canal en la tele en mi apartamento o peor – leer Junie B. Jones en mi apartamento en un ciudad tan grande e interessante a las 22:00 por la noche.” Entré el bar.

Oí una mujer diciendo, “no hola?” Está hablando de mi? Nunca en mi vida entré un lugar diciendo “heeeeey!” Primero, necesitaba disculparme al dueño por tomar su cigarrillo la noche anterior. Solo fumaba tres veces en mi vida. Lo prometo. Mientras de hablar con el dueño, reconocí a la mujer. La ví la noche anterior. De repente ella me reconcoció también y empezó hablar con migo. En segundos había conocido todo su grupo – su esposa, su amiga, y el novio de la amgia. Hablamos sobre mi ciudad, mi estado en los E.E.U.U., música, y más. Antes de saber, mis amigos nuevos me habían dado una cerveza, cogieron el control remoto del dueño, y cambiaron la música a Neil Diamond. Era una noche muy divertida.

Nicknames

Is it just me, or is it still a little difficult to call The Rock “Dwayne Johnson” instead of his long-time wrestling name? Not like I say it to his face or anything. But that would be super cool to be that tight with The Rock!

My father-in-law’s name is John, but to the people he grew up around, he was always referred to as Johnny. While my mother-in-law was still alive, she also called him Johnny, although the written representation of his nickname does no justice to her pronunciation of it. My MIL was born and raised in Georgia and didn’t have a huge southern accent all the time, although it was particularly pronounced when she said a couple names such as “Chriiiis” or “Jahwny.” Now that she has passed it makes me a bit sad knowing that John doesn’t get called Johnny every day like he had for so many years. (Although he has tacked on a couple of new nicknames including Papa and Great-Grandpapa or whatever version my great-nephew will make permanent as soon as he is able to talk.)

While teaching German Club earlier this week, a student asked, “What would my name be in Germany?” I insisted that your name doesn’t change when you visit another country. Your name is your name, no matter how different it might get pronounced abroad. Sure, you could change your name from Henry to Heinrich, but would it still feel like your name? Names are such a huge part of who we are. Even nicknames can last a lifetime.

Not long after I met my husband, I began to meet a lot of his friends, including “Steiner.” It was years before I found out his real name and that the tag Steiner had come from a wrestler they nicknamed him after. Fifteen years later, we now call Steiner, his wife, and their two kids The Steiners.

Granted my nickname has morphed over the years from To-To (that was my sister’s fault) to Jo-Jo to Jo, but it’s been around for all of the forty-one years that I can remember. There are some indelible moments that I can recall my name being called, such as the time at the beach when my friend Cassie asked, “Joooo, what’s the red flag up for?!” Or my dad yelling from the garage, “Yo! Jo!” and I never knew if it was a telephone call or if I was in trouble for something. And the cool book my roommate bought me simply because it was titled “Jo-Jo The Melon Donkey.”

It wasn’t until my friends slowly started graduating and moving away that I suddenly realized how important my nickname was to me – it was part of my identity and also a cue of those who were closest to me. As a twenty-something year old living in my same old college town with all of my friends in new cities, I realized I lacked friends with the tight bond that knew me by my nickname. In hindsight, it wasn’t that long until my new friends caught on to my name and even christened me with an extra syllable after I got married. JoPo hasn’t replaced the original name, but it still gets used from time to time and I appreciate the endearing sequel to my nickname.

It’s funny, though, how a name that means so much to me is something that I don’t even always hear. I sometimes listen for how the Hubs calls my name, but in the midst of waffles popping up in the toaster and filling water bottles, I rarely hear it. My brain simply processes that I’ve been spoken to and skipped on to the next task.

I know that any day now my kids are going to transition from calling me “Mommy” or “Mama” to just “Mom.” They’ve tried it out a few times already, sniff, sniff. I’ll keep “Mommy” as long as they’ll say it without the risk of becoming uncool! But in reality, it’s another example of not always hearing my name. I know I’m being called, but their little voices and name for me does not always sink in. I feel the need to record their voice in my brain of them saying Mommy before they transition me to Mom.

The other day I walked down to the end of the street and back while the kids were cleaning up their art supplies. Then I heard a faint “Jody!” But I wasn’t quite sure if I had heard correctly. Then I heard it again. Sure enough, my seven year old was on the driveway calling for me. She said there were lots of moms in the neighborhood, so it made more sense to say my name instead. Well, it certainly worked! Now that is ingrained in my memory. There’s nothing like the sound of a small child, especially a toddler calling you by your first name – sweetest sound ever.

I do have a brand new nickname that the Hubs just cooked up for me. Hulk. It is used to talk about me, in my presence, rather than to talk directly to me. It happens when I get grumpy and short with my family and I have to give the Hubs some credit; his new clever nickname for me catches my attention of my bad attitude and puts a smile on my face. What a sneaky way of ruining my bad mood!

What do your BFFs call you?!

Scared of the Dark

I just had a “late night” out with my seven year old. 9:15 p.m. is probably not categorized as “late” for the majority of the population, but for my little one it certainly was late for being out of the house, and for this mom who scarcely leaves the house after bedtime, it was refreshingly late. As we walked out of the movie theatre, I was surprised to see a little light still lingering in the clouds; it was a really pretty evening sky.

I might have an obsession with light. I told my husband our real estate agent was going to think I was nuts when we were trying to decide on a house to buy a few years ago. “Well, I’m going to need to check this lot out at various times of the day,” I told our real estate agent and our builder. “I’ve been here at 10:30 a.m., but I’ll need to see what the sun does here around 5:00.” It was maybe 3:30 in the afternoon. I think eyebrows were raised and glances exchanged. I’m ok with being the crazy lady; I’ve pretty much always worn “weird” as a proud badge.

In college I lived in a super cute basement apartment for a year. But it wasn’t until I moved out that I realized I had lived in a slight winter depression at that apartment. The sun came in through the kitchen windows in the morning and it was so pretty seeing the sun cut through the trees and light up the woods as I sat at the breakfast table. But afternoons were dark and dreary because we had no windows on the back side of the apartment. I still get the heebie jeebies at the 5:00 witching hour and need to just go outside and see the light of day for a while before nighttime sets in.

To be perfectly honest, not only am I obsessed with light, but I’m also a big ol’ scaredy cat. Totally afraid of the dark. And scary movies. And desolate places. I have no idea how I pull off being a mom. I guess I just put on a good front to keep the kids positive when they are scared.

I gave myself a big pep talk when I went to go see one of the suspense movies with college roommates at the Georgia Theatre years ago. I think it was I Know What You Did Last Summer.  I was half-way through my pep talk, munching on popcorn, telling myself it’s just a movie and its fake, when suddenly something brushed up against my back. I jumped a foot out of my seat as a handful of popcorn went flying into the face of the girl passing my seat behind me! And for the remainder of the semester, I kept my shower curtain pulled back so I could always see into my shower to make sure the boogey man wasn’t there.

I always thought I’d feel more secure, more wise, and more brave the older I got, but I look back on my twenties and think, “damn! I was pretty brave back then!” The semester I lived in Germany I planned to visit a high school friend in Muenster. I borrowed my boyfriend’s Citroen “duck” (kind of a squared-off VW bug shaped car with a most unique manual gear shift) and drove the two hours of the Autobahn to Muenster. Yo, this was before cell phones. I had a map and a car that actually leaked in the rain that I had learned to drive only weeks before. Wet knees aside, I successfully made it to Muenster. I parked in a parking lot near a church and walked to the center of town. As there were no (affordable international) cell phones back in this time (ok I didn’t have an actual cellphone at all, just an emergency “car phone” I kept in the glove box that cost about three dollars per minute to use, I had to just meet my friend “at the Cathedral” as we had planned via email two days prior. After waiting for forty-five minutes I went walking around to see if I could find him. After another hour or so, I finally gave up, ate some dinner and decided to leave. BUT … it was even darker now and quite late. The further away I walked from the town center, the quicker my pace became. By the time I could see the one puny streetlight in the parking lot I felt like there was an axe murderer behind me ready to strike at my weakest moment. I had keys in hand ready to unlock the door as soon as I found the little green car. Finally I could see it but still had to make it another fifty yards, palms sweating, hoping I could out-race-walk my axe murderer or bear or coyote or boogeyman breathing down my neck. It felt like an eternity until I could stick the key in the door, unlock it, slam it shut, lock out the damn bear, and start the ignition to speed away from the headless horseman. I’m pretty positive I blocked out the dark and scary drive home, whether there was sufficient gas in the tank to get back without stopping, and where I parked the car when I got home. Not to mention the dark and dungeoney entrance to my apartment.

So, yes, light is very important to me. I’m just a big ol’ scaredy cat. And I’m certain I have passed my scared-of-the-dark DNA onto my child. Naturally I have empathy for my poor girl’s fear. I tried to enjoy 4th of July fireworks, but with my little one anxiously yearning to go home, it was difficult. After the first three booms of beautiful fireworks, with lightning flickering on the horizon, Ellie was ready to head to the safety of the beach house away from the darkness, unsettling explosions, and impending thunderstorm. She was just recovering from the 4th when we went camping in North Carolina. The first day it downpoured as we ate dinner huddled under tarps. Ellie begged not to sleep in the tent. The mere idea of a flimsy piece of cloth between her little body and the big, wide, scary world! Inconceivable! So we “slept” in the car that night.

I guess Ellie will be obsessed with light like I am. Or maybe only as a child. Knowing her, she’ll grow up by a few years and become a brave and wise adventurer. (If she drives across Europe in a borrowed car I will just vomit in fear of her safety!) So for now, I’m glad to be her protector. And as we walked out of the movie theater together, I took pleasure in Ellie’s sweet little sigh of relief when she saw those silvery clouds and announced, “Good! It’s still a little bit light out!”

Re-Entry

I wanted to improve my Spanish. Well to be honest I want to be fluent in Spanish and in ALL the languages. I’ve just always been fascinated that there are alternate ways to say something. And it kind of feels like breaking a secret code when you start to learn how to speak in a different language. I want to be able to teach German and Spanish, but my Spanish was fossilized somewhere in the third semester of college Spanish range. It’s scary and intimidating to say your goals out loud because then people know what your goal is and will notice whether you make it or fail. So now you know. Don’t keep tabs on how long it takes me, Ok? My biggest supporter, my husband and Daddy Of The Year, gave me the thumbs up on heading off to Madrid for ten days of Language School. The cherry on top was adding three days in Norway as a 40th birthday present to myself!

For two weeks I was off doing my own thing in Europe while Chris was packing lunches, popping waffles in the toaster, and loading kids and backpacks in the car by 7:30am to get the girls to school each day before heading to work to teach 900 college kids. And then shuttling our littles to all of their after school activities. … while I was stopping at a café for a coffee after my classes in Madrid or browsing the many levels of the El Corte Inglés department store. I saw every inch of that place, including the restaurant on the sixth floor. (The potatoes with eggs and ham were very satisfying. So was the cheesecake.)

Seriously. I was living the dream! Or the bizarro world. I felt like I was twenty years old again. No kids constantly arguing to referee, no husband to compromise on the when/where/what food will be eaten. I could make my own decisions and implement them immediately!

There were certainly moments of loneliness and anxiety though. For instance, I spent the better part of an hour figuring out which of my six keys got me into the four separate doors to my apartment building. And some keys turned right while others turned left. I thought if I left my apartment without practicing each door at least three times, I might not ever make it back INTO the apartment! So backwards I went, testing each door with its corresponding key and trying not to look foolish pushing on a pull door or vice versa.

In contrast to Madrid where I was slowly but steadily working toward my goal of improving my Spanish grammar (even while sight-seeing, shopping, reading Junie B. Jones in español, eating churros, and drinking with the locals,) when I got to Bergen, Norway, it was just sightseeing playtime! I hadn’t done a trip like that on my own since I was twenty-one. I truly felt like the old me – a little scared but excited to see new sights on my own. After being married for fifteen years and accustomed to the comfort of the secure feeling of someone living in the same house, it was nice to know that I could stay in a hotel (not to mention the six-key apartment!) and not actually need the T.V. as company to ease my mind before falling asleep.

As I sat on the hilltop park and enjoyed the view of Bergen all around me on a beautifully sunny day, I appreciated the time away from my family to take this trip and enjoy the absence of sibling rivalry. But I also wished they were on the boat ride with me into the Fjord. I ALSO knew that I needed to brace myself for re-entry into the real world when I got home. I know my kids will fight; I want to ignore just the right amount of the arguing so that it doesn’t bother me or stress me out. Which is probably why the little bar in the Bergen Harbor was one of my favorite places of my trip. I ate dinner alone (which I didn’t mind on day twelve; by day fourteen I was pretty over it) and had two beers with dinner to summon the courage to enter the bar on my own. I entered as the guitarist was singing American Pie and he continued with dozens of songs that everybody knew and mouthed the words too, including Red, Red, Wine which was Neil’s song first, so I was a happy girl. A Norwegian couple came and asked if there was room at the table and of course I said yes. We drank and chatted. I learned how to say cinnamon roll in Norwegian. Well I didn’t learn how to say it, but I joyfully listened to it’s pronunciation about five or six times. I walked a few hundred yards to my hotel with a slight hint of light in the 3:00 am sky. I definitely felt twenty again. I did the next day, too, when I stared at my breakfast and contemplated if I needed to eat or just hydrate. Hangover included, it felt good to feel twenty for a few days.

But I’m back in Georgia now! It felt so good squeezing my family when we reunited! It feels good to have my Mom Shoes back on, despite the daily struggles that I know it entails.

The back to normal part is becoming pretty clear. Chris wanted to be helpful before he left for work, so he woke up the kids at 7:30. Last I checked, it is still summer and I would’ve been really content eating my bacon and drinking my coffee in his absence with the kids still lying quietly in their beds! Instead, I walked in from my run to the Golden Pantry to children being hauled down the stairs with sleep in their eyes. Then they sit at the kitchen table and look at me like puppies expecting their bowls to be filled with puppy chow. I stood in the cross-fire of voices streaming back and forth over my head “Do you want a waffle?” “I’m hungry” … And then I tried to lovingly kick my husband out of the house so that I could eliminate just one of the four voices bouncing off the kitchen cabinets.

Next I looked at my bed-head children (with adorable “cheerleader ponytails done by their babysitter,) pointed at each one and reminded them, “You are nine years old. You are six years old. There is the kitchen. Go fix your own breakfast.” Then I walked away saying “I’ll check on you in five minutes.” During the next four minutes and fifty-nine seconds I heard a new round of cross fire – “idiot! Butt! Dumb idiot! Mean butt!”

Yes, this was the Re-Entry to my Mom Life that I was fearing. But it wasn’t as painful as the image I had in my head. I stood stock still and stared them down. “One more “butt” or “idiot” out of either of you and you go straight to your room. Understand?” They nodded. Smart mouth older sister tested me. “I-d-…” “Want to finish that word and spend the rest of the day in your room? Or do you want to eat your waffle?” I tried my best Mom Glare, still not moving a muscle in this mom-to-kid face off. She bit into her Nutella-smeared waffle. I turned on my heel and walked away with a grand feeling of victory.

But I can’t get too cocky. I’m sure the next battle will be waiting for me just around the corner. And the next time I need a break from the arguing, I can lock myself in my closet and quietly remember my sunny spot on the hill over-looking the beautiful scenery of Bergen as I slide off my Mom Shoes to ignore the cross-fire for another quick four minutes and fifty-nine seconds.