There’s No Place Like Home?

We just dragged our Mabel display and other assorted bits and pieces back from a conference to our Quebec City hotel in the rain. Sitting now in the hotel room, I can reflect on a couple of self-realizations I made during my week of on-again/off-again travel.

The first is a bit morbid, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying I fret over what would happen to my kids if I was no longer around to do the job. Fair enough. The thought of not being around to raise our kids makes us mamas a bit antsy.

While flying to NYC last Tuesday, I was struck by the thought of what would happen if the plane went down. I had only left a one page list of instructions because it was only a 24 hour absence. An eternal absence would require an entire manual and during that hour long flight I had it written in my head. Death must never be far from the minds of mamas. Just yesterday someone on my trusty local mama message board ( posted on the topic of appointing guardians for your kiddos in the case of the unmentionable happening. I was impressed with myself having sorted out those details nine years ago when I was expecting my first baby. We have never re-visited the arrangement with the “chosen ones”, but it could explain why they never want me and daddy-o travelling together by plane, driving in the same car, eating in the same restaurants, etc. It’s like we are the Royal Family or the Kennedys – except really loud and messy. And while the two of us falling off the perch simultaneously may not cause political disaster, it could turn our guardians’ peaceful household into something like a “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” episode, but without the free tummy tuck and behind the scenes help.

The second realization was that when I’m away from my kiddos, I will go to great lengths to get back to them as soon as humanly possible. The show in NYC was set to wrap up at 3:00pm. I was booked for a 7:30pm flight which provided ample time to pack up the display and grab a bite in the city before heading to the airport. I chose an alternative route. Instead, I packed up the show in record time and got to the airport for a 4:30pm flight – a whole three hours sooner than originally booked. Pretzels on the plane make for a fine dinner when it means getting home to my babies sooner.

When it comes to seeing my kids after being away, I’m like a horse when it sees the barn. My pace picks up and as I get closer, I am in full gallop. It reminds me of when I was in law school and my very first baby was in the campus daycare for two days a week. The idea was that in between my classes, I would go to the library and study. The sad reality was that in between classes I would head over to the daycare to hang out with my baby. While actually in a lecture, I would think about what he was doing – which wasn’t much since he was only a few months old. As I would approach the daycare after class, I would start to run as soon as it was in sight. OK, he was my first baby and things would likely have been a bit different with the others, but that became my first and last daycare experience. My kids may have been cut out for daycare, but I clearly was not.

Of course it’s all very irrational, since after I’m home for five minutes and everyone is shouting “mama!” I wonder what the big rush to get back was. And yet, I’m just off the phone with the airline and nothing is available until my scheduled flight in the morning. Guess I’ll have to suffer with a night of uninterrupted sleep and room service!

When Mama Goes Away

I’ve got an exciting week ahead of me. On Tuesday night I’m heading out for a 24 hour stay in NYC for a Mabel show. I love getting to that city because I went to grad school at NYU and it gives me the chance to pretend I’m leading that life again – even if only for 24 hours. Next bit of excitement comes on Saturday when I head out for a speaking gig at the International Camping Conference in Quebec City. Because I’m going to also help out Kim (our resident “Camp Mabel” program guru) it will be a longer stay – a whopping 36 hours.

I look forward to staying in a hotel room and having uninterrupted sleep. But this does not come without some major drawbacks.

The first issue is that I spend the entire time away obsessing over how the kids are doing and how daddy-o and caregivers are managing them all. I wonder if I’ve left enough detail on my three-page instruction list on the fridge. I contemplate whether the caregivers will have the instincts to know what to do if thrown a curve ball. I worry that the kids are waking up in the night crying for mama. I generally phone home three times in any 24 hour absence period. It’s a bit overboard, but it puts my mind at rest and allows me to focus on the work I need to be doing.

Last week daddy-o was away for six days. He phoned home once during that time period. Let’s compare our phoning home habits: I call once every five hours; he calls once every 144 hours. How is that for a stark contrast? Admittedly, he was virtually working around the clock, but I’ve worked those kinds of days and if I find time to go to the bathroom, I find time to check on how things are going on the home front.

It must be a real luxury to be away and not have a mama brain that nags you with irrational questions that you can do nothing about anyway: did the baby sleep through the night? Did the six-year-old eat the lunch that someone else packed for her? Did my son get picked up for his social group? Did daddy-o remember to look in their school agendas? Will they know where I put the rain boots if it’s a wet day? The list goes on and on….

The second drawback involves the amount of preparation involved in being away. I’ve had to re-arrange three car pools for my big 24 hour trip to NYC, and that is just scraping the surface of the organising that had to be done.

I remember when I was preparing to go into hospital to have my most recent baby. I was going to be out of commission for five or six days because it was my fifth c-section. I wrote out a very detailed list and highlighted which grown-up was responsible for what task. When I counted up the number of helpful family, friends and neighbours involved, the final head count was 17. There were exactly 17 names on that list and each received an e-mail outlining their assigned duties.

That list confirmed what we have all suspected and now know to be true: it takes 17 regular people to do the job of one mother!

Over-programmed Kids

There is a lot of chit chat going on out there about the number of extracurricular activities a child should be enrolled in. With all the talk of free-range children and the importance of unstructured play, parents are re-thinking whether Johnny should be in soccer AND piano, and if ballet AND violin are too much for little Janey.

Getting the kids settled into school over the last few weeks has been one thing, but now I’m trying to settle myself into their new activity schedules and it is proving to be quite an undertaking. You see, I am a self-confessed over-programmer. But I do need to qualify that – my defence is that I don’t have a real choice in the matter. Many parents have to deal with kids who are chronic activity drop-outs. They struggle and fight just to get their kids to finish out the session or term of the chosen activity. I have the opposite problem. When I try telling my kids that it’s figure skating OR hockey, they beg to do both. The rule in our house is each child is allowed one organized sport per season. You should have seen the carry on around here last spring when each child was not allowed to do soccer AND baseball. It was like I was engaging in some type of cruel torture directed at the small people in the house.

The number of activities we’re in is enough to leave our pocket books (and gas tanks) empty. But we made the conscious decision that we wouldn’t necessarily pay for the kids to have things, but to do things. When I reflect on my own youth, it was jam packed with activities. My mom would attest to the fact that I functioned best when my plate was full. That still rings true. During high school, my mom permitted me to take a fair and reasonable number of dance classes. When I didn’t feel that was enough, I cleaned the dance studio and helped in the junior classes to cover my additional class costs. In my final year of high school, I was occupied from the moment school let out until 9:30pm every day. I honestly can’t remember when I did my homework and I’m baffled that I got into university, especially considering I managed to have a fairly fulfilling social life as well. I can hypothesize though, that if I did have more time on my hands, my grades would have suffered and I would not have been as happy a teenager.
I’m guessing my kids are the same so I don’t think we can apply one standard of the acceptable number activities across the board. We mamas know our kids and how much they can handle. We make decisions based on what we are the experts of: our kiddos. No amount of research can convince me that my kids would be happier if I pulled them off the soccer field or ice rink.
But when you have five kids and each are in a few activities, there is the practical issue of getting them to where they need to be. Sure, car pooling is a saviour and I’m all over that, but even still there is a lot of shuttling around that goes on. I’m really quite deserving of an uber-cheezy “Mom’s Taxi” bumper sticker, but sporting that would mean the final good-bye to my very last scraps of cool.
I think before I accept defeat on that one, I’d look into hiring a driver!
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