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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On marriage

My brain is full but the words just do not want to come stick to the page. Perhaps because I am doing battle with myself and the swirling, whirling of my brain. It feels raw and vulnerable to put that down where others can read it, can see it. Even as I long to be seen. Perhaps, as it turns out, I don't always wish to be seen.

The thing about having four small children is that I live in an alternate universe but I can't really tell. When I say I'm having trouble with something, say my marriage or my health, the person I'm talking to will say "Yes, but you have all these little kids." Which I take to mean "Yes, but it won't always be so hard." Hell, I give myself that same advice.

Be patient.
Don't make any big decisions.
Just keep taking it day by day.

Patience. Being still. Those things are hard for me.

Marriage is hard for me.

It's scary to write that, on the internet no less. It's scary to say out loud, even though I do say it out loud to close friends whose opinion matters.

I have high expectations for marriage coupled with extreme doubt that what I envision exists anywhere. I have a dangerous relationship with the word "should" and an embarrassing addiction to Facebook which takes me momentarily out of my own head and into other peoples' lives. I understand, in my head, that comparisons are odious and that the outside of what we see rarely matches the inside of what people experience.

I know many people who find marriage challenging. Marriage with small kids, especially, is a topic I've read about or heard people talk about. And yet. It somehow only helps a little, for a second, to know I'm not the only one. Sitting in the hardness, trying to decide whether to address something or let it go, trying to decide what is something I can work on by myself and what is something we both own, trying to find energy and interest to have a conversation when we've spent the past hour diapering, brushing, wiping, comforting. . .it is just hard.

Last week was our third wedding anniversary. We still have more kids than we do years married. The smoke is still clearing from a couple years of total, identity-crushing life. There are all these small people--eating our food, spilling, falling down, crying, delighting, fighting, climbing, talking, crapping. It is a series of turning in circles and collapsing into heaps, looking at the piles of laundry, the weeds, the recycling, the too-many toys, the too-small clothes, the dog hair, the half-finished projects. It just doesn't feel very fun.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Road trippin

So we decided to drive our minivan to Montana. Two parents and four toddlers. People clearly thought we had lost our minds.

My husband grew up in Montana and his parents still live there. He and I visited once, in January, when it was approximately 7 degrees and I was sick as a dog with a major colitis flare that lasted for almost the entire year of our engagement. Needless to say, it wasn't a great visit--I sat on the couch, reading my book or watching football, not eating and running to the bathroom every thirty minutes or so. Fun house guest.

This is the year of our 20th high school reunions and his was held last week, over a series of days. We talked lightly about going but didn't really decide until two months ago. Once it was officially on the books I could see he was looking forward to it. We briefly considered flying but since the consideration of it gave me heart palpitations, an anxiety attack and a deep feeling of dread we opted out of that mode of transportation. Two small people each? On a plane? With a layover? And then on one of those smaller planes? Ugh, shoot me no way. We discussed possibly renting an RV but he looked into it and reported that it would make more financial sense for us to buy an RV. . . which we hope to do some day but not quite yet. So it would be the Odyssey for our odyssey. And you know what? It was actually pretty fantastic.

I had heard it takes18 hours to drive from the Bay Area to Helena, Montana. Though I just put it into maps to find the actual distance (1,090 miles) and it reported 15 hours and 44 minutes. Whatever it says, the total trip for us each way took about 34 hours. That's including stops and spending one night in a hotel each time--I set a stopwatch when we left just to see. This is a log I kept on the way out:

2:20 pm Noisy books (Elmo and trucks)
2:26 pm Lap tables
2:50 pm Kids' CD
3:09 pm New CD
3:30 pm Snack
3:52 pm 1st new toy (wooden puzzle)
3:58 pm Book to Cleo
4:13 pm Third CD
4:25 pm New toy for Cyrus (little train)
4:57 pm Pouches
5:04 pm Total breakdown. Stopped at Panera in Auburn.
6:12 pm Back on the road after running around the patio. 2nd bottles of the trip handed out.
More than an hour of crying, fussing and whining in the car after the stop.
7:15 pm Littles asleep
7:50 pm Gas stop in Reno

Good night in Winnemucca. Sleeping by 11pm. Cyrus fell asleep for the first time all day right as we got off the freeway.

All three girls crawled down the hallway of the Best Western to breakfast with me while the boys slept.

Packed up and on the road just after 10 am. Littles asleep immediately. Everyone quiet for 10 glorious minutes.

11:20 am New toy (Magna Doodle) Successful entertainment.
12:30 pm Lunch and gas in Wells, NV. Bella's Restaurant and Espresso--yum! Everything made from scratch. Played next door on a forklift. People are very nice to us.
2:00 pm On the road again
2:08 pm New toy (wooden animals with balls--like the toys you find in a pediatrician's office where you push the balls along a metal rod, like a roller coaster track)
3:14 pm New toy (Magnatiles) to the Bigs, wooden toy to Cleo, Daph sleeping (Daphne was a road warrior. She chilled for almost the whole trip, both ways. Who are you, my mercurial child? Whoever you are, thank you for your calmness on this trip!)
4 pm (ish) Playground in Twin Falls, ID.
4:54 pm Snacks and pouches back in the car
Silence reigns.
5:08 pm Listening to The Roald Dahl Audio Collection on Audible. Lily only one awake. This was such a great listen for us, the parents. Read by the author, the stories are magical and especially funny with his British wit.
7:03 pm Stopped in Pocatello at Outer Limit Fun Zone for dinner and playtime.
8:44 pm On the road again.

We arrive at Grandma and Grandpa's house at about 1 am, which includes a one hour time change.

The Littles sat in the way back of the van, facing out the back window. It is almost impossible to imagine what the trip was like for them because it was like they were in their own world back there. Cleo had some crying jags where it was clear she was OVER IT and wanted to get out. Often she was soothed by milk, a snack, a toy or a parental hand rested on her head. I think it helped her to know we were still there.

The Bigs talked a lot. The first day there was almost no silence whatsoever because our son didn't sleep at all. Someone was always awake and, though there was lots of time without crying, there was always talking or whining or exclaiming. We looked out windows a lot, pointing out and getting excited about:

-back hoes
-choo choo trains

We passed a few different lots full of construction-yellow heavy duty equipment-diggers, dump trucks, and all sorts of other things--and we all practically leaped out of our seats with excitement. We did some singing when nothing else seemed to be working to calm people down. We discovered that they could go about 3.5 hours before totally losing their shit.

The kids drank a lot of bottles of milk. At home they all mostly get a bottle of milk at bedtime--in the car, they pretty much got them whenever they wanted. This seemed like a good deal for all of us.

We didn't use any screens for them, though my husband and I were each happy to look at our phones when we got the chance. I also relied on mine to figure out where we would eat or stop to play.

We realized quickly that they did not care about stopping to eat-they needed to move. Stopping for a meal with four small children is not much fun for anyone. Though we did have two separate people compliment their behavior after two separate meals. Swoon. Thank you, kind strangers, for that gold-star of parenthood. (A future post--it's kind of weird to feel glad when people are saying how well-behaved your kids are...well-behaved is not my main goal for them but it sure makes me feel proud when they are)

Staying at a hotel that included free breakfast was key--one less stop or loading up of the car.

My superstar husband drove the whole way there and almost the whole way back--I drove one leg on the return trip. I, a star in my own right, did a lot of climbing into the backseat to play and most of the mood, activity, distraction management. We were a good team.

That's basically what it all came down to--as a family, we are a good team. They genuinely had a good time, with the expected and understandable (and familiar) feeling of GET ME OUT OF THIS CAR BEFORE I EXPLODE that we all know. We had a good time too.  We like road trips. We like hanging out with our kids. We had pretty low expectations. We didn't book anything ahead of time--we planned as we went, based on what towns were coming up and how much good will we still had left.

There were plenty of moments when I would have paid good money for them all to just be quiet for an extended period of time. But seeing my two-year-olds look out the window at cool rock formations? Sweet. Journeying together? So sweet.

I have absolutely zero desire to do it again any time soon. But do it again we will.