We should have known there was something nefarious happening when all three older kids were quiet for a full ten minutes. My parental radar was thrown off, however, by how much I was enjoying standing in the kitchen having a glass of champagne with our dear friends (we’ll call them Sheila and Rob). Their lovely daughter (we’ll call her Anya) and our two older boys had been playing happily albeit noisily, and the sudden hush came as a welcome respite until we realized just how long it had gone on.
We found them all in the master bedroom, where they had locked the door. Danny talked Stephen into opening the door, and we were immediately assailed with nail polish fumes. Which makes sense, since it was EVERYWHERE. The kids had decided to play “princess and princes,” which apparently involves painting toenails. And fingernails. And the soles of their feet. And the curtains, the bedside table, and the bathroom floor. Anya, who was wise enough to realize the situation was not going to end well, had climbed into our bed and pulled the covers up, presumably to hide the evidence, so there was also nail polish on our sheets. Stephen (the one responsible for locking the door in the first place) was wearing a classic deer-in-the-headlights look, and Nathaniel (the least culpable of all of them, being only 2 and unable to reach the nail polish or lock the door) looked slightly confused and apprehensive.
My normal reaction to such a scene, particularly since it happened at the end of a day in which the two older boys were fighting nearly nonstop, would definitely have involved a raised voice and a lot of angry words, throwing the kids into time outs in separate rooms, crying, and maybe throwing the cotton pads I was using to clean the polish off the tile floors into the trash with more force than was necessary. Probably all of those. This time, however, Sheila was there, and I really didn’t want to throw an adult temper tantrum in front of her. Sheila is one of the kindest people I know, always gentle with her words. I would be ashamed to lose it in front of her, and I was pretty sure it would freak Anya out. I took several deep breaths, and purposefully made my voice as quiet and controlled as I could while I scrubbed as much of the nail polish off of Stephen and Nathaniel’s skin as I could.
What stuck with me from that incident was not the anger at Stephen’s disobedience (I had told him, repeatedly and recently, that anything on those bathroom shelves was off limits) or the irritation about the red nail polish on the curtains that aren’t ours. It was the realization about how much leeway I give myself to lose it with my kids because most of the time there’s no one around to see it happen. Sometimes I tell myself I’m doing it so that they’ll really understand that what they did was wrong, sometimes I justify it because I “just can’t take any more” or I’m “so tired,” but the fact is I wasn’t any less tired the night of the Great Nail Polish Debacle, and the kids had been just as exhausting that day as they were any other day. They understood that what they did was wrong.
I wish I could say that since that day I’ve never raised my voice or lost my temper with the kids. I’d like to think it’s been less frequently than it could have been. What is certainly true is that I can’t stop thinking about that moment when I almost lost it and stopped, the realization that I would be embarrassed for someone else to see what has become my normal reaction. I’m trying to take a deep breath or three before I open my mouth. If I can do it for Sheila’s sake, shouldn’t I be able to do it for theirs?
I debated starting this up again, but the lure of having somewhere to write down thoughts and experiences too lengthy for Facebook has lead me to give the blog another shot. I considered starting a new site, but since the only people that really read these posts are my friends and family, perhaps you can forgive me for the old posts and glaring gaps.
We just got back from a trip to Paris, spending twelve glorious days (okay, so ten glorious days and two days that were half-glorious and half consumed with air travel) reveling in the comforts of the western world. It was amazing, frustrating, relaxing, stressful, and exactly the break we needed. It seemed random and almost silly to be taking a trip to Paris with three very young children (2 months, 2 years and 4 years are not exactly ages renowned for flexibility), especially since our primary reasons for choosing Paris as a venue included a nonstop flight and the fact that Stephen is attending the Ecole Francaise d’Amman. Several people observed that we were either very brave or completely insane to voluntarily undertake international travel at this stage in our lives, but despite the normal headaches that accompany traveling with little people this trip was one of the most enjoyable we’ve had in the past few years. Danny and I were discussing why this was, and I thought it would be nice to record some of our observations.
What we did right:
– LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
- We picked a destination that included plenty of what we enjoy, and that provided things that we can’t get in Amman. Danny and I wanted to shop at farmers’ markets, take long walks, and see some greenery and water. Stephen is obsessed with dinosaurs and sharks, and he and Nathaniel both love being able to run and play outside. Simon doesn’t really have many opinions at this point. 😉 Paris, surprisingly to me, was chock full of great stuff to do with the kids. We spent hours at the Museum of Natural History (real dinosaur skeletons!), at the Paris Aquarium (real sharks!), at the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution (life-sized models of all sorts of animals), the Jardin de Plantes (museums, open spaces, gardens) and the Jardin du Luxembourg, rode on the Batobus (water taxi), and generally enjoyed being in a beautiful city full of life (and about 20 degrees cooler than Amman).
- We picked a location within a reasonable distance from Amman. As much as we love seeing family, the trip home is a minimum of 15 hours travel and involves a 7-8 hour time difference. With little kids, this is just brutal. It takes about a week for them to recover from the jet lag going west, and closer to three weeks coming east. The flight to Paris was nonstop, and only 4.5 hours long. Plus, the flight times were relatively reasonable (which is more of a challenge than you would think, as most flights out of the Middle East leave in the middle of the night).
- We found accommodations that were close to what we wanted to see, so once we got there we could get everywhere we wanted to go on foot or with a very short taxi or ferry ride. We stayed in the 5th Arrondissement (the Latin Quarter).
– We kept our agenda to a minimum, but we identified a few things we really wanted to do. Our actual agenda only had two specific items on it: the Museum of Natural History and the Eiffel Tower. Beyond that, we wanted to visit lots of markets, enjoy foods that we can’t get here in Amman, take lots of walks, and let the boys play outside surrounded by actual plant life as much as possible. Anything else was bonus.
– We rented an apartment. Even pre-kids, Danny and I preferred to stay in self-catering vacation rentals rather than in hotels, but with little people involved I think having our own space makes a crucial difference.
WHAT WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME:
– We rented a two bedroom apartment, which was okay but not ideal. The kids don’t tend to sleep as well when we’re not at home, and the first night in Paris Stephen woke Nathaniel in the middle of the night to play, which lead to Nathaniel throwing a full-out temper tantrum at 3am. We ended up putting Nathaniel in a pack-n-play in the bathroom (thankfully the toilet was in a separate room from the bath) to save our sanity.
– We really should have brought an extra bag. We pared down what we brought as much as possible and managed to fit everything in two suitcases (not bad for a family of 5 for 10+ days!), but on the way back we had to pay overweight baggage fees. We were well under our checked bag allowance, so if we had brought an extra bag we could have avoided that.
– The amount of walking we did was great for Danny and me, but the older kids got frustrated at spending so much time in the stroller (especially Nathaniel). Since next time we do a family vacation Stephen will have to walk (or we’ll have to bring the single AND double strollers, yikes!) we will probably have to change our m.o. a bit.
– When Danny got out Euros from the bank in Amman, they gave us 500 Euro notes. We used most of them to pay for our apartment, but were left with one that was near impossible to break. We actually had to go to the Bank of France and ask them for change, as after three days we couldn’t find anyone who would accept it. Next time we’ll make sure to get smaller bills.
WHAT WAS FRUSTRATING BUT UNAVOIDABLE:
– Traveling with a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Simon is an easygoing baby, and I’ve found that babies under 6 months old are easier to travel with than any other age. Stephen and Nathaniel are good travelers for their age, but they’re still little kids. There was a lot of whining and fighting. Nathaniel threw some spectacular tantrums while we were out and about. We tried various interventions and ultimately determined that we just had to wait them out, so we’d strap him into the stroller (so he couldn’t go into the street, which he tried to do on several occasions to get away from us) and wait. We took pictures of a few of them, and started naming them based on where they occurred. There was the Eiffel Tantrum, the Arc d’Tantrum, and the BioTantrum (at a “bio marche” or organic market), plus several others.
– This goes along with the point above, but there were lots of things that just weren’t feasible on this trip. We didn’t eat in any restaurants, for example, because at this stage in our life that experience is just too stressful to be enjoyable. The Musee d’Orsay is Danny’s favorite museum in the world, but it wouldn’t have been enjoyable to do with the kids right now.
I wouldn’t have necessarily expected this to be true, but this was one of the best trips we’ve ever had. We like living in Amman, but were really ready for a break, and Paris was the perfect escape.