Once upon a time I used to like going to hotels. I liked walking into a freshly done up room that wasn’t prepared by me.
I loved seeing the linens that were fresh and crisp, and not because I did the laundry. I loved the freshly folded towels, not folded by me. I loved the little adorable essentials that I didn’t shop for.
I felt like a queen.
And then I went to a hotel with all my kids. And we stayed in one room. And then we did it again. And again.
And no longer did a hotel have the same appeal.
It started innocently enough. We got to the lobby to check in. We asked for two connecting rooms. Oh, they don’t have connecting rooms.
Can I put kids ages 6 and under in their own room? No, not going to work.
So how bad can it be to be in one room?
We piled in. Us and all our 45 pieces of luggage of every shape, color and size. And suddenly the hotel room looked different than it had for so many years.
The drawers opened and closed so easily, waiting for little fingers to close it on themselves. Twenty lamps to flick off and on. Alarm clocks to set and beep every couple of minutes. A phone to call room service as many times as you please. A blow dryer in the bathroom, accessible to all. And the beds; those mattresses were way more fun to jump on than the house ones.
The abundance of pillows! Not just any pillows; but pillows that are so fluffy and puffy they make great Frisbees, balls, airplanes and anything else that can sail across a room. And a swivel chair. All a mom’s nightmares in one room.
That very first time we did it, we needed 10 extra blankets and 6 more pillows.
I opened the door just a crack when room service arrived; no point letting them see just how many kids can fit into one cramped hotel room.
And then bedtime began. I wheeled the baby up and down the hall, praying for him to sleep and trying to be intrigued by the non intricate detail of the carpets, while my husband tried to get the rest of the gang to bed. When baby was finally sleeping, I quietly went back to the hotel room and switched him in for the rowdy toddler who kept climbing out of the pac ‘n play; up and down the hall I went…but it didn’t work.
I brought him back to the room and took the energetic four year old out, hoping my husband could do his magic and get the toddler to sleep.
By 11:43 pm, all the kids were asleep. It was pitch black. My husband and I didn’t dare turn on a light, whisper, or breathe for that matter, out of fear of waking up one of the kids.
I quietly tiptoed into bed, not without tripping over a little shoe and stubbing my toe into those useless hotel desks.
At 1:03, the baby was crying; I didn’t give him a chance to see if he’d fall back asleep, I grabbed him and nursed him, out of fear that someone else would wake up.
2:10 my 4 year old whimpered; I held my breath; no one wake up!!
Phew, they were all still sleeping.
3:25 I was nursing again.
4:15 I had a stiff neck from those over fluffy hotel pillows.
4:45 I started thinking about bedbugs.
5:05 I was nursing again.
6:01 the guy next door was starting his day early and the slam of his hotel room door was deafening.
Everyone was still sleeping.
6:15 I heard a whisper.
6:16 I heard two whispers.
6:18 and they were all up. And I was still trying to fall into a peaceful sleep.
Why oh why didn’t we just stay home?? Whose idea was this anyway? I’m never doing this again! Ever! Even if it means doing my own laundry and folding my own towels!
But of course, we did do it again. Many times.
Last weekend was our most recent hotel adventure; although my memory changes with time, the experience doesn’t. It was a weekend retreat with 25 other families. And for the second year in a row, my kids won the kids-who-wake-up-earliest award, and my husband continued his winning streak of dad-who-gets-up-earliest-with-his-kids award.
And I got to sleep in an extra 2 hours, convincing myself it was a solid sleep, despite the uncomfortable, over-fluffy pillows and dreaming of bed bugs.
And I know we’ll do it again.
And even though we unplug every outlet, put away blow dryers, bring our own pillows and use our suitcase full of tricks we’ve accumulated over our many hotel experiences, I know it’s not going to be a vacation stay.
I just add it to the many things I didn’t notice in the fine print when I signed up for this wonderful and crazy thing called motherhood.
It’s the end of a long day and I decide to come out of my mommy bubble of diapers, laundry and wiping spills to check what’s going on in the rest of the world. You know, just to make sure all is where I left it last.
I log onto Facebook to get a quick glimpse of life around town; in just a few minutes I’ll be brought up to date. I’ll know what friends and strangers made for dinner, see pictures of all the cool places that everyone else visits, and know which stores are having the greatest deals.
It’s time to unwind and check up on the outside world.
And suddenly I feel things starting to slowly go downhill.
What moments before had been a great, fun day with me being an involved, active mommy is shattering to pieces.
10 foods that are destroying you! the first headline blares.
Gulp, what was this!? The picture looks like it was taken in my refrigerator.
Could it be I’m hoarding destructive food in my own house? What am I doing to my family?
I continue scrolling.
Do you know what you’re feeding your kids? Stay away from big supermarkets!
Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are being sued for mislabeling products. Even their food isn’t good for you. Buy from your local farmers. It’s the only way.
Help! What am I feeding my kids? I push it out of my mind and keep scrolling down.
Don’t let your baby cry it out! You won’t believe what it can do to your child!
Should I click to read more? No, the headlines says enough.
I’m a believer of crying it out; it works and sure makes for a good sleep plan. As a matter of fact, all my good sleeper kids were sleep trained. But still, my mommy conscience starts the guilt thing. Uh oh, what have I done to them?
Against my better judgement, I keep scrolling.
Vaccinations! The reports are out!
By this time I have a pit in my stomach; I don’t even want to hear if the reports are good or bad. I vaccinate. Period. But there’s 18,000 likes and 4,567 comments…should I read it?
What if I’m the only mom left out of the loop on this new vaccination development? And once again, against my better judgement, I scan the article. It’s an anti vaccinations one. Thankfully, it’s nothing new.
So I keep scrolling. The pit in my stomach is growing; now it’s a double knot.
Do you realize what you are putting inside you?
I watch a quick video of coke in a pot being boiled until the water is burnt out; a big glob of black-sugar-blob remains.
Phew, I kicked my coke habit a few years ago, I’m good on this one.
But at tonight’s barbecue I kind of let the kids choose a can…I think they all chose coke…I’m in trouble! I can practically hear the sugar blobs gurgling as the kids sleep…
Know where your vegetables come from! You won’t believe what happens to them in transport!
I think of my bananas sitting on the counter…and I’m pretty sure the little sticker on it that my kids love to collect says Ecuador. How did they ship them here?? I bet it wasn’t in first class…am I feeding my kids the terrible stuff it says here? Here I was feeling so proud that the baby eats a banana every day for breakfast…
Recall! Kirkland Black Pepper! Traces of Salmonella!
I use that in practically every dish!! If we are feeling fine until now, does that mean the one I have is safe??
But suddenly I’m nauseous and I have a headache.
Germs. Do you know what germs are lurking on your door knobs? Your cell phone has more germs than…
I’m done. I stop reading.
Now I’m a wreck; what an awful mom I am after all! Destroying my family! Feeding them toxins!
What will be? Should we move to a farm and grow our own stuff? Can we live off the crop we get from our garden?
I glance at the next few headlines; water safety, secondary drowning, heat advisory, kids left in cars by mistake. This stuff can make any mom fall apart!
I turn off the screen and shove my phone across the couch. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.
Only ten minutes ago I was a great mom. Now I am doing it all wrong. And my worry list had just quadrupled.
Maybe all these mommy groups and instant news updates aren’t such a good thing after all.
Are they making me a confident mom or a paranoid mom?
Are they making me more diligent in taking care of my kids, or turning me into the world’s worst helicopter mom?
Are they making me happier or more neurotic?
A calmer mom or a nervous wreck mom?
No, this certainly isn’t making me be a better mother. If I keep on reading, I know just the type of mom I’ll become- the overbearing type that really ruins their kids.
I’m ready to go back to the old way.
Away with the mommy groups. Back to using common sense, advice from good friends, wisdom from my mother’s experience and an occasional visit to Google.
It was finally coming true. My mind was racing, my imagination going wild.
No more cooking suppers. No more peeling, cutting and prepping food. My son was going to take over the kitchen.
He’s a natural. He’s one of those.
I would be one of those bragging moms who nonchalantly wave their hands and laugh, “Oh, I stopped cooking ages ago. My son does it. He’s a natural.”
And they casually pause for the response they know is coming, “Really, your son?! Wow, how amazing! How’d you train him??”
And the ambiguous answer of, “You gotta train them when their young…” Smiling smugly. Implying that everyone else’s children weren’t trained.
Well, that bragging mom was going to be me!
“It says butter. Can I use peanut butter instead?”
That certainly interrupted my train of thought.
And reminded me that I was jumping ahead a bit too far; after all, he’s nine.
He had been browsing through a cookbook and had come across a potato chip recipe and wanted to try it. Contrary to my initial inward reaction, I enthusiastically agreed.
And we didn’t have butter, hence the question.
And so he learned his first kitchen tip; peanut butter does not replace butter. But you can use oil instead.
I guess he might not be taking over the kitchen as soon as I was imagining after all.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t brag about his cooking, I thought stubbornly.“My son, he’s just a natural in the kitchen!”
Well, kind of, anyways. I mean, he cooked once…
But you know us moms, we love to exaggerate :)
If I ever feel the need for some extra attention, all I have to do is go to Walmart with some – or all- of my kids.
That wasn’t the reason why I did that today, but it only took about the length of an aisle or two to realize it makes a pretty good game plan.
Today, though, I needed pampers. And wipes. And ASAP.
So in a moment of lots of energy and irrational thinking, off I went with my four little ones that were home with me. And while I was already wandering through the endless aisles at Walmart, I figured why not do my weekly grocery shopping too. In truth, I can think of a lot of reasons why not to; but like I said, it was a moment of a lot of energy and irrational thinking..
I assumed we’d find one of the family size wagons; we didn’t.
Only one kid fit in the regular wagon; the rest of it was heaped high with stuff. That means the other three little guys were my foot soldiers.
And the attention we got! Every little old gray haired man and lady in the store stopped to “ooh” and “ahhh” and “G-d bless you”. And if I felt the need to draw some extra attention to myself and my clan, I casually added, “Oh the rest are at home!” to which I got more “G-d bless yous!” from the little white haired men and ladies.
While my energy and patience were intact, it was almost fun!
Funny how it is, though. Lots of oohs and aahs from the little old folks; and lots of stares and some glares from the random moms around the store. No “G-d bless yous!” from them. But I suppose I can’t blame them; us moms are an interesting bunch, we’re too sleep deprived to be impressed or care about anything other than some shut eye.
And the kids behaved pretty well, too.
Ok, I’ll admit it. The bribes grew accordingly. Ices at the end. We picked it out in the beginning, left it in the freezer, and would go back to get it.
So when my six year old climbed into a cozy spot on the tissue shelf (that was kind of beckoning to kids) I just reminded him about the ices.
And when my three year old went to hide in the clothes rack (why does every kid do that??) I just reminded him about the ices.
And when my four year old started giving the one year old a free ride in the wagon while I bent down to get something, I just reminded him about the ices.
And when they sneaked 15 boxes of instant pudding into the wagon (look, its kosher!) And when they emptied the cereal shelf. And when they each chose a bottle of sunblock so we could have for the summer. All I had to say was “ices!” and all was back to normal.
Oh, and the apple juice boxes and dried pineapple helped too.
An hour and thirty minutes later, I was done. And I don’t mean just my list.
I mean I was done; done with my energy, done with my patience, and done with getting attention.
Walmart gives me a headache on a regular day. Today was exceeding them all.
And this little old lady at the register wasn’t the same as all the rest of the old folk shoppers; she wasn’t impressed. She was trying to work quickly; so was I.
But I also had to settle the kids with their ices so it could go as smoothly as possible. And without fanfare.
This little old lady hurt her arm and couldn’t move it much. I tried one of my best tactics reserved for when you want to get on someone’s good side or get good service from a cashier; I told her how difficult it must be to work with a sore arm and what a trooper she was.
I think we became best friends.
I bid farewell to Walmart and all its little old gray haired ladies and got my troops back in the van. Loaded the dozens of bags in the trunk and drove off…until next time.
“I can only sleep with the door open, if you close it I’m never going to fall asleep!”
“I can’t fall asleep if the door is open, I’m so tired! I need the door closed!”
“No, it has to be open!”
“I finally got used to it closed!”
“No it needs to be open!”
“No it needs to be closed! The whole way!”
“It’s too dark!”
“It’s too light!”
I took a deep breath. I was done for the day.
Bedtime can do that to you.
They had all brushed their teeth so nicely as I watched so proudly, until my four year old made sure to autograph the mirror with the toothpaste. Something about the push down tab of the Aqua Fresh just begs for it…
Three year old had done his ritual of stepping into four year old’s negel vasser, and I made a mental note to email the French Twins and tell them I don’t appreciate their sense of humor.
“I need the door closed now!!”
I needed to get involved. My two big boys, 6 and 9 years old, were not going to figure this one out. And I needed them to go to sleep now!
I marched upstairs to their room, not quite sure how to resolve it. All I knew was that I was low on patience.
Who cares about the door? Just close your eyes and you won’t see if it’s open or closed! Stop driving each other crazy! You both woke up at 6 today and you need to go to sleep now! The next one to say a word will sleep on the couch tonight!
But I caught myself just before I launched into my mommy rhetoric.
I had a flashback. Me and my two sisters. We shared a room and we loved it. And we fought about the door. One wanted it wide open, one wanted it closed and I wanted it 3/4 closed. Not 1/2 way, it had to be 3/4, and I had a special way to measure. And we argued. And we debated. For many, many nights. And despite all that, we are best friends.
I looked at my boy in amusement, still arguing about the door. How did they know that that’s what you’re supposed to argue about? Did they get the memo, bedtime rule #712: argue about the door until mom comes. Then continue arguing.
This wasn’t about them. This wasn’t about deliberately pushing my patience.
This was about the joys of siblings sharing a room.
It’s part of the growing experience. Part of the excitement of whispering at night to each other when you’re supposed to be sleeping, of waking up early and talking until it’s time to get out of bed. Of staring up at the ceiling and sharing your dreams of the night before.
It’s all part of the joys of siblings. And I didn’t want to steal it away from them.
So I used every last ounce of non existant energy to rationally resolve the issue.
And we came to a compromise. They were both happy. And so was I. Not because I came up with a clever solution, but because I had the presence of mind to see past the door.
I walked back downstairs, knowing full well that tomorrow night they’d have the same disagreement. And the next night. And the next. Just like I had done.
And I repeated to myself over and over again. It’s not them. They are doing nothing wrong.
It’s not the door.
It’s part of the childhood experience. Part of the learning to share and care for each other. Just like me and my sisters.
In that context, I can hold on to my patience a few moments longer when I’m called in to referee.
I could hear them talking and laughing, making plans for the next day.
And I was relieved that I had caught myself in time.
“Fight? Why would my kids fight? No, they don’t fight.”
I kind of half smiled, sure it was a joke.
I was catching up with an old friend, a rare occasion considering where I live.
And like all good moms who catch up, we inevitably were talking about our kids.
And my comment about kids fighting obviously didn’t resonate with my dear friend.
It was a light comment, a mix of mommy frustration and some humor. Nothing major, the type of thing moms groan about good naturedly and move on. The type where all you are looking for is a friendly “Oh yeah, I know what you mean!”
But apparently, her kids didn’t fight.
And my kids did.
They fight. They argue. They take things away from each other. They yell at each other. They tell on each other. They even call each other names.
And just when things are heated and I finally intervene and send them to two far opposite corners of the house indefinitely, they put up a fuss that they want to play together!
Huh? Did I miss something? You guys were fighting! Remember, he wasn’t nice to you! What’s going on?
But they really do play so nicely together. They share their stuff with each other. They make wish lists together. They make shows together. They make plays together. They compliment each other. They cover for each other. They read each other books.
And I know they love each other. Only they express it differently at different times. Not always the way I would express it.
And in the rare occasion one isn’t home, the others kind of hang around, waiting for their missing sibling to return. They don’t want to start anything without each other.
But they do fight. And my friend’s kids don’t.
And then it struck me.
We’re all moms; we have a lot in common, but we sure have a lot of differences. Our kids are not all the same. Our schedules are not the same. Our stresses are not the same.
I thought about my life.
Given my homeschooling system, my kids are together 24/7.
Every day and every night.
They don’t each go off to their own classes each day, not see each other from 9-4.
They sit in the same room together even during school time. They have lunch together. They have recess together. They have snack together. They are ALWAYS together. They love it. And they have lots of opportunity to fight, too.
And my friend’s kids – they are away from each other from 8 – 5, and finally spend some time together from dinner to bedtime. Less hours, less fighting opportunity?
Either way, I learned an important lesson.
First, I established Mommy Survival Rule #3,721: Stop and think before starting a conversation with a fellow mom.
Think: Is this a good topic? Do I want validation or a different opinion? And if there’s a chance I won’t get what I need from the conversation, then switch topics before starting!
Don’t assume we all have the same approach! Don’t assume our kids are all the same!
And then I made a commitment.
A commitment to all my fellow moms out there: Before answering a question about kids, I will give a quick thought as to why the mom is asking it.
If she wants validation, I will find a way to give it! If she wants a different opinion, I’ll give it!
But I will not answer on a whim. It’s not always necessary to answer with what my kids do.
Like a recent conversation I had.
“My son is three, and he refuses to be toilet trained!”
Instinctive reaction: “Really? My kids were all toilet trained by two!” (Pat on the back supermom!)
After a moment’s thought: “It’s totally normal. I’ve heard of lots of kids who aren’t toilet trained till after 3!”
And if you’re kids don’t fight, well then, this post is not for you :).
“You’re such a calm mother. You don’t get all stressed out about your kids.”
Hmm, I had to think that over.
Was that a compliment or an insult? Does that mean I let my kids get away with whatever they want? Or does it mean I’m flexible?
I wasn’t sure. But it did leave me wondering, what type of mother am I, anyway?
Did I choose to be a certain way, or did my kids choose it for me?
Am I the mother I dreamed of being, or the mother my kids dream of having?
I tried to think back to the mother I dreamed of being, the one I imagined before I met my adorable, mischievous, fun loving, energetic clan.
I thought about the socks. Yes, socks. They play a big role in my transition from the mother of my dreams, to the mother of my kids’ dreams.
I love when kids have socks and shirts that match. I love turquoise socks that match a turquoise tshirt of a little two year old; bright yellow socks that match perfectly with a three year old’s top. Whatever the color, I always had a thing for anything but black and white; I just liked it. And I knew how I’d dress my kids; I had all the colors for all the outfits. It just looked so neat and sharp.
And then I was blessed with kids. My oldest started walking. He got shoes. Hooray, now for sure the socks won’t fall off!
Apparently he didn’t like socks. And he would take them off and go barefoot whenever possible. And the oldest sure sets the tone for the rest of the kids.
My kids love to go barefoot.
The mother of my dreams despises when kids are barefoot; to me it looks like they belong in a third world country. It looks unkempt. Dirty. After all, I’m a city girl. We don’t go barefoot.
The kids got older. They still like to go barefoot. And as soon as we arrive anywhere, most of them have their socks and shoes off. There’s not a house we visit that doesn’t have a souvenir of our stay – a sock in some random size, found under the couch.
And the van. On my most recent cleaning, I found 7 single socks. Of course the rule is you must take your shoes and socks out of the van with you. But when I’m holding the baby in one hand, four bags in the other, trying to get my kids out before they detour to the front seat to test the horn…well, I’m not always remembering to remind them. And in the excitement of coming home, the socks stay behind.
And I realized my kids gave me a choice. Will you be the mother of your dreams or the mother of our dreams? Will you force us to be the way you like, or will you let us be the way we like? Will we have the talents that you want, or the talents that we want?
And sometimes it’s the former, and sometimes it’s the latter. I draw the line at safety!
They give me choices all day long.
But the socks have taught me a lesson.
I still don’t go in the backyard barefoot. But they can go.
I still can’t handle walking on a kitchen tile floor barefoot. But they can like it.
And they will have dirty feet. And I will be the mother of their dreams, who loves them more than silly mismatched socks.
So I simplified. Each child has a different color sock. Neutral colors that match everything. 3 and 4 year old have beige, 6 year old has brown etc They have lots of their color. And if one goes missing, it doesn’t drive me crazy because they all match up with each other. I look for ways to eliminate the stress. There’s a sock bucket in the garage so they can put their socks in there before they get lost in the unknown corners of the house. And a sock drawer in the laundry room where everyone can find their new socks.
And if letting go of the mother of my dreams is the solution, well then that’s the way I choose to go.
Although I still do sneak in a few argyle socks for Shabbos, at my own risk. And yesterday we were all in the car, ready to roll. My three year old was so proud, strapped in to his seat by himself and announced he even put on his socks and shoes. I glanced over my shoulder. One black and red argyle; one beige. I smiled.
Boy have I come a long way!
And when I see the kids pushing the couch across the room, a big no-no of the mother of my dreams, I take a deep breath. They’re giving me a choice. They know what’s ok and what’s not. But they’re challenging me; will I “play along:” and lose it or will I ignore it and not give them the negative attention?
In the mother of my dreams, I didn’t imagine a houseful of boys. I didn’t know what roughhousing really was. I didn’t know how high boys like to climb. I didn’t know what the boys’ version of fun was.
My kids have taught me. They’ve trained me.
And I discovered that you can’t necessarily have both ways and they don’t always overlap; I need to make choices.
Will I be the mother of my dreams, or the mother of my kids’ dreams?
No, I didn’t choose what type of mom I’d be. My kids did.
They made me the mother that I am. And they continue to do that every single day.
And the truth is, their version of the dream mom is way more realistic and practical than mine.