Monday, May 9, 2016

Solo parenting on a holiday

  With my big girl at the end of the day. (Matilda, knowing that I really wanted a picture of the three of us, refused to be in the photo.)

I can finally say, after nearly two years into residency, I have figured out how to enjoy a holiday even when I'm (temporarily) solo parenting. Mother's Day 2016 = success!

Let's get a few basics out of the way: 1) it's not easy. 2) other solo parents have to deal with more difficult situations. 3) I'm lucky, no matter which way you look at it, but my troubles are real to me, even if they're #firstworldproblems.

I've spent a lot of holidays over the past couple years without Hans, and I know I'll be spending many many more without him as well. It's a fact of his job and we choose to live far away from family. So I've been experimenting with, shall we say, coping strategies.

Coping strategy #1, the easiest: ignore it. Just pretend that the third Thursday in November is just like any other Thursday and, "come on girls, let's go to the park." Except...the park is filled with happy, extended families getting some exercise in before they tuck in to the big meal. And I feel like the biggest loser.

Coping strategy #2, avoid social media. Oh believe me, I've logged on to facebook on Christmas morning and seen lots of photos of kids dressed in cute Christmas pjs, digging into their stockings while adult family members coddle a cup of coffee and oversize cinnamon bun. Cue the tears. Avoiding social media seems like a no-brainer. But facebook is one of my communities. It's a major way I connect with friends and family around the world and I belong to groups that provide support and humor on a daily basis. Call me addicted, but I need my social media.

Coping strategy #3, pretend that Hans isn't working. Continue going through all the motions of the holiday - the decorations, the festivity, the food - and my other half will be around for about 10% of it. At the end of the day(s) I'm exhausted and don't feel festive but just annoyed that I did a lot of holiday work and no one was around to appreciate it.

Three strategies, three backfires. Yesterday, however, I did it right. Woohoo!

*****Coping strategy #4, make it my own. *******
Typical Mother's Day stuff that I've done, by myself with kids, that have felt hollow and lonely: church, brunch, mimosas. This year I planned in advance, talked with Hans about what I wanted, and connected with my local community. I had such a great day. Freja was thrilled that it was mother's day. The girls love holidays and special events and were excited that it wasn't just a regular day, but it was "mamma's special day." Hans and I put out a special breakfast for the girls the night before so I didn't have to jump out of bed to make them breakfast; I put out some art supplies for Freja because she wanted to decorate before I got out of bed; Freja let me go first when we played games together; Matilda kept hugging and kissing me and saying "Happy mother's day." They were as sweet as ever, even though Matilda did push my buttons from time to time. (She is only 3, after all.)

Morning dance party (Taylor Swift, Adele, Meghan Trainer, Shut up and Dance, Frozen - of course) while I drank coffee and read a book on the back deck.

A week beforehand I checked the calendar and realized I'd be alone all day, so I checked in with some friends. Sure enough, there were a couple others whose husbands were working all day so we made plans. A friend came over with her boy for pool time and lunch. It was fun and relaxing. Later in the day another friend found a "free meal for moms" deal at a Mexican restaurant so we met up with the kiddos and had a fun meal where someone else cooked and did the dishes. Please and thank you! And Hans, knowing that I do love mother's day, even though it can be viewed as a Hallmark holiday, came home with flowers, chocolates, and a bottle of champagne.

Three goofballs eating hamburger buns with forks.

 I was surrounded by so much love from that I truly felt lucky and happy and didn't want to be anywhere else. A spa day would have been nice (duh), but on mother's day I was so happy to be with my girls and be a mom.
It's Monday morning and we're back in the usual routine - kids at school, I'm doing laundry, and Hans is fishing before work. Now that I finally have figured out how to do holidays right, I can enjoy them for what they are: a break in the monotony to take a minute to appreciate what we have, relax, and have fun for a day. No responsibilities, just living. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fishing, waterways, boating, nature

I love the natural beauty of the coastal southeast. It's the main reason we wanted to move "down south" to the land of humidity, hurricanes, and cockroaches. Heat and violent storms and bugs - how very inspiring. Nope, it's not a forgiving environment in the summer months, and while we don't have to worry about frozen pipes or hypothermia, we basically have two choices: sit inside hugging the air conditioner or fan (or both) or full submersion in water - pool or beach variety. Outdoor activity is a literal hot, sweaty mess this time of year. But I'd rather sweat than freeze and we have enough months of phenomenal weather to make up for the four months of outdoor sauna.

We're just turning the corner into summer. Thunderstorms are popping up, cold fronts aren't in the weather pattern anymore, and I'm sweating more often than not. But the natural beauty is still here and we're finally getting the chance to enjoy it more. How? Longer beach days and Blue Seas.

I'm a huge beach bum and am beyond thrilled that our beach days are lasting much more than two hours this year. Last year we had a two hour limit before an inevitable meltdown, but the past two times I've taken the girls to the beach we've stayed for over five hours. Of course I can't bring my page-turner and cooler of beer like in the good old pre-kid days (I do have two small children to watch, after all), but I can relax in my beach chair, do some yoga, build sandcastles, and swim for hours. It's the perfect way to enjoy this coastline and to get the kids outdoors in nature with no complaints. We have our choice of beaches - from the developed Jax Beach with its pier and bars, to St. Augustine with a splash pad and playground, to Little Talbot Island which has a parking lot, showers, and sand dunes.

(yes, my friends, I made them pose for this picture. This is not natural!!)

Hans loves fishing, and, much to my initial disgruntlement, he bought a little 12' aluminum fishing boat for inshore waters. You may rightfully ask, do we really  need four boats? I asked the same question. Well, we may have a boat habit. Do we really need two cars? Do we really need that sundowner on a summer evening? Need want need want. I, too, was skeptical, until I went out fishing for a few hours. Just 30 minutes from downtown there is absolute stillness and tranquility in the marshes. Nothing to see but water, marsh, and sky. Nothing to hear but birds and the marsh grass rustling in the wind. And we saw dolphins. The little fishing boat, which our eldest quickly named Blue Seas, opened up a whole new part of the region for exploration. (Oh and my skepticism also dissipated after Hans caught his first fish. Yum!)

A redfish caught off the dock!

We've traveled up and down the east coast of the US via boat three times and this region has always been my favorite. I've spent the first almost two years of our time here being frustrated that I can't get out to the marsh lands and feeling disconnected from a life on the water. (Yes. I know. We live on our boat. My home is floating on the water. How in the world can I feel disconnected?!) But I was wanting and needing an active life on the water. I want to be doing stuff on the water, not simply floating on it.

swimming off the back deck of m/v Rhumb Line at anchor.

playing pirates...
"Cock a doodle doo, Peter Pan we need you!"

When people ask what we're doing these days my answer is pretty simple: pool, beach, boat.

Goofball Matilda pretending to be cold after a recent swim.