Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Flying Solo With a Toddler

Last weekend, E and I flew to my hometown for the weekend to attend my best friend's bridal shower.  Due to A-100 obligations, S didn't join us on the trip, so I got E to myself for three whole days. Since my family lives there, E's Nana and Aunt were more than willing to babysit while I attended a dinner on Friday night and the shower on Saturday.  It was a fun weekend full of girl chatter and margaritas, and I was really happy we went.  E even got to spend some time petting goats on his grandad's farm.

The bride-to-be in the middle surrounded by four of her bridesmaids.

Feeding the goats

Staring down the goat
The weekend was great.  E was great.  Until he wasn't... 

Getting there wasn't the problem.  Despite having to wake at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, he was a trooper.  He didn't make a peep during the drive to the airport or when we went through security, even when the TSA agent confiscated his sippy cup so it could be swabbed for explosives.  Once on the plane, the first leg of the flight was a breeze.  E sat on my lap and happily ate grapes and Cheerios while he watched Yo Gabba Gabba and thumbed through the pages of his new favorite books.  During the layover, he gladly let me change his diaper before boarding the next plane and even giggled when I let him run about for a few minutes before re-boarding.  During the second leg of the trip he napped for 45 minutes of a one and a half hour flight, then awoke to eat some airplane cookies biscotti and stare out the window.  In short, he was a perfect little angel.  At the time, I convinced myself E was the ideal travel child because why wouldn't he be?  The kid has flown quite a bit and we have never had a problem with him. 

But then there was the return flight.  First let me state that I am a horrible mother for even booking a late evening flight with a toddler, but I had to cash in a nearly expired voucher before it was too late, and that evening flight was the only one that would get me back on the day I needed.  So, I booked it and crossed my fingers.  The first leg wasn't so bad.  I was beginning to think the travel gods has blessed me with this angel baby, until we reached the layover.  Then, his halo tilted and continued to tilt until it crashed to the floor during a fit of exhaustion and toddlerness.  We nearly missed our connecting flight and we had to run through the airport to get to the gate.  E screamed and cried the whole way.  I must have looked like a lunatic as I bobbed and weaved between slow walking people on cell phones and elderly folks getting carted around in wheelchairs.  We were like a fire truck headed in the direction of a four alarm fire; me speeding down the walkway pushing the stroller while E wailed to announce our impending arrival.  Once we got to the gate, it was after 9pm (an hour past E's bedtime) and we had 4 minutes to board.  We were the last ones, and as I walked down the aisle of the plane my heart dropped as I spotted our seat--dead center between an extra large man and a slightly larger young woman.  Up until this point we had lucked up with window seats, so to see this middle seat before us was disheartening to say the least.  "This is going to be fun," I thought.

I wedged my way into the seat and propped E on my lap.  He had ceased screaming at this point and had simmered down to a low whine.  "Great," I thought.  "He's whining himself to sleep.  Maybe he'll curl up and sleep the whole way."  A girl can dream, can't she?

First E wanted to look out the window, so he began to reach across the male passenger seated there.  I quickly grabbed him and told him "no no" as I tried to explain exactly why he couldn't look out the window during this particular flight.  That of course sent him into a meltdown as he continued to try to reach the window, fighting and crying and kicking his legs for what felt like an eternity, but was only 3 minutes in reality.  Still, it was 3 minutes I'm sure our lovely seatmate would love to erase from his memory. 

Then I tried to get E to take his "baba" hoping that would settle him down and he would fall asleep.  It was after 9:30 at this point and I knew he was going on fumes.  Apparently, he wasn't going down.  He hit and threw the sippy cup away every time I tried to give it to him.  He tried to reach for the window again as I awkwardly tried to wrestle him back into the seat. 

Then he saw the light. And by light, I mean the overhead reading light that the aisle seat passenger had just turned on so she could read her book.  And it was so bright.  And E let me know it too.

E became obsessed with pointing to the light and saying "hot mama, hot."  He says all lights are hot, so I knew he was talking about the dang light.  I tried to reposition it so it wasn't in his face, but to no avail.  I tried turning my shoulder to it and positioning E closer to the window seat passenger, but the fact that he was extra large meant that there was no room.  Then I tried to shield E's eyes with the scarf I was wearing, which of course he thought was a game of peek-a-boo that he was in no mood to play. 

We were trapped on the plane for two hours in the most uncomfortable seats imaginable and a bright light shining in E's face.  He cried.  He screamed.  He flailed.  He threw his sippy cup and kicked the back of the seat as I desperately tried to reign him in.  All the while that light shone brightly in our faces as the aisle passenger "read" her book. I was utterly hopeless.  I had become that mom and I was ashamed.  I was totally embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do.  I wanted so badly to get up and walk the aisle with him, but of course we were flying through a lightening storm and the seat belt light never went off.  And neither did that dang overhead light.  The flight was, in a word, miserable.  The only saving grace was that it was just  a two hour flight and not, say, cross country or trans-Atlantic. 

Still, I felt defeated.  My child that I love beat me down on that flight.  I lost the battle and I waved the white flag of surrender.  Yo Gabba Gabba managed to calm him for the last 20 minutes or so, but at that point I think delirium had set in.  We were both exhausted, but obviously we survived.  And so did the other passengers.

So to all those unknown people who shared my flight last Sunday night, I am sorry.  But as a favor to moms everywhere, please, please please, for the love of all things holy, when you see a toddler flipping out because the overhead light is shining directly in his face ("hot!"), can you turn it off?  I know you paid good money to fly in comfort, and I know I have no right to ask you to turn it off (which is why I didn't) but would it be so bad to forgo your book for two hours so my kid can get to sleep?  I promise, if you had turned out that light, he would have been asleep in 10 minutes and you would have had a peaceful, toddler-tantrum-free experience.  And to other passengers who kept giving me the evil eye, I promise your stares didn't do any good.  I understand your annoyance, but there is nothing I can do.  A little look of compassion or some helpful words of advice would have been better received than your glares.  Keep them to yourselves.

When we landed I discovered the airline had lost my luggage (of course) so I had S take E home to bed while I waited to see if my luggage was on a later flight.  It wasn't.  But S texted at midnight to say E was finally in his crib fast asleep.  That was the best news.  And my luggage arrived in good condition the next day, so all was good.  And E awoke in a good mood the next morning despite his horrible experience from the night before. 

With a life in the Foreign Service ahead of us, that means flying, flying and more flying.  We said we were ready for adventure. For some reason, I don't think flying with a cranky toddler is exactly what we had in mind ;-).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mt. Vernon Trail

Our UAB (unaccompanied air baggage) arrived on Saturday, and with it came our jogging stroller.  S and I couldn't WAIT to get out on the road and run together, so first thing Sunday morning we were lacing up our sneakers and hitting the pavement. 

I'll be honest.  We hadn't quite done what we said we were going to do--that is, each set off on our own to discover our individual running routes--but that was simply because it was so dang hot last week (seriously, I think it hit 100+ three days in a row) and we were exhausted when we got home each evening, that we just didn't have the energy.  But we're back in the groove now.  And we have discovered what I think will become our regular route, the Mt. Vernon Trail.

The Mt. Vernon Trail is roughly 18 miles long and starts in Rosslyn, Virginia and extends down along the Potomac (on the Virginia side) to George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.  Hence the name.  S and I had no idea such a lovely trail was right outside our doorstep until we stumbled upon it the other day while walking our dog.  

Sunday morning was a bit overcast with a threat of rain, and very high humidity, but the trail did not disappoint.  We entered the trail near our apartment in Crystal City and when we hit the fork in the road, headed toward Washington, D.C. rather than Alexandria.  The trail took us past Reagan airport, where E had a wonderful time pointing out all the airplanes during take-off and landing,  and up toward our turn around point at the 14th Street Bridge.  In the distance we caught glimpses of the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, which as a history nerd I thought was pretty freaking amazing.  S got a little annoyed that I whipped out my iPhone to take a picture, but he'll thank me when he has all these amazing photos to look at in the nursing home one day. 

All in all it was a great run.  While we definitely saw that the trail is rather popular with cyclists, we still had good running company. And we only did four miles, but we plan to run farther next time.  My only complaint was the lack of water along the route.  If anyone familiar with this run knows where the water fountains are located, please let me know.  We're glad we took a water bottle with us, and even happier we packed our fuel belts in UAB.  I'm not gonna lie.  The idea of doing the full 18 miles for my next long marathon training run really excites me.  Or heck, maybe one day I'll get super ambitious and attempt the full 36-miles round trip!

Dreary day.  Beautiful view.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

One Week Later...Bid List Dreamin'

We have officially been in D.C. for one week.  In that time, S has started A-100 training, I have transitioned to my company's D.C. office for work, E has started and adjusted to a new daycare, and...oh yeah--we got the BID LIST!

S received the bid list on Wednesday, and since that time we have been poring over it and obsessing over every possibility.  For those of you unfamiliar with the bid list, it is a list of every available post/job that each new Foreign Service Officer must bid either high, medium or low.  Basically, this is the list that determines the next 2-3 years of our lives.  So, of course we inevitably developed a bidding strategy. 

I feel like everyone does this, and each person's/family's strategy is different.  For us, we narrowed it down to three key things--the pets have to be able to come with us (with little to no quarantine at post once we arrive), reliable Internet is a must if I am going to continue to work at my current job, and S wants to work within his cone-Management.  If there is a post meeting all three of those criteria, it goes to the top.  Anything that is unaccompanied or doesn't allow pets automatically goes to the bottom of the list, and everything else goes in as a medium bid.  We have tweaked the bidding strategy together over the last few days, and we think we're happy with our top choices.  Of course, those top choices can definitely change during the next two weeks before we turn in the final list, but probably not very much. 

Overall, I believe we are very happy with our top choices.  They are all over the map, and even though some of them are places anyone would dream of living, there are quite a few that will definitely make some family members scratch their heads.  (I'm lookin' at you, mom). 

However! The more research we do on each city, the happier and more content we become.  Of course we can live in this obscure island nation city with pristine beaches and amazing weather.  And that tiny town WAY up north that some people probably can't even pronounce? We'd be happy there too.  After we get the proper coats and boots and hats, of course. 

S and I are excited at the prospects, and while little E may be too small to understand what exactly is going on, I think he's excited too.  But I'm sure we'll all be on pins and needles until Flag Day.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

We Have Arrived!

We arrived in Crystal City Saturday afternoon, much to the delight of all involved.  Minus a few stop-and-go traffic moments, the drive wasn't so bad.  We managed to get the pets down in one piece, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, E was treated to a few episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba on the iPad, so his protests at being confined to the car seat were kept to a minimum. 

So far life here in Arlington is great.  I still can't get over the space (there are SEVEN! closets here, including a walk-in in the master bedroom that S so graciously gave to me), plus the living/dining area has plenty of room for E to run around. And there's carpet.  I'm normally not a fan of carpet, especially when there are fur babies involved, but to see E fall repeatedly (the boy is clumsy, what can I say?) and not whine or cry because there was a nice cushy carpet to break his fall instead of a cold, hard wood or tile floor, made my little mommy heart smile.  And because our son also likes to mimic the dog from time to time, they have both taken to rolling around on their backs while laughing/barking with glee.  I have such pride in those two. 

We scoped out the neighborhood today and located a grocery store, the obligatory Target, a pet store, Barnes & Noble and movie theater.  Those are the must-haves in our book, so we're all set.  Next on the agenda, map out a running route.  S and I have to wait for the jogging stroller to arrive in our UAB before we can go on runs together, but we will probably venture out on our own to see who can find the best trail first.  Or to see who gets lost and who doesn't.  Ah, the fun games we play!

*Anyway, since I know some of you are dying to know what our new home looks like, here are some pics.  Enjoy!

Dining room

Very dated, but very spacious kitchen

The other side.  Note the dishwasher!!

Massive living room

Master Bedroom.  Yes, our cat is spoiled.

And just for fun, a pic of E walking in his Daddy's shoes.

*We have a two-bedroom apartment, but since these photos were taken at night, a certain someone's room was not captured for fear of waking him.  But his room is very nicely set up with a twin bed, and a crib tucked against the wall.  And his very own closet.  As my friend Jill said earlier today, "now E can upgrade from the plastic container under his crib."  Thanks Jill :-p

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lessons Learned From Our First Packout

The movers came today.  It was a lot less painful than we anticipated, actually.  Four movers arrived a little before 10am and they were out the door by 2:30.  S and I felt a bit awkward standing around chatting with each other and playing on our iPhones while they worked (4G is ah-mazing once your Internet is already unhooked!) but we did as instructed -- we stood back and let them do their thang.  And do it, they did.  Of course, this is only the end of day one.  Apparently we have a two day packout scheduled, so they will be back tomorrow to load everything and take it away to the storage facility in Hagerstown, but I anticipate tomorrow's experience to be much like today's.  I'm not horribly concerned.  Of course, as soon as I typed that I jinxed myself, right?  Let's hope not!

Anyway, now that we're all safely tucked into our hotel, I can honestly say that I've learned a great deal from this whole "first packout" dealio.  I'm sure everyone's experience is different, and that's cool.  But I know you're just dying to find out what useful information I gained from the whole ordeal, so here goes.

1.  If you're an environmentally conscience person, check it at the door.  I pride myself on being pretty Earth friendly--I take public transit or walk most places, I recycle, I don't let the water run while I brush my teeth we use energy conservative light bulbs in our home etc., so seeing the sheer amount of PAPER used to wrap even the smallest item in our house was a bit mind numbing.  I mean, a candle holder with a 2 inch circumference required at least two sheets of 3ft x 3ft paper.   I had to physically restrain myself from saying, "Ya know what, just toss that in the box.  No worries about wrapping it."  But I couldn't.  Because who knows when I will see that stuff again, and who knows what it goes through between leaving our house and getting to our next, still unknown destination.  Maybe I'll be glad when the box arrives and my precious candle holders are scratch/dent free.  And maybe Mother Earth will one day forgive me.  Right?

2. NEVER, and I mean never, underestimate the value of a Ziploc bag.  (Again, your earth-friendly nature has been checked at the door, remember?) All the little Lego pieces and nails and screws and whatever that doesn't have a true home ends up in a Ziploc baggie and packed away.  Trust me.  Invest in at least three different sizes before you move. We started by just packing small toys in them and ultimately used them for everything.  Pens and markers?  Ziploc.  Spices? Ziploc.  And if you own a gadget that requires several small pieces, just throw those pieces in a Ziploc, tape it to the gadget and toss it in the box.  Don't forget to wrap it in 15 sheets of paper before you do, though.

3. Lysol disinfectant wipes (or whatever brand you like best--pick your poison) are your best friend.  S and I wiped down EVERYTHING before it was packed away.   Disposable rags and cleanliness goes a long way when you're packing things rapid-fire. 

4. If you have pets (we have a dog and a cat) no matter how often you mop, vacuum, or sweep your home, moving will reveal that you have done a miserably, horrible job.  The fur balls will come out to both haunt and embarrass you, I promise. One of our poor movers actually started having some sort of allergy attack midway through the move.  I have no advice on what to do here.  It's just a warning. It wasn't pretty, I tell you.  It wasn't pretty.

5.  And finally, have a catch-all bag set aside to collect any stray things around your home that you don't want to see go in HHE, but is too late to put in UAB.  In our case, we had a large Ikea bag (which, hello?  How useful are Ikea bags?  I love them.  They're my best friend.) We had our piles separated, so the movers packed our UAB shipment first.  Once that was done, they moved on to HHE.  Except, wait!  E's night light!  I forgot to grab it.  Our UAB boxes were sitting in the truck laughing at me, but I was one step ahead of them.  Into the Ikea bag it went.  Along with those bottles of aspirin, E's favorite blanket and stuffed animal, a few phone chargers, a box of blank checks (don't know where the heck those came from) and, well, you get the idea.  Have a bag handy. 

So that's that.  Right now the little guy is tucked into his pack and play, the pets are sniffing around the hotel room like there's food hidden somewhere (there's not), and S and I are detoxing from the day's events.  Time to sit back and enjoy this glass of wine.  Until tomorrow...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A July 4th Celebration and a Goodbye

Yesterday was spectacular.  Our wonderful neighbors threw a combo July 4th/Bon Voyage party for us on their roof, and while the weather was nice and toasty, that didn't stop us from getting out there and celebrating our country's independence and saying goodbye to our dear friends.  

The kids had a fun time splashing in the inflatable pool and playing with all the toys set up for their entertainment.   As you can see, E claimed the water table and serving spoon as the ultimate form of enjoyment.  We call that intense gaze his "Blue Steel" look. 

Once the sun started to set and the babies were tucked into bed, we turned up the music and continued to celebrate as we waited for the fireworks to begin.  S particularly had a good time.  I think saying goodbye on July 4th as you embark on a career to serve your country really tugs at the heart strings once you stop to think about it. 

By this time next year we will be in a new country and celebrating with an entirely new set of friends and colleagues.  But we will never forget our friends back here in Brooklyn, and we will be forever grateful for the amazing farewell. 

The host family.  They know how to throw a party!

Taking time out from the party to enjoy each other's company :)

The view from the roof.  Empire State Building. Red. White. Blue.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Signed, Sealed...

You know those tenants I mentioned a while back?  Well, they came by to sign the lease today.  They're a really nice couple who is getting married in a few weeks and looking for a new place with a bit more space and a backyard.  Since backyards can be a rarity in certain parts of Brooklyn, they jumped on renting our place as soon as they heard it was available.  And it helps that our next door neighbors are their best friends, so they're definitely getting a good deal. 

And S and I are excited because we know that our apartment will be occupied by nice, responsible people who will take care of the place while we're off living God knows where. So, another "to do" has been checked.  Leases are signed, deposits have been deposited, and brokers fees have been paid.  All we have to do now is move out.

Speaking of moving, we're at T-minus 10 days and counting until the movers arrive.  I will be working right up until D-Day, but S is off for the next two weeks until A-100 starts.  He will be spending that time relaxing (he has a growing list of must-see movies which may or may not include The Avengers and Moonrise Kingdom), but he will also be organizing our packout and taking care of all the odds and ends that need to be squared away before we go.  Part of me is happy I will be working instead of tackling his duties.  The odds and ends list is getting rather long. 

Of course all work and no play makes for a dull family (or something like that) so we carved out some family time on Friday night and a much needed play date for E on Sunday Morning.

Friday, we met some friends at Prospect Park to listen to one of my favorite musicians, Trombone Shorty. We all brought yummy food and beverages, set up blankets on the lawn, and listened and danced to the music.  We all had a great time, especially E.  His favorite new words are "hi" and "bye bye," so he spent the better part of the evening walking up to total strangers and saying hello, followed by an immediate goodbye.  He eventually got into the groove of the music once daddy put him on his shoulders to dance.  E loves nothing more than to be on his daddy's shoulders, so he was all set for the rest of the night. 

S and E being mellow.  Waiting for concert to start.

Me and E after I chased him down for this pic.

Trombone Shorty.  Amazing.

On Sunday, we met E's daycare buddy, B and his parents at the Brooklyn Children's Museum. E loves the museum, so he and B spent a solid two hours exploring and playing.  

Really?  You mean, we can just run anywhere?

And we can bang this as loud as possible?

And splash water all over the place?

Our Little Drummer Boy.

Notice E won't give up a stick.  It took some convincing to finally get him to share.

Jam-packed weekends are always fun, but most certainly exhausting too.  By Sunday afternoon we were all ready to crash, but E had the best idea of all.  Smart kid.  He really knows how to unwind.