I work for a few hours a week at the family furniture store. I am responsible for some of the buying as well as the design of the showroom floor, and for the most part it fits nicely into my busy mommy life. I choose my own hours, rarely get questioned about my decisions, and can take my boys along with me to work on some days. One of our upholstery vendors does their own furniture show in Fort Wayne, IN twice a year. We nearly always attend this show: this company is our top vendor, so it is very important for us to see what they are doing. They pay for a hotel room and give us meal vouchers for a number of great restaurants in the Fort Wayne area. In addition, it is close to where I grew up and we can generally see some family, so David and I have usually made a mini-getaway out of this trip. Having just returned, I've been struck by how much our life has changed over the last couple of years.
It used to look something like this: The three hour drive was filled with romantic music and reading to each other. We had riveting discussions about our jobs and the vacations that we hoped to take. Our evening meal was long and leisurely, and we NEVER worried about how much food we had left over. We smiled benevolently (and let's admit it, somewhat condescendingly) at the way James and Susan would have to rush through dinner because their kids were begging to swim. We would offer to take care of their bill so that they could hurry to the pool for a few minutes before their tired and whiny children needed to be put to bed. Then, the two of us would order coffee and dessert and gaze into each other's eyes across the table. After dinner, we would enjoy a quiet, romantic evening together. The following day, we'd spend a couple of hours at the furniture show and then take off for a day of shopping, visiting chocolate shops and coffee houses, holding hands and revelling in each other's company. We'd blow hundreds of dollars on new clothes for the season and not think anything of it. Hadn't we earned this? I did work in a fashion industry, after all, and it was important for me to appear trendy. Monthly budget? What's that? We're not in debt and we have the money, so let's spend it.
Enter these two:
Now our trips look a bit different. I still read to David as we drive west, but I also spend time in the backseat of our (gasp) minivan doing Phonics or Language Arts with Yikealo. Sintayehu interrupts every couple of seconds to thrust one of his earbuds at me so that I can hear what he's listening to on his (it used to be mine) i-Pod shuffle. For dinner, we choose the quiet hotel restaurant, rather than the crowded, trendy one where we used to eat. We spend our time shoveling bites into the boys' mouths, asking the waitress to please bring extra napkins, telling Sintayehu to use his inside voice, to stop pretending to be a jack-in-the-box, and for heaven's sake, STOP crawling on the floor and eating the french fries that you dropped! Now we obsess about how much food is left (WHY didn't we just order one meal for the boys to split?) and we box up the extra and order a refrigerator to be delivered to our room. We KNOW about those starving people in Africa now, and there is no way that we can let that much food go to waste, regardless of the fact that we aren't paying for it anyway. We take one child out to the restroom, only to have the other shout "Kaka! Shint" across the restaurant upon our return. We cringe and glance around at the other diners with chagrined looks on our faces. Now we're the ones to rush through eating so that we can get to the swimming pool before bed. James and Susan, on the other hand, are having a leisurely, romantic dinner at the cool, trendy restaurant....having left all four of their children at home with family, so that the kiddos don't miss any school. How times have changed!
While we all change into swimming gear back at the room, we try our best to keep our sleep-deprived, hyper children from disturbing other hotel guests. They are bouncing off the walls after having been cooped up in the van and at the restaurant for so long, jumping back and forth between the beds, shouting and wrestling around on the floor. Eventually they both end up in time-out chairs while we threaten them with loss of pool-time if they don't shape up. We spend 45 minutes or so down at the pool, exhaustedly watching the boys splash each other delightedly. It's closing in on 9:00 and we're worn out. What in the world happened to that cool, young couple that would stay up past midnight, enjoying the romantic atmosphere and each other's company? Forget romance....we just want to sleep.
Back at the room, we shower and lotion the boys and get them into their PJs. Sintay's a bit out of sorts....it's way past his bedtime, and he's in a strange place. We try to put the boys together in one of the beds, but it quickly becomes clear that there is no way that is going to work, at least not until they're sleeping. David and Yikealo take one bed, while Sintay and I take the other. He whimpers and asks about his house, and I tell him that we'll see his house again tomorrow. That calms him down, and before long, his sweaty little body is whiffling away against my chest. We move the boys together into their bed, read one more chapter in our book and fall asleep before 10. We are awakened 8 or so times during the night by Yikealo talking in his sleep, or Sintayehu's gruff, bear-like snoring, or by the boys tossing and turning. At least 3 times, I get up to move them back onto their own sides of the bed. How in the world do little kids get into this many different positions while they sleep anyway?
In the morning, after some wake-up snuggles, I head out to the furniture show with James and Susan while David takes two pajama-clad boys with matted bed-head down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. (Let's just say that if I had been around, there is NO WAY they would have gone into public looking like that.) Then, tragedy strikes: the ceiling in the pool area is being repainted and the pool is closed, leaving some very disappointed little people. No problem....David makes do with a "swimming" party in the hot tub for an hour, while they all breathe in paint fumes. Fabulous.
We have planned on spending the rest of the day with David's brother Mark's family, since they live about 15 minutes away from where we are staying. Sintayehu has not met their family before this trip, so it will be a great time to introduce him. Our sister-in-law Julie meets us at the hotel with her youngest Reed, and the boys have a great time running around while we finish repacking. She wants to show us their favorite coffee place in the city, so we head out to get our morning joe.
Upon entering the coffee house, it becomes clear that once upon a time, we would have loved this place. Funky chairs in every shade of bright paint, bins full of bulk coffee beans from all over the world, hip young people hanging out with their laptops or notebooks, lingering over their enticing beverages and chatting, while the dark, beguiling scent of rich black brew permeates the air.....but I digress. This is now our reality: as we go inside, we get "those" looks. You know the ones I mean, from those people without small children. The looks that say, "Oh great, our peace is about to be interrupted. The "cool" vibe just went down substantially and maybe we ought to get out of here quickly." We try to ignore them while our six-year-old grabs a handful of coffee stirrers and inserts them under his upper lip in an attempt to be either a saber-tooth tiger or an elephant, I'm not sure which it is today. Our three year old is wiggling frantically in my arms as I try to figure out my order, making demands in his foghorn voice. I order a tall raspberry mocha and a lime sugar cookie, which causes a full-out temper tantrum from the three-year-old, because I will not just hand the entire crumbly cookie over into his sweaty little paw. I'm in full mama mode, juggling a hot cup of coffee and a struggling toddler, breaking off pieces of sugary sweetness to stuff into his mouth, all while hunting through my cavernous bag past sippy cups and pull-ups for my wallet. David, meanwhile, is completely ignoring his charge (the saber-toothed elephant is now dancing wildly around the room) while he pores over the tempting bins of whole beans, trying to make a decision on what type of coffee to buy. I get Sintay situated at a small table with the cookie, but he just whines for coffee. (This child is Ethiopian, after all, and he LOVES coffee.) I give in, because I'm getting a little tired of the withering glances from the other patrons. Anything for some peace and quiet, except now we'll be dealing with a caffeinated whirling dervish....wonderful. David has ordered his drink and is waiting for the barista to bag the whole beans. The drink is handed off to Yikealo, which of course has disastrous results, since he attempts to drink the steaming liquid through his "teeth/tusks". It's much too hot for this, and he ends up spilling coffee all over the table. While I'm cleaning up Y's mess, Sintay yells that he has to go potty.
As we leave, I feel like I've been wrestling an octopus, and the relief of the other customers feels palpable. For a moment I miss the old days....but then I look down at the happy faces of my little boys, overjoyed by their time with family, and I think, "I wouldn't trade this for the world." We won't be shopping on this day...our monthly clothing budget was spent on new socks, underwear and jeans for Mr. Y, and our "fun" budget was spent on a trip to the zoo earlier this month. Besides, we could never justify that type of expense anymore. Instead, we'll be having a simple lunch with family, and visiting the children's home where Mark works so that our boys can see the piglets, goats and cows that are being raised there. I don't want my old life back (okay, to be totally honest, I might feel like trading a few hours now and then) because I love the life I have now. A line from a Sara Groves song runs through my head: "And the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned..." and I smile up at the sunshine. It's going to be a good day.