Welcome to the September installment of my series Moms to Marvel. Each month I am sharing a story from an inspiring mom to get her take and experience on balancing working and motherhood. Check out previous posts here. If you have a story you want to share, or just want to pontificate about this topic with the rest of us, contact me!
Christine and I met on the job in San Francisco, many years ago when we were both childless, footloose and fancy free. The days when we would use our lunch breaks to go to a yoga class, or venture to the Ferry Building for impromptu happy hour on warm sunny days. And boy were those the days. Impromptu anything is a foreign concept to me now as I have willingly shackled myself to the schedule of a charming but impatient, demanding little toddler.
As you’ll discover below, Christine and her husband Brad had managed their dual career trajectory magically as she found amazing opportunities in first few cities of their military life. But then came the summons to Europe and the simultaneous discovery of her first little bun in the oven, naturally priorities changed.
Aside from wishing Christine was carrying me along in her suitcase for all of the European adventures, I really can’t wait for her to come home and tell me how she keeps it all together while having so much fun. Christine is one of those moms that makes it look easy because she is laughing for the whole journey, infecting everyone around her with her happy spirit. Looking through Christine’s pictures will make you smile (and probably a little jealous), and to me they are a reminder that the memories we create with our littles are pretty darn important- certainly more memorable than most of the things I do at work all day.
I found out that I was pregnant and that we were moving to Germany in the same week. It was a little over three years ago and I was living the charmed life- my ideal life: My husband and I lived in a loft in the Bay Area and I was in my dream career, a Women’s Shoe Buyer for an online retail company owned by The Gap; Piperlime. I traveled to NYC and Las Vegas several times a year for work, saw concerts, ate and drank at cool new restaurants during the week, and took weekend jaunts to Napa and the coast on weekends. Life was good.
All of that was about to change. Yet somehow, I didn’t mind. I knew this was bound to happen, Brad, my husband is a pilot in the Air Force after all. We had already moved to Seattle and to San Francisco, so another move was expected. The only difference is that the previous moves were really good career moves– with each move, my career advanced and not to mention we landed in cities we adored.
Brad and I became best friends the minute we connected, but the kind of best friends that can’t get enough of each other. It was his senior year of high school and my junior year. We knew instantly that we would be together forever, we just didn’t know exactly how. We each had our own ambitions and goals- could we stay together and still accomplish those? We did. We went to separate colleges, and lived in separate states for 6 years working on our careers before moving to Seattle together. Many hours were spent on the phone and on the highway and we were beyond elated when could finally start “our” lives together.
So moving to Germany and traveling Europe for three years with my best friend and the love of my life? No problem. I don’t need work full time, I’ll be too busy pushing my buggy all over the cobblestone streets, drinking coffee at a cafés and gazing adoringly at my tot cooing at me…right?!
Reality set in pretty quickly after we settled here in Germany. The thrill of being in Central Europe and all the traveling opportunities was (is) still here, however the area we live in isn’t metropolitan or even that charming by European standards (someone lovingly called it the West Virginia of Germany).
I was also inundated into a military world that I was unfamiliar with. We’ve always lived in the nearest city (both for culture and proximity for my career) which is usually over an hour away from base. So my visits to base were few and far between. I also had always avoided being pinned a “military spouse” because the military was Brad’s career, not mine. I was so proud of all that he has accomplished but I never saw his accomplishments and his career advancement as my own. I had my own career that I could brag about.
The reality of being here in Germany is that the military controls a huge portion of our life, for the good and the bad, and that still isn’t something I’m used to. We can only live in military “approved” homes, even though we are thirty minutes away from base. All options for healthcare (i.e. pediatricians, obgyn’s) are military doctors. Ha…I’ve never had a stranger experience then being wheeled down from Delivery to Mother and Baby, post C-Section, seeing military guards with guns guarding the doors, because who else, but Vice President Joe Biden was in the hospital visiting wounded warriors. Now that made me really feel like I was on drugs!
When we first arrived in Germany I was twenty eight weeks pregnant and we were itching to start exploring (not to mention I only had a short time left before I wasn’t allowed to fly). We immediately went to Paris, Belgium, Switzerland, and London before Lucie made her grand debut. And a debut it was. Lucie was breach, never ever turned, and as I mentioned earlier, I had a C-Section. She came out looking like a mermaid, or a “gymnast” as one nurse proclaimed, and when they showcased our little girl over the curtain we all looked at each other with terror. She, with her huge, open and alert eyes, us with shock that she was looking at us with huge, open, and alert eyes.
We would hear that term “alert” often for the next several weeks. “Wow, your baby is so alert.” Translation- your baby hates sleep.
Lucie and I had latching issues right away and to this day I still want to shout to expecting mothers “beware: breastfeeding hurts like a biiooootch!” Although the experts say “it’s not suppose to, if done right.” While yes, that’s true, try getting it right, after the pain of not getting it right, time after time again. Thank the lord for parents who come to the rescue. My parents were here prior to the birth, for the birth, and my mom stayed an entire three weeks after the birth.
(The appreciation I now have for all that my mom has done for me, and my four siblings, for our entire life is beyond words. You never know until you are a mother yourself how difficult it is, and my mother has always made it look incredibly easy. I am forever in her debt and constantly look to her for inspiration. Not to mention my oldest sister who has three of her own and who I couldn’t stop apologizing to for not helping or understanding, prior to having my own baby. My sister, thank goodness, is my go-to for everything “mom” related and thinks it hilarious now to see me as a mother. It so nice to have someone that understands and we cackle like teenagers at our daily struggles and triumphs. ) [Martha interjecting here as I would like to ditto everything Christine just said, to my own mom and sister if you are reading!]
Brad’s parents came out to visit as soon as mine left, and because they have never been to Europe we couldn’t resist the opportunity to travel. Lucie was six weeks old and we all went to Paris. Some hard lessons were learned on that first trip- the biggest of which- don’t leave your $900 stroller outside a restaurant just because other strollers are parked there (yep, stolen). Lucky for us, we had a carrier as a backup. The carrier has been my preferred mode for newborns and babies ever since, and not just because we don’t have a stroller (kidding, we have six).
The following week Brad was leaving for a month long of flight training in the States, and with Lucie’s passport still being processed at the consulate, I was getting scared. How am I supposed to take care of this thing on my own?
Out of pure fear I bribed the German passport agent with chocolate, and at seven weeks old we took her on her first international flight.
One of the flight attendants really helped me out when she declared “how old is that baby??…uh uuh, I would NEVER have done that.” Thanks lady, like it’s not hard enough. But the rude flight attendant did not dissuade us. After we conquered that first experience traveling with a baby, we have never looked back. Lucie has been to over seventeen countries and has a passport that rivals any post-college, backpack-carrying, hostel-staying, twenty-one year old.
Just seven months after Lucie was born I became pregnant again (oopsies). I cried for a week after finding out and throughout my entire pregnancy. I.was.scared. I can barely manage to stay sane with one, how am I going to do it with two? What will become of me, essentially having two babies at once?
I was able to successfully have a VBAC with our son Jack, which was awesome because I didn’t need to worry about recovering from major surgery while I nursed and had a toddler jumping all over me. Lucky for us Jack liked sleep (at first anyway) and was the sweetest little guy you’ve ever seen. It was hard managing the two of them, it is still hard, but it can be done (ish). I have endless praise for parents of multiples, parents of three under three, four under four…lets just say I.worship.you.
Like all mothers/fathers there are days where I just want to hide, but there are days that make me think that I am a mom hero. I carry both of them at once (hello mom arms), I change diapers in team mode, and I feed, cater to, and clean all day long.
I wear workout clothes all day, because my whole day is a workout.
I survive by sticking to a routine. Nobody messes with naptime and we can meet you for play dates, park dates, or whatever only during certain hours of the day. Sounds strict but it is the only thing I have to feel like I have an ounce of control over these two. That, and an ipad. You’ll probably never meet a two year old who can manipulate that thing better than most grown men until you meet my toddler.
With two now in tow, we haven’t slowed down in the travel department, in fact, we’ve amped it up knowing we have just a short time left here in Europe. Jack too, has an enviable passport, and Brad and I have won the praise of many across the globe who nod to us in admiration (either that or like we are crazy traveling with two such young children). We wear them, we push them, and we carry them across Europe. I’ve also nursed in more cities then I can count (wish those things got stamps in a passport). We’ve had some of the most amazing experiences but have had a couple terrible ones too. Lucie and Jack have met other children and have played in parks in dozens of countries. One thing that I have learned is that parenting is the great equalizer. No matter what city we are in- Vienna, Lisbon, Budapest, Istanbul, Madrid…kids need to play, and we parents are all going through the same thing. It spans cultural, religious, and economic differences. It is so reassuring and humbling.
As for my career? Well, shortly before Lucie was born I knew I needed something more and the perfect job opportunity fell into my lap. I had already started doing some minimal consulting for a firm interested in the experience of retailers, but those jobs were few and far in between. A good friend of mine recommended me for a particular opening… I would be an online instructor for the Academy of Art University, teaching a Master’s course in Merchandising. Yay! An opportunity for me to fill my resume, stay connected to the industry, and not least of all, contribute to society, all while maintaining flexibility in my life? Sign.me.up. Oh, it starts on my due date? Shouldn’t be a problem, how hard can this mothering thing be? Luckily my ever-wise director told me that they would hold the position for me for the spring semester as I should probably “concentrate on my baby.” I feared that she wouldn’t keep her word and that I would lose the position, but she did, and I have been working nights as a professor ever since. We put them to bed, have dinner, clean, and then I go to work. Because of this, I have minimal to no free time. But, I have one little thing that makes me something other than a mother.
Our European adventure is soon coming to an end. We will be leaving the Air Force and Germany at the end of September. We are ready to grow some roots, settle and be closer to the family we so desperately miss. School districts and neighborhoods are now important to us, where they never crossed our mind before. One of the big decisions about where to settle involves both of our careers. I fantasize about working full time again. I miss so many things (like taking daily showers), analyzing data, meetings, coffee with co-workers, running to get a quick lunch (on my own), staying current and in the know with product, contributing, and having my voice heard and opinion matter (one that does not involve “get off the table please”).
Yet, with working full time comes other challenges, like dropping off my children with people who may spend more time with them then I do. But then I can feel more like myself again…Sigh, it’s never easy is it? I’m completely obsessed with these two little, adorable, and exhausting toddlers, and balancing a career with them seems like unchartered waters. Therefore, the near future is a mystery but then again, I’ve never been one to shy away from change or adventure. Let’s just hope I’m not pregnant again (ha)!
After I read Christine’s post I started making a list of all the places we need to go with our tot. International stuff is too expensive right now, but perhaps road trips to National Parks, important historical landmarks, cool coastal cities, etc, etc. And then I packed for one little weekend trip to Tahoe (merely 3 hrs away), and discovered my baby requires twice the luggage space of my husband and I, in addition to a whole bunch of food, nap and car entertainment planning…
So I promptly tucked that list away and decided to show my daughter Google images of Yosemite until she can pack her own freaking bags.
Christine you are truly a mama to marvel!
Photographs provided courtesy of Christine Peregrin
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