When I found out I had an opportunity to head back to Europe, my cousin Sarah (See "A Cousin Connection" from December 2013) graciously invited me back for another visit to Germany. Spending some more time with her and her family was something I had no intention of passing up, but then she sweetened the deal by planning their last European vacation before their expat assignment came to an end in Mallorca, Spain. Twist my arm.
Sarah spoils me. She know that I'm living a backpacker lifestyle but I'm not sure she fully understands all that this no-frills way of travel entails (coping mechanisms include rules such as "don't look in kitchens if you want to enjoy your meal" and opting for a big meal at lunch instead of dinner because the three-course meal is only $3 at lunch instead of $6 at dinner) . But she knows enough to make sure I feel more than at home. This doesn't require much but her touches of fresh cut hydrangeas in my bedroom with perfectly clean crisp linens and a gloriously hot shower were not lost on me.
My first week and a half was more or less "living life" with the Ouimette fam. Getting Sam and Viv off to school (although jet lag issues rendered me rather useless in morning routines), grocery store runs (truly one of my favorite things), making sure Teddy got his nap around noon and resting up ourselves for when 2 bundles of energy came bounding through the doors after school. In the end I found myself the most useful in the kitchen, happy to be cooking again considering opportunities were few during my time in South America.
Sarah did manage to take me to one of her favorite coffee spots at the Schloss Friedrichshof, lovely grounds that belonged to royalty in the picturesque hillside villages outside of Frankfurt. This was just one example of the idyllic little haven Sarah and Tom have called home for the past two years.
She was also excited to take me to Viv's horse riding lesson the day I arrived. When Viv's instructor found out that Sarah used to drive horses (something she and I shared while growing up together and spending the summers at our grandparents' farm as well as traveling with them to horse shows) she was happy to put one of the ponies to a gig for Viv to try out! Fun!
And I snuck away for a lovely heart-thumping, thigh-burning stroll up the "hill" behind Falkenstein. After I was done I wished I had done that everyday I was there, especially after enjoying the famed German sausages! The Germans love their nature almost as much as their sausages, so I shouldn't have been surprised to find 50 or so of them, families of all ages, enjoying their picnics at the summit on one of their national holidays.
But really I was just happy to be in a home. A home where I didn't have to get out of my pajamas just to eat breakfast, or where I didn't have to get out of my pajamas all day for that matter. A home where I could curl up on the couch with a cup of hot tea and my book and maybe "rest my eyes" for a few minutes. Not to mention, a house that my cousin has lovingly made into a home for her family, and any visitor that is blessed to spend some time in.
And then we were packing up the fam for a holiday in Spain. At one point Sarah apologized for the chaos that is traveling with three kids aged 5, 4 and nearly 2. I reassured her that I'm thankful I've had a little experience in traveling several times with 15 to 25 teenagers to Washington DC as well as Europe and Costa Rica. But in all honesty, 3 little ones might be more of a challenge.
After a relatively painless flight (unless you were 20-month-old Teddy, who did not enjoy the flight a bit, although he couldn't explain why he wasn't enjoying it, he was very vocal in letting everyone onboard know that he was not a satisfied customer) we arrived at our island destination. And as we came upon our new "home" in Selva, a picture perfect Spanish town with a beautiful church perched on the hill, I was reminded how much I love Spain! All of it! Well... most of it... the language, the food, the wine, the siesta, the timeless towns, the candy, the people... I'll come up with more reasons in the month to come I'm sure! And then we opened the doors to our home for the week. The pictures don't do it justice. But let's just say the kids were psyched about having their own pool, I instantly began dreaming up the meals I could cook in the kitchen and we were all pretty excited about the lemon trees growing in the back yard.
The next morning I wasted no time perusing the library for some cookbooks for a little kitchen inspiration. And that is when I discovered my new favorite cookbook. (Don't worry, Barefoot Contessa. You'll always be first love, but I've just discovered Jamie Oliver and I think I need to get to know him a little better...) Ceviche, gazpacho, risotto, tomato and chorizo salad... I thought there would be some great potential. And I was not disappointed! My one regret was only discovering Mario Batali and Gwenyth Paltrow's "Spain" on my last night there. Sad. But there is always next time!
Sarah and Tom took me to a few of their favorite spots they had discovered in their trip here last year as well as exploring some new recommendations as well. And when it comes to traveling with kids, ice cream can buy you smiles for days!
But I have to say, the thing I keep coming back to as I reflect on my time with Sarah and her fam is that moms are incredible. Dads are too. I saw this in Tom in the way he plays make believe with Sam and Viv and in his relentless pursuit (that seems to be paying off) to make the best playlist of "Music to Raise your Kids to". But for now, I'm going to shine the spotlight on the madres. I've known moms are incredible for a long time, mostly because my mom is incredible. But I've been a little out of touch with "mom world" during my travels. Not that I've ever been fully in touch with "mom world" but I've spent a decent amount of time around family and friends who are very much in "mom world" and when you have people close to you immersed (or maybe drowning) in "mom world", you are bound to hear a thing or two about "mom world." And I must say, I've missed it, and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with all my friends in "mom world" in the months to come.
But the moment I realized how incredible moms really are occurred to me, oddly enough, on the night before Mother's Day. I was watching the kids that Saturday evening so Sarah and Tom could enjoy an evening out, celebrating friends who were also ending their own overseas assignment. I had just put the kids down to bed when I went to make myself a cup of tea so I could curl up on that couch and enjoy my book. But before I could get around to making the tea, I began to feel a little queasy. So I laid on the couch. And then I could barely move. After about an hour, the nausea subsided and I made my way for my bedroom. I had just closed my eyes when I heard foot steps out my door and Sweet Sam informed me he was feeling sick. Immediately I had to forget about my own condition and take care of this little man. And it was at that very moment, as I walked Sam upstairs to their bathroom and sat on the floor with him with a cool wash cloth on his forehead that "mom world" hit close to home and I realized that moms are incredible. Seriously. Awesome. How do you guys do this stuff? You wake up to take care of sick kids when you are sick yourself. You wake up at the butt-crack of dawn and make lunches for your little ones before you've even had a cup of coffee. You wake up in the middle of the night when your munchkin "needs" a glass of water (aka: a snuggle). (Clearly the lack of sleep thing weighs heavy on my mind as I ponder the thought of having a family of my own someday... almost enough to scare me out of the whole business all together.) And then you have SO many decisions to make. I thought I had a lot of decisions to make as a teacher. And then, in this traveler world I live in I make decisions like which bed should I choose at the hostel - top bunk with steps (not if I can avoid it) or bottom bunk and dealing with the saggy bed above you? Or which coffee shop should I get my morning wifi (and latte) from today? But moms? Moms have to make decisions for themselves and then multiply it by however many kids there are and the ceaseless questions they ask, mostly having to do with whether or not they can have a snack or watch a show or something. And these are not just "yes" or "no" questions, people. Each one of these answers will be questioned again if the response is not what these little people had in mind. And then these incredible moms have to decide how to respond to the questioning of the decision they have previously made. Yes. Moms (Sarah), you have my utmost respect.
But if it makes you feel any better that there may be a reason for doing the things you do, I truly believe that no matter how old you are, when you are sick, all you really want is your mom. This was my other realization on that Saturday evening, the night before Mother's Day... just a few weeks ago.