Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dealing with Non-Travel (as a Parent)

Those who love to travel know how difficult the period in between trips can be, but, combined with gray skies and rain, the wanderlust bug becomes almost impossible to avoid. So I dedicate this entry to the topic of "Dealing with Non-Travel".

Regardless of whether you're an expat or just someone who's moved cities, adjusting to a new place can be difficult, especially when children are involved in the equation. Although having kids can make it easier to meet people when you first arrive in a given city (or in my case, town), building up a support network can be next to impossible. This may not sound so bad, but it certainly presents challenges. A quick grocery store trip, coffee with friends, date night, plain old "me" time, or, say, delivering a baby, all become challenging without anyone to look after the children. And while not having parents, in-laws, sisters, brothers, and long-time friends around is hard because you and the kids (most likely) miss them, chances are, they also can't be there to help you out. So, save the odd babysitter (who's probably juggling school and an actual job), you're on your own.

Familiar territory? Well, if you're dealing with it now, let me share my tips on staying sane.

It's not easy. You probably don't need me to tell you that there are days when you want to hop on the next plane to Bermuda... sans kids. If you're working, chances are that you're not teetering on the brink of mental collapse. Good for you! You get that treasured time in the car twice a day with your favorite music up loud. Or time to eat your lunch without changing diapers or insisting that your toddler stop choosing the spot under the kitchen table for bowel movements. I can only imagine.

If you're not able to escape to the adult-world every day and you haven't yet developed a solid support network, here are a half-dozen ways to keep your wits about you (most of the time)... at least until the next vacation.

1) If you're too tired by the end of the day to stay up after the kids go to bed (pathetic I know, but that's me), get up an hour earlier. If that's what it takes to find time for yourself, do it. Plan your next trip, read a paper, watch your favorite morning show, blog, go for a run, take a long shower. You'll be surprised how much you can fit into an hour when there are no kids to juggle.

2) Join a gym that has childcare. This is a huge one. You don't have to work out much. It's about making time for yourself. I just do 10-20 minutes of cardio (with the ipod... and sometimes I can even fit in an Oprah or my latest Audiobook!), followed by 100 crunches. Then it's onto the sauna or tanning bed (I find this vital for Vitamin D in a region that's often sunless). Do this at least twice a week and you'll agree, going to the gym has never been so attractive!

3) Even if the weather is terrible, dress the kids up warmly, put a raincoat on, and get out. Fresh air does wonders for the psyche. Explore something new... be it in the next town or a neighboring city. A new beach, a new café, a new playground, anything previously unknown to you is great. Or just visit a place you've been to before, and make an effort to discover something new along the way.

4) On days where you really can't get out, have an emergency plan for the hair-splitting moments. Here's mine. If my toddler has already watched his hour of television, I'll let him explore his "rainy day box". No, this is not a box that I put him in when it's rainy. It's a small box full of "surprises" (think toys & books from the dollar store or garage sales or things that haven't been played with for ages and seem new to them) accompanied by a fun little snack ("Wow, Diego cookies!").

5) Meet like-minded people. If the weather's bad, a great place to meet other parents is indoor play areas. Even before moving you can set out to meet people that are living there... before you've even arrived. The internet is a great tool for this. Take the WIGZ organisation here in Zeeland for example. I got in touch with them while we were still in South Africa!

6) Have hobbies, a profession, or better yet, both. During those moments when parenting feels like a bad scene out of Groundhog Day, writing, painting, jogging, bicycling, or other past-times such as [insert your hobby here] will remind you that there's more to life than dirty nappies and potty training tiffs.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, keep your kids from driving you nuts by spending time with them. Busy though you may be, just 30 minutes here and there will make a huge difference in your child's behavior, which will in turn make a huge difference in yours. See a pattern here?

Before you know it, you'll be on that plan to Bermuda. But that non-traveling time will be much less gruelling. Now, to take a bit of my own advice...

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