In August of this year we will have been married 14 years, and throughout our marriage I've gone on trips (leaving the kids with Darin) and Darin's gone on trips (leaving the kids with me), but the number of nights we had spent away, together but without kids?
And it was in Provo.
Also, looking for someone to care for our kids isn't like, "Could you watch our one or two kids for a few days?" It's more like, "Welcome to the circus. Who would like to play ringleader? For a week?"
So perhaps that explains a bit why I was so hesitant to leave on a week-long trip to Europe.
Still, when I focused solely on the trip, on the benefits of going and being there, I felt at peace, and that's a feeling I was hanging on to, remembering when my heart started to race at the thought of all that would be entailed in preparing to go.
Essentially, the person who made this all possible is my neighbor and friend, Cyndi.
Cyndi is an angel. I don't know how else to explain her. She's . . . well, I'm getting tears in my eyes trying to think of words to describe her. Her benevolence defies description. She may shrug that off, but it's true. Anyone who knows her knows it's true.
Cyndi offered to watch my kids, and at first I was hesitant -- not because of her, but because of the sheer enormity of the task, and I didn't want to add stress to Cyndi's life. After I thought about it, though, I realized that she was offering me the most ideal of situations for me and for my kids. My kids get along with her kids. My kids feel safe and happy in her home. I feel safe and happy knowing they're with her. Cyndi is a strong, smart, capable and loving woman, and when I thought about my kids being with her, I felt peace.
To assist Cyndi, I enlisted Katie and Amy, two neighborhood sisters who have been favorite sitters for the past, oh, eight years or so. Add to that the list of people who said, "Please leave my number in case of an emergency," Lezlie covering my carpool, and Shelly driving my kids to and from dance class, and I felt completely set.
I took Cyndi, Katie, and Amy out to dinner to go over what I had prepared: essentially, a day-by-day calendar of my kids' schedules as well as a detailed 3-page list of comments and quirks to help out with how things run around here. I'm not completely delusional: I know that the list I made was more for my own comfort than (necessarily) for those caring for my kids. Example: Was I really insistent that my 7-year-old take a shower at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday? Nope. But I wrote it down to help myself feel better. Feel better about what? I'm not certain.
One thing I did not do was to write about my trip before it happened, not on my blog, not on facebook, not on twitter. You know, for safety. Honestly, though, it was tempting to put a question out there to everyone (because I had a million questions) to get advice for the trip. But I didn't.
I prepared a box for the kids to open each day, with a hand-written note to each of the older three to be read in the morning and a note for all of them to be read in the evening. Also, gifts for the littles (books, play-doh, etc.) or post-its and pens for all of them. Creating these packages allowed me to mentally go through their week before it happened, writing down what they could expect each day to help them maintain their regular schedules, and help them know that I was thinking about them.
Before we left we installed Skype on our desktop so that we could speak with our kids. Coming up with a Skype schedule was tricky because we would be seven hours ahead of Provo (Paris/Madrid daylight savings didn't happen until the day after we left; otherwise we would have been eight hours ahead), and because we didn't know what our schedule would be like in Europe. In general we decided to chat online with the kids in their afternoon/evenings, rather than their before-school hours.
I phoned my cell phone company to enable world-wide whatever, even though I had no intention of using my phone during my trip, other than for text messages ($.25 to receive, $.35 to send). The nice boy at the phone company warned me to NOT check my email on my phone because internationally it costs something like a hundred bucks per megapixel*.
I also phoned my credit card company to enable world-wide whatever, even though I had no intention of using my card during my trip, other than for emergencies (didn't want it to be declined due to suspicion of fraud). The nice girl at the credit card company thanked me for letting them know of my travel plans, confirmed my dates, and then said, "Okay, so let me just make a note of where you'll be. You said Madrid . . . and, also . . . Paris. Hm, Paris. That's in France, right?" Super glad she's the one in charge of my credit card.
All the laundry in the house was finished so that no one had to worry about clothes or towels or anything. Also, I had worked specifically with the older three girls on chore lists -- beneficial not just for while we were gone but for life in general (preparing for the trip was the perfect time to introduce new responsibilities).
The freezer and fridge contained some family staples to last the week (though they weren't needed very much due to Cyndi preparing delicious dinners, and Katie treating the kids to a night of fish tacos). I left a Papa John's gift card and some cash, but forgot to leave my Chevron card (I did remember to fill the gas tank of my van, though).
As for packing: as per our airline we were each allowed one checked bag at no charge, and so Darin and I opted to pack one suitcase for the two of us and put that suitcase inside another suitcase so that we could fill it up with European Awesomeness and each bring home a free checked bag**. (Paying for checked bags leaving Europe is charged by weight, so it can potentially be very pricey.)
What helped me the most in preparation, to be completely honest, was prayer and meditation. I prayed for strength and courage, and for remembrance of how beneficial the trip would be. Through meditation I was able to be calm and not completely freak out about how long we'd be away from the kids, or about the fact that it was wise to have a will in place, you know, justincase. I also was careful to talk with the kids about the trip in a way which allowed me to alleviate any of their worries and help them feel the same calm and confidence I was striving to have.
With lots of planning, I finally felt like I was in a place, emotionally and practically, to embark.
*can't remember the actual amount, but it was ridiculous. I mean, I presume. I have no idea what a megapixel is.
** this didn't work. Not in a bad way. (what?) I'll explain in another post.