Pondering an AF Anniversary Vacation

Last night, in a New Year’s fit of overachieving productivity, my husband and I sat down and looked at our calendar for 2019 to schedule some house projects and travel. This September we will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and we are determined to ditch our kids for a week. Our previous record since starting a family seven years ago is two nights away, maybe three, so this is a biggie for us. I clicked to September 2019 in my Google Calendar and saw that I had already blocked out the week of our anniversary with “NAPA!!!!”

I remember doing this. I can’t remember exactly when it was. Probably a couple of years ago. My husband and I were talking about how, for our tenth anniversary, we would do a real vacation somewhere fabulous and far away. I have been to Napa twice: once for a wedding at a venue just on the edge of the region (read: not Napa prop-a), and once to do the wine train with my husband and his aunt and uncle… whilst 13 weeks pregnant. Both were day trips. So while I have been to Napa, I have never really experienced Napa (read: touring vineyards and drinking my face off).

When my husband and I had that initial tenth anniversary conversation, going to Napa seemed to be the perfect way to celebrate. Wine! Romance! Beautiful scenery! More wine! We both agreed, and I put it in the calendar.

When I saw it there last night, I deleted it, instantly and instinctively. Because going to a wine region is no longer the perfect way for me to celebrate anything.

We talked about Europe. Portugal? France? But those don’t feel right anymore either. A couple travels to Portugal to drink port, and France, like Napa, to drink wine. I don’t know if I will be drinking again in September 2019 – my one year is up this July 4 – but whatever my status, I know I will not feel comfortable basing a romantic trip around a location famed for its booze.

I felt – still feel, kind of – guilty about this. On a world map, I now see big red X’s across some of the world’s most spectacular regions. By not drinking I am limiting the possibilities of travel that my husband and I can do. And we love to travel. We have a long, long list of places we want to see in our lifetime together. But now that list is littered with asterisks: *only if Jen is drinking.

My husband is a take-it-or-leave-it drinker. I am a take-it-and-drink-it-and-drink-some-more drinker. If I decide to remain alcohol-free, it’s unfair to him that my choice to not drink will interfere with our mutual desire to travel together to beautiful places all over the world. Places we both want to see and experience together, and where we would want to be all romantical and stuff. A bunch of them are marred by big red X’s now. And it’s my fault.

This self-inflicted guilt hit me like a punch in the face. And it hurt.

“Well,” my kind and supportive husband said, “we can just turn trips to places like Portugal and France into family trips.”

Family trips: where my not-drinking would be a virtue, not a vibe-crushing bummer. Look, kids, Mama doesn’t need to drink wine in Bordeaux to have fun! I guess that could work.

This morning I still felt like a foreseeable future buzzkill. Reflecting further upon last night’s conversation, I realized that I needed to do a little mental pivot. Instead of this: “We can’t go to Napa because Jen can’t drink or else she’ll plummet back into her gray-area soul-sucking watering hole,” let’s try this: “We aren’t going to Napa because Jen doesn’t like wine.”

I mean, I feel fine saying that I don’t want to go to Aspen because I don’t like to ski, and that Malaysia is not at the top of my travel list because I don’t like extreme humidity. So what if a few of the world’s most beautiful places just dropped down past Malaysia on my travel list. There are a lot of other spectacular spots on this planet that are notable for things other than alcohol. We’ll just prioritize those instead.

We still haven’t decided where we want to go. The space held on the calendar for “NAPA!!!!” is now simply “Anniversary Trip.” But when we do choose a destination, I’ll once again break out the all-caps and exclamation points. This time, with pride that my husband and I found a romantic place that also compliments my healthy lifestyle.

Tracation* Contemplation

*Tracation, noun: a period of time spent away from from home with small children and possibly family pets that is more restful than a trip but less restful than a vacation 

We are back from our week-long trip – not “vacation” because kids and dogs. One of my friends on Connect suggested the term “tracation” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Because it was not just a trip either. There were relaxing moments. I read one-and-a-half books and, like, four magazines! But traveling with two kids and two dogs is, on balance, more tiring than rejuvenating. So. Tracation.

But here’s what’s great: we stayed for a week in a small beach-y cottage off the beaten path in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and by the end of the week we all still liked each other! WIN!

Oh, and it was also my first alcohol-free tracation. Which is a big deal. I have to remind myself of that. I am now happily over 50 days into my 365-day alcohol-free journey. I still think about booze on a daily basis but usually it’s a thin, frail desire that flickers for a moment and fizzles out just as quickly. “Ooh, wine. Nope. Ok.” Just like that. Usually.

But not always. Day 50 was tough. Because we were tracationing in her neck of the woods, we went to visit my mother-in-law. The kids and I hung out with some fun cousins while my husband, his mom and his brother did some sad and surreal and strange gathering and tying of the loose-ends left in the wake of my father-in-law’s death last month.

[Death is weird, isn’t it? On one level, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Circle of life and all that. On another level it’s achingly sad, of course. And it’s also a logistical nightmare. Weird.]

It was a long day, Day 50. A not unwelcome, but strange, but necessary interruption of our regularly scheduled tracation. It was a bit stressful. We all ate too much ice cream in giant waffle cones, which helped until it made me feel worse (as always – a lesson I refuse to learn, apparently).

There was also an ever-so-slight but noticeable crispness in the air that was unmistakably the first hint of Fall. My favorite season. Hoodie sweatshirts, blue jeans, football, pumpkins, pumpkin spice, pumpkin beer, wine… oh wait. Nope. Not this year.

And all of that was just enough to make the craving for booze stick around. Tracation interruptus. Resurfaced grief. Sadness for my husband and his loss – it’s a loss for us all, of course, and size doesn’t matter, but it does, and his is the biggest and I’m very, very sad for him. The first inkling of Fall. The realization that part of my love for my favorite season is intertwined with my love for alcohol. Amped-up anxiety as a result of that realization.

Nothing earth-shattering, and I never felt in danger of actually imbibing and breaking my commitment to this booze-free year. It’s just never fun to feel yourself taking two steps back, especially after I’ve been leaping ahead lately.

To recap:

Our tracation was successful. Day 50 was hard. Death is weird. I achieved my first alcohol-free trip and I mostly didn’t miss booze at all.

And now, we are happy to be home. It’s almost Fall. And that will be alcohol-free too, as I continue to move forward through this year of self-love and self-discovery and everything else it will come to mean to me.

No Self-Sabotage to See Here!

It’s the eve of our summer “vacation” (seeing as we are bringing both kids and dogs, I’m trying to be optimistic in using that word instead of “trip”) and I’m callin’ it: no self-sabotage here, folks!

I have earned a blue dot every day this week. I have worked out the last seven days in a row – I don’t know that I’ve EVER done that! My goal was to get out ahead of my vacation by  conserving Weeklies and racking up FitPoints, so that I not only start the week feeling svelte and energized, but also can be a little more indulgent with my food choices while we’re away. Achievement unlocked.

The pre-AF me was a self-sabotage expert. If I had an important event or date or trip coming up, I would promise myself that I wouldn’t drink (“detox before you re-tox” was one of my favorite sayings) and would eat clean in the days leading up to it. I made these promises, and then I broke them. Always. By stuffing my face and drinking too much. And then I’d feel disgusted and disappointed in myself, always, as I dug through my closet and tried to find something else to wear because the original outfit I had picked out did not flatter my wine belly. [Spoiler alert: nothing flatters a wine belly. Especially one complimented by a puffy face and shame-filled heart.]

I didn’t realize it then, but I see it now:

Promises made on a conscious level are easily broken by one’s subconscious if they are not aligned with one’s subconscious wiring.

I need to think of a zippier way to phrase that and I’m too tired to come up with it right now (plus I have a ton of packing to do tonight). But that’s it. Those deals I tried to strike with myself (“Don’t drink this week and then you can fit into your dress AND get wasted at so-and-so’s wedding on Saturday!”) were never going to work because my subconscious was never on board.

My subconscious was wired to drink. And eat junk food. And so that’s what I did, especially when I put pressure on myself to NOT do those very things. Willpower is a finite resource. I’m still toiling away at the rewiring, but I must be doing something right, because I can feel that long-ingrained habits are truly changing. As my daughter would say, HAL-LE-YOU-YA!

My daughter ascended a climbing wall for the first time today. When she got to the top she pushed a green button that set off a bright flashing light, to show that she made it, before she happily bounced off the wall and back down to the floor. After she made it to the top that first time, all of a sudden the wall was a lot less daunting. She pushed that green button several more times today, climbing with greater confidence each time.

This week has felt like a climbing wall to me. With our departure date waiting for me at the top, I strapped myself in, hooked myself up, and I climbed. I held onto every blue dot earned and every workout completed, each one getting me closer to that green button.

And now I’m here, at the top. I push the button. I take a deep breath. I glance down to see how far I’ve come. I take another breath, a pause to absorb how good it feels to have made it. Because once I’m back on the ground the green button will seem so high. But I’ve been here once, and I’ll be back. Next time, with greater confidence.

I bend my knees and push off the wall, bouncing down to the ground with a pride-filled heart.

Breathing in Grumpy Pants

Started the day off strong, with a mind-clearing dog walk and great Peloton ride. But then I must have unknowingly changed into my grumpy pants, because I am back in the same funk I have been fighting for the last few days.

The next three weeks – the last weeks before school starts! – are going to be routine-less. And that’s not how I prefer to roll. Tomorrow kicks off five days of Mama Camp, wherein I aim to create fun, magical days for my children because I want to have quality time with them slash feel guilty spending more money on camps. On Friday we depart for our summer vacation: a little over a week in a little cottage in a little town on a little island in Rhode Island. And then we come home, hopefully relaxed and renewed – is that possible when “vacationing” with two kids and two dogs? – and spend a week gearing up for the start of school.

And, actually, the real school routine won’t be rolling out for a couple of weeks after that due to my son’s preschool, which eases the kids in with teacher home visits and shortened classes and ughhhhhhh…

Breathe.

I love my kids. And someday I will look back and I will miss them being small enough to hold and snuggle. Someday “feehicarole” will be pronounced “vehicle” and that will be a little sad. Ushering these kids into proper childhood from teeter-tottering toddlerdom has been, on balance, an honor and a joy, mostly.

Breathe.

This is the point in the summer when it gets hard. And it’s ok to admit that it’s hard. I’m not the only one who struggles when routine is out the window. It’s hard on the kids too. And when they get exhausted from the relentlessly hot, sticky, and active days, I am the closest and safest target for their crankiness. By this point in the summer I’m basically walking around with one bullseye on my forehead and another on my heart.

Breathe.

I’m taking it too personally, the plentiful attitude and comparative lack of gratitude. My six-year-old, obsessed with fairness, is struggling with being kind when she sees other kids behaving much worse and still getting what they want. My four-year-old wants all of me all the time, underestimating his own capacity for creative play. Nothing I give either of them will ever be enough.

Breathe.

Because that’s parenthood, right? What kid has ever said, thank you, this is enough? I want my kids to be testing limits, experimenting with being kind and being twerps. Because that is how they will learn that the grass is realer on the kind side of the fence. The twerp side? Just turf. It may be green, but it’s fake. And there are more toys and treats on the kind side too, even if they might not be easy to see sometimes.

So where does this leave me? Breathing a little deeper than before I started typing. Feeling a little more empathy for these two little souls who are under my care. It’s tough being a kid, wanting to do and be and play with and create so many things all the time, and being bossed around by grown-ups who may or may not always know what they’re doing.

My husband sent me out of the house this afternoon, to work through and shake off my funk. I started typing this from the pedicure chair. By the time my watermelon toenails and I got home, my husband and kids had cleaned the playroom and started packing for our trip. When I walked in the door my husband was folding a load of laundry and the kids were quietly and calmly looking through cookbooks, picking out recipes they want to make while we’re away. With my husband’s prompting, both kids told me that the theme of this upcoming Mama Camp week is “appreciation.” Tears welled up in my eyes as my son told me that he is going to try to do more on his own and, when he does need help, he will be more polite in asking for it. My daughter said that she will stop stalling at bedtime (a major pet peeve of late) and that she will be more cooperative. In exchange, she’ll be allowed to leave her light on for 15 minutes – because, you know, fairness.

Breathe.

I have a wonderful family. And I hope these next few weeks ultimately serve as a reminder of that. If I start to veer back into my dreaded funk, I’ll come back to this entry and read it and remind myself to breathe some empathy back into my being.

P.S. to Self: Don’t forget how much worse ALL OF THIS would be if you were still drinking. How did you even work through funks when you were a Wine Mom? Oh, you didn’t. Not really. You just poured a glass of wine and sent your woes sinking to the bottom of the bottle. Then you’d finish the bottle, and there your woes would be, right back in your gut. But not anymore. Kudos to you. Keep after it.

Flying Solo and Sober

A week from today, universe willing, I will be eating Nutella out of a glass jar as I rally against jet lag and soak up the sun (or, more likely, seek shelter from the rain) in Cambridge, England. It is my 10th MBA reunion, and this sober stay-at-home mom is flying solo y’all.

My husband was the one who encouraged me to go. Of course, he really had to twist my arm to get me to book a trip by myself across the pond to spend two and a half days in one of my favorite places on the planet. And then, of course, he booked himself a week-long solo sojourn to indulge in one of his many hobbies involving machinery and tools and making stuff. Sigh. At least I’ll get to catch up on all my shows. But anyway.

Thursday to Sunday. A quick, precious, jet-lagged journey of nostalgia and reconnection and contemplation lies ahead of me and I can’t wait.

While I feel very distant from the person I was during my MBA program (a decade younger, newly engaged to my now-husband, and driven to become a CEO of a non-profit), I am excited to go back. I may be the only unemployed person there. I will not be drinking at the gala dinner or partaking in any pints at my favorite pub. I will own these choices – my choice to stay at home to raise my kids and my choice to not drink.

I have chosen to stay home with my kids over having a career, despite spending one year of my life (and a lot of our money) earning a Masters in Business Administration. Do I want to return to work one day? Yes. What do I want to do? I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to leave a positive mark on the world; and in the meantime, I have put my heart and soul into raising two awesome humans. I’m doing a really good job, too (my son’s camp counselor told me so) and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Except for all the wine I drank along the way.

Well, would I change that, if I could? I’m actually not so sure. Because if I hadn’t gotten to the point where I started to question my drinking, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would still be treading in the booze pool. I would still be waking up in the morning feeling puffy and achy and groggy, swearing today will be a wine-free day, only to pour the inevitable first glass when the witching hour strikes. Day after day, denying myself the energy and health and creativity and eyes-wide-open lust for life that I have now.

I may be ten years older than I was when I walked the cobblestone streets of this 800-year-old university and absorbed with vigor all things business (except accounting – I cried my way through accounting). But my heart feels ten times bigger. My brain feels ten times more curious, my mind ten times more open.

So, no regrets. And what a relief it is that I won’t feel the need to drink. There will be no mental volleying back and forth over whether wine will help me sleep on the overnight flight. There will be no risk of over-imbibing or having to depend on friends to get me back to my dorm(!) room. Booze is off the table and that feels right to me right now.

Instead, there will be full, raw, real emotion. And there will be clear, wonderful memories. Even awkwardness (I’m anticipating some awkwardness as I try to communicate my deal to some of these folks) will be wonderful in its way – here I am, in this group of high achieving leaders in business, owning my choice to not be a high achieving leader in business.

So, what am I? I am a mom. I am an athlete. I am a blogger. I am a volunteer. I am a pillar of love and security in my little family. I am a force of goodness in the world. A small but mighty force of goodness.

If I do say so myself. I’m owning it.

And yes, Nutella does taste better out of a glass jar. And no, I will not be tracking it. I’m owning that choice, too.

British Granola and a Big Ol’ Lightbulb

DOH. I just calculated the smart points for this glorious granola that I ate first thing every morning while in London (so good we brought a bag home!). A bowl of this plus milk basically equals a FULL DAY of smart points – and then we would go out for breakfast!

I’m starting to realize the depth of the disservice I did to myself by not tracking while I was in London. Even though I have been on Weight Watchers for almost a year I still have seen taking a break from tracking as a sort of treat. I thought “letting myself off the hook” was fun. What I’m realizing now is that tracking itself is a gift. The awareness and accountability that tracking provides is so much more beneficial than “treating” myself to being off the wagon.

Lightbulb!

Why has it taken me so long to realize and accept this?! UGH!

And then I remind myself that this is a journey. A marathon, not a sprint. A path that only I can navigate. So I once again kick that little judgmental little devil to the curb and continue on my way.

Home Again

We are back from an incredible week in London and I am in bed with a nasty virus. Grateful that it’s nothing worse – though I haven’t been bedridden like this in months – and that today is Sunday so my hubs can take the kids while I rest up.

But UGH.

I’ve been putting crap into my body for two weeks now, between my pre-vacay salt-and-sugar extravaganza and then eating whatever I wanted while in London. And while I’m sure this illness is not entirely due to my being off the wagon, I’m guilting myself about it anyway. Maybe if I hadn’t eaten so poorly, maybe if I hadn’t had wine, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick and I’d be able to be productive today instead of feeling like a puffy zombie.

I know I need to cut myself a break and focus on the positives. We had an incredible week in one of my favorite cities on the planet. My husband and I were able to provide a fun, eye-opening, enriching travel experience for our kiddos while reliving some of our fondest memories of the years we spent living in London. It was truly wonderful.

And this Weight Watchers journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Habits don’t change overnight. And weight gain doesn’t mean failure. Track it and move on.

Move on. Move past this guilt because it’s not helping me in any way. And learn. I’m learning there are certain foods I just can’t have in my house. That doesn’t make me weak, it makes me aware. I’m learning that allowing myself to eat whatever I want doesn’t feel like a treat anymore, it just messes with my body and weighs me down with guilt and disappointment.

I don’t want to look back on this trip and feel guilt. I want to look back on this trip and remember it for the amazing, special week that it was. I hope that as I get past this illness I will do just that.

And the next time we travel, I will remember that travel is not a ticket to a bottomless buffet. My one-year Weight Watchers anniversary is approaching. I have been fueling my body with healthier choices for almost a year. Naughty foods have a more negative impact on me now. A good lesson to learn, even if I learned it the hard way this time around. I believe I will make better choices from now on.

So, when I look back on our London trip, I hope I remember, above all, the joy on my son’s face when he rode his first double decker bus; the pride with which my daughter used her first digital camera to capture our adventures; the happiness we all felt being together in a wonderful place.

Time to get back on track.