Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Most Exhausting Place on Earth

I never visited Disney World as a kid, which was fine by me. Growing up, I always thought the happiest place on earth was my grandparents' house.

For years I've heard others sing the praises of this wonderful world called Disney, but I've never really had the urge to visit myself. I've especially never had the urge to take my 3 small children. I don't even like taking all 3 of them to Target.

However, this year was my mother-in-law's 60th birthday and my brother-in-law came up with the grand idea of celebrating all together in Disney World. His family had been before and he promised to plan the whole thing, so that, plus the fact that there would be some extra hands to help out if we needed it left me feeling hopeful that we might actually be able to pull this trip off. It might even be fun! Besides, if something went wrong we could totally blame it on Uncle Adam. 

The kids were excited when we told them we were going to Disney World, but I think they were even more excited that we were going with their cousins. They are completely obsessed with their big cousins. I think we could go anywhere and they would be excited as long as their cousins were going. Hey kids, today we're going to the city dump...WITH MEREDITH AND CLAIRE!! YAY!!!

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrived. We packed our bags, barely made our flight and headed down to sunny Florida. 

I can sum up our trip with two photos.

Here we are on our first night at Disney World:

And here we are on our last night at Disney World:

There was a lot of other stuff in between, but basically, we had so much fun we had to come home and sleep for two days to recover. 

Right from the start I was blown away by the enormity of it all. The place is so massive that we could have stayed for a month and still not have see it all. The Walt Disney World Resort is the size of the city of San Francisco and the population is probably the same too, except in San Francisco everyone is spread out around the city and at Disney everyone is in line to see Anna and Elsa.

 More than anything I was in awe of all the painstaking attention to detail. From the food to the decor to the music and more, nothing was overlooked. They even created snow over the Christmas parade on Main Street and, in addition to the festive music and lights, the floats piped out holiday scents as they drove by (peppermint, evergreen and gingerbread!).
The Clock Strikes Twelve, dessert at Cinderella's Royal Table

At each ride, restaurant or resort, the employees or "cast members" were dressed in full costume to match the theme of the attraction. At Epcot's World Showcase, I was gleefully surprised to discover that the cast members in each country were actually from the actual country, with 11 countries represented in all. I even asked a French girl working at a French bakery in France how she found the job. "Oui! I google it!" she answered very Frenchly.

I can definitely see why people return again and again. It's not so much about this ride or that character, it's the whole experience combining to create the feeling that you really are in whole new world. At one point I found myself laughing out loud as we walked through Fantasyland because I felt like I was actually walking through an animated movie.

 Our first trip was a whirlwind and I think there are parts I'm still processing. Even so, if I ever get the chance to visit again, there are some tips I would like to remember:

Tip 1) Do not bring your 20-month-old to Disney World

If I ever return to Disney, I will not be bringing a 20-month-old. The one I have broke me. Who knew my adorable little toddler was capable of afflicting such complete and utter exhaustion on her caregivers. Oh wait, I did. My bad.

First of all, she chose this trip to all of a sudden decide that she hates the stroller with a violent passion. She only wanted to be held by me, except when she didn't want to be held and would ask repeatedly to "walk! walk! walk!" Except walk was really her secret code word for "run away as fast as I can while you chase me through a crowd of people." Forget Mickey and Minnie, her favorite thing about Disney was finding new ways to run away from Mommy. Usually, she would run into a store, which brings us to her second favorite thing about Disney: shopping.

Every time she saw a gift shop she would flail and scream and thrust her tiny body in the store's general direction, wanting to get her chubby fingers on whatever shiny thing happened to be on display in the window. Every store sighting brought on another Disney-induced seizure, so thank you, Disney, for providing these essential shopping experiences every 50 feet or so because who doesn't need 302 different pairs of Mickey Mouse ears?

We avoided the shops for the most part, but to Elise's delight, many attractions had gift shops built right in! Hooray! She immediately grabbed all the treasures her little arms could hold and would then weep as if they were her most precious possessions when we had to leave them behind.

Bonus Tip: At Disney there is more screaming in the gift shops than on the rides.

At one point we bought her a stuffed Minnie Mouse in hopes of placating her. About 20 minutes later she flung poor Minnie overboard on the Pirates of the Caribbean and we all watched her float out to sea. Elise was not the slightest bit distraught. As we exited through the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop she promptly grabbed herself a handful of jeweled necklaces and bolted out the door as fast as her little legs could go. 
I think she would have been just as happy at Target.

Tip 2) Do not believe your son when he says he hates princesses and does not want to meet them and especially does not want to give them hugs

If you ask Jack he will tell you that his favorite part of Disney were the roller coasters.

Or the day he spent as a Jedi in training.

But I think that's just a cover. He will never admit it, but I think he liked meeting the princesses the very best of all.

At first, he begrudgingly stood in line with his cousins to meet Anna and Elsa, announcing all the while that he did NOT like princesses and he was only going to get their autographs and he was ABSOLUTELY NOT going to give them hugs.

Then, as the line moved forward and we approached the entrance, we were ushered into the room with the actual Frozen princesses. Jack's eyes widened and the goofiest grin spread across his face. He stared at Elsa completely starstruck. He even got to chat with Anna for a minute. Rather, Anna chatted and he just nodded and giggled. As we were walking out I asked him what she told him. "That's private, Mommy. It's between me and Anna," he answered.

After that he was more than willing to wait in line to meet Jasmine. By the time we met Belle, she practically had to pry him off her waist.

Finally, when he found out he would be visiting Cinderella at her castle he decided to tag along with his cousins at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. And he asked the fairy godmother to give him "Bruce Wayne hair."  

I think my 5-year-old is twitterpated.

Tip 3) Be aware that even though you are on vacation, your 3-year-old will still act like a 3-year-old.

When Henry was a baby he ate everything, everything. Dead bugs, flowers, several varieties of poop; if he was curious about it, he ate it. Thankfully he has outgrown that stage. Sort of. Now he just licks everything. Unfortunately he brought this new habit with him on vacation.  

Our 3-year-old licked his way through Disney World, which was great when he was licking Mickey-shaped ice cream, but not so great when he was licking, well, other things.  He was especially fond of licking all the different chains and bars that guided people through the queue before a ride. We had to take turns as official Line Licker Lookout to push Henry's face away from all those tempting metal chains.

I'm sure Henry will read this one day and die of embarrassment, but I assure you it was equally embarrassing to have the TSA agent at the crowded airport ask, "Excuse me, whose child is this licking our glass partition??"

Lucky for him he is awfully darn cute. Here are some photos of things he enjoyed when he was not licking stuff:
Of course, Animal Kingdom was his favorite park and the safari was his favorite attraction.
He cried when it was over. :(

Believe it or not, out of us all, I think the Disney magic may have had the biggest effect on my husband.

Before this trip, John had seen approximately 3 Disney movies in his life. He is rarely on time and he has NEVER been early for anything ever. Yet, each morning he woke up like Buzz Lightyear on a mission, determined to get us to the park before it even opened. It was like he thought there was some sort of competition to see who could have the most fun and he was going to lead us to victory! To Epcot...and beyond!! One day we got to Magic Kingdom at 7am. I think the last time he was up that early was for the birth of our second child.

Once in the park he wanted to see it all and do it all, and he did! He rode Space Mountain, made a beeline for the brats in Germany and dragged our 5-year-old with him on the Tower of Terror. Watching him participate in the Frozen Sing-a-long made me want to marry him again right there in the middle of Hollywood Studios.

After seeing Beauty and the Beast's Gaston in action, John thought he was so funny he bought a Gaston t-shirt....or so he thought.

We almost didn't have the heart to tell him it was actually Hercules. Almost.
"What do you mean it's not Gaston?! Hercules isn't even a Disney character!"

As for me, I'd love to come back again someday. Someday, when my children can all walk themselves around the park and I don't have to constantly worry about one of them shoplifting or licking a character during a meet and greet.

Actually, I wouldn't mind spending a day at a park alone with this guy -

Oops! I meant this guy -
The resemblance is uncanny.

 All in all, I had a wonderful time with my family, but it was definitely the most exhausting vacation of my life. The moment we got home I melted into a big puddle on my bed.

 But you know what they say...some people are worth melting for. {wink!}

And Elise did manage to make it home with an Olaf. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Moments of Thankfulness

"I have a turkey, big and fat
He spreads his tail and walks like that.
His daily corn he would not miss.
And when he talks it sounds like this:
Gobble, gobble, gobble!!"

I've been hearing tidbits of Thanksgiving songs for a couple weeks now. Jack will mutter a lyric here and there as he's working on a puzzle or playing with his toys,

"What are you singing?"

"Nothing," comes the standard response. "It's for my program at school. It's a surprise."

Even Henry has picked up on the Turkey song. He waddles around the house with his arms stretched wide repeating "Big and fat! Big and fat!" Sometimes he'll throw in a "Gobble, gobble, gobble!" for good measure.

My curiosity was finally quelled last week at my firstborn's theatrical debut.

Jack and his Kindergarten classmates lined the small stage wearing the traditional Thanksgiving construction paper hats. There were Native Americans with paper headbands and floppy feathers. The Pilgrim women donned the customary napkin bonnets. Jack looked adorable in his crooked Pilgrim hat. He beamed and waved excitedly when he saw us in the audience. 
If they're not already, Thanksgiving hats should definitely be a Kindergarten requirement.
Can he write his name? Check. Can he count by tens? Check. Did he wear a paper Pilgrim hat? CHECK!

The class sang songs about fall and the month of November and big, fat turkeys, complete with adorable hand-motions and silly sound effects. 

At one point each child held up a drawing and shared with the crowd what they were thankful for this year. "I'm thankful for my family!" one eager boy exclaimed. 
"I'm thankful for snow!" shouted a sweet little girl. 
"I'm thankful for my friends!" 
"I'm thankful for Jesus!" 
Then Jack hopped up and held his picture high. "I'm thankful for MY TOYS!"

I immediately made a mental note to plan more play dates with the little girl who is most thankful for Jesus. 
Nothing says Thanksgiving quite like a weapon-wielding, Samurai ninja warrior. 

The last song, naturally, was one about being thankful. As the boys and girls sang about all the things they were thankful for, I thought about my oldest child, sitting there on that stage looking so boyish, so different from the little baby with the chunky cheeks.

I am thankful that I have been given the most important job of all: raising a child. The thing is, most days I have no idea what I'm doing. I am simply holding the hand of my firstborn and we are treading unknown waters together. Concerns constantly flood my mind. Are we too hard on him? Not hard enough? Does he eat too much junk? Should he watch less TV? Do I spend enough one-on-one time with him? Are we teaching him to love God? To love others?.

As the song ended, the children all sang the last line with gusto, their little voices proclaiming loudly, "And most of all I'm thankful for YOU!!"

And as Jack sang that last line, a big proud grin spread across his face. He looked our way and pointed both fingers right at me and right at his Daddy. "And most of all I'm thankful for YOU!!"

And I knew right then that we are doing just fine. 

This year I'm thankful for those small moments, the ones that are tucked in to the ordinary folds of our everyday lives, the moments that let us know that we are doing just fine. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Third Birthday's the Charm

Henry was born three years ago on Halloween. He surprised us all by arriving 10 days before his due date. John and I had actually just arrived home from a Halloween party when I yelled from the bathroom, "Oh no. OH NO!"

"What do you mean 'oh no'? 'Oh no' is not good!" John shouted back on the other side of the door.

"Something is happening! I think this baby is coming!! He is NOT SUPPOSED TO COME YET! THIS WAS NOT MY PLAN!!"

I didn't want him to be born on Halloween, I was afraid his birthday would always be overshadowed by costumes and coffins and candy hysteria. Besides, I only had half of my "before the baby comes" to-do list checked off.

I tried crossing my legs and using mommy-baby telepathy to tell him to stay put. I tried to ignore the piercing contractions by burrowing under the covers and pretending to sleep. Surprisingly, none of my labor-stalling techniques proved effective.
There are only so many costumes that work when one is 9 months pregnant.
Despite my best efforts, our little pumpkin entered the world at 6:45am on October 31st. We flipped a coin to decide his name (Mommy won!) and Henry Thomas became the newest member of our family.

Although his early and somewhat complicated birth was a bit of a trick, our Halloween baby was decidedly a treat.

By the time Henry's first birthday rolled around, he was already on his way to becoming the middle child. He had a sweet little party in between the Halloween festivities, and since family was already gathered, we decided it was also the perfect time to reveal the gender of baby number three.

Happy birthday, Henry, you get a baby sister!

When Henry turned two, we were up to our elbows in small children and so exhausted by the business of the season that the best we could manage was two candles in a cookie.

So for birthday number three we decided it was high time to give Henry a celebration to remember. 

Yes. This is 3. 
On Halloween, his actual birthday, he woke up to his favorite breakfast and opened some gifts from Mom and Dad. True to his age, he ate approximately three bites and then scampered off to play with his presents.

The evening was spent trick-or-treating on our street. Jack had been eagerly anticipating this day for weeks (Halloween, not Henry's birthday), and had passed on his excitement to his brother. As we went door to door, I noticed Henry seemed a little confused. "Come on, Henry," I urged, "let's go to the next house!"

"But Mommy, I want to GO to Trick-or-Treat!"

Apparently, all his brother's stories of candy and chocolate led him to believe that we were going to actually GO to the magical land of Trick-or-Treat where a hot cocoa river flows through lollipop trees and children are allowed to color with Sharpies on every visible surface, or whatever exists in a three-year-old's fantasy.

It seems he was not expecting to stumble around in the dark, bypassing giant light-up spiders and creepy porch-sitting ghosts, in order to wait for strange grown-ups to fish around in a bowl and hand him a Tootsie Roll.

All in all, Henry was quite suspicious of Halloween. Also, true to his age, halfway down the street he decided he did not want to be the Incredible Hulk. He actually wanted to be a giraffe. Unfortunately, I did not happen to have a giraffe costume in my pocket, so he was forced to suffer through the rest of the night as a beloved superhero while people filled his bucket with free candy.

Fortunately, his birthday celebration did not end on Halloween. We had a few surprises in store for our little green monster.

Over the past few months Henry has developed a slight obsession fascination with animals. Animal toys, animal books, animals of all shapes and sizes, if it moves and breathes and is not a human then Henry LOVES it. 

Luckily, there just happens to be an exotic animal haven about an hour away from us. That weekend, we headed down to the Lazy 5 Ranch with Grammie and Pappy. We excitedly told him that we were going to a really fun zoo where he could pet some animals.

"Can I pet horsies?" he asked.

"Yes! They have horses!"

"And bull cows?!?"

"Yes! They have bull cows!"


"Well, no, you can't pet alligators...but they have barns!"


As we drove up, it was clear that this time, this birthday event exceeded even his 3-year-old expectations.
"Hello, llama in pajamas. Why are you backing into a wall? My sister and I give great hugs."

The Lazy 5 Ranch is basically a drive through petting zoo. Not only are visitors able to pet all sorts of exotic animals from giraffes and camels to llamas and longhorn cattle, the ranch also gives out buckets of feed in order to ensure close-up interaction. Visitors can opt to drive through the ranch in their own cars or ride a horse-driven wagon around the property. 

We chose to go all out for this occasion. Wagon ride, here we come!

Henry was so excited, Grammie had to restrain him from launching himself at the emus.

"Look, Mommy, a reindeer! I LOVE REINDEERS! Look, Daddy, a llama! I LOVE LLAMAS!"
On the subject of cow tongue, he remained ambivalent. 

Sometimes I fear that Henry gets overlooked, sandwiched between his two siblings, so my heart was full as I watched my sweet boy soaking in a day all for him.

At three-years-old he is his own little person. He is good-natured and curious and full of mischief. He is not afraid to pick up spiders. He imitates everything his big brother does and has become an expert at making his little sister giggle. This summer he tasted a frog "to see if it was yummy." (It was not). I have seen him, belly to the ground, engrossed in the activities of an anthill for a solid 20 minutes (which is the equivalent of 5 hours in adult time).

Sometimes, out of the blue, he will rush up, give my legs a big squeeze and whisper "I love you, Mommy," and give me a quick little kiss on the knee before dashing away.

He has playfully pressed himself into every crevice of my heart.

We ended the day at home with dinner and cousins and cupcakes - animal cupcakes, of course!

Adorable fondant cupcake toppers made by SWEETandEDIBLE on Etsy

"Mommy, this is the best day ever!" he grinned.

Happy birthday to Henry, the best Halloween treat of all.