Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You Can Choose Your Friends, but You Can't Choose Your Brother

They say you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.

I'm guessing "they" had siblings, whoever they were.

Who else but a sibling can bring a person to tears simply by breathing in their general direction? Or, as I heard this morning over breakfast: HENRY IS MOVING HIS LIPS AT ME! MAKE HIM STOP MOVING HIS LIPS AT ME!!

My boys fight. ALL THE TIME. It's not as though sometimes they fight and sometimes they play nice, like sometimes it rains and sometimes it's sunny. The arguing and picking and wrestling are entangled into every aspect of the day. Sometimes it's a full out downpour and sometimes it's just a drizzle while the sun is shining, but there are always rain clouds looming overhead. They fight AND they play nice. At the same time. 

Every game of Star Wars involves a lengthy argument over who gets to be Darth Vader. The shrieks of laughter turn to screams of agony when someone is "accidentally" poked in the eye with a light saber. Of course, the recovery is quick because they are having way too much fun to actually stop playing and besides THE DEATH STAR MUST BE DESTROYED and for some unknown reason, the way to accomplish this mission is to throw your brother off the couch.

In this picture they are actually arguing over who can jump the highest.

The constant bickering can be exhausting. It sometimes makes me wonder why we didn't have our three children 18 years apart, except I suppose having a baby at 63 would probably be frowned upon, so instead here we are trying to figure out the best way to deal with incessant screams of IT'S MY TURN TO PUSH THE STROLLER!!

But sometimes, sometimes the clouds part for a moment and I feel that magnificent sun so bright it warms me from the inside out.

One morning this week I heard panicked screams coming from the boys' room. "MOOOOOMEEEEE! COME LOOK AT HENRY'S EYE! HE LOOKS LIKE A MONSTER!!!"

As I walked in the room I heard Henry state very matter-of-factly, "I not a monster! I'm Henry!"

True enough, Henry's left eye was pink, puffy and almost swollen shut, a sure sign of an infection.

Henry was oblivious to the state of his eye, but Jack, who has always been the more dramatic of the two, was quite distraught. "Can you see, Henry? CAN YOU SEE??"

Henry nodded gleefully, thrilled to be the reason for such concern.

"Is his eye going to stay like that?? WILL HE LOOK LIKE A MONSTER FOREVER? WILL HE EVER BE ABLE TO SEE AGAIN???"

I reassured him that Henry would be just fine and he probably just had pink eye and I would take him to the doctor and no, the doctor would not give him a shot in the eye.

We dropped Jack off at school and headed to the doctor, but not before Jack told everyone that Henry had a pink eye, but not to worry because he was not going to be blind.

Henry's poor, disfigured eye must have weighed heavy on Jack's mind while he was at school because at pick-up he ran out eagerly waving a piece of construction paper. He hopped in the car and handed it to Henry. "I made this for you all by myself. It says 'I am sorry that you got a pink eye, Henry.' And I drew a giraffe, cause I know you like them."

Jack does not love writing. Jack does not like giraffes. Jack especially does not like to spend his free time drawing pictures of giraffes and writing to his brother.

Henry knows this. He clutched that paper, his good eye lit up and with a big grin he softly said, "I love you, Jack!"

They say you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.

My good friend Jesse says that your siblings are the friends God chooses for you.

I like that better.

My boys can choose their friends, but the Creator of All Things selected their little souls to travel through life together.

I'm so glad God gave them each other to care for and love. 

And occasionally throw off the couch. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

10 Things About February that Don't Make Me Want to Cry

February is a curse word I growl between clenched teeth.

I do not believe I am being overly dramatic in this. February has always been and always will be the very worst month. Even the kids agree:
We are FebruWEARY.

Every year, winter arrives sometime between turkey dinners and Christmas checklists and I am so distracted by the festivities that I barely seem to notice the frigid temperatures, and all the twinkly lights perfectly ameliorate the sad fact that the sky is now pitch black at 5:00pm.

In January reality starts to set in and I put on a brave face, but by February I just want to curl up in a ball on the floor and cry until the sun comes back out, which hardly ever works.

But I am not going rant about how much I hate winter, because I am a firm believer in never complaining and only focusing on the positive and besides, I already wrote that post last year.

Therefore, in a valiant effort to remain unwaveringly optimistic, I have compiled a list of all of my favorite things about February. I was originally hoping to write something beautifully Voskampian like "1000 Gifts of February," but I could barely just make it to 10.

10 Things About February that Don't Make Me Want to Cry

10. Fresh snow
There is nothing quite as beautiful as freshly fallen snow. It looks pretty in all the pictures. It's like, the ultimate filter.

I know my northern friends might be sick to death of snow by now, but here in North Carolina it usually doesn't snow until February. A February snowfall is nature's way of saying "hey, I'm sorry I killed everything, including part of your soul, but here is some fresh white change of scenery to make up for it."

We'll take it.

9. Spending less money
I have noticed my trips to Target have dramatically decreased due to the effort it requires to get the kids bundled up and out of the house. It turns out, if we stay home, the bank account stays full! No wonder my husband isn't nearly as bothered by February as I am.
Of course, I probably should have bought a sled. 

8. No more stressful resolutions
By this point we have all given up on those pesky new year's resolutions, so we can happily fall back into bad habits without guilt or remorse. I'm sure I will magically be swimsuit ready by summer somehow or another. In the meantime go ahead and pass the Chinese...

7. School cancellation can inspire a spontaneous Bring Your Kid to Work Day

It was hands-down Jack's favorite day of February. He said he liked the day he and Daddy built a snow fort too, but they made him his own special name tag at Daddy's store, so clearly that took work to the next level. 

6. Plenty of time to potty train

I suppose this is only a good thing about February if the potty training is successful, which in our case it was! FINALLY. I will pause here for clapping and confetti. I guess the 14th time is the charm!
Also, it seems chewing gum is a powerful motivator.
5. Spending quality time together and learning valuable lessons in cooperation, patience and sharing
That was the best way I could think to say "Holy moly, we've been stuck inside for what feels like an eternity and I need to turn off the TV now because I'm not sure how many shows I can let them watch and still be considered a good mom, but I think we are approaching whatever point that may be, so we'd better make the best of our time together and find something to do that will cause the least amount of screaming and fighting."

4. Spending EVEN MORE quality time together

We have taken more baths this month than we did all of last summer.

3. Seriously, we've done ALLTHETHINGS together. 
I found them all in the shower together and this is exactly what Jack is saying: "You don't need to take 1000 pictures of us, Mommy. You know you see us every day."

The next day I found them on top of the fridge.
Please, Jesus, send spring.
2. Fire 
Or maybe number 2 should be Episodes of Downton Abbey on TV. I don't know. It's a tie. Roaring fires are really fun, but the roaring twenties in class-divided Britain is equally as fun. I think I will just make sure to always watch episodes of Downton Abbey in front of a cozy fireplace.

Hang in there, friends!! FEBRUARY IS ALMOST OVER!!! SPRING IS NEAR!!! The calendar says so!!

We are tired of winter, we are ready for spring. Even as I type these words I can feel the weariness of winter pressing down on me, and yet, my pictures seem to tell a different story.

In all the 1,000 (alleged) photos I have taken this month, not a single one makes me feel weary. I do feel lots of other things though. I feel overcome by the beauty of the snow. I feel deeply grateful for my precious family and I already feel nostalgic as I look at their 3 little faces and know that that these moments will never be repeated at these ages and all that's left of this month are these mementos frozen in time. 

I mean, I still think February is a curse word. 

But it's also kind of a blessing too.

Wait. Did I just call Februweary a blessing?

Oh dear. Please do not hold me accountable for anything I write in the winter.

Come on, Spring!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Gift that Keeps on Giving (Me a Headache)

There is always that one toy.

The toy that I should have bought 3 of or none of because all the children want to play with that one toy.

Right now, that one toy is a pink polka dot stroller.
Adorable softie doll custom-made by Dunlap Love!!
Yes, my 2 boys and little girl are all fighting over the dainty doll stroller.

I didn't see this coming.

Elise is shocked at this raucous behavior.

I grew up with all sisters, so boys are still somewhat of a mystery to me (must they wrestle ALL DAY LONG??) My husband only had a brother, which is probably why he is still can't wrap his brain around the difference between a curling iron and a flat iron, no matter how many times I try to explain it. (Yes, I need them both and no, they are not the same.)

All that to say, ever since we found out we were having a girl, we've wondered how our family dynamic might look different from how we each grew up.

Will our daughter be more rough and tumble from having brothers? Will the boys grow up with a better understanding of girls from having a sister? Will she like trains? Will he play with her dolls? Will they even have any interest in each other's toys?

Up until this Christmas our house has been mostly devoid of girly toys, mainly because after the first baby the house is so full of toys that there is no need to run out and buy new things for the next baby. Also, babies, no matter the gender, are equally excited over a car or doll or paper bag. Actually, they are probably most excited over the paper bag. So, Elise has spent most of her life contentedly playing with action figures and ninja swords and paper bags...until this Christmas.

After living in a house filled with boy toys for the past 21 months, Elise was thrilled to finally get some girly stuff of her own for Christmas. Actually, thrilled is probably an understatement. Her euphoria could be compared to someone who has found an oasis after wandering the desert for nearly 2 years...a pink oasis filled with Disney princesses, that is.

She spent Christmas morning joyfully taking every toy she owns on a walk around the house in her brand new pink polka dot stroller, her new purse hanging from one of the handles, fully stocked with baby bottles and play makeup.

After she ran out of toys she raided the pantry and took the goldfish crackers for a stroll.

It wasn't long before the boys took notice of these new pink playthings and decided to test them out for themselves.

Henry spent time wheeling his new dinosaurs around the house.

Jack decided to "be the Daddy" and helped Elise take her babies for a walk. At one point he answered her new Minnie Mouse cell phone like this: "What is it, Boss? I'm with my wife right now! We're busy with the kids! I'll come in to work this afternoon."

Maybe I should have bought the boys their own strollers a long time ago. Who knew a simple baby carriage would prompt them to be so nurturing? Maybe having a sister will inspire them to be more in touch with their feminine side! Maybe my son won't grow up and make the mistake of telling his wife to "take off her sensitivity jacket." A-HEM.

And then the game "Motorcycle Smash" was invented. Motorcycle Smash involves no actual motorcycles, but boy is there a lot of smashing. In the game of Motorcycle Smash, one brother furiously pushes the stroller while the other brother runs for his life, the object of the game being for the pusher to catch the runner and trample over him with the stroller/motorcycle until there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then they switch.

I decided that one stroller will suffice for this family.

Now we are practicing patience as each child waits for his or her turn to take a baby for a walk or play a riveting game of Motorcycle Smash or participate in the newest game, "Stroller Stair Punch."

At first I thought Elise would be upset to see her precious stroller punched down the stairs.

She was not.

Families that are raising all boys or all girls certainly have their own distinctive dynamic. Growing up, my sisters and I were profoundly feminine. Our house was like a mecca for Cabbage Patch Kids, Popples and My Little Ponies. We choreographed multiple dance routines to the vocal stylings of Mariah Carey or Amy Grant and all of our Barbies were involved in a continuous soap opera that lasted for years. Our favorite color was glitter. I have never ever seen an episode of He-Man or Thundercats and I don't remember ever owning any sporting equipment besides rollerblades. Our home was a pink paradise. (Needless to say, 6 years ago my dad was ecstatic to find out he was getting a grandson.)

Still, even though I doubt I will ever watch my kids perform a glorious reenactment of The Little Mermaid at the pool, I am looking forward to the best of both worlds.

I am excited to see how the sugar and spice mixes with the snakes and snails to create our own unique family recipe. I'm not only talking about embracing the differences in boys and girls; boys and girls are different, but each child has his or her own individual personality too.

What I'm saying is they all want to play with the stroller for different reasons. Personally, I hope that they can learn from each other's games and be inspired by each other's ideas and use the stroller in ways they would have never thought of on their own.

Metaphorically speaking, of course. Cause right now they are mostly just fighting and arguing and yelling about the actual stroller. In fact, I had to put the stroller away for while for safety reasons, because if I had to endure one more game of Motorcycle Smash, I was going to be the one doing the smashing.

But don't worry, I'm sure they'll find something new to fight over in no time.

En garde!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Three is More Terrible Than Two

I want to know who came up with the phrase "terrible twos."

I want to know so I can show up on that guy's doorstep with my 3-year-old and say Ta-da! Now come up with a phrase for THIS!

Sure, half the time 3-year-olds are these cute little munchkins with constant crumbs around their mouths, who put their shoes on backwards and can't pronounce their r's, but then, at the slightest provocation, they transform into tiny snarling, wailing creatures and their poor parents are left completely bewildered as to what set them off. It's like living with a miniature Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Let me paint a picture with a scene that happened at my house yesterday:
Dr. Jekyll: I want a grill cheese sammich and a ba-lana for lunch, pleeeeese.

Mommy: Ok, Sweetie, here is a grilled cheese sandwich and banana just for you!


Of course, two-year-olds sometimes throw irrational tantrums as well, but two-year-olds will be over the whole incident in about 2 minutes, while three-year-olds make like elephants and NEVER FORGET.

A few hours after the horrific Grilled Cheese Incident my three-year-old was back to his normal, silly self and was happily rummaging through our costume collection with his five-year-old brother. They looked so adorable in their mismatched superhero ensembles, I whipped out my phone to take a picture.

Mommy: Say cheese!

5-year-old: Cheese!


On his third birthday. I believe he is flashing the 3-year-old gang sign in this picture.
In order to be initiated, members must find ways to make their mothers cry before 10am. 

Being a three-year-old is rough. Besides the unexpected cheese in one's grilled cheese sandwich, there are many other distressing grievances that arise each day in a three-year-old's life which may prompt an appearance from tiny Mr. Hyde.

For example, here are some extremely devastating things that happened to my 3-year-old today:
-His graham cracker broke
-Christmas was not today
-The leaves on the ground were too crunchy
-His banana broke
-Mommy tried to join in the song he was singing
-He didn't get to press the button on the blender
-He wanted the granola bar in the blue wrapper, not the green wrapper
-No, actually he wanted the granola bar with the little man on it that is on the shelf at the grocery store
-He had to settle for the granola bar in the blue wrapper
-It broke

There were no sharks in his book about butterflies. 

You see, the world can be a very cruel place to three-year-olds. And by world I mean Mommy. And by place I mean Mommy. Mommy can be a very cruel Mommy to 3-year-olds. All the injustices are the fault of Mommy. The three-year-old motto might as well be "When life hands you lemons, throw them at Mommy."

The difference between three-year-olds and younger toddlers basically boils down to this:
Two-year-olds color on the walls because PRETTY!
Three-year-olds color on the walls because REVENGE!!!! You had it coming, Mommy! I can't believe you let my granola bar break!!

When my oldest was three he locked me out of the house so he could eat an entire bag of gummy bears. He wolfed down handfuls of candy, glaring triumphantly at me as I angrily pounded on the window. It was only after the empty bag lay crumpled on the floor that he opened the door and said, "But Mommy, I was SO HUNGWY!" You see, I had just served him a "wusgusting" lunch of grapes and a crustless turkey sandwich, which he refused to even taste. Eating the bag of gummy bears was necessary to ward of impending starvation. And, bonus, it really ticked Mommy off.

But don't worry, fellow parents of "threenagers," there are some perks to having a three-year-old. For instance, they are a lot more independent.

They are now able to dress themselves. Unfortunately, they have very specific opinions about fashion and usually end up looking like an escaped mental patient.

Henry decided to go with an animal-themed outfit at the library. Mrs. Frizzle would be proud.
At three they are now potty-trained or in the process of being potty-trained. Or at least they are currently rejecting all attempts at potty training, no matter the amount of cajoling, threats or bribery from desperate parents (can you guess which camp we are in right now?). Anyway, potty-training is great because changing diapers is the worst. It's so much easier to constantly ask them every 15 minutes "do you have to pee-pee?" and they always say "no, I just dancing!" and then 2 minutes later there is a giant puddle soaking into the very expensive sofa. So great. And in case anyone is having difficulty interpreting my tone, allow me to NOTE MY SARCASM.

Three-year-olds also insist on doing everything themselves, from pouring their own cereal to zipping their own coats. This almost never takes an eternity or ends in disaster. ALSO SARCASM.

So, three-year-olds may be more independent, but you might never make it out of the house.

And just when you think you cannot take anymore of the meltdowns and the messes and the 30-minute coat zipping marathons, somehow they always find a way to remind us how much we love them. The little stinkers.

Tonight we went out to dinner and Henry took it upon himself to introduce the waitress to our family, "...and dis is my brudder Jack and dis is my sister Baby." Then he gestured to me. "And dis is my best friend Mommy."

Drip, drip. What is that sound? Oh, that would be my heart melting into giant puddle.

Ah well, I guess I'll let Henry Hyde stick around for a few more months.

But I'm hiding the granola bars until he turns 4.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Oh How the Years Go By

It’s simply the Ache of time passing, because this is what time does, and our souls are noticing the passing of a season, and it’s okay. It’s okay to let it Ache. It means we’re living and it means we’re loving our life as it stands. ~Sarah Bessey
We had some family photos taken last month.

After last year’s family photo debacle, I swore off family pics for a few years. It’s just too much work to pretend to look happy while someone is crying, someone hates his "dumb handsome clothes” and someone else runs off to look at a stick.
We took pictures downtown for a fun, urban look, cause we're edgy like that.
We used this photo for our Christmas card and an elderly relative asked which penitentary we were at. 

But the truth is I’m such a sucker for cute photos of my kids. Who isn’t? It's a great way to capture their little expressions and personalities at this age; also, you can't hear bickering and fighting in photos, so that's nice too. Besides, my good friend’s husband is a fantastic photographer and his prices are extremely reasonable, so I figured if it all turned out to be a complete disaster then we weren’t out that much anyway.

I braced myself for the worst, but you know what? It was ok. Actually, it was better than ok. We kind of had fun running around downtown with our little munchkins. And guess what? NOBODY CRIED. And guess what else? THEY ALL SMILED.

I mean, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. At one point they got distracted by a cat and we had to spend a good 10 minutes peering through the slats of a fence to try and catch a glimpse of the dang thing, but Aaron, the photographer, even used that to his advantage. He would occasionally meow and then capture the glee on their little faces when they thought they heard that illusive cat.
Henry persevered on the cat quest even after everyone else gave up.
The more I thought about our family photo shoot, the more I realized how it resembled our past year.

I started this blog in 2013 to capture some of the beautiful craziness that comes with having 3 kids three and under, but in all honesty, 2013 felt more crazy than beautiful on most days. On more than one occasion that year I contemplated committing a small crime because being locked up by myself in a tiny jail cell with only a bed and toilet sounded like HEAVEN.

I suppose I expected more of the same from 2014. But you know what? It was ok. Actually, it was better than ok. We kind of had fun with our little munchkins, exploring pirate ships, surviving grandparents and even tackling Disney World. This year Elise learned to walk, Jack shared a slice of my childhood and Henry finally got a birthday all about him.

Our babies are growing into their own little people. They are sweet. They are funny. They are filled with wonder and curiosity and lots and lots of questions. They say things like "mashed po-toe-toes" and "bednight snacks" and "Christmas makes my heart feel glowy!" There are times they see us at our worst, but they always inspire us to be our best. No one loves John or me the way our kids love us at this very moment. They are our biggest fans and we love them to the very depths of our souls.

2014 wasn't always easy, but this was the year it felt like we really became a family.

I look to 2015 with bittersweet anticipation.

Jack will start "real" Kindergarten. Henry and Elise will both go to preschool 2 mornings a week which means I will have the house to myself for 2 mornings a week. I just want to reflect for a moment on the gravity of that last phrase. I WILL HAVE THE HOUSE TO MYSELF FOR 2 MORNINGS A WEEK. I WILL BE ALONE IN MY HOUSE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 6 YEARS. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

This could also be the year that we are done with cribs. We might even be done with diapers in 2015 (that’s a BIG might, but at this point I’m convinced that Elise may be potty-trained before Henry). But the closer we get to no more stinky diapers or clunky baby gear, the farther away we move from tiny, chest-napping infants and that delicious, milky baby scent. No more gummy grins. No more chunky cheeks. We are moving farther away from bedtime rocking, sticky toddler kisses and tiny little pigtails.  Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

I’ve wanted a baby ever since I could say the word baby. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was never quite decided on a profession, but I knew I would be a mother. I had my future children's names all picked out by the time I was 12 (all girl names of course, I wasn't planing on having any boys). It's funny how my babies were nothing I expected, but everything I needed. So what does it mean when the babies are no more, when babies are a memory instead of a dream?

Should we have another, just one more? Would we have a boy or a girl? What would her name be? What would he be like? How can we not find out??

Or do I only want one more to avoid living with the ache of an empty nursery? Because no more babies means I’m old.

After all my moaning and groaning about sleepless nights and never-ending days, its funny that it feels so hard to shut the door on this chapter of our lives. 

I guess all the old ladies at the grocery store were right after all; enjoy it while you can, cause one day you'll miss it.

Darn those old ladies. 

But I guess that mantra holds true at any stage, and even worse than living with the ache would be to not embrace the present. I look forward to new memories and new adventures with my little family, even if the coming years also bring new heartache.

I suppose it's the ache that highlights the sweetness of our memories in the first place. If our memories are photographs, then the ache is the frame, propping them up, making them standout in our minds, showing that these are the moments we cherish most of all.

Oh, how the years go by. Sometimes I can't wait to jump into the promises of the coming year and sometimes I long to relive my sweetest memories passed, but tonight I'm standing somewhere in between.

Tonight, on New Year's Eve, that's a pretty good place to be.

Welcome 2015, whatever you may bring.

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 seen everything. 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 bratwurst 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 all over 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.