M-I-C… K-E-Y… M-O-U-S-E

We did it.  We went to Mickey’s house.  It’s been nearly 2 weeks since we returned from our Disney World expedition and I think I’ve finally recovered enough to write about it.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a ton of fun.  But boy is it exhausting!  A little background on our excursion before I carry on…  I was set to go to Orlando for a business meeting in mid-January.  My colleague and I have been chatting off and on for months about how we need to take Junior to Disney (he and his family are HUGE Disney fans and go every year).  Long story short, he busted into my office back in October and said “I got it!  You’re going to Orlando anyway in January so you MUST mix in a Disney trip!”  I thought about it and said why the heck not?  The timing was actually pretty great.  January is off season in the land of Disney, our son isn’t in school yet so it’s no big deal to yank him out of daycare, he’s an only child at the moment which helps a ton, and I was going down there anyway.  My wonderful colleague had accumulated some extra Disney Vacation Club points that were close to expiring, so he helped set up our lodging.  How lucky are we?

So there you have it.  Our family’s first Disney trip was locked down and I had no idea where to begin.  I know from talking to other people over the years that families often plan for MONTHS in advance; every step they take, every meal they eat, every show they attend, every moment they sleep.  But you know what?  That’s not my style.  For someone so textbook type-A, it’s odd that I really like to wing my vacations.  I obviously did a little research on where we were staying and the parks themselves, but for the most part we decided to figure it out once we got there.  I also had to factor in my back-and-forth to business functions, which is why we were heading that way in the first place.

Junior’s first plane ride was a breeze.  He’s 4 so we didn’t have to take a bunch of extra junk; he just sat in the seat, waited eagerly for the flight attendant to bring him a snack, and flipped through the TV channels (thank you Jet Blue for your built-in entertainment).  We arrived in Orlando, found our transportation, and got to the Animal Kingdom Lodge with no trouble.  Once we settled in a bit we got our bearings and headed out.  Now I’m not going to give you a play-by-play of our entire 5 days there because that’s overkill.  What I will do is sum up our experience and offer some words of wisdom in a nice, tidy, bulleted list.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@mommybanter) probably saw the daily #DisneyLessons I posted each evening.  You’ll see some of them in my list again  Here we go…

  • We only bought passes to the official Disney parks this time (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios). With only 5 days we knew it would be impossible to get to Sea World and some of the others.  BUT we included a park-hopper to give us the freedom to bounce from park to park if we wanted.
  • Mid-January is a PERFECT time to go. There were definitely some people there, but it was MUCH less crowded than a peak season week.  The weather was good; a little chilly but we rarely needed more than jeans and a light jacket.  After going in January I will never attempt to go in the summer.  I will take my children out of school for a week before I try to conquer Disney World between May and October.
    • Side note…  You can totally tell who came to Orlando from Wisconsin or South Dakota or Maine or another freezing state.  They were wearing tank tops and flip flops in 59-degree weather.
  • Best thing we did? Bring the umbrella stroller.  Of course our 4 year old was not thrilled when we told him to hop in, but getting him around the airport and the parks would have been an absolute nightmare without it.
    • Side note… There is designated stroller parking all throughout the parks.  If you go rogue and put that stroller somewhere else, a park employee will move it.  So that means you panic and think someone has walked off with your stroller and all the crap you’ve stuffed in it.  We learned that the first day.
  • My anti-planning really only hurt us in one way – dinner reservations. We were on a budget so we had no intention of doing expensive character breakfasts and fancy dinners every night.  But I did want us to have one “nice” dinner together at a sit-down restaurant.  But reservations fill up fast and we came up empty.  So we ended up doing the nice buffet dinner in our hotel one night – mainly because we couldn’t get a reservation anywhere else and we didn’t feel like having a sandwich.  It was delicious but overpriced (go figure).  All of the “quick service” food in the parks is pretty darn tasty, so we didn’t feel at all deprived.  And it was better for our credit card anyway.
  • The cool thing about Disney? They let you bring in your own snacks!  A friend of mine told me that before we left and it was music to my ears.  So we stuffed a backpack full of granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, etc. and it was a lifesaver.  One thing we didn’t do that we should have is come with a case of bottled water or go to a convenience store (off property) to buy some.  That would have saved us a little cash.  Fortunately it wasn’t blazing hot like in the summer so we weren’t going through water like crazy.
  • Another thing we started doing is having a big breakfast at the quick place in our hotel, and taking advantage of the inexpensive a la carte stuff that’s available. Our place sold baggies of sliced bread, so we used the free packets of peanut butter and jelly to make PBJ sandwiches for the afternoons at the parks.
  • We spent full days at each park and made our way to Downtown Disney one night. And trust me, they are FULL DAYS.  My husband and I both got Fit Bits for Christmas and we logged 20,000+ steps each day!  Remember people, bring your stroller…  No young kiddo can walk that much for 5 days in a row.  It’s hard to say what our favorite park was, as each one had its own special things that we liked.  Magic Kingdom obviously has the most rides, Animal Kingdom has an amazing safari tour, Hollywood Studios was great for daddy/son time — hello Star Wars — (I was in meetings that day), and Epcot has, in my opinion, the best food options.  We chose to watch Epcot fireworks two nights in a row vs. fighting the crowds at Magic Kingdom.  They were awesome.
  • We also purchased the Memory Maker package to ensure that we got lots of family photos during our time there. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it to have 150 pictures at your fingertips without lugging a camera.  And we could download all of them and share them with the grandparents.
  • I had a lot of people tell me that we’d be way off schedule and we’d have Junior up until 11:00 every night, yada yada yada. That really wasn’t the case for us.  We took our time in the mornings and paid attention to when he was starting to lose it in the evenings.  He was in bed most nights by 9, except the nights we watched fireworks and that was closer to 10.  It’s exactly what we all needed.  My husband and I hung out on the balcony (usually with cocktails) while he fell asleep, and planned the next day’s activities.  I had early wake up calls on 2 mornings because I had to commute 30 minutes to my business meetings, so a good night’s sleep was welcomed.  Everyone knows their own kids and how they operate.  Mine can stay up really late for a night or two, but he’ll eventually turn into a bear without an afternoon nap.  And who wants to leave the park to go back and nap in the middle of the day?  So we opted for earlier bedtimes instead.  On our last full day we did go back to regroup and let him rest for an hour.  My husband and I sat on our little balcony and started cocktail hour while he slept.  Win win.

I could go on and on and on but I’ll spare you any more commentary. If you have specific questions about how we handled things just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!  Long story short, we took the plunge and crammed everything into 5 days that we possibly could.  It was a great time, an exhausting time, and something we’d like to do again – in maybe 5 years.  It’s not a cheap trip, but you can get out of there without breaking the bank if you try.

A coworker of mine said something to me once that really stuck:  “There’s a big difference between a ‘vacation’ and a ‘family trip’.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  Unlike after a leisurely week at the beach I was ready to get home and go back to work, simply to have some sort of routine again.  But we certainly appreciated the hospitality from Mickey and the gang while we were there.  Mickey, we’ll see ya again real soon!

Advertisements

Resolutions Shmesolutions

It’s January 5th.  I’m back at work for my first “normal” week since mid-December.  The decorations are down, the new stuff has been put away, the guests are gone, and the holiday menu checklists have been thrown away.  As my mother would say, the “doldrums of winter” have begun.

Most people spend January acting frantic about their resolutions.  Go to the gym no less than 3 times per week and for no less than 1 hour each time.  Eat no more than 1.285 desserts per week.  Eat no less than 6 pounds of celery per week.  Blah blah blah.  My resolution this year?  Kick resolutions to the curb.  In fact, I started the year by QUITTING the gym.  How’s that for going against the grain?

Yes, there are absolutely things that I want to work on this year.  Things that I need to improve upon in my personal life as a wife, mother, friend, sister, and daughter.  But I don’t want to set unrealistic goals because I know these continuous improvements should be part of my everyday life, whether it’s January or July.  I like the way that sounds actually –“continuous improvements” instead of “resolutions.”  I didn’t wake up on January 1st with a big slap to the forehead and say “dammit, I think I’m going to be more patient with my toddler this year!”  Who does that?  Every day I strive to be more patient as he becomes more aggravating.  Patience, for me at least, is a hard concept.  I’m bitterly type-A, and have had to finally realize that there is often no room for reasoning with a 4 year old.  Sometimes they’re just plain difficult.

And then there’s the health and fitness piece.  I can picture what the gym (the one I just quit) looks like at 6 PM Monday through Thursday evenings, at least until about March.  Once again, I didn’t wake up on the 1st and say “time to get healthy!!!”  I’ve always known that I need to eat well and get exercise; we ALL know that.  We just feel like January 1st is the right time to obsess about it because we spent the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas eating and drinking like slobs.  There’s too much unnecessary pressure surrounding the “get healthy in the New Year” movement.  Who’s really going to drop 15 pounds in the month of January?  Most people can’t completely overhaul their diets and expect to stay the course for more than a month (hello Valentine’s Day chocolate!).  So why set yourself up for failure?  Continuous improvements…

So there you have it.  For me there were no resolutions going into 2015.  I need to try to be a better mother and a better wife because let’s face it, there’s always room for improvement in these roles.  I need to continue cooking nice meals for my family and not feel bad when I call in a pizza from time to time.  I need to get my money’s worth out of the new exercise equipment I bought (in lieu of keeping a gym membership) because no matter how hard I try, I’m just not a gym person.  I’d rather work out at home in my ratty college t-shirt at 9:30 PM watching re-runs of Friends or Law & Order SVU.  I’m a realist, not a resolution maker.

If you came up with a long list of resolutions for yourself, three cheers for you and I hope you get ‘em done.  If things go awry, don’t beat yourself up…  If you’re like me and have no interest in resolutions, enjoy your year of continuous improvement and the occasional slice of greasy pizza!

Summers Then & Now

Even though it’s back-to-school time, I’ve been thinking about my summers growing up.  When I was a kid the last day of school was epic.  Knowing that I didn’t have to do homework or read textbooks or wake up early for a couple of months was the best feeling.  I also felt excitement for the start of a new school year.  Not necessarily the homework and early wake-up calls, but shopping for a few new outfits, picking out school supplies, learning who my teachers were – all of that mid-August fanfare.

My mom stayed at home for a big chunk of our school years, or at most worked part time.  We were a modest middle-class family, happy and well provided for.  Not a ton of frills, but that was fine with us.  My older brother was wheelchair-bound, which is one of the main reasons my mom stayed at home when we were younger.  But as we all got older we were more than capable of fending for ourselves when she went back to work part time.

I remember my summers as a kid, before I was old enough to have a part time job to keep me busy.  The first week at home was a lot of sleeping in, watching TV, and running around outside with the neighborhood kids.  We’d pop home and eat a sandwich, then head back out until dinner time when we’d return sweaty and dirty and exhausted.  Some days my mom would drop me off at the neighborhood pool to meet up with friends, or stick me with my little brother if he was bored.  There was always one week at the beach, a week of day camp like Vacation Bible School, or an overnight camp when we got older.  It was fun and simple and got mind-numbingly boring by the time August rolled around. 

Sometimes I find myself a little bummed that Junior won’t get to experience that kind of carefree summer.  I work full time and don’t see an end in sight, so he won’t really have a chance to deviate from his regular school year schedule.  He’ll still be up early so I can drop him off at daycare and he’ll stay there until I pick him up after work.  When he gets older they call daycare “summer camp” since that’s pretty much what it is for the school-aged kids.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fun environment with stuff planned every day and I’m grateful he’ll have the opportunity to be there.  But there’s a part of me that wishes he could have a less scheduled summer, running around the neighborhood until dark, sleeping in, vegging out in front of the TV on a rainy day. 

Admittedly, I’ve worked full time since Junior was 10 weeks old, and I really have no experience with that stay-at-home lifestyle.  Would I be satisfied planning activities for my kids?  Being the chauffeur?  Hearing the griping when they’re bored at the end of the summer?  I’m not sure.  I have very fond memories of my summers at home and the bookends of excitement around summer’s start and summer’s end.  Does my mom have the same fond memories?  Hahaha maybe I should ask her…   Any way you slice it, times are different now.  We want more “stuff” which means we need more income.  Even the kids who do stay home all summer are in so many activities.  I’m not sure it’s even possible to recreate the summer vacations of the 80’s and 90’s.  One day I’d like to give it a try though, even for just a little while. 

Happy back-to-school season everyone.  I can still remember the great feeling of satisfaction when I found the perfect Trapper Keeper and coordinating folders.  Can you smell the vinyl?  Can you hear the Velcro?  I can…

Birthday Perspectives

Just over a month ago my baby boy turned 3.  We decided it was time to give him a real birthday party at the house with friends, a bounce house, cake and ice cream, and all of the chaos that comes with it.  It was a blast, and I told my husband that I think I had more fun planning his party than I did planning our wedding.  I have a little Martha Stewart buried deep inside of me and it comes out in full force when I know people are coming over, even people under the age of 4.

Junior is a pirate fanatic at the moment, so naturally we had a pirate-themed party.  A pirate bounce house, pirate tablecloths, super cute bandanna hats, eye patches, a homemade treasure chest birthday cake, and buried treasure for the kiddos to take home.  I found a great website for all of the decorations and favors, www.purepirate.com, so if you have a pirate-obsessed child and need some swag you should check it out.  At first I was worried that it was a site dedicated to adults with a weird pirate fetish – and maybe it is – but they had party favors so I went with it…

pirate bounce

A 3-year old’s dream come true…

So fun to make!  It's not really leaning to the left; I'm just a bad photographer.

So fun to make! It’s not really leaning to the left; I’m just a bad photographer.

After a long, beautiful, fun fall day of bouncing, running, laughing, eating, and post sugar high crashing, Junior started planning out his life’s adventures when he turns 4.  “When I turn FOUR I can yada yada yada…”  Wow.  Do you remember how much fun it was to turn a year older?  So many things to look forward to…  Starting kindergarten, being “double digits” when you turn 10, becoming a teenager at 13, drivers license at 16, being able to say “well I’m an adult now and I don’t have to listen to you anymore” when you turn 18 and argue with your parents, drinking (legally) when you’re 21, car insurance rates dropping at 25…

Like many people, that stopped for me at some point.  My birthday is exactly 2 weeks after Junior’s and I turned the big 3-5.  I don’t really have an issue with getting older, but I certainly don’t feel excitement about it.  I wonder what it would be like to happily say “when I turn THIRTY SIX I can do this and that and this and that…”  I started my 35th birthday by dusting the wood blinds downstairs.  And since it was raining Junior and I took a nice trip to Wal-Mart to pick up some necessities.  I’ve never been that person who celebrates a “birthday week” and expects a lot of fanfare and grandeur, and maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I should show a little more excitement about the day I entered this world instead of being so neutral about it.  I should take some cues from Junior who is so excited about what’s ahead for him in the coming year, and how much better life will be when he hits his next age milestone – 4.

Maybe I’ll get a bounce house for my 36th birthday.

When parenthood is sending me to the nuthouse, this is what I think about.

We’ve all had those periods of time when life seems out of control.  For me, it’s leading a pseudo-single mom life while my husband’s job keeps him away from home most days during the week.  It’s my precious toddler, just shy of his 3rd birthday, who thinks everything is his way or the highway right now.  If he doesn’t get M&Ms after dinner he hops out of his booster chair and swats at me.  Bedtime means nothing; he’s up 2 or 3 times with every excuse imaginable from “monsters in my room” to “I have to poop.”

I don’t know about you, but eventually I hit my wall.  Granted I’m not the most patient person in general, but I do try to temper it when it comes to Junior.  Tonight I actually told him that if he got out of bed one more time I was going to cancel his birthday party next month.  To a kid so damned excited about turning 3 that he can barely contain himself, that was pretty mean of me.  He did stay in bed after that though.  So as I cleaned up one of a thousand messes tonight, I stopped to reflect on how I react to things and realized that I should actually try to be grateful for the crap that drives me nuts.

In the last year or so I’ve become acquainted with a great company that gives people an easy platform to raise money for any cause that’s important to them.  Since there are no limitations on what someone can fundraise for, you see a diverse range of campaigns.  Everything from church mission trips, to Susan G. Komen, to pet rescue groups, and they’re all fantastic.  The ones that really strike a chord with me though, are the ones that center on families – families just like mine – trying to raise money for their children.  Expensive cancer treatments, stem cell therapy, adoption, wheelchairs, you name it.   Yet these are things I never have to think about.

Everybody has problems and frustrations, things to complain about.  Nobody’s life is peaches and cream all the time.  But I think it’s important to put things into perspective; to recognize that some of the things you gripe about could be a blessing to somebody else.  My son has the ability to crawl out of bed and roam the hall upstairs, but there are other kids his age that can’t.  Does this mean I should feel guilty?  Absolutely not.  But when I get particularly crabby it does cross my mind.

At the end of the day every family has its own definition of “normal.”  I grew up with an older brother who was confined to a wheelchair from a young age due to Muscular Dystrophy.  Others may have looked at our family with sadness or pity, but to us it was normal.  I hopped on the handicapped school bus with him every day for a number of years and didn’t think twice about it.  My parents were active with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and we were granted a Disney trip from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  I’m sure my parents felt more stress than they let on, and as a child I was certainly oblivious to it, but I know that they found great joy in their less-than-picture-perfect lifestyle.  And I know that the families behind the fundraisers I just described also feel great joy, even if their lives appear less than ideal from the outside looking in.

So tomorrow morning I will look at my sleepy boy with crazy bed head and tell him his birthday party is not in jeopardy.  When he swats at me like a brat I will discipline him, but also feel grateful that he’s able to swing that hand.  When he sasses at the dinner table I will correct him but remember that I am lucky that he communicates so well.  The next time he loses his mind in a fit of rage I’ll remind myself that his presence alone is a blessing.  But in all fairness I’ll still be annoyed and wonder why my life has to be so crazy sometimes.  That’s normal isn’t it?

*For more information about the fundraising company and its active campaigns, visit http://www.bonfirefunds.com.

My my my… Look How You’ve Grown!

Every now and then I catch myself looking at Junior, now 2 months shy of his third birthday, and wonder how (and when) he got so big.  I had to leave town for several days last week and when I got home it’s like I was looking at someone else’s child.  Did he get taller between Thursday morning and Sunday night?  It’s made me really start paying attention to the little things…

His vocabulary.  He’s my first child so I don’t have much to compare it to, but some of the things that come out of his mouth are mind boggling.  Not just because they’re so crisp and clear, but because they’re so grown up.  A recent example, stated with the clarity of a polished orator:  “Mommy can you stop?  You’re annoying me.”

The water fountain.  He can reach it at daycare.  For months I’ve had to give him a little boost to reach the stream of water.  Now he puts his sweet little face right in there and slurps away.  I don’t know how it happened.

His sales pitch.  He’s a better negotiator than I am.

Junior:  “Mommy can I have some M&Ms?”

Me:  “No buddy, not until after dinner.”

Junior, turning to his father:  “Daddy, you’re the best.  Can I have some M&Ms please?”

Mimicking Mommy.  It’s no secret that I love having Junior work with me in the kitchen.   I’ve found that he translates the things I do in the kitchen to the “cooking” he does in his own little places.  For instance, at least 3 times a week he makes me soup or macaroni in the bathtub.  And almost always he samples his bubble-laden recipe and informs me that it “needs a little more salt.”  So he takes a pinch of salt from his imaginary bowl and sprinkles it into his recipe.  Then he’ll taste it again and say, “It needs some pepper Mommy,” and crank his imaginary pepper grinder like I do in the kitchen.  He is so serious about it, and is overjoyed when I taste the final product and tell him how DELICIOUS it is, and seasoned just perfectly…  It is absolutely precious.

Independence.  Now that we converted his crib into a toddler bed he thinks he can set his own agenda when it comes to going to bed and staying in bed…  My once late sleeper has now decided that chirping birds are his sign to get up and start the day.  Mommy wholeheartedly disagrees.  But it’s a tricky situation because he’s potty training and I want him to feel like he has access to the bathroom, or to me, should he need to go.  Quite a conundrum…  I do find it comical that he thinks he can get up and stroll around the house at night after he’s gone to bed.  Not too long ago I was loading the dishwasher at around 9 PM, and I looked up to hear him say, “Hi Mommy.  I’m going to play in my fort now,” as he waltzed into the family room.  Do what?

Affection.  With all of the ups and downs, milestones and challenges, the amount of affection we get is the best part.  I’m not an overly affectionate person by nature; my closest friends and family know how much I value my 3 feet of personal space…  But the big bear hugs I get from Junior are out of this world.  He tells me he misses me when I’m gone.  And he still wants me to hold his hand as we go down the steps.  I know that won’t last forever so I’m happy to oblige as long as I can.

Take it Easy…

Have you ever risen on a Saturday morning after a much needed sleep-in session, looked outside at the beautiful sunny sky, then looked at your messy house, laundry, and empty fridge and decided the sunshine has to take a backseat to chores?  Regrettably I do it all the time.  My busy work-week schedule leaves me little time to catch up on errands, laundry, and de-griming the house, so Saturdays or Sundays (sometimes both) are usually reserved for the crappy stuff. 

But this past weekend was different.  On Saturday morning I was the first to wake up (at 9:15 AM – score!), so I started the day with 30 minutes of peace and Food Network shows until the rest of the crew decided to join the living.  It was during that time I chose to give the middle finger to my dusty hardwood floors and skyscraper sized piles of laundry, to turn up my nose to the grocery list on my counter, and turn a blind eye to Junior’s disaster of a playroom.   On Saturday I wanted to play outside.  I did not want to see the inside of Wal Mart, Target, or Trader Joe’s.  I did not want to open my container of Mr. Clean with Febreze scent.  I did not want to clean toilets.  So I didn’t.

I jokingly classify myself in a number of less-than-desirable ways.  OCD, type-A, and a slightly less extreme version of Monica Gellar from Friends are a few that come to mind.  Granted these are all a little exaggerated (maybe?) but I will certainly admit that I’m one of those people who needs to be doing something all the time.  I can always look around and see something that needs tidying or decide at 9:00 PM that I’m going to bake a cake.  Even when I’m watching TV at night I’m folding laundry or dusting or organizing Junior’s stuff.  At 34, I still haven’t learned the fine art of vegging out, unless there’s a hangover in play and I have no choice (which has only happened once or twice since I became a mother).  So for me to declare to my husband that I just wanted to goof off was a little perplexing for both of us.

So here’s what we did…  We ate breakfast at our leisure.  We watched cartoons with Junior.  We went for a long walk and let our new rescue dog swim in the lake for the first time.  [Side note:  for a moment I thought I was going to have the only golden retriever on earth who doesn’t like the water.  She heaved herself into the lake with reckless abandon as soon as the tennis ball left my husband’s hand — and promptly sank.  She found her way up but was utterly confused about where the sturdy ground went.  My husband yanked his shoes and socks off so fast and was prepared to go in after her.  She figured it out eventually.] I digress…  After the walk we fixed sandwiches at home and then filled up Junior’s exquisite inflatable pool with the garden hose.  I sat in a chair in the sun and watched him.  I didn’t pluck weeds out of the flower beds or mow the grass or wash windows or clean the grill.  I just sat there and watched him make pretend soup in his embarrassingly cheap swimming vessel.  Then we got extra fancy and hooked up the sprinkler so he could run through it 1000 times.  I ran through it too, in my clothes.  He laughed so hard at his silly mommy getting her shorts all wet.  As the afternoon wound down we decided to get showered and head to a local (kid-friendly) brewery to sit outside and listen to some music.  We met friends and enjoyed a few hours outside in the comfortable summer breeze.  Junior danced and ran around and ate dinner from a food truck.  My husband and I had a beer and caught up with our friends.  When we got home Junior brushed his teeth and fell fast asleep, and I watched a movie on TV that I’d already seen 250 times.

When I went to bed on Saturday night the floors still needed to be mopped and the laundry was still piled up.  I still didn’t have eggs or milk in the fridge.  But I spent a whole day having fun with my little boy, my husband, and my crazy dog, and felt that good tired feeling that you get after a busy day.  The moral of the story?  It’s OK to take a day and chuck “responsibility” out the window.  I don’t do it often enough and that will probably never change.  On Sunday I was right back at it – grocery store, prepping meals for the next few days, doing laundry.  But we still found time to head to the playground for a while…