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!

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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…

Ye Ole Noggin

Today I’ve been thinking about my kid’s head.   It’s a nice head – full of unmanageable blonde hair and a little big compared to the rest of his body, but overall it’s a keeper.  It also takes a beating.  I don’t know if it’s a boy thing or if all kids bang up their heads on a regular basis, but Junior’s a pro.

I remember his very first substantial knot; he was maybe a year and a half old.  I was helping him step out of his pants and into his jammies when he got tripped up and smacked the back of his sweet head on the knob of his dresser drawer.  A walnut sized lump popped out immediately; he wailed and I was traumatized.  I was right there but somehow I couldn’t grab him before he hit the deck.  I rushed downstairs looking for frozen peas, crying because I was such an awful, irresponsible mother.  He recovered quickly and I beat myself up for hours.

And they kept coming.  There’s that time we were heading out to catch a ride on the Christmas trolley…  He was walking along when he hit an uneven section of sidewalk; since his hands were in his pockets the only way he could break his fall was with his face, right into a brick wall.  Oh.  My.  God.  The howling, the purple goose egg on his forehead, the bloodied lip, the trolley passengers staring…  Fortunately a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sighting was a well-timed distraction.  What a weekend.  Needless to say our Christmas pictures were not as attractive that year.

Whether it’s a forehead to the wall, a tumble off his bike, or most recently a golf club to the face, it’s clear that young kids’ heads are made of concrete.  Somehow his mishaps have only result in bumps and bruises, no open wounds or stitches (how’s that for jinxing myself?).  And even though I’ve become somewhat immune to it now, there’s always that initial “oh shit” gasp before I slow down and gain my composure.  You know the feeling — the internal struggle of “do I apply frozen vegetables or take him to urgent care?”

Peas, cuddles, and a juice box usually do the trick for him, but I always spend a few minutes berating myself for being a sucky parent.  Why can’t I protect my sweet boy from walls and sidewalks and sports equipment?  What’s wrong with me?  Fortunately it’s not too long before I see a post on Facebook about another kid’s stitches or a busted tooth or a broken arm and I realize that we’re all experiencing the same adventures.  I guess a hard-headed kid isn’t such a bad thing after all…

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.

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…

Pig Skin

I went to a small college that didn’t have a football team.  So when I met my boyfriend (now husband), an alum of a big football university, I was able to experience that electrifying level of school spirit that surfaces when 60,000 people scream at everyone and everything between two goal posts.

My spot in the bleachers wasn’t automatic; I had to pay my dues.  As a new girlfriend I was always eager to go to the games but rarely got an invitation.  As a more tenured girlfriend I was offered the extra ticket a couple of times during the season.  As a live-in girlfriend and then wife I had first dibs and went to most home games with him.  There were times he actually expressed disappointment if I chose NOT to go.  As a new mother, traveling 3 hours to watch football was at the bottom of my priority list. Now, as parents of a toddler, we’re excited to make football a family experience.

This weekend we took Junior to his first game.  We were a little apprehensive knowing how fidgety and distracted a 2 year old can be, but we decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.  What’s the worst that could happen?  We said to each other that we’d just pack him up and leave if it became disastrous.  So we grabbed his jersey and some tailgating necessities and made our way.  We spent the night in a crappy hotel about 45 minutes away so the morning of game day wouldn’t be so hectic.

We met up with some friends and their son who is a tad older than Junior.  They became fast friends and had a blast running around the tailgate touching things they weren’t supposed to.  It was follow-the-leader to the highest degree, with them taking turns playing leader.  We’d prepped Junior on all of the cool stuff he would see – the mascot, the band, the hot dogs.  As we were herding our way into the stadium he caught the eye of some drunk college girls behind us and they attempted to teach him some chants and cheers.  We got to our seats, not an empty spot as far as the eye could see.  I was hoping for at least a little bit of wiggle room…

So there he was, my pint sized football fan perched atop his dad’s shoulders, mesmerized by the crowd, the noise, and the Thomas the Train toy he had with him.  There was certainly some squirming and whining, but for the most part he was an absolute champ.  When the boys got squirrely we passed them around for a change of scenery.  The older couple in front of us certainly got kicked a few times, but all of the people around us were beyond patient and actually quite complimentary of their behavior.  By the end of the 3rd quarter the kids had been confined long enough, so the other mama and I took the boys back to the tailgate while the dads finished the game.  The walk back was far less hectic and crowded than the walk there, so we let them run loose.  They probably had a thousand times more fun walking back to the tailgate than they did at the game.

I had a blast with him, and I know his dad was so happy to share that experience with him.  A group of my husband’s good friends from high school happened to be in town for the game as well, so I offered to stay home with Junior so he could hang out with the guys.  He said no way – he was taking Junior to his first football game.  My how things have changed…  Tailgates certainly have a different feel now that there are little ones running around.  On the way home after the game, Junior comatose in the back seat after his busy day, I told my husband that I didn’t really mind our G-rated pregame.  But I think they’re more tiring; chasing a 2 year old versus sitting in a chair and drinking?  You decide…

Hi, I’m June. June Cleaver. Nice to Meet You.

Everywhere I go I see young kids playing on phones, iPads, computers, you name it.  And they’re YOUNG, like 2 and 3 years old.  Makes me wonder what kids’ lives will be like in 10 or 20 years.  I feel pretty confident there are toddlers more proficient with an iPhone than I am.  That’s not saying much because I’m admittedly not a big technology geek.  I have what I need to make work and everyday life easy and efficient, by my standards at least.

I think I have a little bit of June Cleaver in me, meaning I’m a little more old fashioned with Junior than I am super cool and modern.  And no, you can squash the images of me wearing patent leather pumps and pleated dresses every day; that’s not what I mean…  But I can safely say that I favor the classic (boring?) forms of entertainment for my two year old.  I like to give him coloring books and Crayola crayons.  He has a Slinky.  He has a cute set of old fashioned wooden blocks and countless puzzles.  He got a Mr. Potato Head for his birthday last week and a set of Snoopy golf clubs; nothing computerized or touch screen.  He’s never, at least not with my permission, played with my phone and we don’t own an iPad.

I have nothing against these technological wonders – it’s the way of the world.  I just haven’t put them into my little boy’s hands yet.  Am I doing him a huge disservice?  Sometimes I worry about that.  A long time ago the kids who knew how to manipulate computers at a young age were considered nerds, but now I think it’s the opposite.  Is the new geek the kid who can’t work his way around a Mac with his eyes closed?    Ugh.  How can I help my son stay on top of everything there is to offer when I have no interest in bogging MYSELF down with it?

I assume that when Junior starts school it will be a different story.  I’ll be totally in tune with all of the current gadgets and trends because I won’t have a choice.  I want to make sure he doesn’t start that phase of his life two steps behind his peers, but I also want to balance his unavoidable relationship with technology with a sizeable dose of tree climbing, coloring, old fashioned book reading, and playing catch.  I want to make sure he knows how to tell time on a regular clock – one with 2 hands – and learns how to print properly.  Do they even teach kids how to write in cursive anymore, or are they sent straight to the keyboard?

Now before you start thinking our TV has rabbit ears and we’re without a dishwasher, I can promise you that’s not the case.  I’m just taking my time introducing Junior to all the “stuff” out there, while I get used to it all myself.  So until the day comes when we’re reading books on an iPad, we’ll keep flipping through classic Golden Books like “The Pokey Little Puppy” and “The Saggy Baggy Elephant”, my copies from many years ago.  To me, no touch screen will ever trump turning real pages with my kiddo on my lap.  I’m sure he won’t feel the same way in a couple of years though.

OK, it’s probably time for me to get off my soap box and go fix a hot lunch for Wally and the Beav….  I’ll try not to spill gravy on my pleats.