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!


Distracted Driving

Since I started toting around my precious cargo I’ve really made an effort to cut down on the phone calls, emails, and texts while driving.  Did I quit cold turkey?  No…  But you’ll rarely find me typing if my car is in motion.  Will I send a quick text while sitting at a stoplight?  Sure.   I know that’s still not ideal, but it’s a heck of a lot better than most people.  Despite my best efforts to be a more responsible driver, I sometimes think a 2-year old in the backseat is far more distracting than a cell phone, loud music, or trying to juggle a cheeseburger and fries while on the interstate.

In the 7 minutes it takes me to get from Junior’s daycare to our house in the evenings, I typically hear this coming from behind me:  “Mommy, mommy, mommy!  What’s THAT?  What’s THAT?  I see MOON!  Where’s the MOON mommy?  Stop singing mommy.  Sing more mommy!  Play Elmo song mommy.  ELMO SONG!  I want pancakes for dinner mommy.  Mac-n-cheese mommy.  I want animal cookies for dinner mommy!  What’s that mommy?  Where’s the moon?  I can’t see the moon mommy!  Get UP get UP!  AAAAAAHHHHHHH, I want to get UP!  Need juice.  Mommy I want the umbrella!  UMBRELLA!!!  Get UP mommy!”

Normally it’s just spirited (nonstop) chatter, but every now and then he gets peeved and decides he’s going to whine.  Or cry.  Or yell.  That’s when I feel like a cell phone is nowhere near as distracting as a kid.  Or how about when they keep dropping their item of choice over and over and over?  3 out of 4 times you’re able to contort your body and reach it while still holding the wheel and paying attention to the road.  But there’s always going to be that one time when it’s just out of reach and you have to leave it there on the floor.  God help us all when that happens.

I will say that my tendency to drive aggressively has really toned down though; well, at least when Junior’s strapped in with me.  I got my first speeding ticket not too long ago – first one EVER – and go figure it was in a school zone.  I wasn’t going terribly fast, but it was the 2nd week of school and that policeman was tucked in a driveway right across the street just waiting to pick people off.  During the summer months the speed limit on that road is 15 mph higher than it is during the school year, and I hadn’t re-trained myself to slow down yet.  I deserved it, and I’m far more conscious of my speed now because of it.  Unlike the a-hole last night who rode my tail and flashed her beams at me because she felt I was going too slowly.  For the record I wasn’t driving slowly; she just wanted to go 100 and couldn’t get by me because of other cars.  Sorry lady, I’m not going to drag race with you in your minivan.  Normally I would have done my best to box her in with the other cars, but I let her zoom past me and get a glimpse of my favorite finger.  She can drive like a creep all she wants; one day there will be a trooper waiting to pull her over.  I bet she’ll be texting when he gets her too.  Not me.  I’ll be singing Old MacDonald and trying to mop up spilled milk.  Texting is probably safer.  OMG, LOL, TTYL…

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…

Patience is a Virtue…?

After a rain-soaked “mini vacation” last week I was actually ready to head home and get back to normal.  My golden plans of relaxing at the beach while my parents entertained Junior at their house were washed away in the downpours that plagued us for 3 straight days.  Instead, we all banded together to figure out ways to entertain an almost-2 year old in persistently horrible weather.  We made the best of it and even managed to spend a few hours at the beach on our next-to-last day.  On Sunday I packed up the car and the two of us headed back to (dry) reality; and that’s where the fun stopped.

Motherhood has proven to me that yes, I actually do have patience buried deep inside of my body.  It’s selective, but nonetheless it does exist.  How do I know that?  Because I used every single molecule of it during our 4.5 hour ride home.  As I write this, almost 24 hours later, my head is still pounding; and I even had 2 Excedrin as a mid-morning snack.

My tot is usually pretty good in the car as long as he’s fed, gets a little sleep, has Elmo playing, and has access to a few books or toys.  I assumed this trip would be no different since we left after lunch, right at nap time, had the DVD player plugged in, and a pile of books to his left.  Well you know what they say about people who assume…  Their ears start to bleed when their toddler defies the odds and screams off and on for 2+ hours.  Why?  Let me paint a picture.

First, he refused to sleep after watching a round of Elmo, even though he was totally glazed over.  He cried that hollow, deep, exhausted cry for 30 minutes until he finally put himself into a coma.  Whew, an hour of peaceful silence.  He woke up and I was prepared to start Elmo over for another 45 minutes of uninterrupted driving.  Nope.  Hollow scream returns.  Why?  His fingers hurt.  You see, Junior took a tumble on his grandparents’ pebble driveway and sort of shredded two knuckles.  Not a terrible injury, but I have no doubt it hurt like hell whenever he bumped his hand.  So I’m guessing as he woke up he whacked his knuckles on something, which reminded him of his boo-boo, which prompted him to keep poking the boo-boo, which caused him to scream bloody murder.  So I pulled over, found a couple of Band-Aids in the glove box and tried to put a barrier on the wounds.  He’d lost his mind by this point.  Blonde curls soaked with sweat, forehead splotchy, crocodile tears, right hand suspended in the air as he tried desperately not to move it.  Poor kiddo; once he got into his fit he just didn’t know how to stop.  So we sat in the parking lot of a closed body shop somewhere off of I-95 where he sucked down a juice box, expressed his disdain for Elmo and all snacks, and sighed heavily as he slowly calmed down.

OK, off we go.  Elmo is back in his good graces, as are his Goldfish crackers and fwoot pouches.  The knuckles are bandaged but still tender so there are periodic outbursts, especially when he wasn’t able to grab onto his sippie cup with the injured hand.  Or when he decided that the one item he wanted to play with was the one item out of his reach and mine.  “FLASH CAAARRRRDDDDS!!!!!!!!!!!”  And there it was again, the deep, demonic wail of a toddler who was sick of being strapped in a car seat and couldn’t get to his toy of choice. 

We were 45 minutes from home so I refused to pull over again.  I decided to focus on other things to try and drown out the noises from behind me.  But as my patience wore more and more thin I started focusing on things that were just as frustrating as his choppy tantrums.  My sunglasses were pinching my head.  My car keys hung just low enough to constantly brush against my right knee.  My contact lenses kept drying out.  The adaptor thing that the DVD player plugs into made an awful whirring noise right beside me in the console.  Now I was beyond annoyed and turning up the music only made Junior fuss louder. 

Eventually we made it home, and he reverted back to his sweet self just in time for Daddy to get home.  Me?  I literally just popped 2 more Excedrin.  The after-effects of that road trip rival any hangover I had in college.