Thursday, December 20, 2012

Disney '12

On our first full day at Disney, I set my alarm for 6 to go running with my friend Betsey, who was visiting with her family from St. Louis. I had just put on my running shoes when Jacob woke up and came over to me crying -- his ears were just throbbing and he was in terrible pain. He'd had a bit of a cold, and that and the landing into Orlando the night before combined to cause big trouble. I plied him with Motrin, texted Betsey to cancel our run, and pulled out the Guest Services directory to check out the magical medical care options. It looked like there was a shuttle service to urgent care, and also an option of "in-room medical care." I decided to just walk down to the front desk to ask for more details.

I got to the front desk and the two women working there greeted me cheerfully (magically!) and I explained my situation -- child with probable ear infection, short visit, desire to get problem treated quickly so as to minimize disruption to vacation, etc. etc. First I asked about the shuttle/urgent care option and they told me a little about that. And then I asked about the in-room medical care option that I had read about, and one of the clerks said:

"Oh. That's very expensive."

Now granted, I had just rolled out of bed and was wearing pajamas/running clothes and sporting matted hair and no makeup, but was it really so bad that they wouldn't even quote me a price?

So I said, "I doubt very much that we'll use it, but we just have a short trip here so I'm trying to get all of our options on the table, because frankly each day in Walt Disney World is also expensive, so from a strictly economic perspective, if the in-room option would help us avoid missing a full day of our already-paid-for vacation, it might ultimately be our least expensive option."

So first clerk (Kim) said "gosh, so few people use this because it's very expensive, isn't it Sandie?" And Sandie replied "yes, it's VERY expensive!"

Something about the way Kim and Sandie tagged-teamed in communicating the expensiveness caused my mind to fly to the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts goes shopping:

And it was all I could do to stop myself from pulling a Julia and yelling: "HEY I GOT MONEY TO SPEND HERE!!" but as I get older I really do try to refrain from blurting out things that are likely to seem weird or confusing to others just because it would totally amuse me.

Eventually I was able to beat the price for in-room medical care out of them (hint: less than the cost of a day at Disney World for a family of 5, as I suspected), but Kim, Sandie and I hatched a plan that involved me calling our pediatrician's office when it opened to see if I could convince them to call in some prescriptions and avoid the need for any kind of Orlando doctor's visit at all! I filled out some forms for them to fax to the local pharmacy and headed back upstairs.

{To summarize the rest of Jacob's ear saga, which can't possibly be interesting to anyone but me: we went to the Magic Kingdom that day and Motrin carried him through until late afternoon, when he started to feel really bad. So David and Jacob went back to hotel while girls and I stayed on at the Magic Kingdom for a couple of hours. When we got back to the hotel, I took one look at him and knew he was flat-out sick. Turns out our pediatrician would only call in numbing drops unless he had a fever, which he did not when I called in the morning but did by early evening. So I told David that we had no choice but to take him to urgent care. I think of a trip to urgent care as easily killing a half a day or more, and I assumed that it would be even worse in a place swarming with kids, but it turned out to be WAY less of a production than it is here at home. David was given a shuttle time, had only a short wait in the waiting room, and was seen pretty much immediately by the doctor when they got into an exam room. They came back with a diagnosis of a double ear infection and an antibiotic. Jacob took his first dose before bed that night, and within an hour of his second dose the next morning, he was as good as new}.

Other than than minor bump in the road, the trip went off without a hitch, and everyone had a great time. A defining feature of our last trip to Disney World was Caroline's disabling fear of large-costumed characters, so we were curious to see how she'd handle things this go-round. Our first test was breakfast with Minnie, Donald and Goofy that first morning in our hotel. The result? She still doesn't like them, but she can at least hold herself together. David didn't need to remove her from the premises like last time, for example. So no photos of Caroline with the characters, but she was able to just ignore them and skittishly eat her Mickey-shaped waffle. My baby's growing up - sniff.

Here are Jacob and Elizabeth at breakfast with Donald:

At the Magic Kingdom that morning, David and Jacob took off to ride some roller coasters, and I took the girls onto Elizabeth's favorite ride -- the Mad Tea Cups, of all things.

Then onto Caroline's favorite ride, Aladdin's Magic Carpet (or "Magic Carpet Dumbo," as David calls it):

The parks were pretty decked out for Christmas, which I loved:

We booked the trip too late to get a reservation to eat in Cinderella's castle, but we managed to hit the princess breakfast in Epcot:

Another thing I'll remember about this trip is fidgeting, and a lot of it. Touching the ropes when waiting in line, getting from point A to point B by spinning or dancing, getting all up into the personal space of the people in front of them because they're just not paying attention, etc. I felt like we took up way more space than our numbers would justify, so we were constantly trying to reign that in. Ah, childhood!! Here are Jacob and Elizabeth not keeping their hands to themselves at breakfast, this was typical:

Note that the hair accessory that Elizabeth chose that day was a stuffed Goofy with magnetic paws.

Watching the fireworks:

One new thing the kids got into this time that they hadn't done on their last trip was pin trading. The cast members who collect and wear pins happily trade with pin-trading kids, and my kids thought this was a lot of fun.

I think the most fun we had was the night we went to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The crowds were light and we just walked on to most rides. We learned that while Caroline may be afraid of walking oversized characters, she is definitely not afraid of thrill rides -- she rode Big Thunder Mountain twice and wanted to ride Space Mountain (we told her she was too small). The parade and fireworks were festive. I think everyone just had fun being there at night.

At some point I decided that the one thing I really wanted from this trip was a picture of the kids with Goofy Claus to serve as our annual Santa Claus photo. David texted me at one point when we had separated at Mickey's party to tell me that Goofy Claus was cutting the rug at the Tomorrowland Character Dance Party. The girls and I high-tailed it to Tomorrowland, but alas, Goofy was gone, replaced by Chip and Dale. The guy at the door (bouncer?) told us that they rotate every 45 minutes, so Goofy would be back. I started grilling David for more details of what he'd seen to try to figure out if it was worth it to come back:

C: So he's just out there on the dance floor?

D: Yes, he's just out there dancing.

C: But is he posing for pictures?

D: Well, it's a dance party.

C: I'm just trying to figure out if I can get my Santa Claus picture.

D: Look, it's like a nightclub. I guess there is nothing to stop us from going up and pawing at him.

In the end we found out that Goofy Claus would be making a proper appearance at Animal Kingdom, where we planned to go the next day, so there was no need to accost him on the dance floor. At Animal Kingdom the next day, I was the first in line for Goofy a solid 30 minutes before he was scheduled to make his appearance while David and the kids wandered around Dinoland. I think my efforts paid off.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


We just got back from Disney World. When we told the kids about my cancer diagnosis back in the summer, we promised them that we would celebrate with a trip to Disney World once my surgery and any treatments were over. This was that trip. But something else that motivated me to plan this trip was the shattered sense of limitless time that came with my diagnosis. Even though my prognosis is excellent, I lost any sense of security that I have infinite time with my children, any sense of a guarantee that we have years and years together in which to do all of the things we want to do. So "wouldn't it be fun to go to Disney World around Christmas someday?" suddenly became "we're going to Disney World next month!"

So we were in Disney World, surrounded by sweet, innocent, wide-eyed children at the mecca for sweet, innocent, wide-eyed children, when we heard about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. My phone had run out of battery power early in the day on Friday so I didn't have access to the news, but at one point David asked me where Newtown was, because there had been a shooting there. But it wasn't until we were back in the hotel when we learned of the magnitude of the horror. It just hits so close to home on so many levels -- as the parent of elementary-aged kids, as a Connecticut native. Connecticut is a small state, and when you grow up there it feels like you "know" all of the towns much more than in any other place I've lived, just because none of them are much more than an hour away. Newtown is only 20 minutes from my hometown, and I immediately thought about my college friends from Newtown. Leann. Dan. My mother has friends with children who teach at Sandy Hook. My friend Maureen sent us an email to let us know that Sean, who accompanied her on the piano whenever she sang at 10:00 mass, has a son at Sandy Hook. Sean played the piano in our wedding. His son, Brendan, was okay, but they lost many close friends on Friday, including the school psychologist.

To be at Disney World this weekend was to experience moments of great joy with my children, followed by that "punched in the gut" feeling when thinking about the families who had these kind of moments with their own children permanently and savagely taken from them.

On the plane ride home, my own beautiful kindergartner fell asleep on my lap with her ridiculously oversized Disney World lollipop still in her mouth:

I stroked her soft baby cheeks and wondered where she got that scratch and counted her eyelashes and just cried.

I cried again when I saw the armed police officer outside our elementary school when I dropped the kids off this morning, even though his presence brought me comfort.

Time with my children, experiences with my family: one gift from my diagnosis was great clarity, and these are the only things that matter to me. We might not have tomorrow -- that is of course the reality for all of us, although a cancer diagnosis will help drive the point home. But you know what? Cancer happens. Accidents happen. But a massacre of babies at an elementary school? THIS CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Elfin style

The elves came a few days ago and got right down to their usual elf antics. The first night they worked on a Christmas village jigsaw puzzle:

I had never seen this puzzle before, so apparently some kind of elf magic carried it into the house. It happens. Then the next night they got into the mops and brooms and rigged up some kind of elf obstacle course in the dining room.

I have a dream that someday, the elves will get into the mops and brooms and actually use them to mop and sweep.

And then LAST night, they somehow got a hold of the Video Star app on the iPad and made this über-bizarre music video: 

The first time I saw the original Gangnam Style, I told the friend who emailed it to me that I had no earthly idea what I had just seen, and I felt exactly the same way when I woke up and saw this.  We are invited to a Gangnam-style dance-off on New Years' Eve, so I guess I better hurry and figure it out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nutcracker weekend

Elizabeth danced in her first Nutcracker last weekend. She had been rehearsing since September and did such a great job -- we are so proud of her! She was a candle angel:

She had so much fun with this and wants to do it again next year. Our family has gone to see the Nutcracker for the past several years, so I think it was really fun for her to actually perform in it! Here she is backstage:

Our whole family went to see her perform in the Saturday night show. I volunteered to work backstage during her second performance at the Sunday matinee. As a volunteer with no discernible talents (like sewing, for example) I was assigned to be a generic "chaperone;" i.e. babysitter. You know, little boys kind of have the reputation of being wilder than little girls, but whenever I'm around a large group of little girls, they are totally insane. Is it me? During my gig, I needed to track down ice for one little girl (head bonk incurred during the course of flinging herself around) {as an aside: you should never do anything with a large group of children without knowing exactly where to find (1) a bathroom, and (2) ice}. I also had to scrub off eye shadow from the cheeks of a little 5 year old who tried to apply her own makeup and kind of looked like she'd been in a bar brawl. And then another little girl (a cherub) started sobbing upon being falsely accused of sitting in the seat that another cherub had been sitting in. I had watched the superb performance the night before, and seriously had NO IDEA that there was such drama going on backstage. I guess props to the directors are in order!

Right when we needed a little comic relief, Mother Ginger came to visit:

This was really such a fun experience for Elizabeth (and the rest of us!)

Friday, December 7, 2012

I'm handing you no blarney, the likes you've never known

Yesterday Amanda and I were in my garage painting a bed (that's another post) and listening to tunes, including some Christmas music, when she asked me about my favorite Christmas songs. I couldn't answer her question on the spot, but in the hours that followed my favorites started popping around in my brain like hot corn kernels. In no particular order:

Do They Know It's Christmas, Band Aid. Christmas+the 80s+a recording studio full of Brits = the highest form of bliss.

All I Want for Christmas is You, Mariah Carey. I'm not a Mariah fan, but I love this song. If you don't like this version, you probably don't like puppies, rainbows or ponies either.

It's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), U2. So much angst, Bono, and at Christmas! I hope she finally came home.

I love Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker from start to finish. The Chinese Tea dance is one of my favorites:

Little Drummer Boy (Peace on Earth), Bing Crosby & David Bowie. The dialogue at the beginning is kind of cheesy in that "Paul, I think I told you, I'm a lover, not a fighter" kind of way, but it should be obvious by now that a little cheese will never deter me from liking something.

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. Gives me chills every time. Chills I tell you!

Followed closely by For Unto Us a Child is Born, Handel's Messiah.

Shifting gears, we have Blue Christmas by Elvis. Elvis's Christmas Album was a mainstay of my childhood, and for me it's just not Christmas until Elvis starts crooning (sorry, I tried to find young Elvis but could only find 70s Elvis on You Tube.)

Ah, but here's young Elvis singing Peace in the Valley, which I might even love more than Blue Christmas!

Gabriel's Message, Sting. This is a beautiful song, and I don't think it's ever gotten the play that it deserves.

Ave Maria, Harry Connick Jr. Harry takes his sweet time getting into it, but I love his version.

Do You Hear What I Hear?, Whitney Houston. Oh, Whit. That Bobby Brown really did a number on you.

O Holy Night, Josh Groban.

Carol of the Bells. Amanda introduced me to this version by the a capella group Straight No Chaser:

Christmas in Killarney, Bing Crosby. I pretty much want to live inside this song.

That's a good start. There are more, many more. I'll be adding them as I remember.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

o christmas tree(s)

Ever since we moved into this house 5.5 years ago, we've talked about putting up a second Christmas tree in our sunroom. The conversation usually went like this:

C: We should really put a second tree up in our sunroom.
D: Yeah.

But we never did. Because let's face it, decorating the house for Christmas is kind of a chore. There, I said it. Sure, I have the same Norman Rockwellian vision that everybody does of all of us drinking hot cocoa while Christmas carols play in the background and we take turns picking out that perfect branch for a favorite ornament, but the scenes where the kids nearly come to blows at the Christmas tree lot over which tree to pick and a coin flip is finally needed to settle it, or where an ornament bites the dust roughly every three minutes, are conspicuously absent from Norman's paintings. But once it's actually done, I could swear that it was nothing but hot cocoa and carols for us -- that's the magic of Christmas!

Anyway, we got married in November, and David informed me right before our first Christmas that he preferred large colored lights on the Christmas tree. He waited until after we were married to tell me that. Because I loved him, I acquiesced, and even went so far as to go into a Walmart in December to procure said lights. That's love. And ever since, we've had big honking lights on the Christmas tree. They've totally grown on me over the years, but when we moved into this house and suddently had a big empty room off the back, I saw my opportunity for a Christmas tree with dainty white lights. And this was the year that we stopped talking and started doing. So now we have party in the front:

Business in the back:

I went all white and gold on the business Christmas tree. I love it. But I love the party tree too. And the kids have cute little tabletop tinsel trees from Target in their rooms, so there's really a tree for every mood and personality type in our house this year.