Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Junior High Jitters

Dear Bug,

You started junior high last week.

I spent so much time worrying about this - most of the summer, last year, years before that.

As quickly as you are growing, I still see you as my small boy, as someone I need to protect and shelter at all cost. When I would think about you starting junior high, all I could see was your shyness, your reserve, your struggle with new people and environments.

Additionally, it was impossible for me not to project my own experiences with junior high onto my concerns for you. Junior high was a miserable time for me, filled with social awkwardness, bullying, and isolation. I eventually found my core group of friends, but those years severely shook my self confidence. Junior high was just pure misery and I wished more than anything that I could protect you from that.

Add to that a new school that has a student population more than seven times larger than your elementary school, the more rigorous academic demands, the multiple classrooms and teachers, and your first time riding a school bus,  I was just a puddle of anxiety as the first day of school approached.

We did our best to prepare you. We toured the school several times over the summer, letting you locate the library, the gym, the cafeteria, try opening lockers. We attended every open house and orientation available.

And then the first day of school arrived, and off you went.

There have been many, many occasions in my life where I have realized that I worry too much.

This was one of them.

Despite my very best attempts, you have made the transition from elementary student to junior high student with ease.

Junior high appears to suit you. You were ready to leave behind elementary school. The fact that you grew a couple inches over the summer doesn't hurt, either.

In fact, I feel like I'm watching you blossom into a new and amazing person right in front of me. So much of your potential has bubbled up to the surface and become apparent.

I need to stop worrying. You are going to be just fine.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Solo Travels

When we found out that the boys' summer day camp ended with several weeks to go before school started, my initial reaction pretty much what it always is when I don't have an easy answer: Panic.

What would we do with them for two and a half weeks? Yes, they are getting older and with Bug being 12, I don't mind him being home alone for small amounts of time. But 11 week days home alone seemed a bit much. Especially because I knew that they would use all that time playing Minecraft and MarioKart and eating Cheetos.

After discussing several options, Hubster and I decided to send Bug and Monkey out to spent most of that time with my parents in rural Utah. (I would have sent Duck too, because he is waging an unholy war on kittens, furniture, houseplants, and my sleep at the moment, but it didn't seem kosher, letting a 20 month old fly with a 12 year old.)

First, I'd like to apologize to the Southwest agent I talked to on the phone. Southwest has a policy that children between the ages of 5-11, traveling without an accompanying passenger 12 and older, is an unaccompanied minor. If you read that carefully, according to Southwest policy, my children, flying by themselves for the first time, could not be booked as unaccompanied minors.  I may have lost my slim grasp on composure, as I was already anxious about my motion sick prone oldest child and my teaspoon sided bladder containing second child flying without me. I ask the poor women on the phone if Southwest expected my children to wander through a major Chicago airport alone. At that point she told me that I was more than welcome to get an escort pass. Instantly, I became a normal person again, but highly regretful of my behavior. I'm perfectly aware that it is not the fault of the person on the other side of the phone. Anyways, this is my public apology.


I found myself at an airport gate with Bug and Monkey, their bags carefully packed, snacks ready to go, travel papers in hand, and a constant reminder of proper travel etiquette and safety protocols pouring out of my mouth.

I stayed with them until their boarding passes were scanned and then, just like that, they walked away from me, down the ramp onto the plane.

The drive home from the airport was very quiet without the usually bickering coming from the back seats.

On the phone with Bug on their first day in Utah, I received a very quick run down on the day.

"When we got on the plane, it was very crowded. I think we were the last people on. There weren't any seats next to each other, so the flight attendant had to find us seats. We couldn't sit by each other!  Grandma wasn't at our gate when we landed, but I lead us to baggage claim without any problems! We didn't get lost once! And I stepped on a cactus!"

I instantly started empathizing about his rough day (and actually, my mom had been heading to their gate, they passed each other at some point, but my dad was waiting at baggage claim). When I said I was sorry it had been such a rough day, Bug replied, "What?  No! This is was best day ever!"

And that's how it was each day. They swam, and camped, and hiked mountains, and denied being home sick at all each time I called them.

When I met them at the airport at the end of their trip, they suddenly seemed so much older, much more than just the days they had been gone. After all, now they had traveled by themselves and had proven they could navigate an airport by themselves and had ridden horses by themselves and slept in a tent by themselves.

I didn't like how empty the house felt while they were gone or the constant little nagging feeling I carried in my chest as I went to sleep that I was forgetting something. I was so glad to have them home again.  But I'd do it again. In fact, this is going to become a standard part of our summers, sending the boys to visit family on their own.

They came back, laden with stories of adventure and friendship and connection, but also with a new sense of accomplishment and confidence.  Yes, we'll do this solo traveling again.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Our Disney Experience

When we started planning our Great Summer Road Trip, we knew that we had to make Disney World part of it. We felt that we couldn't drive all the way to Florida and not do the whole Disney thing. 

I went to Disneyland once when I was about 10 years old. We had taken Bug and Monkey to Disneyland when they were much littler (5 and 1 years old); neither of them really remembered it.

However, when I started planning the few days we planned to stay at Disney World, I also started having some mixed feelings.

First of all, it's expensive. Like really, really expensive. We calculated that our three nights, two and a half days at the Disney Resorts cost us more than the other 7 days of our trip combined.

Second, it was so overwhelming. Between park admissions with options for Hopper passes, and deciding which hotel to stay at, to deciding whether or not to purchase a meal plan, and scheduling FastPasses, it was absolutely the more stressful part of  planning our road trip.

Also, I worried about if my kids would actually like it. I worried that Bug was too old to be interested in any Disney related. I worried that Duck was too young to enjoy anything.

Initially, I had planned on staying at one of the more affordable Disney Resort hotels, such as the Pop Century or the All Star Movies Resort. But some friends who regularly visit Disney World recommended that we stay at a hotel along the Monorail course. They promised it would make transportation to the parks much easier, and would be worth the extra cost.

So I took a deep breath and made our reservation for the Polynesian Village Resort.

Let me just cut to the main point.  

We loved it. We loved everything about our time in Disney World. We would do it again. 

Here's what we loved (and Disney isn't paying me anything to say this - although I really wish they were):

We loved the Polynesian. Attention is paid to every detail so it felt like we were at a gorgeous hotel on a tropical island.  The hotel is just across the lagoon from the Magic Kingdom, so we could get to the park either by Monorail or by boat, both of which only took a few minutes. The pool, with it's volcano waterslide, was perfect. There was a small beach where they did campfires with s'mores in the evening. At night, they set up an outdoor screen and showed movies.  

My favorite memory may be sitting on beach chairs with my boys, watching Lilo and Stich outside. They paused the movie so we would watch the firework show at the Magic Kingdom, which we could see perfectly from the beach.

There was some construction going on at the Polynesian. We knew this when we booked our hotel. There was some extra noise associated with this (all in the day time) and some paths were closed, making it a little inconvenient to get to the on site laundry facilities. But absolutely no other complaints.

We loved the restaurants. We did breakfast at the Ohana Buffet one day, complete with visits from Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Goofy. The next day, we breakfasted at the Kona Cafe. The Tonga Toast, the enormous creation of deep fried, cinnamon sugared coated French toast stuffed with bananas, was amazing. Also, they were amazing about Duck's need for gluten free food. Each place we ate, they asked about food allergies. When we mentioned being gluten free, the chef would come and talk to us about options. They provided Duck with gluten free waffles that were delicious.

We loved the Monorail; I couldn't believe how quickly we were able to get from our hotel to the park. The ease of transportation allowed one of us to take Duck back to the hotel for his afternoon nap and   Our first day was cut short by a torrential rainstorm that caused most the rides to close down. Even our ponchos were little use against the downpour. We took our dissappointed children back to the hotel and changed everyone out of their soaked clothes, putting on pajamas at 4 pm. The rain stopped late in the evening. So at 9 pm, we headed back to the park and stayed until almost closing, enjoying going on all the rides in our pajamas. If we had had a 30-40 minute bus ride from one of the other hotels, this wouldn't have been possible.

We loved the Magic Bands. This is something new that Disney has started doing. These personalized wrist bands act as park admission tickets, FassPass access, and hotel door keys. My boys absolutely loved holding their bands up to the scanners on our FassPass rides, watching the scanners turn green, and then running on. We were also able to set it up so that Hubster and I could use our Magic Bands for purchasing items. This allowed us to buy food and souveniers in the parks, while leaving our wallets safely behind in our hotel room. 

We loved all the people who worked at Disney (or the "cast members" as Disney calls them.) They are paid to be nice to you, and they are. From housekeeping to waiters to ride attendants, everyone was just lovely.

We loved the parks themselves. We decided to visit Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom has all the rides I remember as a child and was incredibly nostalgic. And all three of my boys loved the rides. Duck loved It's a Small World and Peter Pan and Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but mostly the Carousel. Bug loved the Buzz Lightyear ride. Monkey surprised us all with his adventurous side and loved all the roller coasters, especially Space Mountain. 

Animal Kingdom was completely new for us. We like that it was less crowded and smaller than the Magic Kingdom, allowing us to do everything in less time. We loved the train and the safari rides and all the animals. 

Things I would have done differently:

I probably would have bought a meal plan. We ended up spending almost the same amount of money on food anyways, and we would have got the endless refillable drinks in the parks. Because with the heat and the running around, my boys were constantly thirsty.

I would have booked earlier. We booked a few weeks out and trying to make meal reservations was difficult. At the Polynesia, the only dinner reservation times left were after 8 pm. So we ended up not doing any dinners at restaurants at our hotel.

I would try to go during a less popular time. Especially at the Magic Kingdom, it was packed. We anticipated this and dealt with it just fine. But it would be nice to go again when it wasn't peak visiting season.

Overall, I feel like I can't say it enough: We loved our time at Disney. All my concerns that it was too touristy, too cliched, just too much, all those concerns amounted to nothing, because those couple days were some of my boys' favorite days of our entire trip. 

Mostly, I love the memories we made. From movies on the beach to nighttime roller coaster rides in our pajamas to the expressions on my children's faces.  This may have been the most expensive portion of our summer road trip, but those memories are priceless.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

20 Months

It's been several months since I've formally sat down and documented Duck's changes. Because that's what he does. He changes. On nearly a daily basis. Each day brings something new and leaves something else behind.

Already, we've left behind things that I love. The way he would smack his lips when he wanted something to eat. The way he held still for cuddles (instead of constantly trying to climb up me and sit on my head.) The way he clapped every time I finished singing him a song. And so many more little things that have already faded.

At 20 months, Duck...

Has figured out doors and door knobs. Not always quite tall enough to open them all, but can escape out the front door without difficulty.

Talks all the time. Favorite words are cheese, wa-wa (water), bike, walk, outside, daddy, and mama. And he says mama so crystal clear, I love it.

Won't say or even attempt to say either of his brothers' names. But adores them both so much.

Makes most animal sounds.

Loves books. Loves being read to, or reading to himself. Favorite books are Good Night Moon, Bear Snores On, Little Blue Truck, Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I Am A Bunny.

Makes a very loud and accurate siren sound anytime he sees anything remotely resembling a fire truck or a police car.

Loves swimming. He is always trying to get me to let go of him so he can swim by himself; no matter that the water is 3 feet deep and he can't actually swim.

Favorite foods are popcicles, apples, waffles (gluten free, obviously), watermelon, and handfuls of ranch dressing.

Will still let me rock him to sleep.

Will not be nice to the kittens.

Loves going on walks, especially in his stroller. He is still an excellent running partner.

Strongly dislikes brownies, potatoes, and eggs.

Is my blondest, busiest, noisiest, cuddliest baby ever.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Adventures in Gluten-Free Eating

In the month since Duck with diagnosed with celiac disease and we decided to go gluten free, I've learned so much.

Such as there probably won't be any gluten free bread that comes close to regular bread.

That gluten is hiding in everything - ice cream, hot dogs, and french fries.

And that eating out is a completely miserable experience.

But, seriously, it is worth it. Even when I totally ruin dinner and realize that I can't just go order a cheap pizza, or get takeout fried chicken.

Even after multiple failed meals, it's still worth it.

In the month since eliminating gluten, Duck has started talking. Really talking. He said a few things before, but at 18 months of age, said less than 10 words. Now, he says a new word almost every day. He's started using full phrases. He babbles. He sleeps better.

At first, I wasn't sure there was a correlation. It could have just been a coincidence. It may have been that the age of 19 months was just going to be Duck's time to talk. But as his speech continues to improve, I'm growing more and more convinced that his previous delay was related to his celiac disease. Now, the potential speech therapy appointment that our pediatrician was strongly suggesting is no longer needed.

Duck isn't gaining weight in the leaps and bounds that I had hoped for, but he is not losing weight any more.

So I know that it is worth it. That still doesn't make it easy.

The only thing I can compare my attempts at gluten free cooking to are my cooking attempts when I was first married. I tried so hard, so wanting all my meals to be wonderful and my new husband to be able to brag about the phenomenal cooking his wife did. But there were so many times, dinner would be painfully swallowed and bowls pushed back, still mostly full, always with the compliments of "Thanks so much for dinner."

That's how it is now.

I want gluten free eating to be easy for my family. Especially for the ones I'm making go gluten free when they don't have to.

I'm doing my best to recreate favorite family meals. I'm researching recipes and flour blends and meeting with nutritionists and reading product reviews.  I want all the effort to pay off.

The meal with the mac and cheese was probably the low point. Mac and cheese is a favorite meal for our boys and everyone was excited to have some for dinner. The kitchen was filled with the smells of delicious cheese sauce. All the enthusiasm died once we actually started to eat. The noodles had a strange texture. The sauce, on cooling even a little, became very gelatinous.

Monkey took one bite and then turned to me.  "Thank you very much for making this dinner, Mom, but may I please be excused?"

At least he has good manners.

We've had a couple other less than successful meals. The pizza was just ok. The biscuits were tolerable.  The muffins were mostly edible.

Thankfully, I've found a stellar pancake recipe.  It tastes just like my old pancake recipe and no one, not even my picky eating older boys has noticed the difference.

So that leaves one meal taken care of. Only 20 other meals a week to worry about.

There's still a long way to go before we feel comfortable with our new diet. But we are learning every day, not repeating any of the mistakes twice, and listening to Duck's newest found word, "Yucky!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Guilt

The baseline amount of mommy guilt I suffer from takes a huge upswing during the summer. 

Summer as a child was magic for me. Hot days stretching on forever, endless possibilities, lazy afternoons, the very real possibility of boredom.

After stressful school years and busy schedules, I want to be able to give my children the same summer experience.

But having two busy working parents doesn't allow for such things. The boys are off to day camps and other activities. We wake them up at the same early hour we woke them at during the school year. We hurry them through breakfast, dressing, and tooth brushing. We pack backpacks and lunch boxes. We rush from one activities to another, one appointment to another, always busy.

Summer just feels like any other time of the year, but with less spelling homework.

I love summer so much. I just hate that it has to be like this.

So I'm doing my best (probably in my typical overcompensating way) to make summer as summery as possible.

I let them eat inordinate amounts of popcicles and watermelon. I let them use water balloons every day. I try not to fuss when they leave the hose running after chasing each other with it. I let them wear their swim suits all weekend. I let them stay up way passed bedtime, either watching movies together or chasing fireflies or riding bikes.

Times like this, when I know that stay-at-home parents are able to spend limitless time with their children, makes me feel heart heavy.  I'm not about to quit my job, especially because I'm the only income and I actually really like my job. I just value my time with my children so much that I'm always eager to have more.

I like to think that we are still having a great summer. My boys are tanned, their blonde hair sun-bleached even lighter. They smile and rough house and stay up way too late. They smell every day of fruit juice and cut grass and sunscreen. 

Even seeing that the boys are having a good summer doesn't completely ease my guilt. I'm always thinking about how much better I maybe could have made it. Which is ridiculous. It should not be about having the perfect summer, or perfectly recreating what I had as a child. It should just be about enjoying what we are able to have.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Road Trip Reminiscing

We just got home from a summer road trip that covered 10 states, 3500+ miles, and 11 days.


(We missed a few welcome signs - naps happen.)

It sounds like it could have been exhausting. But on arriving home, I didn't feel the usual harried exhaustion from travel. I felt that I wanted that time to last longer. The five of us had logged 70 hours of drive time, and I kept wishing for more.

Months ago, when Hubster and I were able to have two weeks off at the same time over the summer, we knew that we had to do a great vacation. We threw around a lot of ideas: a week at a lakeside cabin, staying home and doing projects around the house, or a road trip to see parts of the country we hadn't. It didn't take long to decide that the road trip was the way to go.

When we told people our plans to spend all that time in our van with three children, the looks questioning our sanity were anticipated. However, all our boys are great travelers. Last year, Hubster taken the boys on a 3000 mile round trip to visit his family in Montana. We learned a lot about road tripping from that, and we were well prepared for this.

At some later point, I'll share my ideas for surviving days in the car with children.

But what I really what to share is all the wonderful memories we made on this trip.  Images and feels that are currently so sharp in my mind that I must write them down to keep them that way.

From our home in Iowa, we drove east, stopping at Indianapolis, then driving down through Lexington to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We stayed for a day at the Great Smoky Mountains. From there, we drove down through South Carolina, through Georgia, to Orlando. Two days at Disney World, and then we were on to two days in Sarasota. From there, we went north, through Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis, and back home.

We saw so much of our country we'd never seen before.  We made amazing memories.

Stopping at the Indianapolis Speedway - after it closed.

Standing outside Churchill Downs, being so tempted to take a tour so we could see the race track, but being detoured by a small meltdown from Duck and the promise of putt putt golf in Tennessee.

Playing putt putt golf down a hillside.

Coming around a bend in the road and seeing such breath taking views of the Great Smoky Mountains that I almost cried.

Hiking to waterfalls through forests thick with blooming rhododendrons.

Catching salamanders in streams with Monkey.

Stopping at a cemetery in Savannah, the trees covered with Spanish moss.

Walking over powder soft sand and seeing my boys faces as they saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

Bug and Monkey running out into the waves of the ocean, fully dressed, in their excitement to get in the water.

Arriving at Disney World and all the excitement associated with it.

 Riding Space Mountain with Monkey and discovering his fearless side.

Our day at Magic Kingdom cut short by a torrential rain storm. That evening, going back to the park at 9 pm in our pajamas and staying almost until closing.

Watching Disney movies outside by the pool at our Disney hotel with Bug, while Monkey went down the water slide 61 times (yes, he was counting.)

The water, clear water at Siesta Key Beach by Sarasota, along with the amazing white quartz sand that stayed cool under our feet.

Bug attempting to snorkel to see all the fish swimming by us, while Monkey ran in sheer panic away from any fish that came close to him.

Seeing alligators in a muggy Florida swamp.

Warm dinners under palm trees.

Arriving in Atlanta with initial plans to keep heading north in the morning, but deciding that taking our time and spending a day at the Georgia Aquarium was worth extending our trip. 

Not regretting that decision one bit.

Road side stand peaches in Georgia.

BBQ at a lovely park in Nashville.

Picnicking and skipping rocks at Land Between The Lakes in Kentucky.

 Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis.

Stopping at all the state Capitol Buildings.



Honking as we drove over state lines.

Handing the boys Skittles for memorizing state capitols and nicknames.

As we hit the Iowa state line and approached home, we were both grateful to at the thought of arriving home and sleeping in our own bed.  But Hubster and I already had the road atlas out, dreaming up future trips and adventures.  Looking over the maps, we realize that there is no way we can see all of it - and that just our own country. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't try.