Spring!

Spring officially started last month on the calendar, but it was just an arbitrary day. Now, however, the severe weather pattern has begun and everything has actually turned green and bloomed. Now spring is actually here.

Fields of wildflowers. A canopy of green trees. Warm sunshine that burns away the weight on my spirit. Spring is here.

I actually really love winter. So many celebrations and good excuses to curl up under a blanket. It can be stressful, too, but so can a lot of other things throughout the year. But, wow, there is something about spring that makes me feel like I can breathe again–which is ironic considering my seasonal allergies.

Spring also brings with it other things I enjoy. My son started his first season of baseball. This week he played in his first game. He had an absolute blast. I’m always so careful not to push him into things just because I like them, but when he asks to try something new I try not to say no if we can afford it. He gets so excited about every practice and this week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face when the game ended. Trying to get him calm enough to go to bed after that was a lost cause, but it was worth it to see the joy exuding from his whole body. I hope it remains just as fun and exciting by the end of the season in June.

Warmer weather–that will be unbearably hot soon enough, but we’ll enjoy it while it lasts–also means more afternoons at the park, trips out to the lake, picnics in the sunshine, grilling out, lightning bugs, and all the gorgeous colors nature has to offer.

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Spring is most definitely here.

Full Circle

I registered my oldest son for kindergarten yesterday. On the surface, it’s just some forms to fill out, some documents to hand over, and a preliminary oral exam to assess his readiness. It’s not a big deal at all. I had already completed the forms online, so when I showed up to hand over our documents and have him tested it took less than fifteen minutes before we were back out the door and on our merry way.

But that’s on the surface.

Emotionally, this was a big day for me. My son is ecstatic. He loves school. He loves to learn. Reading is his love language. And when we got to the school he’ll attend next year and saw they had not one but two playgrounds, he was pleased as punch. I put on a brave face.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so excited for him. I’m excited for me, too. We survived the preschool phase together and are moving into “big kid” territory. Part of me was ready to do a happy dance right along with him as he finished his test and was told he was more than ready for kindergarten and they couldn’t wait to see him in the fall. Big kid school will be a new adventure and we’re both thrilled.

Or, one and a half of us are.

Half of me still wants to hold him tight and keep him with me. He’s my first baby. I’m not ready for him to be a big kid yet. I was fine with him playing Little League. Soccer and baseball are fun for me to watch and I’m there the whole time. I was fine when he started going to preschool two days a week. This is different somehow. I can’t explain it. I did my best to prepare him for this milestone, but now that he’s reached it, I’m terrified. And happy. And sad. And proud.

Kindergarten is complicated.

My own mother died when I was very young. One of the vivid memories I still have of her is of a day when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast before school and found her eating cold pizza and drinking a Coca-Cola. The look on her face screamed, “Eat your cereal and don’t judge me.” To be fair, I was the youngest of four children and my mother was a teacher, so school mornings were always chaos. I have no idea what had happened that morning before I came into the kitchen, but whatever it was, I’m certain it justified her choices.

This morning, I got my children dressed and double checked that my documents were in order and everything I needed for my other errands was ready to go. Then I opened the fridge to see to my own breakfast needs and saw a box of leftover pizza. It was like a message from my mother.

Maybe that sounds crazy. Maybe it is. But that’s how I felt. It was like she was speaking to me this morning, telling me to calm down. It will be okay. This is normal. And if you still needed to fortify yourself before facing the world, a little cold pizza couldn’t hurt. Though, I did at least warm it up.

When we got to the school, the teacher who came to greet us and help with my son’s readiness test was the mother of a girl on his soccer team from last fall. Once again, it felt like a message. Calm down. He’ll be fine and so will you.

It was still an emotional rollercoaster of a day, I won’t lie. But I realized that life has come full circle. Now I’m the mom eating leftover pizza for breakfast before heading to school. And maybe my son will remember that. Maybe one day, when he’s struggling with something, he’ll open the fridge door and be comforted by the sight of leftover pizza. I was.

Thanks, Mama.

St. Jude Trike-A-Thon

Today is a special day for my kids. Their preschool is participating in the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon and today is the big day! Together they have raised hundreds of dollars for St. Jude, and along with the rest of their preschool, the overall donation from the event will be in the thousands.

It starts with them learning about bicycle safety. Then they get to bring their bikes, trikes, or other riding toys to the school and spend a part of the school day doing laps on the “track” in the parking lot with their friends. They have an amazing time and we get to talk about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and generosity.

Did you know that families never receive a bill from St. Jude? Not for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Everything is covered by grants, donations, and special fundraisers throughout the year. My husband has run in the St. Jude Half-Marathon, the 10K, and the 5K. And last year my oldest son was old enough to participate in the Kid’s 1-miler. While they have enjoyed the races each time, that’s not the reason they do it. The fact that the families at St. Jude can focus on their children without the added anxiety over what the final bill will be is huge. Did you also know that St. Jude freely shares its discoveries? Every stride made in research and treatment, every child saved at St. Jude, provides knowledge used the world over to save others.

We don’t live far from Memphis, where St. Jude is located. We know people who work there, we know people who work for their partner organizations, and, yes, we know families who have spent months praying for miracles. It’s not a concept for us, but a concrete reality.

The Trike-A-Thon at my children’s school is not the only one. There are others held all around the country on different dates. Schools can actually find information about hosting their own Trike-A-Thon on the St. Jude website.

My kids are so excited to have fun riding bikes at school. But they know–at least the older one does–why they’re doing it. They are still collecting donations even today! Together they have raised more than enough money to feed a St. Jude patient family for an entire week. I couldn’t be prouder.

I am well aware that not everyone can donate, or participate for that matter. But I’m grateful that my kids get to be a part of this event. They are learning about generosity in a way that is fun and age appropriate. I can’t put a price on that.

Imagination and Mess

My living room has toys all over it. I don’t pick up toys after my sons unless there are extenuating circumstances (or it just really starts to bug me). I will leave the toys where they are until the kids get home from school and can pick them up for themselves. But as I look around, I’m finding traces of their imaginative exploits and can’t help but smile.

  • A rolled up piece of construction paper, a shark, a dinosaur, a lion, a crocodile, and a book about animals. They went on an “expedition” together. The construction paper was their magical map that could show the whole world or just the area where they stood. They were searching for animals who were “living free and in the wild”–a phrase they learned from the Wild Kratts, who also star in their animal book. At different times my living room was North America, my second floor was South America, my kitchen was Africa, etc. They went all around the world together with minimal sibling bickering.
  • Black Widow and a train tunnel. The Avengers saved the day again, though they may have sustained some losses. At least Black Widow has both her legs. The last time I found her on the floor she was a double amputee. It seems the reattachment surgery went well.
  • A big Lego firetruck, an 18-wheeler, and several loose legos. They’re the big sized legos because my younger son is too young for the small ones. Those are hidden away so my older son can play with them while little brother naps. But they still play with the big ones together. I don’t know what buildings were saved or demolished, possibly both, but the evidence of a great adventure abounds.
  • Books. My older son can read, and when he’s feeling generous he’ll read to his younger brother.
  • Pieces of the preschool “build your own robot” set. They built a robot together. It moved, so they chased it and laughed until they ran it into the wall too many times and it broke apart again (it snaps back together, so it’s not broken). I don’t know why only one piece is left. Let’s hope it’s because they already put the others away.
  • Bobba Fett wearing a football helmet. If I remember correctly he was matched up against Chewbacca. I don’t know who won.
  • Pages from the Star Wars day calendar someone gave them. It’s a miracle those are at least gathered in a pile because they were being thrown about the room so the boys could dance through the “paper storm”.
  • The hat from my brother’s old Navy uniform. They protected the “high seas” today.

My sons are blessed with imagination. There are days when I look at the mess that gets left behind after one of their “adventures” and I get irritated. I grumble about dodging their debris and feeling like the walls are closing in. But there are other days when I look around and am so grateful. I’m grateful for the generosity of our friends and family who are part of the reason they have so many things to play with. I’m thankful that they like to play together–even if I have to break up an argument with some regularity. I’m thankful they both are gifted with imaginations that let them travel the world and save the day.

And then I look at my workspace. Blankets, notebooks, pens, bookmarks, books. Even on my computer, my bookmarked sites are nothing but organized chaos. There are separate folders for inspiration and research for different manuscripts, workout programs, music lessons, podcasts and more. It’s my own writer mom version of toys strewn about because I was too busy creating new worlds to worry about keeping it all tidy.

Sometimes feeding your imagination is messy and that’s okay.

Blind Date Update

My weekend did not go according to plan, but it went awry in all the right ways. Instead of getting to enjoy my blind date with a book, I only got as far as opening the package to reveal the title, author, and book jacket synopsis (more on that later).

I didn’t get to read a book cover-to-cover, but my five-year-old knows how to play Monopoly now. Well, he knows how to play both Star Wars Monopoly and Disney Monopoly. He has no idea what Park Place is. Still. He not only understands the game, but he can also win against adults–provided someone is there to help him add or subtract the “really big numbers”. He’s five. I’m still impressed.

My one-year-old mastered the “crying as you hit your knees in the mud Shawshank Redemption style” level of melodrama, which is also fun. No, really. It’s really hard to be mad at someone who is throwing a tantrum when you’re laughing at their thespian prowess. Not everyone can conjure crocodile tears and channel Marlon Brando screaming “STELLA!” after being told they couldn’t go play “ball ball” (kickball) with the big kids (preteens).

Anyway, the point is that sometimes life is unpredictable. I had a great weekend with my kids even if it didn’t look anything like the weekend I had originally envisioned. I’m still hoping to read my book this week, but I’m not going to stress myself out over it. Yet. The due date is still far enough in the future that I’m optimistic about my levels of free time.

Speaking of my book. Y’all. It’s a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice. I’m kind of excited because this is either going to be wonderfully delightful, or so awesomely bad that I’ll get several rant posts out of it. I’m hoping for delightful, of course. I love Jane Austen and her sense of humor that pokes fun at frivolity while also making us enjoy it. I have read all of her fully completed published works. I have read several retellings of both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility over the years and enjoy about 80% of them, so I have a good feeling about this. Side Note: Does anybody know of a retelling of Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey? Even Emma got an update in the 1990s with Clueless, but the Park and the Abbey seem to have been left behind (I’m not complaining, those weren’t my faves by any means).

On a heavier note, over the weekend severe flooding and tornadoes wreaked havoc in parts of my state. If you pray, please keep those affected in your prayers. The Mississippi River will continue to rise for the next two weeks and is expected to crest at its fourth highest level on record (and for that to happen in March before the snow up north melts means we could be in for a dangerously wet summer). That means more flooding for a lot of people, and some in lower elevations have already been evacuated. Some farms have already been lost for the year. Expect the price of corn and soybeans to go up this fall. It also means a more difficult time getting supplies to people who desperately need them after tornadoes tore through towns destroying houses, schools, and anything else in their wake.

I am grateful that I have not personally been affected by the severe weather, but my heart goes out to those who were not so lucky. We will do what we can to help shoulder your burden.

Disney Cruise Tidbits

Everybody is writing about Valentine’s Day today, but since I did that already this week I decided to be different. And since I had no actual topic planned, but have talked to two people today about their plans for a Disney Cruise and I’m in the Disney mindset, that’s what today’s post will be about!

There are a lot of things you might not know about Disney Cruise Line. There are a lot of blogs, books, videos, etc all by people who have been on more cruises than me (I’ve only been on one, so that would be pretty easy) that can tell you anything you want to know. But I still thought I’d throw in a few pieces of trivia of my own.

Disclaimer: My experience with Disney Cruise Line (DCL) involves the Fantasy on a 7-Day Western Caribbean sailing. Different ships or itineraries may vary.

  • There is a nursing mother’s room in It’s a Small World Nursery. If you look up information about the onboard nursery for children 6 months-3 years old, you’ll probably find pictures of the playroom, the hours of operation, and even information about the sleeping room where your child can nap or sleep while you are doing your own thing. What surprised me while I was checking out the nursery during Open House (yep, I gave it a once over before my child was scheduled to be there) was that beyond the quiet/sleeping room is a nursing mother’s area. That’s not something that I found in the information available online about the nursery and I feel like it should be. If you are a nursing mother and want to be able to come into the nursery area, nurse your child, and go back out again, there is a space for you to comfortably do so. You even get an adult-sized chair (that’s a major score in the nursery where everything is designed to make your little one(s) feel large and in charge). Side Note: The first time you show up to the nursery, they give you a drawstring bag to use as a diaper bag and it’s yours to keep when the cruise ends.
  • There are religious services on the ship for those who would like to attend. During our sailing, while it was not advertised on the schedule of events, there was an interdenominational Christian service and a Jewish service. There might have been others of which I’m not aware. As I said, I did not notice the services in the schedule of events, but was made aware of the services via a Facebook page for people who would be sailing with me.
  • Entering/Leaving the Oceaneer’s Club (for kids ages 3-12) is the most fun you’ll ever have while washing your hands. That sounds ridiculous, I know. But seriously. The handwashing station has two slots for your hands. When you place your hands in, the motion sensor cuts on the jets which shoot water and soap at your hands from a multitude of angles. When the timer stops, an electronic readout informs you that your wash cycle is complete and you may exit the station. It’s fun, it’s water efficient, and it’s clean because nobody has to touch a faucet.
  • There is a place for you to do laundry. If you are worried you didn’t pack enough, or if your kids (or spouse!) spills something on their clothes at dinner, have no fear. There is a laundrette on every deck. There is a fee involved, but it’s not as much as a checked bag fee at the airport if you’re trying to pack in carry-on luggage!
  • There is a schedule of character appearances each day, but they’ll still surprise you. Each day, your schedule of events, or Navigator, will tell you where and when you can see which characters throughout the day. However, in addition to those appearances, you might just bump into someone not on the official schedule. For instance, when we took my younger son to play in Andy’s Room (from Toy Story) during family playtime, we were pleasantly surprised (read: I was giddy) to be joined by Belle. She stayed for over an hour and I have a multitude of pictures of my favorite princess building block towers with my toddler. There are also impromptu dance parties in the atrium where characters will show up to shake their tail feathers (or their tails!) with anybody who wants to join in.
  • If it rains, Disney has a back-up plan. One of our days at sea, a storm blew threw drenching the ship in rain and bring 8-12 foot swells. My sea legs weren’t up to the task, but the crew certainly was. Since the pools, water slides, sports deck, and other outdoor areas were getting drenched, the crew put on an extra show, added more movies to the theater line-up, hosted extra trivia game challenges, started another dance party, and added more characters to the day’s official line-up, among other things. Other than needing a bit of Dramamine that day, it was just as fun-filled as all the other bright, sunny days.
  • The ship is designed to keep you from getting lost. You just have to know what to look for. And for anybody who has a chance, I strongly recommend the Art of Decor tour of the ship. Our tour guide, Ricky, revealed several helpful tricks. For instance, all the seahorses face one way and all the fish face the other, always pointing to you to one end of the ship (I can’t remember which was which anymore). The five-pointed stars on the carpet in the middle of the ship near the elevators always point toward the front of the ship.
  • The ceilings are different heights in different areas. In the kids’ area, the ceilings are actually lower than other areas of the ship so they can feel bigger. In contrast, in the adults-only areas of the ship, the ceilings are higher than everywhere else to make adults feel like kids again.
  • The art comes to life. If you stop too long near one of the paintings, you might find that it starts to move. Not all paintings move, but twenty-two of them on the Fantasy do, and our kids loved seeing what they would do.
  • The interactive detective game changes person to person. There is a game you can play on the ship, Midship Detective Agency, in which you are given a badge with a giant QR code on it. You have to go around the ship to designated spots (certain moving art pieces) and hold up your badge. The badge sets off the video revealing clues to the mystery. Someone beat you to it? Not a problem. Your clue might be different. Your criminal might be different too. We solved two of the three available mysteries and often found we were given different clues than other participants. So you can’t use someone else’s clue to solve your mystery. It’s different for everyone!
  • Don’t be surprised if your wait staff performs a little magic for your kids. My youngest is only a year old. Well, he’s almost two. Almost. He has little patience to begin with and even less when it comes to waiting for food–not that we ever had to wait long! But time and again, the staff would start performing magic tricks for him and he would watch with wonder and laughter instead of shrieking his head off. When my five-year-old caught on to some of the magic tricks, they started bringing him brain teasers to work on while they continued to do tricks for his little brother. One night, we showed up at our table–and as usual, it already had the booster seat we needed–and before we could sit down, the drinks we always ordered were delivered to the table, along with a game we could play as a family. It wasn’t all illusions, but it was definitely all magic.
  • They take food allergies seriously. Only one person in our party had any food allergies, but they made sure she knew what was safe and what wasn’t. They would bring her the next day’s menu and let her know which items they could change to accommodate her needs. When she asked about one item, they informed her that while they could make it, they were concerned about cross-contamination because of how it was prepared and advised against it.
  • You must know the codeword to pick up your kids. When you show up at the nursery or the kids club to pick up your children, you first have to scan your Key to the World card. Your picture comes up on the screen and they match it to the pictures they have on file of who is approved to pick up the child. But that’s not all. Before you can leave with your child, you have to provide them with the codeword–which is a word of your choosing and can be different for each child in your party. I chose our codeword in November. We sailed in January. I’m the mother of the child I was picking up. I still had to know the word before they’d let him leave. Luckily, I had reviewed the information the day before we sailed!
  • If you are too tired to make it to the stage show, you can watch it from your stateroom. If you want to see the night’s show, but your kids are wiped out and you’re dragging a little too, no worries. You can watch the stage show from the comfort of your stateroom on your television. If you’re not interested in the stage show, but want to let the kids watch a little something while they wind down for the evening, there is also just about every Disney movie ever made available on demand. You can even watch movies in pieces, your television will remember where you left off in the movie. We let my kids watch twenty minutes here and there while we showered or got ready for bed. You can also pull up the ship’s information channel and see a map of exactly where your ship is at that moment and where other Disney ships are in relation to it.

As I said in my first post about our cruise, in true Disney fashion, it’s outrageously expensive and totally magical. The cast and crew go the extra mile to make sure you have the most fun possible. My kids are already talking about our next cruise. We keep telling them that we have to save up enough money to do it again so it might take a while, but they are undeterred. The “Mickey Boat” is the best vacation their little hearts could dream up.

Slow Down

My oldest son got sick on Saturday afternoon and spend the next thirty-six hours running a fever and barely eating. The poor kid hardly wanted to get off the couch. This is the same little boy who I sometimes have to force to sit down for “rest time” (he doesn’t nap anymore, but he still needs a few minutes to chill in the afternoons so he doesn’t tucker himself out before dinner). He goes through the five stages of grief every time I tell him he has to be still. Not this weekend. All he wanted to do was be still on the couch under blankets.

Cue my broken heart.

I gave him a fever-reducer. I put a cold cloth on his head. I steered his little brother to play elsewhere for both their sakes. I did what moms do when their kids are sick. I comforted him. One of the ways I did was to lie next to him and softly ruffle his hair back and forth. He only lets me do that when he feels poorly. Otherwise, he doesn’t like it. But when he’s sick, that’s what he wants. And I’ll tell you a secret. I love it.

I hate when my kid is sick. It hurts my heart because I know there is only so much I can do for him. I would take all his pain on myself if I could, but the world doesn’t work like that. But, there is also a little part of me that loves that he’ll let me play with his hair and snuggle up to him. I know that when he feels better, he’ll jump off the couch and take off like a shot for the backyard. I know he’ll duck his head when I reach for his hair. That’s okay. He’s growing up and I respect his wishes, but it makes me relish those moments when he not only needs me but actually wants me close.

The last five years have gone by in a blur. There have been hard moments for both of us. But there has also been so much joy, wonder, and love. Every day he gets a little bigger and I have a little less time before he won’t need me at all. That’s my job–to prepare him to be independent, to not need me. And I know he’s not exactly going to walk out the door for good tomorrow, but I also know how fast time is moving.

So when he wants my snuggles and hugs, when he’ll let me shower him with all my maternal affection, I cherish it. And if I end up running a fever too, it’ll be worth it. Because for just a little while, time slowed down and I got to rock my baby one more time before he stops wanting me to.

I hate when he’s sick, but I love slowing down with him. I would never wish illness on a child–anyone’s child, much less my own–so don’t misunderstand me. But I cling to that moment when all he wants is comfort and he turns to me because I’m his mama.

P.S. If you don’t think I’m crying by the time she gets to “lightsaber wars” in this song, you’re wrong. Gets me every stinking time.