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.

Won’t You Let Me Take You on a Sea Cruise…

That’s a line from a song. I only know that because my dad used to sing it while he made dinner when I was young. But it’s been stuck in my head a lot lately because my dad (and my stepmom) went with us on a Disney cruise last week. It was the first cruise I’ve ever been on that lasted longer than a few hours. And in true Disney fashion, it was outrageously expensive and completely magical.

Because my boys (and my husband) are big fans of the Star Wars franchise, we went on a Star Wars Day at Sea cruise. It was a seven-day jaunt through the Caribbean with a full day at sea at the beginning and one near the end. The second full day at sea was completely dedicated to all things Star Wars.

I’ve never actually been to a Con, but if that isn’t one big, seafaring Star Wars Con, I don’t know what is. There were character meet and greets, a guest speaker, information about new and upcoming Star Wars attractions at the parks, a cosplay celebration, a stage show, a whole store full of merchandise, etc. The ship’s horn even played the Imperial March before Stormtroopers swarmed the pool deck and began questioning suspected rebel spies. Imperial officers arrested my husband. He loved it. I even got a picture with a Gamorrean Guard while he snorted and sniffed at me.

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As a family, we also got time with C3PO, R2D2, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca. And you better believe I got a big ole Wookie hug. We also caught Bobba Fett checking the vitals on Han Solo who was frozen in carbonite. My older son got to play games with BB-8 and Rey in the kids’ area, where he also got to fly a Millenium Falcon simulator and run the command post (and that was just one corner!). Our dinner menu had offerings from different planets across the galaxy, and you could get drinks or snacks served in droids or AT-AT containers. The festivities rounded out with late-night fireworks and a showing of Solo: A Star Wars Story. There was also a dance party, but my dogs were pooped.

There were a ton of events we didn’t even get around to; like Star Wars Pub Trivia (we did make an appearance at Pub Trivia, just not Star Wars trivia). For my parents, especially my stepmom–who loved seeing my boys be so excited, but never really got into Star Wars–there was a Star Wars 101 class so they could get up to speed and know what the heck my kids were talking about.

I met a couple on the elevator in full garb (and they looked fantastic!) who went on the cruise to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary because on their first date they went to see Star Wars together. Y’all. It was adorable. It was fun. It was magic. It was Disney.

I’ll probably have a few more things to say regarding our vacation, but for now, I have to dig my way out of the piles of laundry that came home with us. And bundle up. We’re not in the Caribbean anymore and have a threat (mild though it may be) of snow tonight. I want to go back to the beach. This reality stuff is for the birds.

An Ordinary Fairy Tale

I was reminded of something my husband did for me back when our oldest child was born and wanted to brag on him a little. So today might get a little mushy.

When I was a little girl, my favorite Disney princess was Belle. She was a brunette and a bookworm. And people thought she was a little weird. Y’all. She was my people. I loved singing along with candlesticks and teapots. And it wasn’t weird to me that she was a human woman in love with what was essentially a living stuffed animal. I was little and slept with a teddy bear every night. It made sense to me.

And what made even more sense in my head was that she began to fall in love with Beast after he gave her a big library. A whole library. With ladders. And three-story windows. Fireplaces and comfy chairs. I would live there if I could. Ever since that scene, I have wanted my own library.

Marie Kondo says that I should probably have no more than thirty books. I have no hate for her, truly. But that goes against my dream. I will choose to ignore that advice. I want to live among hoards and mountains of books.

And now I do. Let me back up.

Clearly, I love to read. I always have. However, when I had my first child, I had a hard time fitting in time for anything that I wanted to do just for me. I think all new parents go through that. It can be difficult, no matter how much you love and cherish your child. I remember telling my husband that I didn’t feel like my own person anymore. He was concerned and did his best to be a supportive partner and try to shoulder a little more of the load. But being that he doesn’t have mammary glands, there were certain limitations.

During late night feedings, I often had to find something to occupy my mind (besides the general and ever-present terror that I would never be a good enough mother) to help keep me awake. I would read. While I pumped, I would read. And the more I read, the more I felt like me. This belonged to me. This wasn’t a Mama activity. It was a Kathryn activity.

For my next birthday, my husband gave me a kindle. It was certainly pricier than we usually go for birthday presents, but he wanted me to be able to download books from the library in the middle of the night as I rocked our son. He even got his mom to coordinate gift ideas with him and get me a gift card to buy books from Amazon to start my–wait for it–library.

It wasn’t three-stories tall. It doesn’t have fireplaces (unless I want to use a picture of one as my lock screen). There are no comfy chairs or ladders. But there are hoards and mountains of books. They are digital mountains, but mountains nonetheless.

My husband. He’s my prince. My fairy tale.

Because he gave me a library.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

I have two young sons. The elder of the two is five. The younger is not quite two. And I will readily admit that I learn just as much from them as they do from me. One of the ways I learn from them is to see my own behavior mirrored back at me in undeniable ways and being able to see it from a more objective perspective.

My younger son, though blessed with a very independent personality, is more dependent on me than my five-year-old. Kid #1 is old enough to dress himself, brush his teeth on his own (though not as thoroughly as I prefer so I usually end up helping anyway), carry his own backpack, read, do simple math, etc. Kid #2 desperately wants to do all that, but is still only a year old and has a lot of skills left to master. As you can probably guess, this means Kid #2 gets a lot of attention. I try to make sure I’m fair to Kid #1, but he usually thinks his brother gets more attention than he does. There are some days that he’s probably right.

Whenever Kid #1 begins to feel like he’s getting shorted on his time at center stage, he begins to do things more like his brother does, thinking this will force me to bestow more attention on him in order to help him. He pretends to not know things, like how to talk (which, I assure you, he does well and with a vocabulary far beyond what is expected of someone his age). This always hurts my heart a little and so I talk to him about it. I remind him that while his brother needs help doing a lot of things right now, the truth is that all Kid #2 wants is to be just like Kid #1 in every way. It’s his goal. And while the attention I give Kid #2 is usually to help him learn new skills and achieve new milestones, the attention I give Kid #1 is different. I get to laugh and listen to his abundance of terrible pun jokes. I get to cheer him on while he plays sports or listen to him tell me all about the newest thing he learned by reading a book.  I cherish that. It’s so wonderful that I can’t really describe it. I remind Kid #1 that he’s fun, kind, incredibly intelligent, and imaginative. I tell him he shouldn’t disregard all of that by trying to be more like his younger brother just so he can feel like he’s the star of the show again like he was when he was an only child. I often say, “Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. Being you will always be more than enough for me.”

And yes, this is a conversation we’ve had a lot. More than I’d like. But I can’t blame him for not being ready to take it to heart. After all, I know plenty of adults (sometimes including me) that struggle with this. In fact, I think we all have those moments where part of us just wants so badly to be like someone else, sometimes anyone else, that we forget about what makes us special to begin with. What makes us unique. What makes us, us.

The next time I give that advice to Kid #2, I’m going to write it on my heart as well. I don’t need to be like anyone else. I just need to be me. And in case you need to hear it, I’m telling it to you too. Don’t throw away what is special about you because you’re trying to be like someone else. You are enough just as you are.