I am surfacing from my pilfered candy sugar coma (specifically mini butterfingers) to update on everything we have done since our trip to Disneyland. I have to say that my second trip driving alone with the kids was quite a bit easier than the first time around last March. This was partly because Sis can eat candy, enjoy DVD's and no longer requires me to stop and mix up formula. Bathroom breaks weren't quite as much of a hassle now that she can walk and although she seems to have a 'thing' against sleeping in the car, she remained her good natured self until about an hour from home on the way back. What did NOT change about traveling alone with kids was the complete strength sapping, soul crushing experience that is checking into a hotel when you don't have someone to leave in the car with the kids. It involves getting everyone out, waiting in line to check in and get a room key while trying to pacify an angry one year old who thought she was going to taste freedom after being in the car for hours only to find herself strapped into a stroller. Bubba wants to swing on the line partitions and seems to consider all the hissed threats from me to stop as worth the risk. He is an expert at sensing when I am in a spot where I will find it much harder to make good on any threats. Junior is a good helper (as usual) but finds it hard to not only be the 'informer' for any of his brother's infractions but also the 'enforcer.' Bubba never takes that well. Because the room is always miles from the registration desk, we have to pile back in the car (absolutely breaking Sis' heart) and drive to the closest spot in the parking garage. Then I have to decide whether or not I can get everything I need in in one trip (including kids). Or, take the kids and one load to the room, extract a promise from Junior that he will die before opening the door to anyone and sprint back for what is needed. What takes 20 minutes with another adult along winds up being an hour when you are on your own. Not fun.
We stayed in Primm, which is just beyond Vegas. I got our hotel room for the low, low price of $16 a night :-) But...we paid for it in the pool door that was right below our window and slammed open and shut all night long and in the roller coaster for the hotel (Vegas, people) that zoomed past the window every 10 minutes or so until midnight. Whatever. It had a lock on the door, towels in the bathroom, two beds and I felt fine about the kids doing some well deserved jumping on them to get the wiggles out. Sis joined in enthusiastically and just as I thought "she is going to fall off right onto her head" and headed to intercept her, that is exactly what she did. Not a tiny head bonk that could be kissed away either. A full on swan dive onto her head! She managed to get her breath, took two big gulps and immediately started throwing up. All over me, all over her, all over her two blankies and all over the floor (which, admittedly, did not look that much worse for having puke on it. $16 a night...) The boys gagged and ran into the bathroom and locked it so they wouldn't have to see puke.
At this point, I am pounding on the door trying to get to the towels, wondering if Sis has a concussion and if I should call 911 or put everyone in the car and head the 20 miles back to Las Vegas to look for an emergency room. After the first chaotic five minutes, Sis stopped throwing up and was entirely absorbed in the sliding door on the shower. The vomiting after such a huge fall concerned me because as badly as my boys have hit their heads, they have thrown up. She wasn't showing any other signs of distress however, so after I got her pediatrician on the phone, we decided to have me keep her awake and watch her for another three hours and head for an ER if she threw up again. Thankfully she didn't, but all I could think was that I couldn't imagine a worse start to a vacation than having to pack my three young children into the car and backtrack to a Las Vegas ER on a Saturday night. Even though she and I had to stay awake until 1 a.m. and I still had to get up once or twice in the night to make sure she hadn't thrown up and was still responsive, I considered myself very lucky. It would have been years before I found that story funny. Also, I try not to do this, because it does no good, but it was experiences like that that had me silently cursing J's name. It is one thing to do hard things and try not to let our lives change too much, but I knew anyway that I shouldn't be having to travel alone with my kids. Nothing like a little emergency to reinforce that knowledge :-)
This is Sis bopping until (almost) dawn. She was in an extremely cheerful mood, as she always is when she is not physically restrained. I have some of my best video (so far) of her chattering away while the boys slept and I stayed awake by playing solitaire and waving to her from across the room. She is wearing Junior's shirt. One of the down sides to being super organized and packing an overnight bag to bring into the hotel while on the road is that you don't have a contingency plan for when one of your children renders their clothing unwearable.
Day two was uneventful (mostly.) As I packed up the stroller to leave the room, I looked around for Sis. I found her in the bathroom quickly and earnestly submerging her favorite blanket into the toilet and plunging it up and down like a washer woman. Gross. Add it to the laundry pile... It was good to roll into Anaheim well before rush hour and check in in time to go swimming.
It's a small world was our first stop and Bubba and Sis LOVED it. 6 year old Cousin Cubby was not the slightest bit interested ('I hate those kids that never stop singing...')
Some of our annual crew (cousins who we have gone with every year since Junior was Sis's age.) Everyone was smiling and looking at the camera at the same time. A Disneyland miracle...
Sis loved the ears. In full disclosure, I probably still would have bought them for her even if she had only kept them on for one picture, but she loved wearing them. She keeps finding them and bringing them to me to put on her. They might not make it to next year's trip. I am proud to say that Junior's mickey ears have returned to DL every year since he was 3 :-)
Halloween at Disneyland is really awesome. One of the new events is Mickey's Halloween Party. The park closes down at six to regular guests and a certain number of tickets are sold for those who want to wear their costumes in and trick or treat at the different stations in the park. It is the only time adults are allowed to wear costumes (and I can see why. The number of skanky Alice in Wonderlands (sp? grammar? too tired to care...) we passed was a little disheartening - where did the innocence go? Another post for another time...) Main Street USA was misty and the regular Disneyland music was replaced with Halloween tunes. Sis took the opportunity to dance in the middle of whatever crowd she could find and then preened and pretended to be shy when people made a fuss over her (but seriously, she was adorable!) Junior was a pirate, Bubba was Peter Pan. Sis is Tinkerbell (loosely :-)
Employees handed out trick or treat bags at the gate and there were candy stations set up all over the park. We made our way around on rides and trick or treated where we could and ended up with an amount of candy (each) that I only dreamed about in my own Halloween days. The evening ended with a fireworks show that completely traumatized Bubba. Its not a Disneyland trip unless I have a shaking, fireworks-fearful child in my arms.
Sis and two year old cousin Gracie were buddies. By the end of the trip, they would high five each other whenever they could. Quite possibly one of the cutest things I have ever seen.
Cooling off before heading back to the hotel for a nap.
Junior had been psyching himself up for weeks to ride the Tower of Terror and this is him right after (can you tell?) I promised him ten dollars if he did it. He went but he swears he will never do it again. Ironically, the physical part of the ride didn't really phase him, but the spooky movie at the beginning made him afraid to go to bed that night. Didn't think of that... Between his 'prize' money and contributions from both Grandpa and Uncle Brad pre-trip, this child had more money to spend than I ever had in one place until I was 16 with a job :-)
Being Peter Pan is serious business
Sis getting to know Chip (or Dale) at the Character Breakfast. For the record, that little event is worth every penny just to avoid most of the character lines around the park. Bubba just wanted to see Captain Hook and Junior just wanted to eat the Mickey shaped waffles he pounds every year. Sis got frustrated if the characters were at other tables. She would pound her fist on the table, wave her hands and chatter for their attention.
We took a detour to Bakersfield on the way home to see G-Grandma and G-Grandpa W. It was really fun and a relaxing way to spend some time before the long haul home. Sis went straight to work wrapping G-Grandpa around her finger and G-Grandma spent hours making 'money' out of pipe cleaners with Bubba and finding gold coins in the boys ears. Junior and Bubba liked the idea that they got to sleep in the same room their dad did as a little kid. We enjoyed having them all to ourselves for a day :-)
I had left the return trip open ended so I could decide if and when and where to stop for the night. I ended up choosing to drive the 11 hours straight home. I was not anxious to spend an hour setting up somewhere, and I missed my awesome bed too much. The kids were fantastic and I got to try my very first red bull on the way home. It actually works! The last hour of any trip is always a killer but the kids were champs. We were so glad to walk in the door and so very glad to not arrive home this time to a flood or a crisis of any kind.
This year's trip was...different. And very sad when I passed all the families. I couldn't help but see ghosts of ourselves in every place that held a memory for me (our favorite churro stand, the best spot for the parade every year, rides we loved, the spot where Junior practiced his walking the first time we went as a family...) But it wasn't miserable by any means. As long as I stayed focused on what IS rather than what WAS, it was really, really fun! My sister and her family meet us there every year and I could not have done this trip without them in almost every way. They were determined to make sure me and my little group had a blast even while chasing their own four kids. And we did have fun! Bek arranged for pirate gold to be left for the boys each night and it was exchangeable for souvenirs. Being with other adults also meant I could step away from the stroller for a moment or two when I needed to. They would take the boys with them to breakfast while I packed up for the day, held Sis when I needed both hands and helped track her down every time she tried to escape. When you add a few extra kids and remove one of the usual adults, the logistics get a little more challenging (3 adults to 7 kids this time.) But I wouldn't trade getting to see the cousins interact and having the time to just play with my boys and watch Sis light up at everything around her. Being the one to lift kids in and out and push the double stroller without a break every day had me completely exhausted by bedtime though. I wasn't able to lift the boys high enough to get a good view of the World of Color show and then ended up carrying Bubba out on my shoulders and it just about killed me :-) It was another of those moments when you realize how much of the burden you share as a team. But it was really nice to be making some good memories with the kids even if we all still missed J's usual presence. It feels like so much of life right now is running around and me stretched as thin as I can go and there is always somewhere to be. But not at Disneyland. We ate churros, Monte Cristos and Bengal BBQ and lots of candy. We ran until we dropped and we got up and did it again. Every day was 'yes day' for three full days and I remembered why we do this every year. The boys filled their autograph books and I filled my camera. I missed my annual date in the park with J (we used to trade out babysitting for a night with my sis in order to get some one on one time in the park) but Junior joined me instead to meet up with some friends and ride the 'big kid rides.' It was mostly good memories and good times even if some of it couldn't help but be bittersweet.
This picture is an annual tradition as well. I have us in every phase of our family in front of this sign. I almost skipped it this time, but changed my mind. Life goes on even when we would rather it didn't, right?
Also, no making fun of my hair (or the exhausted expression on my face. If I recall, I had just had to chase down and simultaneously discipline all three kids for three different reasons) :-) Also, it was really hot and fairly humid. Stupid weather. Why did it have to be 90 degrees in mid October? That wasn't part of the plan.
Till next year...where I will mostly likely have Sis in a real princess dress and definitely on a leash.