Thursday, February 25, 2010


I don't know if it's the Disney hangover, or the February doldrums (more snow!?!), or what, but I've been dragging myself around here this past week like no other time this winter. My best guess is that it's some combination of both, with a little extra dash of children who never, ever stop making noise neverever.

Connie and I spent a very productive Tuesday night drinking wine in front of her fireplace and discussing all the various ways our children are intentionally driving us crazy, so I won't go into it here, but I will say this. For three days this week, in spite of the mountains of laundry and the mountains of snow, I was surprisingly able to revel in the ordinaryness of our life, and specifically, my life here at home with the girls. It felt good to be back at home, back in a routine, and I was very good at noticing the joy and satisfaction in the regular moments: Annie reading me the nightly book she brings home from her book box at school; Jemma asking me to sing the "Look at This Stuff" song from Little Mermaid (which, luckily, I know verbatim); building an honest-to-goodness snowman in the front yard, complete with an actual carrot nose and one of Annie's baby knit hats for a hat; going to the pool and snuggling them in the sauna afterwards; kneading dough for pizza and letting Jemma roll it out; having a dance party to The Beatles after dinner.

And then today, I stopped being good at it. It was like my body came to a standstill, and all I could notice was the way Jemma follows me around while I try to get showered and dressed, needing something literally every two seconds; the way Annie inserts the most unhelpful phrase into the situation when I'm trying to reason with Jemma; the way I'm sometimes sweating after getting them both into their snow gear and buckling them into the car; the way I have to RUN from Jemma's dance class to Annie's school, wearing my Uggs, which I hate, every Thursday; the way my voice sounds when I am saying for the 45th time that day, "You worry about YOURSELF; I'll worry about Jemma;" the way the minute I try to make a cup of coffee or return an e-mail, someone needs me to wipe their butt; the way Jemma smelled my (freshly showered this morning!) head while I was buckling her boot and said, "You stink, Mommy;" the way Annie's instant response to any refusal of any request is "You're MEAN!"

So. I'm going to join Jason in Chicago tomorrow. I am going to lie in a bed in a room all by myself while he learns things in seminars. I am going to meet a friend for a meal. I am going to wander around the Art Institute by myself and then into a few stores. I am going to drink beer here, and work out and sleep in and read and think and refuel my tank for next week, and the next.

While I'm gone, if you haven't seen them already, here's a link to a fraction of our Disney photos. Strangely, I sort of miss it already.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's a World of Laughter, a World of Tears

The Magical Parts

I think everyone's trip to Disney has some magical moments. There are the ones I will remember most:

  • Watching the girls meet all their favorite characters. We scheduled a few character meals, and I am so glad that we did, because otherwise we would have spent much of our park time waiting in line to meet the characters that randomly appear in the parks. Instead, with four meals, we saw (and took pictures with) Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Stepmother and stepsisters, Belle, Aurora, Snow White, Ariel, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eyore. While in the parks, we tracked down or stumbled upon Tinkerbell, Fawn, Terrance, Jasmine and Aladdin, Tiani, Alice, Daisy Duck, and the Fairy Godmother. The girls were THRILLED to hug and meet and talk to each one.
  • Watching Jemma's face express awe, joy, and wonder at so many sights.
  • Seeing the girls' faces in the mirror when their fairy godmothers turned them around after their princess makeovers at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Jason and I both felt a little . . . pageant-parenty about the whole scam they had going there, but it was literally a dream come true for the girls.
  • Riding It's a Small World and remembering all my favorite characters from my own childhood.
  • Riding Soarin' at Epcot with Annie and truly, truly feeling like we were flying. So fun!
  • Watching the sun rise over the lake on our first morning as we took the boat over to breakfast at The Contemporary.
  • Riding on the back of our golf cart through Fort Wilderness, the breeze blowing through the tall pine trees and a little girl beside me, holding my hand.
  • Jemma falling asleep on me during the Fantasmic show and being super-cuddly for a whole hour in my lap.
  • Watching Annie summon her courage to finally dare to go down a water slide at the pool. (She stood at the top for a fair amount of time, letting 4 or 5 other kids go in front of her, and I thought she was going to chicken out and come back down the steps, but she finally went for it and loved it. Later, I asked her what was going through her brain when she was up at the top that first time, and she said she thought, "I'm just going to try this FOR MYSELF!")
  • Splurging on Cirque La Nouba at Downtown Disney for our last night. That show is mind-blowing, breath-taking, amazing, unbelievable, and beautiful, and I am so glad that we went.
  • Having baths in the hot tub one night at dusk.
  • Sitting in a rocking chair on the porch at Fort Wilderness, drinking a beer while the girls played on the playground.
  • The way the girls woke up giggling every single morning. (At 5:30. Ahem.)

The Not-So-Magical Parts

In the interest of honesty, it was not all magic and pixie dust. I knew going in that seven days in a row of crowds, lines, constant noise, and overtired kids was going to be a challenge for me, but what I did not anticipate was what a challenge it would be for Annie. Apparently she and I are both delicate flowers who don't cope well with abrupt change, even when that change is Disney World, THE MOST MAGICAL PLACE ON EARTH. So, I won't lie, there were some rough moments:

  • As I mentioned earlier, the girls woke up around 5:30 every morning. 'Nuf said.
  • The weather was unseasonably cold. While I am grateful that it didn't rain, which would have made things much worse, we were a little bummed out by how freezing it was in the mornings and sometimes for much of the day. When the average high for Orlando in February is 72, you expect it to be 72, give or take ten degrees either way, right? Instead, there was frost on the docks in the morning, and we wore several layers every day, including hats and mittens and fleece jackets.
  • All the times that Annie acted . . . . like a turd. There. I said it. There were fits, meltdowns, and sassy words; there was fighting in the stroller and fighting in the bedroom; there were several times when Jason or I pulled her aside and tried to think of ANYTHING to say to make it stop; there was the night I went running at 9:00 p.m. (by myself, in the dark, yes I got slightly lost) not because I wanted to exercise but because I was trying to clear my mind and get some patience for the next day. There were tears (hers). There were tears (mine). We love you, Annie, but we may or may not be looking for a local farm where we can arrange for you to do some manual labor to hardy you up and make you see how good you have it.
  • The airport snafu when we wanted desperately to get home on Saturday. Our flight was scheduled for 11:50. Disney's Magic Transport picked us up at our cabin at 8:15. We arrived at the airport with PLENTY of time, waited around at our gate, and waited, and waited, and got nervous when, at 11:30, our plane wasn't boarding. Suddenly the board said 12:40, and we were finally taxiing toward the runway a little after that when the pilot came on to tell us that a light had come on that meant we needed to return to the gate. We sat there for a few minutes, and the pilot came on again to tell us to de-plane while they waited for a mechanic to come and fix the plane. At 2:30, I had the girls camped out on the airport floor coloring while I stood in line to see what the agents proposed we do if our plane couldn't be fixed. Two other moms of small children and I were up at the desk at the same time when they informed us that there were no more flights to Michigan that day, and it was looking like our option was going to be to spend the night in a hotel and try to fly out again at the same time on Sunday. The other moms and I, all fresh off a full week of Disney with the kids, looked at one another and groaned, "We've all had plenty of time in a hotel with our kids!" Luckily, the computer was fixed, and we did get home on Saturday, albeit about 3 hours later than we should have.

What I think, ultimately, is that as time passes, the not-so-magical memories will fade away, and nostalgia will take over and rose-tint the memories that remain, and we will know that our family will never experience Disney World just this way again, with 3- and 5-year-old girls who truly believe that they have met, hugged, and posed with the REAL princesses. We will remember that it was a lot of work, but also a lot of joy.

Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daddy-Daughter Dance

Monday, February 8, 2010

Same As It Ever Was

Another weekend, another happy and blurry two-and-a-half days of non-stop action: birthday party, in-laws in town, Annie ski lesson, parents here for lunch, date night at Founder's, interview at a polo school, running at the gym, church and Sunday School, brunch at Rose's, family trip to the ballet. Whew. Just writing it makes me a little exhausted. My favorite moment was our foursome in the booth for brunch, sharing Jemma's waffle, teaching the girls to play Twenty Questions, and Jemma's dramatic assertion that she was "starving for caramel corn!" at the end of the meal.

While Jason and I were drinking pints of porter on Saturday night and beloved Miss Kelly was here painting toenails and doing the bath-story-bed routine with the girls, we got to talking about what's in our future, kids-growing-up wise. Jason, no surprise, is awfully laid-back and non-plussed by it all. "It's just part of being a kid. Kids are mean sometimes. And if you have kids, they're either going to be on the giving end or the receiving end of it for a lot of years. It happens in Alaska, it happens in New York City, it happened in Wayland, and it will happen here."

And I know that's true, but I think that I remember, more vividly than he does, how difficult those growing-up days were, and even though Annie's only gone in the mornings, next year she'll EAT LUNCH AT SCHOOL, and every year she'll be more a part of that world, less a part of me.

"It starts in about third grade, fourth if you're lucky, maybe fifth if they're really clueless at picking up social cues. Which of course you don't really want them to be," I told Jason. I told him how a few other girls and I had formed a club in fifth grade. We called ourselves The Flamingoes, and we each had a special pen that someone had procured from The Model Drug Store on 8th Street in Holland and given to every member of the group. To be in the club, you had to have a pair of Guess jeans, and you had to wear them on Fridays. The club met on the playground, daily, surely ostracizing many other fifth-grade girls who were not "in the club."

I cringe to think of it. I die a little inside to think of Annie and Jemma going through it, in the club, out of the club, either way.

So Sunday afternoon, after brunch but before the ballet, when the girls were having quiet time, when I should have been writing my post-interview article (part of being a writer is actually sitting down and getting off e-mail and WRITING, huh, which I got around to at around 8:00 last night), I dug around in the basement and found one of my old journals from high school. And I read it. And was horrified.

Oh, the drama. The exclamation points!
"Excuse me, am I supposed to ignore my true inner feelings and go out with him for a while because everyone thinks we should or because I feel guilty about it????!!!! I wish today was over with and I had never let them talk me into going out with him! I knew it wasn't going to work out!"
I expected that.

But, oh, the self-loathing. The repeated vows to "pay better attention in chemistry," "be especially friendly," "eat healthier so I can have a great body this summer!!!," "be nicer to my family," "study harder," and my favorite, "stop worrying and try to be a good example of happiness." No pressure.

And then there was the one problem above all other problems: getting a boyfriend. The fact that, in my group of close friends, three out of five girls had serious boyfriends at this time almost completely overshadows everything else in the journal. I wrote that I felt inferior, lonely, dumb, rejected, guilty, and like my life was meaningless - these are the actual words I used. I was sixteen. I was an A student, Student Council President, on homecoming court and the track team. I had close friends, a dog, a job, a car, and a family that loved me. And on January 29, 1994, I wrote, "I hate my life. The funny thing is, I don't think anyone would ever guess."

One thing I can conclude from reading this is that Jason is right. Growing up is hard, and writing teenage angst in a journal is part and parcel of being sixteen, no matter how good your grades or how supportive your family. I hate that I pinned so many hopes for happiness on finding the right boyfriend, and at the same time I know that Annie and Jemma will probably do that, too; either that, or they'll worry and obsess about something else. Because the more things change, the more they stay the same. As proof, here's the beginning of the first entry on the first page of this particular journal:

"My first page of a new journal! I can't believe I'm keeping up this habit! By the time I'm 30, I'll probably have a room-ful of little notebooks chronicling all my problems since age 14! But it's as if writing out all my problems and feelings lets them out of my head so that I can relax and go right to sleep - when I don't write, I tend to keep myself awake thinking and analyzing."

Oh, 16-year-old Stephanie. You will not have a "room-ful of little notebooks;" you'll have a blog. And yes, you will still be an insomniac.

Friday, February 5, 2010

This Week

  • Annie wore this outfit to school, which I completely loved. Her mind at 7:15 a.m.: "Striped long-sleeved shirt, differently-striped short sleeve shirt with sequin peace sign, polka-dot skirt, tights with pink hearts . . . YES."
  • Jason and I embraced our (latent, reluctant, hidden) early-morning persons and routinely got up at 5:30 a.m., him to work, me to work out. We have even started loading the coffee pot at night before bed! What is going on??? We. Are. Exhausted.
  • I published this new post at Bodies in Motivation about embarking on Meatless Mondays, much to Jason's dismay.
  • I bought a new winter hat and gloves because I can't find mine anywhere (though I KNOW they are in this house somewhere!) and the bonus of buying winter gear in February is that the gloves will cost $1.24 and the hat will cost $3.24 at Target.
  • I typed up our Disney Itinerary and actually got out the suitcases and began to set piles of clothes aside. One week from now, I predict I'll be lying awake and remembering One Last Thing to throw in the suitcase.
  • Annie began an obsession with telling time (something she's known how to do for a while now) so that every time we re-enter the house (via the kitchen, where there are two digital clocks), she'll say something like, "It's 3:31! That's 31 minutes after three o'clock. Or one minute after 3:30. Or twenty-nine minutes until four o'clock." It's kind of fascinating, kind of crazy-making.
  • Jemma legitimately beat me at Memory.
  • It took us a full half-hour to walk the four blocks home from school. Picture me pushing the empty jogging stroller and carrying Annie's backpack while the girls (sans snowpants) climb every single snowpile along the way, pretend to fly with pine boughs they've picked up off the ground, and pause to write in the snow with sticks.
  • I saw Jason a grand total of about two hours. If he wasn't at work, he was upstairs, working. I told him, "You're a real grown-up now!"
  • I snuck out for a pedicure at my favorite nail salon, where the women don't speak much English and thus I am happily left to my massage chair and Vogue magazine in peace.
  • I began to hate my Uggs (due to having worn them every day since November) and have taken to wearing them unzipped, like, "These boots are just temporary! I'm going to take them off any second!" Winter can be over now.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Once Upon a Germ

We've been holed up inside for a few days, partly because it's darn cold out there, partly because the girls have been playing so well together, and partly because, with 11 days to go until we head to Disney, I'm entering the phase of winter I like to call Completely Wackadoo Paranoid About Getting Sick. Let's not forget the winter of 2007, when one person or another in our family was sick for about six weeks straight. Let's not forget how, without fail, someone in our family pukes in the 24 hours before we get on an airplane to Florida every February. Any time anyone mentions a stomachache (Jemma, yesterday) or wakes up coughing a croupy cough in the middle of the night (Annie, Saturday), my heart lurches. Please, no, I think.

I'm crazy, and I know it, but the crazy can't be stopped. So we're here, cooking, playing baby, playing dog, doing puzzles, playing school, painting, drawing, coloring, dancing, and watching YouTube videos of Disney parades past. The girls oooh and aaah over every sighting of a princess, and though I've written before about my reluctance to buy in to the princess mania, we aren't really even trying to fight it at this point. In fact, I've now spent hours and hours and HOURS on the Disney website, hounding friends and neighbors and random parents in the school pick-up line, researching, planning, booking this trip. And I have gone so far as to book things called Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for lunch and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique so the girls can have their hair done and nails painted right in the Cinderella castle in the Magic Kingdom while wearing the dress-up dress we've brought along.

It's all so incredibly cheesy, so commercialized, so predictably, woefully expensive . . . and yet, watching those YouTube videos last night, Jemma on my lap and Annie on Jason's, all I felt was anticipation. I think it's going to be like Halloween and their birthday and the 4th of July and Christmas morning, all rolled into one, for a solid week. And while I'm sure there will be snafus and meltdowns and moments of Get Me Out Of Here, right now I'm going All In on the Disney Princess Thing. Because one of the best parts of being a parent is watching your child's dreams come true, and that's what this is going to be.

Now, nobody get sick.