A French Artiste Party

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Our eldest daughter H wanted an artist party to celebrate her ninth birthday this year. Her actual birthday is September 11th, but because of two busy back-to-back weekends our earliest opportunity to celebrate was this past weekend. Our plans to host the event in our nearby park were foiled by the two week difference in seasonal change, and this left us faced with the reality of managing twenty-five kids in our not-so-big house. Fortunately, our amazing family came to the rescue.

We decided to up the ante a little by adding some flair to our theme and making it a French artist party, which went a long way towards pulling together food choices. Here’s how the day shook out, complete with incredible photos by Mama S.

• We had Daddy’s brother (the amazing Chacha) tarp our third floor patio and create a painting studio. We stocked the studio with dollar store canvases, paintbrushes, and acrylic paints and taped more tarp to the floor.

• Chacha also created a clay studio in H&A’s bedroom. Twenty-five pounds of clay was purchased on Amazon for super cheap, and we got dollar store sculpting tools.

• Mama S and I made red, white and blue giant tissue flowers and some black and white brocade tissue flowers to hang over the dining room table and living room.

• The cake was a giant custard-filled slab cake that Mama S carved into the shape of a palette complete with blobs of icing paint.

• H&A helped Daddy make the “loot” – we bought plastic palette trays from the dollar store and filled them with rainbow Skittles, M&Ms and Jelly Bellies. Then we used our shrink-wrap machine to keep it all together.

• Mama S found a great price for bulk packages of felt berets in bright primary colours on Amazon. We had one for each kid, and I insisted on completing the look with fake moustaches. The kids got to take this stuff home. Many of the kids came in “French painter” costumes too.

• Daddy’s sister (the fabulous Fui) took the girls to the park in the morning to help them blow off some pre-party crazy excitement. This helped us get all of the food prep done. Daddy’s mum fought through a head cold to help with this, and worked tirelessly afterward to help clean up the kitchen.

• Fui and Chacha basically ran the show upstairs with the kids, which was so, so appreciated!

• We served mini quiche (four different kinds), brie, goat cheese with dried cranberries, cubes of cheddar and baguette, grapes, profiteroles with chocolate drizzle, and an assortment of other pastries. The kids had either red or white grape juice in plastic wine glasses and the grown ups had the real deal

• Our dear friends Emily and Jordan agreed to dress up and make a surprise appearance as French Mimes. They were easily the highlight, and though I had to rescue them a couple of times from some over-zealous kids who were getting too physical, I think they had fun.

After the party, we recouped and recovered with family, and Mama S and Chacha did some kind of record-time clean up on H&A’s room, which looked like it had survived a mudslide. This helped ease my hormonal nerves, and got the girls into bed right on time. H said it was her best party yet, and A was a very charming co-host who enjoyed the fun and gave up the spotlight in a most gracious fashion. Score another one for the parents!

 

34 Days

Saturday, September 15th 2012.

So after a rough start yesterday, I spent the rest of the day in the chair at Lid, the salon where my lovely friend Angela works. She colored and cut my hair, and I must say, there was something really cathartic about being perched in a crowded Yorkville salon in the state I was in. Imagine me with my huge belly fighting against the leopard print tank dress I was wearing, stuffing my face with a banana chocolate chip muffin, smiling through the tears that just wouldn’t stop coming. Certifiable, for sure, but now with a richer red, shaggier hair do. The kind of wash and go action a new mamma will be grateful for.

Last night I curled up in my big bed with my fella and we had a great heart-to-heart. It was a tricky one, but we did a great job, and I felt safer and happier and remarkably closer after. Sleep was easier last night, and no weird dreams woke me.

This morning we all woke up and tackled our house, which has been undergoing some remarkable purging and organizing, but hadn’t had a proper cleaning in some time. Cleaning felt amazing, until I could no longer move with a stiff lower back. Then I collapsed in a heap on my bed, drooling and unconscious in minutes. When I awoke 45 minutes later it was with a jolt, realizing that I had to get ready for the baby shower our friends were hosting for us.

What a day we had. I’m so exhausted now, but it was such an awesome time. I promise to post photos soon. My best girls Ming, Amanda and Kathryn planned such a beautiful day with some backup support from my girl Oonagh who is due with her second baby on MONDAY! Holy crap! The owner of Revival (where Les Coquettes play in Toronto) graciously donated the space to us. The food was so delicious and the Prairie Girl cupcakes were abundant (I think their strawberry cream cheese icing is one of the greatest things I have ever tasted). So many of our wonderful friends were on hand to wish us well, and we were even treated to a surprise appearance by Tyler Yarema who sang and played the piano! What a sweetheart he is. I got teary when I learned how quickly he’d agreed to gift us with his performance.

You can imagine how emo I was all day, but the piece de resistance was when my daughters took to the stage, wireless mics in hand, and serenaded me with the Rose song from their school. They’d been bursting at the seams trying to keep the surprise a secret from me, and in fact the whole thing almost didn’t happen because H caught a wicked case of stage fright moments before. Her other parents swooped in and pushed her up there, and I’m so glad they did. Her nerves melted away before our eyes, and despite the jitters she sang out loud and strong, and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I was a blubbering mess, and so very proud of them.

What a beautiful thing to see my friends, and their partners and their beautiful children all gathered together to wish us well. My life is full of rich moments, but some of the richest are when we’re all together and I realize that my family extends beyond blood to my family of friends. Noah is so lucky to have such wonderful people in his life as his sisters can attest.

Return to Home Base

Our final vacation day was a whirlwind. We did much of the packing the night before so we could get up early and enjoy the pool before we had to check out of the hotel. Our final swim felt a bit bittersweet. I was really loving the climate in Florida, and was so pleasantly surprised that I didn’t find it too hot. I’d really miss all of the beautiful vegetation, and would certainly miss having daily access to the pool and the lounge chairs.

The kids were really good-natured about not protesting too much when it was time too leave. I was moodier than they were, in fact. We checked out, grabbed a bite, and then headed to the airport where we had a lot of time to kill. Mama S and I indulged ourselves with some foot massages. My masseuse was a pregnant lady who talked incessantly about her own pregnancy and her two young sons. Not so relaxing. 

Daddy had some fun with the girls by giving them all of our American change and having them spend it by themselves in the gift/snack shop across from where we were sitting (where we could see them of course.) Thank goodness the cashier was patient! After a late lunch, we were finally ready to board our plane.

The flight home felt fast, and because I requested that the Mamas sit together and Daddy sit with the girls, I even got a good nap in. The trip home from Buffalo airport felt so epic though. It didn’t help that we realized that we’d left Daddy’s handicapped parking permit in our rental car. In Florida. After stopping for late dinner, dealing with border traffic, and the long drive home it became a very late night and we were all exhausted. It was really good to be home.

What an amazing experience to spend an extended time together, enjoying being a family and exploring new parts of the world! All five of us were together in very close quarters and we all survived! I think it’s essential to invest time each year in each others company without the distractions of our work lives and adult responsibilities. It was really amazing to just focus totally on the kids and try to enjoy living in the moment (a real challenge for me at times). I have a little fantasy about an extended cottage rental where grandparents and friends can come and stay. I feel so inspired after this amazing trip, that I want to start planning for next year!  If anyone has any leads on great cottage rentals for the month of August, let me know!

 

Day Six: Discovery Cove

Our last full day in Orlando was an early start. We were all really excited about exploring Discovery Cove, which would have never made our radar without the help of one of the moms from school who tipped us off. This particular park is an all-inclusive day resort that is a man-made lagoon, beach, and salt water pool. We’d be snorkeling and floating, and swimming with sea creatures and otters. Pretty exciting stuff!

Unfortunately, Mama S couldn’t really snap many photos at this particular place, so you’ll have to rely on my descriptions and some images I lifted from the Internet.

The entrance to the place looked like a tropical paradise. The vegetation in Florida is so unlike anything we have here. It was easy to fantasize about the kind of awesome garden we’d have in such a place. Bamboo grew tall, palm trees and cyprus made a lush canopy, and there were brilliantly-coloured blooms to behold everywhere.

After we made our way through a very warm and friendly registration, we had breakfast. The food was cafeteria-style and we quickly realized that it would only serve as fuel for us. It was palatable, but nothing to write about. With full tummies, we moved from the breakfast place to the tropical aviary.

The aviary hosted a beautiful assortment of birds, many of whom were quite used to people feeding them with the little cups of diced fruit and seed available. They had no qualms about landing on your head or arms, and the friendliest birds were about the size of our pigeons and seagulls. It was pretty amusing to watch the kids react in both delight and fear in response to all of their new friends, and we all managed to avoid getting pooped on.

After a little tour through the aviary, we found some lockers and gathered our swimming/snorkeling gear. We were advised to use wet suits because the water in the salt water pool was quite cool (for the creatures that live there) and because all guests had to have a wetsuit or a vest on, but of course nobody makes maternity wet suits. Daddy and I opted for the vests, which were pleasantly stretchy. Wandering around looking for the entrance to the salt water pool in the blazing heat wearing wet suits really made us look forward to that extra cool water.

I’m not the strongest swimmer, and my big belly was definitely making me less buoyant, so I grabbed a life jacket for myself and A. The girls splashed into the water ahead of us, and quickly began shrieking with the cold. Then A stopped in her tracks. There were creatures everywhere! The rays that they stocked the pool with were much, much bigger than what we saw at SeaWorld. In fact, I think once the stingrays get too big for the SeaWorld pool they graduate to Discovery Cove. Some of the rays were about four feet wide. A was a bit terrified I think – both of the deep water, and all of the creatures in the pool. Swimming with the animals is one thing in theory and something quite different in practice. Even I was just a little bit nervous, and had insisted on a mission to find water shoes at the local Walmart lest I step on anything icky or painful. A objected violently (and loudly) to Daddy’s attempts at convincing her to swim with him, but Mama S was able to be the voice of reason. It took nearly half an hour of convincing, while the rest of us snorkeled about, but soon A joined our party secure on Mama’s back.

Snorkeling with a life jacket and a large pregnant belly is possibly the most ungraceful thing I’ve ever attempted. Also, I think everyone else in the pool was getting used to snorkeling because they kept crashing into me. It felt quite crowded in the pool, despite the fact that the park only allows 1,000 people per day. I took my time though, and took lots of breaks. The underwater world is such a marvel. It felt so peaceful and serene, and it was quite humbling to take in all of the colour and beauty that nature yields.

After a bit of solo exploration, we all decided to go on a little adventure together. We snorkeled about the cove, A clinging tightly to Mama S, and we approached an area under a bridge where as I got closer, I could see about 30 sharks hanging around near the sandy bottom. Sharks! I popped my head out of the water and grabbed Daddy, who had arrived at this spot moments before me and was now laughing his head off at me. He took my hand and placed it against the thick and very clear glass wall separating us from them as he continued to laugh. Of course they wouldn’t let people swim with sharks. Holy liability suit! It did scare the bejesus out of me for a moment though.

After we’d had our fill (read children with blue lips) in the saltwater pool, we headed to the fresh water for a tour on the lazy river. My quest was to find the otters that were reputed to be frolicking there. The lazy river was so long, and lovely. The current wasn’t very strong, so I really had to work (even with the use of a floating noodle) to stay with the group at certain points, but the scenery was lovely. The river even wound through the aviary, and we still escaped the poop. No otters were discovered on our lazy river experience, but we were directed to a separate lagoon by a handsome lifeguard. I was disappointed to find that they too were kept behind glass. I had real fantasies of petting them and playing with them, but maybe they are more vicious than they look. The otters, not the lifeguards. I’m also not sure I can safely describe them as ‘frolicking’. They seemed a little listless to me, perhaps because they were sad that the humans were kept behind glass.

Lunch time was next. Again, the food was mostly fuel, certainly not our greatest culinary experience. The kids picked away, but didn’t eat much because the lure of the water was too great. After lunch, we returned to the salt water, but hit the opposite side of the pool. I really love snorkeling, and these man-made experiences are all I get because I have a bit of a phobia about swimming in the ocean. Please don’t tell my kids. We got to enjoy the stingray feeding, which had us surrounded by stingrays. They are so gentle and beautiful. The park staff told me about how difficult it is for them to keep people from hurting the animals in their excitement/fear and the marine park guilt started to creep in again. I saw at least two grown men new to the pool scream like old ladies at the sight of the first big ray, and honestly there wasn’t any preparation at all for guests about what to expect in the pool or how to behave. I found that a bit irresponsible. They did offer these fun laminated cards with samples of all of the marine life and their names which unfortunately we discovered as we were leaving the pool for the last time. It would have made for a fun family treasure hunt.

We planned to return to the lazy river, but learned that it was closed due to nearby lightning. A very ominous mass of cloud cover was rolling in fast, and I predicted a typhoon. We attempted the aviary instead, but the birds were all taking cover, so I insisted we leave and get changed. It was only an hour before the park close anyway. My childhood fear of thunderstorms kicked in suddenly. I’m not sure if it was because we were all soaking wet and surrounded by water, but I suddenly started to feel panicky about the approaching storm. All of the park staff were on high alert too, insisting people take cover. That didn’t help. I had to be reminded by the other parents to relax, which was embarrassing. I hate when I lose my cool. Fortunately we were quickly changed and enjoying the warm showers in the massive changing room. We ducked out of the park as quickly as we could (despite the staff telling us that we should remain where we were) and we avoided the rain altogether.

The kids were pooped. They made it clear that they were disappointed about leaving, but once they were in the air conditioned car, I could see how flaked they were. I think we all were pretty tired, but not in the “I’m too damned sticky and hot” way. Our end-of-day tired was from lots of physical activity, which naturally led us to find a souvenir shop paired with a Baskin Robbins. The girls took their time picking out their final souvenirs and finally settled on a small stuffy each, and some shark tooth necklaces. They were even thoughtful enough to pick a necklace for each of their best friends. Then we ice-creamed.

Back at the hotel, the adults were too tired and too water logged to consider more swimming, and the rain had finally arrived. We filled the jacuzzi tub in the master suite for the girls and let them have a soak while we ordered dinner to our room. Mama S and I set up the table on our screened patio, and we enjoyed our last supper in Florida watching the rain dance across the pond outside our room.

The next morning, we’d wake up early to get in a couple of hours in the pool before check out time, and then we’d head to the airport. Stay tuned for the final vacation wrap up.

Day Four: We Experience SeaWorld

Our vacation time idea of an early start basically meant letting the kids sleep until they woke up on their own. Thanks to a much later bed time, this was also usually when I woke up on my own. I wish every day were like this. On the morning of day four, by the time we were ready to eat, we realized our restaurant was about to stop serving breakfast so we ordered food to our room. Powered with French Toast and breakfast wraps, we set out to explore SeaWorld.

Our SeaWorld admission was included in the price we paid for our tickets to a place called Discovery Cove (more on that later) so we decided to take advantage. I remembered enjoying SeaWorld as a kid, so I assumed our kids would also have a good time there. The entire idea of SeaWorld raised some controversy among the adults. I think we all agree that it seems inherently wrong to keep whales and dolphins and other majestic creatures of the sea trapped in captivity, but when else would we ever have an opportunity to see these creatures up close? SeaWorld has raised the bar really high for North American aquariums, and they are very committed to saving and rehabilitating marine life, and to being very environmentally responsible (or so they say). I mean, they had no lids or straws available anywhere for their disposable cups, and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

By day four we’d become smart, savvy travelers so our first stop was to the stroller rental place, where we picked up a double stroller for the girls. It was scorching hot with not as much cloud cover as the first few days, so both girls were quick to jump into the stroller to relax. We pulled out a map and a show schedule and tried to make a plan for the day. Our first stop was the Manta, a huge roller coaster that swoops and swirls and tries to simulate the movement of a manta ray, including a nice splash in the pond for the riders. Both girls were too short to ride, so that was that. We popped into our first aquarium and oohed and ahhed over some beautifully coloured fish, octopi, seahorses, etc.

Our path took us to the shark aquarium next. I still get shivers standing on the moving sidewalk and gliding through the shark tube. I had already seen the Jaws films by the time we went to SeaWorld in my childhood and that classic scene will be forever burned into my brain. The girls were absolutely not interested in feeding the sharks. This might be because I told them that it had only been a year or so since the shark tank cracked open. I think they were happy to get the hell out of there unscathed.

The first show available to us was the Orca show called one world. We hiked across the park to the stadium, where we got our seats nice and early. A insisted on sitting in the ‘Splash Zone’ so Mama S joined her. H sat with us higher up because she’s not fond of getting wet unless she’s in a bathing suit. The set was quite elaborate, with huge multi-media projector screens. Even in the shade I was still sweating like a maniac (I later came to realize that at seven months pregnant, this is just what my body does now.) and I was beginning to question whether or not I should head to the Splash Zone myself when the show began. SeaWorld started out with a huge tribute to the armed forces, and asked all of the military families in the audience to stand. People cheered and they flashed the families up on the big screen, then they launched into the show proper. It was called ‘One World’ and the very loose concept was that we are all part of one big world that we need to protect, particularly the creatures of the sea. We watched this message while trained orcas launched their massive bodies into leaps and twirls for our amusement. Just that morning, I had read an article about how one of the Orcas killed a trainer in 2010 during a behind-the-scenes tour. The trainer had been with SeaWorld for 20 years. Seeing the whales for the first time brought tears to my eyes, but it was hard to really surrender to the entertainment like I did as a kid because I really felt confused about my position on the whole idea of SeaWorld. The kids were delighted and amazed, of course, and A and Mama S got significantly soaked with whaley salt water.

After the show ice cream was required. Ice cream at these places is never really ice cream. It’s always that weird soft-serve stuff, but I didn’t care in that moment. I just wanted something cold. The kids opted for a slushy, and my childhood passion for slushies was re-kindled. We stood and consumed our treats while watching a red squirrel sit on a man’s shoe and eat his cone, then flop into a carb coma under the shade of his chair. I think the kids thought it was another of the trained SeaWorld animals. Perhaps it was?

We hit the kids’ zone next. All of us rode the carousel, where I opted for the stationary seat after realizing that there was no way to possibly climb up onto one of the moving creatures in my condition. Also, I was worried that with my size, I would look like a whale mounting a cartoon whale. A quick glance around at the other patrons assured me that this was more common than I thought, and most of the other guests didn’t have pregnancy as an excuse.

When we arrived at SeaWorld we were minutes inside the gates and H already started asking how long we were staying. This might have been due to the huge orca mascot greeting all the guests at the entrance, but now by this point, she wanted to know if we were leaving soon. It was so, so hot and the small amounts of shade didn’t help much. After the carousel, we headed to this huge net climbing structure for the kids. Mama S and I sat on a bench in front of a misting fan. By day four I’d given up on ever having good hair in Florida. Each day I’d try to do something nice, and by noon I’d look like Hermione Grainger. Daddy went up to let the girls know where we were and ended up staying to play. He’s inexhaustible it seems! After a spell we were reunited and the kids wanted to ride the children’s roller coaster. No coasters for me, so I sat and held our bags.

Most of the rides in the kid area were totally boring to Hannah, so we carried on to the next show, which was a seal show about pirates, naturally. Another trek across the park in the blazing heat to get there. At this point, I was also starting to feel a bit flaked.  The pre-show for the seals was this AMAZING mime dressed like a pirate. His schtick was ushering in the crowd and then making fun of people behind their backs to delight the audience. He was great. I could have watched him all day. He made me think of some of the amazing improv performers I worked with back in my Renaissance Festival days. The show itself was a disaster. The lead actor seemed like a jerk, the two seals got in a huge fight and the biggest one chased away the smaller one, who refused to return, and none of the actors seemed equipped with enough comedy to handle the upset in the flow of the show. I never imagined I’d morph into theatre critic mode at SeaWorld, but there I was in the audience thinking I could do it better.  Again, the kids laughed their heads off. What do I know?

Post-seal show marks the point where I wanted to go home. Hannah also wanted to go back to the hotel. I wore a dress to Disney on day two and for the first time ever, my thighs began to chafe. Sexy. I was really starting to feel the burn again, and the shorts I’d packed were too small. My feet and ankles were throbbing and swollen, plus the baby decided to rest all his weight on my bladder so I felt like I had to pee for the entire day. Thank god these theme parks keep their bathrooms pristine. I was quickly dissolving into a whiny, cranky mess.

The majority decided that we should definitely take in the new Turtle Trek adventure in 3D before we left. They sold me on the idea of a seat in an air-conditioned theatre. What they didn’t count on was the 45 minute wait outside, standing in line behind the most obnoxious pre-teen girl on the continent in the sweltering heat. I actually wanted to cry, and really tried my hardest to hold it together to keep the kids’ experience positive.  A kept stomping on my toes in her game of swinging on the metal bars that kept us corralled. At least it was an opportunity to practice my deep breathing.

Finally we got inside where we had to wait some more. This time the wait was in a dark, air conditioned room with an aquarium filled with manatees and sea turtles. The manatees floated, suspended in the water, huge and unmoving. I was so very envious of them. If I were on display in an aquarium, I would have looked exactly the same. I ended up lowering myself miserably to the carpeted floor, only to have the doors open to let us in to our seats. Fortunately I was hoisted up by Daddy.  In to the theatre we shuffled with the crowd, only to realize that there WERE. NO. SEATS. We stood, leaning against bars, under a big dome of a projection screen. Apparently it was the height of 3D technology, with the movie unfolding all around us. We got to experience a journey from hatching to returning to the beach to lay eggs from the perspective of a sea turtle. I’m sure it was great, but I was so completely and totally over SeaWorld by then and my feet were swelled up like puffer fish.

Finally we were released from captivity and we headed for the exit of the park. I was starting to feel like a whistling kettle that nobody had removed from the element. I’m not a very subtle person either. H was near tears too, so at least I had an ally. Even Daddy I’m sure was aching and tired. SeaWorld is not designed well for a very pregnant lady, tired kids and a one-legged man. Mama S never complains. Ever. On our way to the exit, we encountered the sting ray pool where there were throngs of people feeding the rays and petting them. We didn’t stop to feed, with the promise that the next day we’d return and feed the dolphins and sting rays, but we did get to pet a few. Their stingers are removed, of course. Our children are wonderful and gentle and respectful with animals, but there were so many parents I wanted to slap for letting their kids just go wild, unsupervised. Poor creatures in the pool. I wondered how many injuries they suffered at the hands of idiots. They were so beautiful to watch, and kind of silly too. It seemed like they were splashing people on purpose. They feel exactly like wet portobello mushrooms.  This was easily the highlight of the kids’ day.

Back at the hotel we laid in the a/c for half an hour and got changed into our “swim costumes” as Daddy calls them. We ate a quick dinner and then spent the rest of the evening in the blessed relief of the pool enjoying our second wind. Once in the water, H never wants to get out. I think she would have been happy to have spent another entire day at the pool, but SeaWorld did inspire some pretty awesome dolphin play.

Day Five is SeaWorld part two. Stay tuned to learn an amazing thing about dolphins!

Orlando, Day Two

More Day One Photos

Day Two

Our first full day in Orlando ended in the hotel pool with a moonlit family swim, and a little white lie about it being midnight when we finally convinced the kids to get out and get to bed. It was, in fact, ten o’clock which is a full two hours past their bedtime. They protested a little, but once they were tucked in, they were completely out.

The grown ups enjoyed some late night snacks and some Olympics on the hotel television. We don’t have cable at home, so it was novel to have TV, and I forgot how much I enjoy the Olympic coverage. I slept like a log, much better than the first night, where I think I got a total of three hours after trying in vain to share a bed with a twitchy eight-year-old.

In the morning we woke up slowly and headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast on the patio. The food at the hotel was decent. Not bad, not great. We got a sweet ass discount though, so I won’t complain. With breakfast in our bellies we wandered the grounds until we found the other kid-friendly pool – a smaller one that contained a pirate ship playground. The ship spouted water and had a small slide, so it was just right for A, who incidentally decided to liberate herself from her water wings once and for all on this trip. H took great delight in playing thousands of pool games (including ‘dive for my watch’ with Daddy who is some kind of super hero when it comes to his relentless energy). Mamma S and I had a splash or two and then enjoyed lounging – she with her Suduko and I with my book. (Oh, my book! It definitely bears mention. A gift from my wonderful friend who works for a major Canadian book retailer, ‘tiny beautiful things’ was devoured by me on this vacation. It’s a compilation of published advice column entries called ‘Dear Sugar’ and Sugar is in fact author Cheryl Strayed. Oh how I love this book.) We also armed ourselves with virgin Pina Coladas.

Pool side fun began to subside for me as I started to fret about when we would leave for day two of Disney. It seems I have a real problem with relaxing and chilling the eff out. I watched our kids with fascination amazed at how they lived in each and every moment, wondering how I too was once capable of such a thing. The idea of doing nothing for a whole day actually makes me feel a bit anxious. After a gentle reminder from Daddy, I forced myself to relax a little. Not long after we returned to our room to change, hit the resto again for a lunch/snack and then headed back to Magic Kingdom.

The weather was much more agreeable, and we arrived there just before 5pm but all we had to tackle was Tomorrowland. We (or at least those of us who aren’t pregnant) Fast Passed for Space Mountain, and  then filled the four hour wait with all of the other rides in Tomorrowland. A and Mama S went off to meet the latest Disney Princess, Merida from the movie Brave, while H and Daddy and I took on the Carousel of Progress. Those animatronics figures still delight/creep the hell out of me and I’m fairly sure H felt the same.

Poor H has a real fear of mascot characters too, but strangely we encountered very few of them on our trip. She and I kept a wide berth between us and them, and she did rather well.

Tomorrowland was kind of lame, in my opinion. The kids loved the new Buzz Lightyear ride, and they also enjoyed the flying space ships. The highlight (pre Space Mountain, of course) was the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor. It was a totally interactive, improvised comedy show that picked out members of the audience and flashed them up on a big screen for our delight and amusement. This was so well done, and half the joy was listening to H laugh so loud people kept spinning around in their seats to look at her.

Dinner consisted of $50 worth of ‘gourmet’ hot dogs (god help me), and then there was just enough time for the space ship ride before the scheduled date with Space Mountain. The ride looked like one of those fairly time kiddie rides that go up in the air and down again in a circular motion. It’s quite high up because they built it on top of a structure, so there was an amazing view of the part. There was also a far-off lightning storm which was incredibly beautiful. However, there was one thing I didn’t read about in any of the hundreds of pregnancy books I’ve tackled. Apparently you have zero equilibrium when you’re preggers. I got so dizzy and woozy on this ride, it was all I could do not to puke my $10 hot dog on to little A’s head. She was my co-pilot you see. Mama S had to help me out once the ride was over because I was too twirly to stand. The kids thought this was hilarious.

While the fam hit Space Mountain, I made a date with the People Mover, which is a series of little cars that move around Tomorrowland. I had the whole thing to myself, so I put my feet up and enjoyed the warm breeze. The ride was substantial, and ate up a decent chunk of time. The fact that we broke down for ten minutes also really helped.

We all met up again after, and it was just about time to find a place to watch the nightly fireworks blow out. H was unfortunately done with the whole thing at this point, and A despite demanding that we stay was also getting over-tired (read angry and emo). I’m still not totally sure why we elected to stay on anyway, but the fireworks were very pretty. Thank god Mama S thought to rent a stroller.

By the end of the fireworks, I was definitely on the list of children who wanted to be in bed NOW. The problem was this – do we stay an extra hour and let the crowd disburse, potentially getting trapped in the light-up parade that ends the night, or do we brave the crowd and get the hell out of there? The shrieking and crying that began coming from the stroller was our answer.  We really should have got a double.

If you ever think it’s a good idea to drag two exhausted kids and a seven-months pregnant lady through a crowd of thousands of people all trying to get to the same place (and many of these other people are exhausted, cranky-ass kids) I am here to tell you resolutely that it is NOT. Getting out of the park was challenging, but the line up to wait for a monorail was pure hell.

When you are an adult, you are apparently not supposed to whine and carry on as a child might when you are uncomfortable or tired (another lesson I’m working on). When you have kids, you have to bite your tongue and soldier on, and even try to make the shittiest shit fun. Daddy is very good at this. I am not. I did manage stoic and silent though. Just as we were about to board the monorail, the two kids behind us, roughly the same age as ours, actually threw themselves to the ground and passed out. There was something that was frankly eerie about being jostled about in a crowd of exhausted, emotional, sweaty people who were all waiting to be herded onto trains. Not really the Disney fantasy I had in mind. At least nobody puked.

Reaching the car was like arriving at the Promised Land. Once they were strapped in and the a/c was blasting, it was only moments before the children were deeply unconscious. Once home, straight to bed for every last one of us. Were the fireworks worth it? Personally, I say no, but Mama S got to snap some cool photos.

Day three brought us a day of total chilling out. Stay tuned for more…

Third TryMester

Image Image

It’s astonishing how quickly seven months have passed. I’ve tried with all of my might to hang on to each moment of this pregnancy, and still the time is racing by. My belly is enormous, and I actually can’t believe there are two and a half more months of stretching left. How can I get any bigger than this?

In recent days, I’ve felt more ‘pregnant’ than ever before. My feet and ankles swell by the end of the day no matter how much water I drink, I get winded very quickly by simple things like walking or stair climbing, and on some days I feel each and every one of my extra 20 pounds with each movement I make. Oh, and now I waddle. My energy levels are only slightly better than first trimester, but I’m determined to stay fit, so yoga continues to be part of my daily routine. I’m still loving this, don’t get me wrong. I just think it’s remarkable how each stage affects my body.

Tomorrow we’re off on our first-ever family vacation all together. We’re taking on Orlando, in August. I believe that if we let the kids set the pace, and I wear comfortable shoes and drink lots of water, I will have fun, despite feeling a little bit like a manatee. My mantra for this trip is “Relax, be easy”. It will be an adventure in letting go and living in each moment. More and more each day I realize these are the two biggest lessons that I need to learn.

One of the many great things about children who have very limited exposure to television or the Internet is that telling them we’re going to Orlando, Florida is utterly meaningless. We held off about telling them that we’re visiting the Magic Kingdom until Friday night, and even then all they seem to care about is whether or not they will be able to go swimming. With such lowered expectations, I feel like we’re in complete control of how insane this trip will be (or not be). The plan right now is to enjoy a few theme park days peppered with days lounging at the resort pool. We’re trying out a Sheraton resort because of a sweet family hook up. See the photos above. Mamma S and I bought Daddy a few laps on a race track in a Ferrari too to celebrate our three year tri-anniversary. All her brilliant idea.

How wonderful to have a birthday this year where my focus has gladly shifted from self to this little being I am growing. All I wanted was to have my family close and be with the people I love. I feel like there is so much to celebrate in our lives right now, and I’m so lucky to have such an abundance of blessing. It hasn’t been easy for us trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and I’m sure we’ll have challenges ahead, but we’ve reached a place of greater understanding and it feels like I hoped it could feel, with each day getting better and better. I think this success has largely been due to setting boundaries and creating more structure, opening communication, and making therapy a priority for each of us. I can’t say enough about how wonderful therapy is.

Stay tuned for vacation updates. For now, I’ll leave you with my 2012 Birthday Wishes.

1. Continued good health

2. A safe and positive delivery of this baby

3. Good health for my family

4. Continued growth and deepening of love for my family

5. More visits from my parents and my brother, who I wish were more physically present in my life

6. Deeper patience and greater ability to manage stress

7. A true, clear sign that my artistic endeavors are going to yield a profit

8. The strength to handle being a mother as gracefully as I would like

9. More time with my dear friends and their families

10. The ability to break down my own issues to have deeper love and give better love

Pool side and mouse ears, here I come!

In the hall of the Gnome King

Pheasant Feathers - David Taylor

Yesterday we bought a Christmas tree, set it up in our living room, went to a pot luck at the girls’ school, and then decorated the tree with all of the decorations we’ve made.

I’m a PTA mom. I have children to enjoy the holidays with. I have a family.

Every day we are growing, and with the hope that peaceful December brings, I daresay getting stronger. I believe we are getting stronger.

The dreamy phase has been paused, and work, and life have sunk their teeth into us, creating some stress and some seriously distracted grown-ups with their faces buried in their computers, but we persevere. I work at being better, stronger, and most importantly, more trusting. This one is the hardest, and it is with real anger that I admit that. I imagine myself free of doubt, and able to sink deeply into the arms of love, and know that work distractions don’t mean the end of the world. My waking brain knows this, but there are still cobwebs that keep this message from being clearly relayed.

Sometimes when I tell my boyfriend some of the things in my head he laughs. Not because he is laughing at me, but because he can’t believe how far his own thoughts and my perceptions are from each other in such moments. I wish I could laugh at this too. Maybe that’s a good way to dismiss such moments, or put them in better perspective.

This has been an incredible weekend. When I can look up and catch secret, special glances from both of my partners each time, I know all is right with the world. We’re listening to Louis Armstrong, each working away in our brightly sun-lit living room, brunch is packed away, and the girls are playing in their now-clean bedroom. The six-year-old is wearing a crazy woolen hat that I own, and matching blue tights with crazy flowers all over them. She has a leather belt with embroidered flowers, where she’s tucked a recently acquired plastic sword. Her fuzzy red and white striped socks match the red and white furry pouch she has slung diagonally across her little self, and she is addressing her father and I as the Gnome King and Gnome Queen. She returns from her epic travels to her bedroom with treasures that she lays like offerings with a bow and a flourish; old rhinestone costume jewelery, feathers, crystals, old coins, and anything else that catches her imagination.

She is a soul-twin, of that I am sure. There are so many moments when I am convinced she can see into my head and my heart. For example, just the other day, she was playing a story game taught to her by a class mate. It goes like this:

“Once, there was a man named Gunkie Dung Gung, and he ate a slug.”

None of us knows what this means, but we have a joke that only children can say the name of this man, because it is unpronounceable to the grown-up tongue. This particular morning though, she changed the game up:

“Once, there was a man named Bookie Boo…”

Bookie Boo was the nickname my father gave me as a little girl. I’ve never told her this, nor have I ever uttered this name in her presence, but there it was. She amazes me every day.

At the pot luck, the children in her kindergarten participate in a little ritual called the Advent Spiral. The teacher lays evergreen boughs on the floor in the shape of a spiral and the path is marked with large shells or crystals or tin stars. In the centre of the spiral are individual white taper candles in fat apples. The children walk with a parent, select a candle, and walking the spiral, place the candle near the symbol that speaks to them. Our six-year-old chose me to walk the spiral with her, and it was so sweet and solemn. She didn’t want to hold my hand though. She led the way, proud and strong, selected her candle, walked with me at her side, and laid it to rest beside a large, beautiful feather.

From the internet:

“When you find feathers upon your path it could be taken to mean that you are on a higher spiritual path (whether you accept it or not), and it may be a sign of encouragement as you philosophically travel on this path.

Finding feathers on your path is also symbolic of having a lighter outlook on life or a particular situation.  When we see feathers in our midst it is considered a message that we need to lighten up, not take things too seriously, and try to find the joy in our situation.”

Light. Joy. Spirit.

Let the holidays begin.

Ten O’Clock is My New Bedtime

Lion or Ram?

Lion or Ram?

I am a lion, born under the sign of Leo. Not only am I a lion, but I am also a fire dragon, if you consult my Chinese astrological sign. However, at this particular moment, there is a three-and-a-half year old ram singing away in the bathtub who might be my most cunning adversary yet.

Tonight my girlfriend is playing baseball, and my boyfriend (yep, I do love saying that) is off in the United States of America with the six year old member of the tribe seeing to a spontaneous family affair. I am left alone with one who I have affectionately referred to time and again as Monkey.

For the most part, suddenly finding myself in the midst of an instant-family has been an incredibly smooth transition for me. I mean sure, I still have moments when I’m nostalgic for hours alone at my Fortress, sipping wine, and trying to ease the ache inside my heart with words. Words for you, words for me, just words. I miss solo strolls along Roncesvalles, choosing groceries for the one and only meal I would cook, just for me. Sniffing nectarines, selecting shiny apples, treating myself to a beautiful bouquet of flowers for my table. This was romantic, in its own right, but my partners have a very healthy sense of the importance of grown up time, so now life is a lovely balance of the domestic and well, that other stuff.

Monkey keeps summoning me to tub-side…

Apparently Monkey is now Kelpie the Mermaid, and would like to henceforth be addressed as such. I can’t stop calling her “buddy” and she completely hates it. I’m unaware in fact of how frequently I use this handle until she’s scowling and grunting at me “That’s not my name!”.

The girls have generally been very accepting of my presence here. They know I have my own home to go to (which I’ve seen very little of lately), but that I spend a lot of time with them, sometimes (and those are the best times) with Arthur in tow. Arthur is delighted with his new pack, and so patient and gentle with the girls. I can’t help but feel that Monkey/Kelpie is challenging me to see where I fit in. Although her ferocious moments aren’t just reserved for me.

I’m told that the terrible twos often bleed into a much worse reality called Three. I’ve started consulting the Internet for parenting advice, since my learning curve is steep. Don’t get me wrong, Monkey is generally beyond adorable – clever, saucy, so funny, and super smart, but lately things have been challenging. She’s bursting at the seams sometimes, I think. Requests are demands, objections are shrieks, grunts, sometimes outright hollers. Last night, while left to deal with dinner supervision, I witnessed her coat both her arms in sour cream, gripping the table with her bare toes while staring me down defiantly. It was about the tenth time she barked “NO” at me that I decided it was time to walk Arthur, and I left her in the more than capable hands of daddy. I don’t ever want to raise my voice, and I felt like I was at my limit.

She pushes as far as she can, and then repents with bitter tears and a string of “sorry! sorry! sorry!”. In those moments we hold her and tell her we love her, and try to patiently explain that we are a pack, and that we must all compromise and be considerate and respectful of the other pack members.

I feel deeply challenged. She is Alpha, like me. She is flexing her muscles for the first time, and the way we negotiate this, she and I, will set the tone for the rest of our existence together. I think it must be one thing to grow with a child since baby-hood, but this is unbelievably intimidating sometimes. I don’t let on about this. Not to her, not to anyone really. I’m afraid she won’t take me seriously, so I remain patient but firm. I walk away from tantrums, I encourage quiet moments, and creative ways for her to take on responsibility and express herself to the rest of us. I stare her down calmly when she’s smearing herself with condiments.

At bedtime tonight (which happened before 9pm, I am proud to state) she insisted I stay and snuggle for a bit, which I was delighted to do. I tried to calm her by singing to her, and this actually worked. Her current favourites are Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which apparently she heard from me first, and Riverwide which she couldn’t possibly realize is actually a Sheryl Crow tune. Singing in soft, dulcet tones with her little fresh-from-the-bath smelling sweet self curled up beside me, tucked under my chin was the kind of heaven I’ve only dreamed of up until now. Soon she was sleeping, and after several moments, I untangled myself and stepped carefully from the room. This resulted in her waking almost immediately and shrieking indecipherable things at me. I attempted to calm her, but when the air-kicking started, I backed slowly out of the room with a “Goodnight Monkey. I love you, but I’m not going to listen to this.”

As it turns out, I’m in love with four people. One of them really likes to arm wrestle, and victory tastes sweet for both of us. She’s fast asleep now, and in the morning, she will cry out my name when I emerge from the bathroom and join her at the breakfast table, as if she is surprised and delighted to always find me there, despite knowing each night that I haven’t gone back to my own house.

And so tonight, the lion is victorious, and with my sleepy tawny head propped up by a pile of pillows, reclining on the sofa, I’m trolling the internet for the lyrics to my favourite songs from when I was a kidlet. I’m keeping Puff The Magic Dragon in my back pocket for emergencies only.

Stay tuned for stories of Barcelona…and hopefully photos!