Our first trip to Disneyland wasn’t the milestone I expected it to be

standard August 13, 2014 3 responses

Last week, for the first time ever, the four of us went on a vacation that didn’t involve a family event or holiday. Just us, going away, for the sole purpose of relaxing as a family.

Novel, right?

In an effort to make the trip a roaring success I might have gone a little overboard in the planning process, thinking out the week with almost military precision, worrying about every choice I made, hoping against hope that the whole trip would be such a roaring success that a summer family vacation would become an annual tradition rather than that one thing we did the summer the kids were 7 and 9.

Please note, as far as I can recall, my family went on exactly two family vacations and both were when I was a teen. My concern wasn’t born out of nothing.

First I researched the heck out of our options, toying at length with the idea of renting a cabin by a lake for the week. Then I pondered whether the girls were old enough to enjoy a cruise. The first option basically meant I’d be cooking, cleaning, and catering to the family, just in a different locale. The second option meant that someone else would be cooking, cleaning, and catering to the family all while I relaxed in a deck chair.

Guess which option won.

The cruise I picked left from Los Angeles (Long Beach really, but who’s quibbling?) on a Monday afternoon, leaving me a whole weekend to play with.

Los Angeles Road Sign

And play with it we did!

Because what could be better than taking your kids on a four day cruise to Mexico?

A first trip to Disneyland the day before! That’s what!

Disneyland Ferris wheel

We drove down to LA on Saturday, taking our sweet time and enjoying the road trip.

The road to L.A. is beautiful in spots.

The road to L.A. is beautiful in spots.

Then, Sunday we got up at the crack of dawn and, with a little bit of trepidation, made our way to the happiest place on earth.

Why trepidation? Well, it has something to do with the reasons that caused us to wait so long to take the girls to Disneyland for the first time.

Reason one? Neither girl is very fond of characters in costume. C even has a bit of a phobia about it. Had we taken this trip any sooner, I’m pretty sure it would have ended with us having to leave the park, each carrying a hysterical child. At 7 and 9 I figured they could manage somewhat, especially after I learned that, unlike at Euro Disney, here the characters tend to stand in one spot and let the kids come to them. Much better than suddenly finding yourself walking hand in hand with Tweedle Dee instead of your best friend. (Why yes, when it happened that one time, it did startle me, making Tweedle Dum laugh rather uproariously.)

Big Green Men. More terrifying than Little Green Men.

Big Green Men. More terrifying than Little Green Men.

Reason two? We were heading to Disneyland on one of the busiest days of the year, in the middle of a heat wave. I worried it would be crazy crowded and hot.

No shortage of people here! Or of heat...

No shortage of people here! Or of heat…

Reason three? Until this summer, I honestly didn’t think M would have enough energy to navigate Disneyland. I mean, the man has been known to fall asleep standing up in the middle of Costco because the noise and people are so overwhelming. In that regard and knowing what he’s gone through the last three years, Disneyland seemed dauntingly overwhelming and I worried he’d have a horrible time.  I also worried that I’d be bouncing around the parks with two kids while he napped in the car or on a bench. None of which sounded appealing. Thus the trepidation.

You can rest in line while waiting for rides as it turns out!

You can rest in line while waiting for rides as it turns out!

I needn’t have worried.

About any of it.

We arrived moments after the gates opened and, firm plan in hand about which rides we’d try to score Fast Passes for first, headed off into the park.

I have to admit I might have shed a tear or two at finally seeing my kids in an iconic place I never thought we’d see as a family.

Disneyland arrival

We did it all. OK, almost all. In the 12 hours that we spent bouncing from Disneyland to California Adventures and back we hit most of the key rides, had two low key meals, saw a couple 3D movies, visited almost every gift shop, and had an all around blast. Yes, it was hot. Yes, there were a lot of people there. No, neither thing dampened our fun in the least.

Flying high!

Flying high!

At 8pm, one last Fast Pass in hand, we debated whether to stick around another 45 minutes to ride Radiator Springs, the popular new Cars racing attraction, or to call it quits on the fun and head home.

Look! We hugged Stanley. We can go now!

Look! We hugged Stanley. We can go now!

The kids, exhausted and utterly spent, begged us to leave. The husband, equally exhausted, begged us to stay. He just couldn’t get enough.

Reason prevailed and we gifted our fast passes to a family who was preparing to wait an hour and a half in line and headed out, knowing full well that this was only the first of our Disneyland trips, not the only. Next time we’ll make a real vacation of it, staying in a Disneyland Resort hotel, taking our time to savor each park and all they have to offer.

I know that Disneyland is a magical place, but I’d forgotten what it was like to see the magic in action. Watching my husband act like a kid, enjoying his day out with the actual kids, laughing, bouncing around, loving every minute of his day despite his mounting exhaustion, was more than I had ever dared hope would happen again. A lot of this summer has been about reclaiming the lives I feared we’d lost forever. Disneyland was yet another stop on the road to normalcy. A truly magical one; not half bad for a first time.


You can see more photos of our fun day at Disneyland here.

As for the cruise we headed out on the following day? That’s a whole other story which I’ll be telling in a day or two. 


Please note: M and I were graciously granted press pass park hopper tickets to the Disneyland Resort. I paid for the children’s passes and everything else. Everything experienced and expressed is based on my thoughts and opinions and in no way dictated by Disney. 

10 Simple Summer Rules

standard June 23, 2014 2 responses

The morning of our first full day of summer vacation I sat down with the kids and placed a huge blank poster board on the table in front of us. I let the markers I had gathered slide onto the table and answered their expectant gazes.

“Rules. Summer rules.”

Expectant gazes turned wary.

“You guys are going to be home with me for nine weeks. We’re going to need some rules so that we can make sure we all have fun and do what needs to get done.”

The rules aren’t set in stone, but they are written up in bright Sharpie and posted on my office door. They’re based on our particular needs. The document bears both of their signatures as proof that they approved the rules when we wrote them up.

So far, it’s working quite well.

When they beg for more TV, I point them to the rules.

When they’re mean to each other, I point them to the rules.

When they start to say they’re bored, I point them to the rules.

When they insist on talking at me while I’m writing, I silently point to the rules.

It’s only been 10 days, but so far there has been more laughter than tears and I haven’t had to raise my voice one. If that isn’t the soundtrack to a happy summer, I don’t know what is.


Family Summer Rules

Long awaited exhale

standard May 12, 2014 15 responses

That day, that evening really, when our lives were irrevocably altered, I was hyper aware that everything was changing.

Sometimes change takes you by surprise, sometimes you have to look back to try to pinpoint the exact moment. You sift through the memories, the events until you can say “There, right there, that’s when it all changed.”

That night though, I watched it change. I knew nothing would ever be the same, and I was desperately focused on making sure that the children would never, ever be able to pinpoint that day as the day their lives were altered. A part of me hoped that they’d never even notice the change, that the transition from normal to not might be subtle enough from their point of views that there never would be a “before” and “after” in their minds. But, having lived through major medical upheavals pretty much my entire life, I wasn’t delusional enough to truly believe it.

That night though, that one night, I could control.

We got the call from M’s doctor while we were out to dinner with the kids, getting ready to take them to a pajama event at the local church. They were eating at one of those pretend “healthy” buffet restaurants and we were just watching them, assuming we’d be headed to dinner with our friends as soon as we’d dropped them off.

Then I looked at my phone. I had three missed calls. (Those places are noisy.) M had two. All the same number.

Our eyes met over the children’s oblivious heads. Fear shone back at me.

“He has a brain tumor.” I thought, as his phone rang again and he stumbled away from the table to take the call in the relative silence of the parking lot. “They only call like that, frantically, after hours on a Friday evening, if it’s something really, really bad.”

In my mind brain tumor was as bad as it got.

Cancer was as bad as it got.

That almost makes me laugh today.

I wiped the fear from my face. Stopped my hand from straying to my own phone. Forced myself to focus on the kids and their cheery chatter. M didn’t come back into the restaurant, so I put a last spoonful of peas into Little L’s mouth, helped C wipe Mac&Cheese sauce from her face, and gathered their things.

We found him, pale faced and wild eyed, standing by our car. Even without knowing what was wrong, I knew our evening was toast.

“How about, instead of the pajama party, we go home, watch a movie and paint our nails!” I said to the two little faces starting to dart back and forth between his deathly pale face and mine. The girls focused on me, skeptical. It sounded like a trick. It felt like a trick. But it was clearly too good not to believe.

“In front of da TV?” C asked tentatively.


They agreed with glee, instantly forgetting their planned evening of fun with their friends, and clambered into their seats. I buckled them both in and closed the door. Only then did I let myself make eye contact with M.

He murmured the doctors’ hypothesized diagnosis and the world as I knew it shifted on its axis.

I could have guessed a million things, this wouldn’t have been on the list. At the time I lived blissfully unawares of the sheer number of people affected by auto-immune disorders, of the sheer number of auto-immune disorders in existence. Neither of us had any clue.

A storm of questions and fears exploded in my head, but I held on to the only thing that felt solid and real. I held on to the fact that I had to make everything normal for the kids. Make this seem like a fun, special evening, not a disastrously life altering one.

We went home. Decided to watch Ponyo for the first time. I painted their tiny nails. I held them both tight. M took a long walk so he could call the many medical professionals in his family. And I surreptitiously tried to Google what the doctor had said.

I grew to loathe that movie. It became their all time favorite. They watched it over, and over, and over again that summer, and every time I was thrown back into that surreal evening where I tried to maintain normalcy for my girls for as long as I possibly could.

In the movie, there’s a huge flood, the waters overtake the town while terrifying prehistoric animals swim up from the depths of the ocean to swim among the people. That’s what that year felt like. Overwhelming fear sweeping over us while new and increasingly terrifying things lunged at us as we tried to tread water and stay alive.

We survived that flood. The girls thrived despite all the upheavals, all the changes. In the end it molded them as much as it did us, but it didn’t break any of us. In fact, I thought we’d managed to incorporate all the changes, that we’d been able to rebuild and move on, our lives different, but still good.

And then, last Tuesday, the doctor declared M to be almost fully healed, to be in maintenance mode rather than repair mode. And I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’ve been holding since that night way back in March of 2011.

As that pent up breath escaped from me, I saw M’s shoulders relax fully for the first time since that night. Saw fear that I no longer even noticed lurking in his face fade away. And I felt my lungs fill fully with air for the first time in years.

It’s still an auto-immune disorder. It’ll never fully go away. But it released some of its grip on our lives. Lives that might not be as irrevocably altered as I once feared.

M and Little L at the beach

****** A few back-story posts for those who haven’t had the good fortune to be following this blog for the last 3 years: His Strength Lies in His Vulnerability

Fast Paced Movie Sequence

Hearkening Back

Driving All Day Long 

Musings on a Challenging Year