One of the traps that parents much smarter than I know to avoid is the delaying of their obligatory yearly visit to Father Christmas until after the majority of gifts have already been purchased. An earlier mall pilgrimage greatly reduces not only the length of time spent waiting for a turn on the Jolly One’s lap, but also the chances that the list of wanted items conveyed to this Santa will be vastly different from the list that we’ve been working off of for the past several weeks.
Feeling pretty confident that my daughter’s requests wouldn’t vary much from the list that she handed me in early September, and not being one of those aforementioned smart parents, we only just completed this seasonal requirement this past week. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, it didn’t go exactly as planned. Mr. Kringle was under the weather, his replacement didn’t arrive until two and a half hours after we did, and instead of recommending a toy horse when my daughter asked for a real one, this back up Klaus told her that a robot horse would be much easier to clean up after.
I’m pretty sure that her Christmas morning expectations now involve a character from the Robot Unicorn Attack video game roaming our back yard.
Will she be disappointed by her lack of ridable, mechanical equines next week or did she become as frustrated as her father by the entire afternoon spent in the pursuit of a few halfway decent pictures?
Of course not. She’s six, and in a lot of ways six year olds are much smarter than their adult counterparts. Smarter, and therefore much happier much more often.
She made friends with every single person that was also there waiting, laughed her ass off at the ridiculous poses that she unnecessarily struck in 27 of the 30 pictures that I took, and decided that her favorite part of the whole day was dinner at Outback. She was allowed a small sundae for dessert and even more importantly, the promise of food and a trip to the mall brought her older sister along for our adventure.
Little kids know things, things that all too often we adults forget. They know how to find joy in little moments, to make the best of bad situations. They know how to enjoy the journey without worrying about the destination. They know that the most important and enjoyable part of the ride is quite often the people that accompany us on it.
I make no secret about some of my “quirks.” What I call “organized” others may describe as “crazy” or “controlling.” Most days I consider these positive attributes, the habits of a man with his shit together. Every once in a while, however, there comes a day when I look at my lists, my hourly schedules, and I wonder if maybe I take things a step further than necessary.
Today was one of those days.
Tomorrow my wife and I leave for vacation, a trip that any would-be burglars should note that we will have returned from by the time this post is published. (Nice try burglars.) It’s a trip that by necessity needed to be planned pretty meticulously. Four different hotels in three different cities over a five night period. A flight into one airport and a departure from another for the return home. An entire folder full of printed confirmations.
It wasn’t these plans that gave me pause, rather the ones that I had left behind. Detailed descriptions of my daughter’s morning, after school and before bed routines. Lunches and snacks packed and labeled, dinners prepared. School and soccer practice outfits chosen and laid out according to weather predictions.
One might think that this was the first time I had left her in anybody else’s care but it’s not. There also might be the assumption that I don’t trust grammy to handle what is needed, also not true.
The truth is that my daughter is a bit like me. She likes things to go a certain way and can be a pain in the ass when they don’t. Bedtime can be a challenging time, mornings double so, and she comes home from school with seven hours of contained energy waiting to be released. Tactics proven successful deserve to be shared.
Thankfully my mother doesn’t take any of this personally. I’m not sure if she’ll have his clothes laid out, but I’d be willing to bet that my father already has his next few meals prepared and a list of instructions of his own. Not because he’s incapable, just because we’re “organized.”
I’m going to give you a little glimpse into my mind Thirsty Nation, a place that many of you already realize is a bit….off.
I’m a list maker. I’m not just talking about grocery lists or things I’d like to accomplish on any given day, although I do write those also. I’m talking about an entire notebook, hidden under several others in an attempt to hide my crazy, full of every type of list you can imagine.
There is a list of movies I want to see, separated by those that should be seen in theaters, those that are already available to rent or buy on Blu Ray and those that have been DVR’d. There are notations about which family members would be interested in watching each with me.
There is a list of CDs that I want to buy ( yes, I still buy CDs ), songs I plan to download and artists that I haven’t yet seen in concert.
There is a list of video games that I want to play, another of books I want to read. One of the longest is of places I want to go, cities to visit both domestic an abroad.
In a separate notebook, where my more temporary lists are kept, is a page full of things that I wanted to do this summer, written sometime during this past winter. As the calendar turns to August it is this list, only about 50% crossed off, that is causing me some consternation.
With only a few weeks to go, we have yet to visit the beach, haven’t seen the ocean, played in the waves. We’ve spent a lot of time in our pool and last week she played in the sand at the park volleyball courts, but it’s not quite the same.
We still haven’t been to the drive-in, the dinosaur park or Lake Compounce Amusement Park. The teenager hasn’t had her turn at Six Flags and I was hoping to take her to check out the new AA minor league baseball stadium in Hartford and her first outdoor music festival. I wanted the six year old to be able to tie her own shoelaces by the time school started and she reminds me often that when we first opened the pool I told her she could “maybe” have a swim party.
My wife and I have been to one Red Sox game at Fenway Park, but haven’t had the overnight trip to Boston that we try and fit in several times a year.
It was a bold list, full of fantastic ideas and adventures. It was also completely unrealistic, as most of the ones I make are.
The truth is that we have done quite a bit. Lots of hiking, canoeing, and as I write this my wife and Alaina are out fishing, something that the little one seems to love. We spent a day at the water park we missed out on last year and there have been many nights watching the Connecticut Tigers play ball. Kayla has finished her last few requirements for a high school diploma and has recently started a new job. She still can’t tie her shoes but we have a new bike rider in the house and some trails are already being scouted for next year, a new ride a potential birthday present.
That’s the thing about all of my lists. They aren’t meant to be finished. For every thing crossed off, two more are added. I don’t know when I’ll ever play golf in Ireland, if George RR Martin plans to finish writing the Song of Ice and Fire books or how much longer they plan on making physical CDs and DVDs.
All I can say for sure is that I’ll keep making them, because I’m a little bit crazy that way, and that my daughter’s pool party is still a definite “maybe.”
We’re back, flights to and from Florida completed without incident. The 2017 family vacation to The Happiest Place on Earth now nothing more than memories.
Upon returning home we found that our time away had been approved, a letter from the kindergarten’s school administrator informing us that because of her previous attendance history a few days missed would’t adversely affect her learning progression. This was a great relief as we had neither asked permission nor intended to alter our plans in any way had we been denied.
This is in no way meant to imply any lack of respect for scholastics or educators and in that spirit I have decided to pass along some of my own knowledge, a dad’s moderately constructive guide to surviving Disney, minimizing stress and helping you have at least as good a time as I always have.
1. Regardless of whether or not this trip is a surprise and when the big reveal comes, that initial excitement wears off quickly and the plane ride becomes a torturously long and tedious exercise in patience. Alaina spent both rides contentedly watching movies and munching chips while all around us families bickered about who’s responsibility is was to make sure that kid’s electronics were charged. Pack snacks and remember that if you guess wrong about your child being responsible enough to charge their own device, you will now be responsible for their on-board entertainment.
The youngest was so content and excited about her first plane ride that after landing in Orlando she thanked us for her surprise and asked if we could stop at a restaurant for dinner on the ride home. It wasn’t until we pulled into the hotel that she started believing that we hadn’t just flown in a big circle and landed at the same airport.
2. Spend some time researching and thinking about what you are looking for regarding accommodations. One of the recommendations that most Disney bloggers make is that by staying on-site, you remove the need for a rental car, are able to enter the parks earlier than the general public, and have a place to take an afternoon break before returning in the evening. These are all very valid points, but they are also staying for free in exchange for these “tips.”
For roughly the same amount of money as a moderately priced room for four at a Disney Hotel, we stayed in a three bedroom, two bathroom suite about twenty minutes away. The car was an added expense and we definitely would have gotten more of our dollar’s worth out of the park tickets, but we did have a pool with a kick ass pirate ship water slide. Also, did I mention that it had two bathrooms? Decide on what to prioritize in order to keep your family happy.
3. If you have a family member or members that take an excruciating amount of time to get themselves ready at home, don’t think that it will be any different on vacation. A lesson that I learned a long time ago that I will reiterate here is that the fastest way to start your day off wrongly is by appearing anxious to get going or trying to rush somebody out the door. Get ready, get out of the way, and tell them how beautiful they look. This tip is transferable to any time or any place you are ever going for the rest of your life.
4. Have a plan. Don’t make it a supremely detailed, step by step plan for what you want to do every minute of the day, I’ve done that before and was surprised to find that it wasn’t as appreciated as I thought it would be. Have a plan for the rides and attractions that are your “must do’s” and make an effort to do those things first. There may be backtracking and added distance walked later as you go back and hit your secondary targets but this will ensure that nobody leaves disappointed if you leave sooner than you had expected or if longer lines and time constraints leave you unable to do everything, an impossible task to begin with. Little feet get tired, flip flops break, hunger and heat lead to crankiness. A full day at a Disney park is a grueling test of endurance that can break even the strongest of wills.
5. Know the height limits of the various thrill rides and decide on their appropriateness. Disney roller coasters have a shorter minimum than most other amusement parks but some of these rides might be too scary for children able to reach the mark.
The highest threshold and the only one that my five year old couldn’t meet is 48″ at Hollywood Studios Rock N’ Roller Coaster, a ride that starts off by launching you from 0-57 mph in 2.8 seconds. The minimum for Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror is only 40″ but features a 130 foot free fall at 39 mph. Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom has a minimum of 44″ and moves at a relatively slow 28 mph, but is very dark with flashing strobe light effects. Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom is also 44″ and features a main drop of 80 feet and reaches speeds of 50 mph. There is also a Yeti chasing you. It was my daughter’s favorite ride of the weekend, but she is a complete lunatic and probably a bad example.
6. This will probably be less of an issue after Pandora – The World of Avatar opens in a few weeks, but for now I continue to hear people describe Disney’s Animal Kingdom as being nothing more than an expensive zoo and the park to skip if that decision needs to be made. I strongly disagree. Besides being home to the previously mentioned Expedition Everest coaster, the best in all the Orlando Disney parks, the Kilimanjaro Safaris offer a guided, motorized animal watching experience I have yet to find anywhere else. Along with The Magic Kingdom I think these are the two “must hit” parks for those burdened with small children.
7. If you are staying off site and have access to a rental car, take a quick ride into Kissimmee for a dinner show. There is an Al Capone themed one, another based around the story of the Titanic, magical comedy, several mystery dinners, and three different pirate shows, one of which is adults only and on the list for the next time we are down there without kids.
We stuck with the classic Medieval Times and it was as fantastic as I remembered. With all the knights, princesses, falconry, jousting and sword fighting I was surprised that my daughter actually ate her meal. She loved cheering on the Red Knight, the hero who’s section we were seated in, and booing the others. The first time in her life that I’ve seen her speechless was after catching a rose thrown her way by that dashing fellow and I’m fairly certain she may have developed her first crush. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
8. Pick accommodations that have a pub within walking distance. If you can manage to have children twelve years apart, start working on that now in order to have your own babysitter for after the youngest crashes for the night. If this is unrealistic, consider bringing somebody else along for that purpose. It may greatly increase the overall cost of your trip, but can you really put a price on a nice, cold pint and watching the game in peace after a long, hot day surrounded by thousands of children?
9. Prepare yourself the night before for the inevitability of check out. It’s OK to feel melancholy but a full tantrum and locking yourself in the bathroom because you don’t want to go home is a horrible example to set for your children. Pull yourself together, gather your belongings and don’t look back. Spend the entire plane ride home daydreaming about your next visit.
10. Know ahead of time that this isn’t a cheap, relaxing vacation, and be OK with it. Take lots of pictures, cherish every smile and make lots of memories. Expect to come home broke, a few pounds heavier, and even more tired than when you left. If you aren’t than you’re doing Disney wrong. Try harder next time and re read this before you go. Tell anybody you know that is planning a trip to Disney World that they should probably read this too.
I had a weird moment at the store today. As I was paying for the cards and flowers I had belatedly picked up for the girls, ( I didn’t forget, they were just all with me this weekend ) the young man behind the counter gave me a wink and a nod, smiling as if we shared some private joke. It wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized that everything I had purchased was in quantities of three. I’m fairly certain the young cad had misidentified me as a fellow player, multiple women in my life expecting attention on this day devoted to love.
There was a time when things may have been closer to his presumed interpretation. Days when Valentine’s was among the holidays I made sure to work, not wanting to have to decide who I was spending it with. A time when I was more concerned with staying friends with someone after my “three month rule” had been reached than with actually treating them overly well during that allotted three months. I wrote recently about not being very popular for a stretch of years. The next chapter in that story is a decade of overcompensation for that. Years when I was kind of a dick, to be honest.
Those days are far behind me now. As flattering as it may have been for this kid to think that I could still pull off these types of maneuvers, I have no interest in proving him right. I’m still juggling multiple women and trying to keep too many at a time happy, but I’m related to them all now.
My concerns these days are different, no longer concerned with who I am buying for, but how much. Last year Baby Cupid brought baskets of presents, but I’m willing to concede that may have been a little ridiculous. I settled on absurdly priced cards and flowers, an older movie for each of the kids, and a New England Patriots Super Bowl Championship T-shirt for my wife, leaving them strategically placed as I headed off to work.
Was that enough? Of course not. This is why I struggle with this “holiday” every year. Twelve years ago my wife inadvertently started changing me into a different person. A better man. All three of them continue to push me down that road daily. How many chocolates is that worth?
Hopefully the girls are happy and know that I love them. Even more importantly, I hope this is true the other 364 days of the year as well. I hope that young stud at the supermarket gets as lucky as this one did and that one day he’s buying multiple Valentines for a more respectable reason. I hope when I get home from work tonight my wife is feeling frisky and most importantly, I hope that the shirt fit.