8.26.2014

ethan does disney world

As a second generation native Floridian living three hours from Disney World, I always grew up with people who spent all of their free time at Disney World. Break from school? Disney World. Long weekend? Disney World. While I do have several childhood memories of time spent in Disney World, my family and I were always less into the whole "Disney thing" than seemingly everyone else. Now that I'm a parent, I knew the thrill of Mickey Mouse was something I wanted to let Ethan experience, too, and I was curious as to how Mickey would be received by him. I always wondered if he'd get all spun up into the "Disney magic" like so many other kids seem to. With this being such a difficult time for our family, I couldn't think of a better time to give Ethan that Disney experience and magic that everyone is always speaking of.

For the past couple of weeks, Ethan has been kicking off each morning asking if this would be the day that we would be visiting Mickey and yesterday I finally got to say yes. While this was his third trip to Disney World, it's the first where he's at an age to both remember and understand (his first trip was at six months old!). Part of the reason I was always hesitant to do the Disney thing were the preconceived notions about it that I had: the crowds, the heat, the lines, the commotion, the chaos. After spending over 12 hours at Disney World yesterday, I'm actually pleasantly surprised at how smooth it went and how there was really next to no chaos at all. (The heat, however, you can't really do much about.)

We kicked off our morning with a character breakfast at 'Ohana. As a "not so regular" Disney visitor, I didn't realize how far in advance you probably should schedule your character breakfasts. When I went to do so a week before our trip, I had a little bit of panic upon thinking I was too late as the website kept telling me there was no availability. While we did manage to find an open slot at 'Ohana, the time wasn't exactly ideal and I was a little stressed as to how it would cut into our park time. After a quick phone call to the Disney World reservations line, the Disney staff had no issue bumping our reservations up to a more convenient time without any hesitation at all. I was definitely impressed by how accommodating they were for something that was totally my fault.

The entire 'Ohana experience was wonderful! Because my husband has Celiac disease and therefore can't have anything with gluten in it, we are used to him not being able to really eat anywhere -- or at least not without caution. The chef actually came to our table to discuss my husband's allergy with us and ended up bringing him a ton of specially prepared food -- even homemade gluten free Mickey Mouse waffles! As anyone who is gluten free knows, it's a rarity to go out to eat and actually have something like waffles, so my husband was pretty impressed. Even our waitress was made knowledgeable about the gluten intolerance and the whole breakfast went off without a hitch. Everything was delicious and served family style, so Ethan enjoyed helping himself to all of the Mickey waffles his little belly could hold.

The highlight of my trip from a parent perspective was seeing Ethan's face when Mickey Mouse came to the table. While Ethan knew we were going to Mickey's house, I don't think he really grasped that "the real Mickey Mouse" would be there and having breakfast with him. The look on his face when Mickey walked over to our table says it all. (I finally understood the "Disney magic" thing in that moment!)

At the 'Ohana breakfast, we had special visits from Lilo, Stitch, Mickey Mouse and Pluto. Ethan had no idea who Lilo and Stitch were prior to our visit, but he absolutely loved Stitch. The characters each spent a good amount of time at each table taking photos and spending time with the kids. Ethan was ecstatic! Hugs and kisses all around.

After our character breakfast, we decided to visit Animal Kingdom first. Ethan had the time of his life traveling from the Polynesian, where our breakfast was held, to the Animal Kingdom park. I guess when you're three, the trolleys and buses and monorails are all rides in themselves! As soon as we were in the Animal Kingdom park, Ethan headed right to the gift shop to pick out a special friend to visit the animals with. He settled on "Pirate Mickey." With Pirate Mickey in tow and sunscreen applied (a must!), we set off to explore Animal Kingdom.

Disney's attention to detail is truly incredible. We got to take it all in while Ethan took a quick ice cream break to the soundtrack of the drum performance in Africa.

We then went on the Safari ride to check out all of the animals. One of Ethan's favorite stories is one about Curious George visiting a "wild animal park" which is set up similarly to the Safari. In the story, Curious George gets to see and help a baby rhino so it was fun for Ethan to be able to see rhinos, too. It was a hot day, but we still were able to see a ton of really cool animals you otherwise wouldn't get a chance to see, such as elephants, zebras, rhinos, giraffes and even hippos (so cute!).

After the Safari and walking around Animal Kingdom a bit, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom. It was the dead of the afternoon and it. was. hot. I thought it was pretty cool that Disney World allows you to bring your own water into the park. We brought an entire backpack filled with chilled water bottles and even once we drank through all of those, I was impressed that Disney sells water for a little over two bucks per bottle. I mean, the movie theater sells water bottles for nearly $6 a bottle, so it was pretty cool to see Disney keeping the price on the lower side. We did bring our own packed lunches and snacks to last us throughout the day and managed to find plenty of shaded spots to eat and cool down a little bit. The shade made the heat bearable, and there was a nice breeze throughout most of the afternoon.

The first ride Ethan did was Dumbo, which he was so excited for going into the theme park. The Dumbo ride has evolved heavily -- and in the best way -- since I was a kid. There is now an indoor play area for kids to play in while waiting for their turn to ride. Instead of melting in a hot line outdoors, you now get a buzzer that goes off when it's your turn to ride and, in the mean time, you get to enjoy the air-conditioning in a cool play area. Ethan loved the Dumbo ride and I loved that there was only a 15 minute wait. All of the preconceived qualms I had going into this ended up being a total non-issue, like the wait times and lines.

We also did "It's A Small World" which is pretty much a Disney classic! I think I spent the bulk of the ride watching the wonder take over Ethan's face.

Much like Dumbo, the Small World ride had a relatively short wait (20 minutes), the bulk of which was waiting underneath an awning with fans blowing. Ethan's favorite ride was the Buzz Lightyear ride which he rode a total of four times -- three of those times were directly in a row. He couldn't get enough of Buzz Lightyear!

After Ethan's Buzz Lightyear marathon, we took the people mover (which, again, is like a ride in itself) to the other side of the park. There was a misting area for a quick cool down, followed by an actual splash pad for a real cool down.

The splash pad was full of people taking a few minutes to cool down from the hundred degree heat. I was surprised that Ethan wasn't interested in the Dumbo themed splash area since he usually loves the water, but he had things to do and places to see. He was taking in every last detail that Disney had to offer!

We took the classic train ride into Frontierland where my husband was waiting patiently for the turkey leg he totally earned after taking Ethan on Buzz Lightyear three times in a row (with a 20 minute wait time each time!).

The only negative part of our Disney experience would be dinnertime. After getting off the train in Frontierland, we realized that we were going to have a hard time finding anything for Ethan to eat for dinner. Ethan's not exactly a picky eater, but he would never eat a turkey sandwich, hamburger or Uncrustable, which were the only options we could find at every restaurant we passed. Quite a few of the restaurants in Frontierland were closed, and they so happened to be the ones with more diverse menus. After hiking our way back across the park, found a restaurant that serves grilled cheese sandwiches which we were turned away from due to lack of reservations. I ended up having to feed Ethan a dinner of French fries from a restaurant in Liberty Square which was not exactly ideal, and a little frustrating. You would think that Disney World would have more places to grab some chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, pizza or even a plain ol' peanut butter sandwich -- but there were either none, or they were closed or on the other side of the park completely. I wish I was a little more prepared and had brought more snacks to hold him over, but I don't think he was too upset about being allowed to eat French fries for dinner.

We continued to sightsee around Magic Kingdom until it got dark. Once the sun went down, the breeze was perfect and Ethan got another gust of energy. As a kid who no longer naps, he doesn't usually do well staying up late but he managed to keep his energy going late into the night!

Something else I appreciated on our trip was the Baby Care Center. Ethan is still in diapers which can be quite the pain in a busy theme park, but Disney made it easy. A few times during our trip we visited the Baby Care Center to change Ethan's diaper and put on some fresh clothes as well as cool down a little bit. They had a family area where I could wipe Ethan down with some cool wipes, change him and let him cool down a little in the air conditioning before heading back outside. In the Baby Care Center, they also have a room for nursing mothers, a feeding area complete with highchairs and a spotless restroom. On our first trip into the Baby Care Center, we were greeted by a friendly attendant who let us know they also have infant formula, baby food, snacks, water and anything else you or your little ones could need. Doing much of anything with babies or small children is never easy, so I thought it was really great of Disney to make this part easier. It was great having a clean place to get Ethan changed and ready for the next adventure.

We eventually found a spot on the sidewalk to sit and watch the 9:00 p.m. Disney parade. The lights along Mainstreet were dimmed as the electrical parade began. Watching Ethan's face during the parade again reminded me of that Disney magic I hear about so often!

After the parade, Ethan was slowly winding down from his over twelve-hour long stay at Disney World, so we made our way back to the parking area. We decided to take the ferry back to the parking area as we hadn't done that yet. Ethan was so excited about the "boat ride" and even got to see some fireworks from the window of the ferry which was the perfect finishing touch of the day. "That boat ride was so much fun" were some of the last words Ethan muttered before he passed out asleep on our drive back.

Our day at Disney World was awesome! (Parents, you're going to give me the side-eye but I mean it when I say a day in Disney is still easy and fun!) Ethan had a great time and we had an even greater time watching the magic come alive for him. I don't think I'll ever forget his face when he met "the real Mickey Mouse" and I don't think he has put his Pirate Mickey down since we got back from the park. On the drive back from the parks, while Ethan slept, my husband and I spent the drive time discussing the next time we visit. I guess that means we're officially believers in that old Disney magic.

Our family received one day park hopper tickets to Disney World to facilitate a review. No compensation was provided and all photographs and opinions expressed are completely my own.

8.23.2014

it’s midnight in san francisco and i’m waiting here for jesus on my knees and august and everything after i want somebody else to bleed for me

Today is the day my c-section was going to be, the day that would have been (should have been) Wylie's birthday. Just a few months ago, I'd been looking forward to August 23rd, 2014 and all that it would hold: meeting our little girl, hearing her cries, introducing Ethan to his baby sister. Months ago, August 23rd, 2014 seemed frightening in that way that new things usually are, laced with good and promise and the pitter-patter-of-your-heart feeling that things are about to change in a big way, in the best way. I wondered if she would have a head full of hair like her brother (she would) and what it would be like to see her looking up at me (I will never know). Fast forward a few months and August 23rd, 2014 became a day that leaves me completely saturated in emptiness. It's a day where people will offer me their finest words of encouragement and positivity while knowing very well nothing will make it better. Nothing can, because August 23rd, 2014 didn't end up getting to be her birthday. May 23rd, 2014 became her birthday instead and it also became the day that I had to tell her goodbye forever; it was the first day and the last day I got to hold her.

We decided to get out of town during what was supposed to be Wylie's birthday week. I decided that the best thing to combat immense sadness is great joy, and what greater joy is there than the happiness of your children? We decided to spend this week away up in the middle of nowhere at my family's lake house, surrounded by wilderness and wildlife and quiet and nothingness. Just each other and the the security of Ethan's smiles to hold us together when it feels like we may be cracking. We're going to be spending this week at the theme parks letting Ethan take it all in, all of the happiness and excitement, all of the magic. August 23rd, 2014 has been a clear indicator that we are due for some magic and as Ethan has been going to sleep each night with his toy plastic Mickey Mouse clutched tightly in his fist, I know we are on the right path for some comfort and healing that only Ethan's laughter can give us.

I had assumed I would have some grand reflections to recount on August 23rd, 2014 but the truth is I have none. My mind has been rather blank and my body feels numb. Today is the day that my daughter should have been born, the day she was supposed to be born and, instead, today is the day that puts emphasis on how much that isn't going to happen. It's the day that shouts "it's over!" where there should have been cries of "it's a girl!" It's the day that feels nearly as hard to trudge through as her actual birthday was, only this time I don't even get to hold her close. Only this time I get to hike a mile to a rural market with Ethan in the Boba on my back, selecting cucumbers and a chocolate donut for good measure and letting the sweat drip from our faces underneath the blazing August sun like it's just your average hot, Florida summer day. Only this time I get to glance at the clock, see the time and ask everyone what they want for dinner. And suddenly everything feels the same and different and normal and yet like nothing will ever be normal again.

People are always telling you how short life is every chance they get and sometimes I'm not entirely sure even they really understand just how short it can be. Maybe no one can really understand how short life can be until they have to face that fact head on.

Wylie's life was short. I am grateful for every moment I had with her. I am better for having known her, for having loved her. August 23rd, 2014 makes me realize how short life is, and also how long. How long a lifetime can be without ever getting to hold her close again. I want to celebrate her short life every day because it is worth celebrating. I am trying to make August 23rd, 2014 the day that I let go of all of the anger with the world on why her heart had to be broken and everything was robbed from her. I'm trying to let go of the why her? questions that keep me up at night or that run through my mind as I pass her locked bedroom door. I'm trying to just remember her, my curly-haired little girl, and realize how lucky I am to have had her here for even the short period of time that I got to. Every short moment of her life is worth celebrating for every moment of mine.

August 23rd, 2014 was once a day that made me squeal with nervous excitement as my doctor told me it would be my c-section day. August 23rd will always be her day in my heart. Why that gets to be as good as it gets -- that will be something I'll be asking myself for as long as I live, which is as long as I'll be loving her.

8.20.2014

wylie's tree

There is a skatepark inside a local park about ten minutes from our house. Ever since Ethan was a baby, he was captivated by the skatepark. He was absolutely in love. He and I would sneak out each night before dinner and watch the teenagers skate until the sky grew dark and the mosquitoes would make their nightly appearance. Before long, it was our happy place. Our special place. Our family place. Our place for picnics, for together time, to slip away and just be together. We have escaped to the skatepark several times since losing Wylie, each time hoping to find some clarity in the fresh air and the magic in Ethan's eyes. When I thought I couldn't find the skatepark more special than I already did, I was proven wrong.

Tonight, I went to the skatepark where some of our incredible friends were waiting and they unveiled a tree that they had planted for Wylie.

Not everyone who was involved in Wylie's tree was able to make it due to work schedules and vacations and the general chaos of life, but I've managed to call them out in gratitude on every social media platform and this blog is no different. Melissa, Heather, Nicole, Melanie, Shameka, Erika, Sara and Symantha: thank you. There aren't really any words to describe how grateful we all are for your friendship, kindness, thoughtfulness and love. The gift you have given us is beyond words and in it we have found a little comfort and healing, too. We will never forget Wylie, of course, but now she is part of the Earth and a piece of this city we love and included in our family memories for always.

When we got married in May of 2009, I had made the decision to incorporate this image of a tree into different bits and pieces of our wedding decor. Everyone would ask me "what does a tree have to do with anything?" and I would just shrug because I liked it and I saw one similar on a Counting Crows album and thought it was pretty. It's funny, in a way, how you fast forward a few years and Wylie was born on May 23rd, the same day we were married. And, now, there's that tree again, the spitting image of the one I created on our programs and favors and bridesmaid necklaces. Sometimes it takes a few years for the pieces to fit together and for your mind to understand the subliminal messages it was sending you. Wylie was always here and she always will be. In our hearts and, now, at our beloved skatepark.

I thumb through Wylie's baby book often and feel sad at how empty the pages are and how empty they will be forced to remain. Tonight I was able to add more to her baby book. Two poems, more photographs, another story about people who she never met who still love her and have helped us keep her memory alive. Sometimes I feel that as time passes, she will be forgotten but our friends have helped me to see that this isn't the case.

Tonight at her remembrance ceremony and the unveiling of her tree, my sister and I were both able to wear special pieces of jewelry created for us by more friends who love Wylie.


This one, from my friend Rachel.


And this one from my friend Rhian.

I have been struggling with how to get through what would be -- what should be -- Wylie's birth week and tonight my heart feels a little more calm. Ethan will grow up underneath the branches of Wylie's tree and I will breathe a little easier whenever the flowers bloom.

As we were leaving her remembrance ceremony I caught a glimpse of the sky and thought it was beautiful. All I could think of was that line from Garden State: "good luck exploring the infinite abyss." I whispered those words to Wylie once we got home.

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