A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

Dear Boys,

This morning started just like any other morning.  The three of us rushed around the house, grabbing breakfast and packing lunches and filling backpacks for school.  We were listening to the news, prepared to hear the latest White House tweet, when Savannah Guthrie’s quivering voice shared something unexpected – that her friend and co-host on the Today Show, Matt Lauer, had been fired.  You asked me why I stopped what I was doing.  You noticed that my voice was shaky, too.

Now that you are both a little older, I choose not to shield you from the news.  Sometimes the news reports are ugly and painful.  Sometimes they introduce you to issues I would rather you didn’t know.  But the news is also the truth of the world that you live in.  I want you to see it and feel it and wrestle with it while you are still living here.  I want you to face reality even when reality is hard.  I want you to ask me all kinds of questions because it’s my job to get you ready to face the challenges of life.

So you are both aware that powerful men have been falling like dominos recently, one after another.  We have watched their belief that power and money could make them invincible crumble.  And our illusion that we can tell whom we should trust has collapsed, as well.

I thought I could trust Matt Lauer, guys.  I really did.

Before you left for school today, we had a conversation about how, even though each new story makes me feel disgusted and sad, we are witnessing a pivotal moment in American culture, a moment in which powerful people – businessmen, politicians, and celebrities – are finally being held accountable for clearly unacceptable behavior.  I told you that this means, maybe, hopefully, that you won’t have to worry about your wife being hit on at work someday or your daughters being expected to excuse demeaning treatment to progress in their careers or even keep their jobs.  I told you that this change could signal the beginning of a more equal balance of power in high-level positions and that all people will have to start thinking more before they make decisions – because there may actually be accountability for behaviors that were conveniently overlooked before.  Ultimately, this is a good and historical moment.

And then I sent you off to school.

But after you headed to the bus stop, I reflected on our conversation and felt uneasy.  It wasn’t because I said anything that I don’t believe to be true, and it wasn’t because I don’t see this as a truly significant moment for women.  I felt uneasy because I had suggested to you that this watershed is a victory for women alone, that you, my sons, will benefit only indirectly through the women you love.

But that isn’t true.

Sure, this moment matters because there will always be women who play significant roles in your lives – women like me and your grandmothers, your aunts and your cousins, possibly someday your wives and daughters and nieces.  All of these women, every single one of them, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect inside their workplaces and everywhere else.  I want you to care about women.  I want you to be empathetic, compassionate men.  I want you to notice and positively impact how other people are treated.

But as a mom of boys, I know that changing our culture in positive ways will directly impact your futures, too.  The society that we have created for you, the unclear expectations that we have set for young men – this stuff scares a mom, guys.  Because it is probably safe to assume that some of the men who have crashed in the headlines for tormenting subordinates with inappropriate advances or making lewd comments to or about female co-workers were raised by loving mothers who taught them to be respectful gentlemen, too.

So what the heck happened?

I don’t know how to answer that question.

What I do know, my boys, is that you will receive many confusing messages from the snake oil salesman that is our culture.  He will tempt you with simple remedies for your insecurities and peddle empty vials labeled “happiness” and “satisfaction” that will never provide the relief that you seek.  He will talk out of both sides of his mouth, confusing you with mixed up ideas about what it means to be a man.  He will tell you to be a gentleman always but then feed you a steady stream of music and graphic images that depict women as disposable objects rather than smart, respectable humans.  He will tell you that nothing is more admirable than being a devoted father and husband but then reward you for showing off your machismo, for drinking too much, for laughing at inappropriate jokes, for choosing work over home.  He will tell you that honesty is a virtue but then persuade you that what other people don’t know won’t hurt you.  He will warn you that you could be fired for behaving unethically but then convince you that behaving unethically is just what you need to do to move higher and at a faster pace.  He will feed your ego with power, convincing you that you are above the rules, and then laugh when that power is ultimately stripped away.

In recent weeks we have seen that the Boys’ Club still exists, that it clearly remains part of the business world in America.  It is exclusive.  It comes with perks and promotions, a sense of importance and often generous financial rewards for the guys who get in.  The men in The Club seem confident and invincible.  Really, it must be a whole lot of fun.

Until it isn’t.

So our culture needs to change for the girls in your class at school, certainly, but also for you.  It is easy for you to say at 11 and 13 that you will do the right thing when faced with your own difficult choices in the future.  But I know that IT’S NOT EASY to choose not to laugh at the boss’s inappropriate remarks when you know what he expects and a promotion hangs in the balance.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to tell your coworkers that rating the looks of the women at the office after a meeting isn’t acceptable, knowing that you may lose friends.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to remember that really big mistakes start with really small decisions – decisions to do things or say things or accept things or overlook things that become the bricks that pave a path toward your own disaster.

As a teacher, I have seen one truth about people proven over and over again: our human nature is to raise ourselves or lower ourselves to the expectations of those around us.  I have seen students at a high risk of dropping out or going to jail achieve incredible personal and academic success because of the challenging expectations, consistent support, and high level of accountability provided by other people.  And I have seen students who had every reason to be successful fail miserably in school or in life because of the low expectations, weak support, and lack of accountability offered by the people they pulled closest to them.  I want you, my sons, to help set a high bar for the people around you.  But I want our culture to start setting a higher bar for YOU.  Because even though I believe that you are personally responsible for making the choices that you know are right in your life, it will be a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing when the climate in your workplace and your circle of friends demand it.

As a woman, I believe that this is a critical and exciting moment for women and girls in America.  As a mom of boys, I recognize that the changes that should and hopefully will come from the recent revelations will help you, the sons I love so very much, to live a better life, as well.  The news has been dark and troubling, but there are so many lessons you can learn from the mistakes of other people, boys.  Just this week, we’ve discussed that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.  That peer pressure to behave a certain way or to be quiet will still exist when you grow up.  That power is intoxicating and can make really smart people behave in really stupid ways.  That “what happens in Vegas” or Sochi or wherever doesn’t actually stay there forever.  That it is important to have friends whom you can trust, friends who are brutally honest, friends who knew you before you accomplished anything at all.  That people make mistakes and that mistakes can be forgiven but that you can never move past mistakes that you don’t own.  That if you have created a reputation of behaving inappropriately and someone does falsely accuse you, you are going to have a very, very hard time defending your name.  And that it is always wise to imagine your decisions as newspaper headlines first – because the reality is that they could be.

Most importantly, we have been reminded that how we treat one another matters.  Please treat other people kindly, boys.  All of the people around you, the men and the women.

You will be rewarded for it, even if it means that you can’t be in The Club.

Love you always,

Mom 

Let the Leaves Go

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When my brother and I were kids and the trees in southeastern Ohio were garbed in their finest autumnal attire, my parents sometimes suggested that we take a drive through the country.

Why? my brother and I would ask.

To look at the leaves, our parents would say.  The fall trees are beautiful, it will be fun, I know you will love it, my mother would try to convince us.

It was a tough sell.  My brother and I didn’t buy into the joy of “just driving” with a goal of going nowhere.  Driving was a means to an end for us kids, and our parents’ “relaxation” sounded more like our “boredom-with-no-way-to-escape.”  In our minds, fall leaves were good for one thing and one thing only: creating big, soft, colorful, crunchy piles to jump in.

And we did create piles, huge piles made from maple leaves the size of our hands that floated down from the majestic old tree in our own front yard, and even bigger piles of the golden ones that our grandpa collected in the rusty wagon that he pulled behind his tractor and then dumped in one towering heap.  We were just kids, and leaves didn’t look like work yet.  It seemed like gathering them and raking them into a jump pile even made our old grandpa smile.

As we grew older and wiser and the realities of life chipped away at our childish perceptions of the world, we realized the truth about autumn.  Sure, they are gorgeous, those leaves soaked in vibrant reds and fiery oranges and yellows as pure as the sun, but their beauty foretells their impending demise.  Fall gradually seemed less like fun and more like loss, the depressing turn in the circle of life that no one likes to discuss.  So what is a leaf pile, really, but a whole bunch of death raked into one spot?  And we lose more than just leaves in the autumn.  We lose daylight.  We lose heat.  We lose the flashy greens and pinks of the warmer seasons in exchange for winter whites and dreary browns and gloomy grays.  Maybe the pumpkins and the festivals and the cider are a way of distracting our attention from the truth.

When youthfulness has passed, autumn kills the joys of summer and marches us toward the cold brutality of winter.  Fall is the darker side of nature.  Fall feels a bit like grief.

This year, fall is like a stranger passing through, one with little time for conversation and no interest in making himself at home.  An icy chill is already biting at our fingers and toes, and wintery winds have battered the trees, stripping the branches bare while foliage tumbles to the ground like fallen soldiers.  Winter is winning and fall didn’t even put up a fight.

But somehow my perception of fall is different yet again.  Maybe our views of nature’s seasons, just like our opinions on so many things in life, evolve with age and our own changing seasons.  No, autumn isn’t just about leaf piles anymore, but maybe it’s not just the harbinger of the long, hard winter ahead either.

Maybe fall is actually a season of promise, a season less about loss and more about preparing our hearts to appreciate the renewal of spring.  Maybe fall is nature’s way of cleaning house, a season specifically and wonderfully designed to clear the dead leaves that steal what nourishes our souls to make space for what is new.

It hurts, watching the leaves fall from our trees, knowing that the season to come will likely be cold and dark and brutal.  But the leaves fall so that the tree can live, and it becomes stronger by accepting rather than fighting the change.  The tree must actually let go in order to survive, even if the exposure and vulnerability are uncomfortable.  And while those sharp, angular branches seem barren to our eyes, the buds that will burst open and bring joy in the spring have already been forming inside of them. The autumn leaves don’t just forewarn us of winter’s icy chill.  They herald the hope and the promise and the newness of spring.  While we see the suffering, the merciless beating that the tree will endure through the winter, we are completely unaware of the incredible changes that are happening just below the surface, preparing the tree for an exciting new period of growth.

As you rake the final leaves of autumn, remember that those fallen soldiers, stained in crimson and littering the ground, aren’t lost in vain.  They have bravely paved the way for the new leaves behind them, buds that are already formed and patiently waiting, preparing for their moment of grandeur in the spring.

And most of all remember that you are not the leaf tumbling uncontrollably through life, swept away by the winds, defeated and bracing for the next breeze to shake you.  You are the tree, with thick, deep roots that twist and turn beneath the soil under your feet, a tree lovingly designed to survive life’s winters by shedding the hurts that no longer serve you to prepare for what is next and what is new and what is good.  The autumn days in your life are not your ending.  They are your beginning.  There are new buds growing inside you, and you cannot predict the beauty that lies just beyond what you can presently see.

Hang onto hope.

But don’t hang onto the leaves.

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***** Hey, friends!  It’s been a while.  I know.  I’m sorry.  I’ve missed you.  I’ve been doing a little more writing on Facebook lately, but I will share more about that in a later post.  If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies there, consider liking and following the page so you don’t miss a thing.  Happy fall to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!     

~Mary Ann 

A Bag of Poop

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There’s a bag of poop hanging from a tree in a nearby neighborhood.

It hangs from a low branch on a leafy tree in front of a small yellow house, a house with a tidy lawn and a cute front porch.

It’s a charming home.

Except for the bag of poop hanging from the tree.

And I haven’t counted the days, but it has been there for a while.

I don’t know – for sure – why a bag of poop is hanging from this limb like a Christmas ornament, but I’m guessing the gift was left by a neighborhood dog. (If not, then this story becomes far more unusual and probably more appropriate for a very different kind of blog.) And I’m also guessing that this neighbor hung the bag there himself, because if he did not want the poop hanging from his tree, he would have removed it by now.  At least I think so.

So the bag of poop may be hanging there to make a statement.

Maybe the statement is “I do not like dog poop in my yard,” which doesn’t really seem like a necessary statement to make. Because no one really likes to have dog poop in his yard. I don’t enjoy dog poop in my own yard, even though I love the dog who leaves it there.

Maybe the statement is “Don’t let your dog poop in my yard,” which is a very reasonable statement to share. But if the dog was with its person, the person may never walk down that particular sidewalk by that particular house ever again. And even if the dog walker does walk on that sidewalk and does see the bag of poop hanging in the tree, she may not realize that the message has her name on it. She may not understand that there is a message there at all. And then there is another complication: Loose dogs are just rude. They are like rebellious teenagers. They have no social awareness.

Maybe the statement is “If your dog poops in my yard, I will hang the poop in my tree! So there!” But really, who cares if you hang poop in your tree? If my dog gets loose and poops in your yard and you want to punish me, you really need to hang the poop in my tree. Hanging it in your tree doesn’t teach me anything. But if you want to hang the poop from your tree, go for it.

And what happened, anyway? Maybe the mess was from a dog who broke out of its jail, in which case the accident in the yard was, well, an accident. Maybe the dog was being walked, and the dog walker left her house after a long day at work, legitimately forgot to put a bag in her pocket, cried as she savored a few minutes to herself because life can be overwhelming, returned home to a family begging for dinner, and would really love it if this guy would just cut her a break today. Or maybe the dog walker is an absolute jerk and just doesn’t care about anyone else’s property. That’s a possibility, too.

But it really doesn’t matter. Because this person has a lovely home with pretty trees in a nice neighborhood, yet the view he has created from his front door is, literally, a bag of poop. And seeing that bag of poop probably makes his blood pressure rise and his muscles tense and his jaw clench because that poop in his yard made him so freaking angry . . . three weeks ago.

He could have tossed that bag out with the garbage a long time ago. But he most likely hung it there himself.

He is the one who won’t let the poop go.

Sometimes little things happen to us, and they are completely unfair or surprisingly unkind. Sometimes strangers are rude. Sometimes neighbors are inconsiderate. Sometimes friends make mistakes. Sometimes we misunderstand situations and make them a much bigger deal than they are.

Sometimes the small things that rub us the wrong way impact us far more and far longer than they should.

If someone has pooped on your day, toss that mess in the garbage and move on. Don’t hang that problem from your tree so that you are reminded of it over and over and over again, and don’t pretend that hanging onto a bag of poop punishes anyone other than yourself.

Yes, some people are a hot mess, and, yes, sometimes their choices can be infuriating.

But when you choose to hang their messes in front of your window, the only view that is ruined is your own.

 

*Disclaimer: Yes, this is the second post about poop in a relatively short period of time, which could raise some concern about my well being.  I promise the timing is just a coincidence.  And, actually, the popularity of the FB post about poop in the pool made me a little concerned about all of YOU!  🙂

**Some details have been changed to protect the identity of the homeowners, and, possibly, the dog, who may or may not be a fugitive from justice.

 

 

Our Disney “Don’t Miss” Lists

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Okay, friends, if you read my Tips and Tricks for a Dreamy Disney Vacation, then you already know that we enjoyed a very special vacation this summer.  This is my second and last post about that experience, I promise, but I thought those of you who have vacationed at Disney or might someday vacation at Disney might appreciate this.  Plus, it is a fun way for me to document our adventure for our own future reference!

As soon as we hopped in the car for the long drive home from Florida to Ohio, I asked each person in our crew (ages 3 to 40ish) ten questions.  These questions covered their favorite aspects of our Disney experience to what they would change about our trip if they could.  Each interview and photo collage below reveals the details of our trip through a different set of eyes!  Any experience that was mentioned by more than one person must have been very special, so those are highlighted in purple.  If you would like more information about any specific park, ride, shop, or restaurant, you can just enter the title in the search bar on the Disney website.  Enjoy!

Mary Ann, Teacher, Writer, and Mom of two boys
Favorite Park: Tie between Magic Kingdom and EPCOT
Favorite Family Ride: Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Thrill Ride: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Chocolate cake pop from the Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Lunch at T-Rex at Disney Springs
Favorite Dining Experience: My birthday luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: A caricature drawing by an artist at the All-Star Sports Resort
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my three-year-old nephew’s excitement at the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: It’s probably going to rain, so pack a pair of extra shoes in your suitcase and bring a poncho to the parks.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would save a little extra money for expensive meals and special snacks.

Scott, Teacher, My Brother, and Dad of Two Boys
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Peter Pan’s Flight at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Cinnamon ice cream from L’Artisan Des Glaces in France in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Chip ‘n’ Dale Character Breakfast at the Garden Grill at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Souvenir: Memory Maker Photo Pass (professional photos of the family from all of the parks)
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my nephews experience Disney World for the first time
Disney Tip: Download My Disney Experience app on your phone to watch wait times and book fast passes
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Get everyone moving faster in the morning to get to the parks for early entry.

Stacey, Teacher and Mom of two boys
Favorite Park: EPCOT
Favorite Family Ride: Frozen Ever After at EPCOT
Favorite Thrill Ride: Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Snack: Caramel apple from Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Family-style Polynesian dinner at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Dining Experience: Patio view of Cinderella Castle at Casey’s Corner in Magic Kingdom
Favorite Souvenir: Alex and Ani bracelet with Cinderella Castle, Walt, and Mickey purchased at the Emporium in Magic Kingdom
Favorite Disney Moment: Only one? Maybe watching the boys enjoy an impromptu tea party in Morocco in the World Showcase at EPCOT . . .
Disney Tip: Plan carefully, but also do something spontaneous! For example, we tried using a water taxi for the first time, and it was a special moment.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I wish we wouldn’t have said we would come back to do something or return to enjoy a ride again later. I wish we had done those things in the moment. Weather and time sometimes prevented us from doing the things we planned to come back to.

Gavin, Age 13
Favorite Park: Hollywood Studios (with EPCOT a close second)
Favorite Family Ride: The Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: The Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Mickey pretzel with cheese (available all over the place)
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Nachos at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Dining Experience: Eating with dinosaurs at T-Rex at Disney Springs
Favorite Souvenir: Customized phone case from Launch Bay Cargo at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Disney Moment: Seeing the castle, hearing the happy music, and riding my first Disney ride (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and thinking “THIS is Disney . . .”
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Skip the 50’s Prime Time Café. We waited a long time even with a reservation, sat at a table that was too small for us, and the experience and food weren’t as good as I expected.
Disney Tip: Leave half a day open to hang out at your hotel and swim.

Carson, Age 11
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom (with Hollywood Studios a close second)
Favorite Family Ride: Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Apple cinnamon ice cream from L’Artisan Des Glaces in France in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Nachos from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Dining Experience: Luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: A soccer jersey from a gift shop in England in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching my little cousin wave at characters in the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: Be sure to ride the monorail.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would have taken a little more time to swim. Our hotel had a neat baseball-theme pool.

Ethan, Age 8
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios
Favorite Snack: Fresh popcorn from popcorn stands at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Pizza from Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Luau at the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort
Favorite Souvenir: Mickey Mouse beach hat from the All-Star Sports Resort gift shop
Favorite Disney Moment: Being with my family and sharing adjoining hotel rooms with my cousins
Disney Tip: Get up and go to the parks early to get through security more quickly.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: I would skip the gift shops to have more fun!

Aidan, Age 3
Favorite Park: Magic Kingdom
Favorite Family Ride: Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom
Favorite Thrill Ride: Frozen Ever After at EPCOT (It’s only a thrill ride if you are three years old!  Check out his face on the one small hill!)
Favorite Snack: Mickey-shaped sugar cookie from the Main Street Confectionary at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Restaurant Meal: Pizza from Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in Italy in the World Showcase at EPCOT
Favorite Dining Experience: Getting character autographs at the Chip ‘n’ Dale Character Breakfast at the Garden Grill at EPCOT
Favorite Souvenir: Robot puppy from the gift shop at the exit of Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom
Favorite Disney Moment: Watching the Festival of Fantasy parade in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom
Disney Tip: Let little kids make choices, too, and go on family rides all together.
One Thing You Would Do Differently: Meet more characters!

Today I Felt Like a Bad Mom

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Today I felt like a bad mom.

My kids were bored, and I did not entertain them.  I did not take them anywhere or buy them movie tickets or arrange for their friends to come over.  I told them to find something to do.

When I asked them what they wanted for lunch, they weren’t ready to eat.  So when they were hungry, I listed a few ideas that they could fix for themselves.  They wanted me to do it for them.  I didn’t.  I told them I was sure they could handle it.

I didn’t entertain them.  I didn’t serve them.  I didn’t do things for them that they could do for themselves.

And I’ll be honest.  I felt guilty about it.

I wondered if I was doing my job.  You know, my mom job, the constant emotional and practical parenting work that leaves us moms exhausted at the end of every day.

Because the truth is that sometimes I measure my success as a parent by the extent of my weariness at the end of the day.  Sometimes I rate myself as a mother by how much I personally sacrificed to make everyone happy that day.

I mean, if we went to the zoo in the morning, packed a picnic for lunch, hiked at the park all afternoon, stopped for ice cream on the way home, and squeezed in a quick date with friends at some point before I cooked their favorite dinner, then I was the most amazing mom ever, right?  And if my kids were happy at breakfast time and at lunch time and at dinner time and at bedtime, if I made everyone happy all day long, then I totally rocked this mom thing.

But then I thought about what I DID do today.

I gave my kids an opportunity to use their imaginations, to create their own fun, and to manage their own time.

I did them a favor by letting them actually feel a void and then allowing them to resolve that discomfort all by themselves.

I gave them a chance to be independent young men in a safe environment and to gain confidence that they are capable human beings and to rest assured that they are on a path that will prepare them to take care of their own selves and their own families one day.

And at ages 11 and 13, that day is approaching much more quickly than I would like to believe.

Maybe I was actually a really good mom today.  Maybe we moms feel guilty about way too much stuff.  Maybe we’re trying too hard to create happy adults and shooting ourselves in the foot in the process.  Life isn’t always happy, after all, and grownups need to be able to cope with life when it isn’t.

Maybe we are wearing ourselves out while inadvertently teaching our kids to expect others to fill their empty spaces – whether those are in their hearts or their minds or their stomachs.

Yikes.  That’s a scary thought, right?

Ain’t nobody got time for working extra hard just to sabotage our own goals as parents.  There are WAY too many other things to do to keep all the plates spinning.   We don’t want to waste time shaping our kids into the opposite of what we want them to be, mostly to ease our own guilt and to secure their happiness in the moment, and then waste more time trying to un-create the selfish or entitled attitudes that we created.

Plus, it would be nice to salvage a few minutes to read a book every once in a while.

Really, reading an entire chapter in one sitting would be wonderful.

So I don’t feel so guilty anymore.

Maybe today was one of my better parenting days after all, and I didn’t even try so hard.

We can always pack a picnic for the park tomorrow.

Tips and Tricks for a Dreamy Disney Vacation

 

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Oh . . . Disney World.

For some people, those two words evoke fear and a white-knuckled clutching of the wallet.  For others, the words instantly add a little pep to their step and a noticeable sparkle to their eyes.  So what’s the difference?  After taking my two sons, ages 11 and 13, to Disney World for the first time with my brother (a Disney pro) and his family, I think I know.  Those who love it know the ins and the outs, and those who don’t love it have visited Disney World while flying blind.  There is SO MUCH to research before visiting Disney, but the more you know, the more you will enjoy the Disney magic.  Let me help!

  1. Plan far in advance. Like really far in advance. A Disney vacation is magical, but the magic doesn’t happen by accident.  Disney veterans book hotel rooms and restaurant reservations and fast passes months in advance, so a Disney vacation is a good fit for parents who enjoy the journey as much as the destination.  If you don’t like to plan, you might consider using a travel agent.  Or going somewhere else.  Or adopting my brother, who revels in the planning as much as he enjoys the actual trip.  (Yes, Scott, I said something nice about you . . . Publicly . . . Soak it up!  Love you, and thanks for all of your planning!)
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  2. Consider staying on Disney property. Many families rule out staying on property before considering the perks or looking for promotions that cut the cost. Among other benefits, families who stay on Disney property can book fast passes earlier and can choose from a variety of free transportation options to get from one park or hotel to another.  At least think about it.
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  3. Don’t be afraid of the word “value.”  Value resorts are less expensive than the moderate and deluxe resorts at Disney World, but “value” does not mean low quality. We stayed at All-Star Sports, and it was clean and comfortable with themed buildings, fun designs, and good food.  Since we enjoyed the parks from early morning until dark almost every day, the time we spent at our hotel was minimal.  It probably would have been a waste for us to invest in a higher-end resort, and the sports theme was perfect for our four active boys.
  4. Research meal plans and watch for promotions. Disney sometimes offers promotions that provide your family with some free Disney meals. We booked during a promotion that provided one quick service meal (basically fast food) at any Disney park or hotel for each person each day.  It was heavenly to be able to scan our magic bands for one meal a day without cringing at the prices on the menu.  Paying in advance for additional meals through a meal plan is tempting, but we were rarely hungry enough to eat three full meals a day, so buying a full meal plan would not be cost effective for us.  My kids were often satisfied with a simple snack or two while they were riding roller coasters in the heat of the day between breakfast and dinner, and we treated ourselves to a few sit-down dinners throughout the week, like pizza at Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria.
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  5. Check out all of your transportation options. During our stay, we used the Disney buses at some point every day, but we also hopped on the monorail a couple of times, which I remember being so exciting when I visited Disney World for the first time at five-years-old. My kids loved it, too.  One of the highlights of our trip was the night we caught a free boat ride (water taxi) from the Polynesian Village Resort, where we had attended a luau (a gift from my brother for my birthday), to the Magic Kingdom.  It was a magical experience since we could see the fireworks above and the light parade on the water and since we were the only people on the boat.   And this experience cost nothing extra and wasn’t even a part of the theme parks!  Not all transportation options are available at every Disney location, so check in advance and try the ones that you can.
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  6. Expect that food will cost more than you think. I was prepared for the typical (and ridiculous) amusement park food prices at Disney, but I found the Disney prices to be even higher than I expected. Of course, my sons eat like adults now, so I was buying for three “grownups.”  Breakfasts averaged $20-30 for the three of us.  Lunches averaged $40-55 (except these were covered by our promotional meal plan – hallelujah).  Dinners at sit-down restaurants were WAY expensive, around $75 or more for the three of us, so we did not splurge on this often.  Plus, we could easily spend $8-10 on a snack and a drink for one person in the parks during the day.  You are permitted to pack snacks and water bottles, which we did, and we have some generous grandmas and aunts and uncles who sponsored a few meals because they are so sweet (thank you!), but I will warn you that those Disney people are smart, and their treats are cute and tempting and delicious.  I would say that the cost of food was the most overwhelming expense, but I can also say that we did not have a bad meal anywhere, at any price level.  Disney food is tasty!
  7. Consider purchasing the Memory Maker Photo Pass. This is not inexpensive, but my brother and his wife decided to buy it, and we all appreciated their investment very much. There are Disney photographers all over the theme parks, often stationed in front of landmarks like the EPCOT ball or Cinderella’s castle.  With the Memory Maker Photo Pass, you can ask any of these photographers to take your family’s photo as often as you want throughout the week.  Disney also snaps your photograph on most of the thrill rides, and these pictures are hilarious.  At the end of the week, you can download all of the photos to your own computer.  Our best photos from our trip are the Photo Pass photographs.
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  8. Don’t miss opportunities to “rider swap.” Since we were traveling with a three-year-old, the older kids and adults could never ride a thrill ride as one group because someone always needed to stay with the littlest person.  Rider swap allowed the adult who was waiting plus a couple additional family members to ride immediately after the others finished so that the family did not have to stand in the same long line twice just so that everyone could ride.  This is a very cool and very family-friendly benefit, and many people don’t realize it’s available.
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  9. Fast passes are amazing, but do your research. Fast passes allow you to book several ride times in advance for each day so that you do not have to wait in long lines for every ride. For those of us who visited Disney many years ago, this gives us yet another opportunity to tell our children just how spoiled they are!  Seriously, though, the fast passes allow you to see so much more of the parks in a day because you aren’t wasting ridiculous amounts of time in line.  However, we often saw people using fast passes on rides that don’t typically have a long wait anyway, and you can’t book more fast passes until you have used your first ones, so make sure that you carefully research to see which rides typically have the longest lines.
  10. Load the “My Disney Experience” app to keep an eye on wait times in real time. Again, kids these days have no idea what life was like without instant gratification! Now, using this app on your phone, you can easily see which areas of each park are busy and which are not at any given time.  We often found rides with waits of 5-15 minutes and dashed to those to avoid waiting in long lines.  Sweeeeet.  Truthfully, with the fast passes and this app, we spent very little time waiting around.
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  11. If you are traveling with a multi-generational group, plan to meet the needs of everyone. There are experiences at Disney World for people of all ages and for families that have a wide variety of interests, and many of the rides and shows are entertaining for almost everyone. Young children are able to ride most of the rides, and the classics like It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean are fun to enjoy together.  But there may be times when dividing and conquering makes more sense, so think ahead about who loves roller coasters and who doesn’t and what each person absolutely does not want to leave Disney World without seeing.
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  12. Enjoy that visiting Disney World is a truly global experience. I had not visited Disney World for over twenty years, so I had forgotten that people from ALL OVER THE WORLD see our Disney World as an exciting vacation destination. I have never heard so many languages spoken in one place!  Even our “neighbors” at our hotel were visiting from England.  Disney employees wear nametags that share where they are from (which is a detail that I LOVE), and those employees represent countries from all around the world.  This is especially apparent at EPCOT where the employees are often from the countries that they staff in the World Showcase.  Even with this global influence, however, we realized just how small the world really is.  (Cue the “It’s a Small World” music!)  We met a Disney employee from our own town in Ohio, saw a family wearing t-shirts from another local high school, and attracted Ohioans like moths to a flame by wearing Ohio State shirts.  Pack a shirt that represents something local to you and see if you meet anyone new as a result!
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  13. Pack your patience. We didn’t wait long for rides most of the time, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t do our fair share of waiting. We waited for the bus.  We waited for the monorail.  We waited to have our bags checked by security each morning.  We waited in line for food.  But we were on vacation, and we weren’t going to allow a bit of waiting to ruin our fun.  Bring your patience and be nice.  Or stay home.
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  14. Expect to make new friends – because Disney World can be crowded. At some point, you will be waiting in line for a ride, and you will feel just a little claustrophobic. At some time, you will be standing on a Disney bus because there is nowhere left to sit.  At some moment, you will find yourself caught in an undertow of people because you just happen to be in the busiest part of the park at that minute.  I was actually surprised that the parks weren’t as busy as I expected them to be in June, but, again, bring your patience or stay home.
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  15. Disney “hunts” can add another layer of fun to your visit. My kids and their cousins enjoyed collecting smashed pennies across the parks. Penny smashers (machines that heat a penny and then smash and imprint it with a commemorative image for 50 cents per penny) can be found all over each of the parks and even at the resorts.  You can buy penny collection books in the gift shops, and my boys especially enjoyed documenting their favorite rides with smashed pennies and finding penny smashers in every country in the World Showcase in EPCOT.  Another more expensive option is to buy and trade Disney pins across the parks.  If you are going this route and want to save some cash, check Ebay or similar sites for lanyards and pins before your trip.  And there are free options, as well, like searching for “hidden Mickeys,” images of Mickey that are hidden in the designs and architecture across the parks, or playing interactive games throughout the parks like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.
  16. Trust that Disney World will provide a clean, comfortable environment for you. Disney World prides itself in being the happiest place on earth – and this is not a joke to them. The employees are, for the most part, exceptionally kind and helpful, and it is easy to find what you need there, including restrooms, which are abundant.  In addition, everything is exceptionally clean.  We were surprised to see employees clearing standing water from sidewalks and using squeegees to dry any wet surface after a rain, including clearing water droplets from the tops of the trash cans.  There are places to rest in the shade when you need a break.  No matter what your personal concerns, Disney World will try to provide the best experience that they possibly can.
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  17. Watch for the magical moments. Disney prides itself in “magical moments,” unexpected small joys that visitors may experience at any time. For example, one afternoon we just happened to walk by a snack stand at Magic Kingdom where we were handed $6 Mickey pretzels – my older son’s favorite treat – for free.  All of us!  I’m not sure why this happened, but it did, and it brought big smiles to our family and several others.  On my birthday, I received unexpected birthday greetings from Disney employees who brightened my day.  While watching the Festival of Fantasy parade, the Little Mermaid, sitting high on a float, singled out my three-year-old nephew to show him that his red hair matches hers.  He was thrilled by the attention.  The Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor featured a joke that my younger son submitted while we waited in line, and my eight-year-old nephew had an awesome encounter with a Storm Trooper who asked him if he was a member of the First Order.  In another special moment, a Disney cast member played rock, paper, scissors with our kids through a window, entertaining them while we waited for the Country Bear Jamboree.  It was such a simple gesture, but it was surprisingly special.  If you visit Disney, please slow down and enjoy the magic!

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  18. If you really want to be Disney trendy, consider creating unique family t-shirts or “Disney bounding.” Family t-shirts may sound cheesy, but trust me when I say that some families had designed some really cool, professional-looking styles with clever plays on words. Disney bounding is all about assembling fashionable, modern outfits that are inspired by Disney characters.  Check it out online; it’s much cooler than it sounds!  I am thankful to all of the people who go the extra mile to do these things because watching for them brought some extra joy to our trip!
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  19. Soak up the amazing Disney details! Before we went to Disney World, my kids imagined that the Disney parks would be like the amusement parks they had visited before, and I couldn’t really explain to them why Disney is different. But once we entered the Magic Kingdom, I remembered that the difference, which is significant, is all about the details.  As a whole, the details at Disney create an atmosphere that feels like a fantasy, but the experience is richer when you take the time to truly appreciate the details of every Disney experience.  Notice the circus peanuts embedded in the concrete that leads to the Dumbo ride.  Notice how the Mary Poppins cast member looks and acts just like Mary Poppins would, correcting children and corralling rambunctious little ones for a picture using her umbrella.  Notice the exquisite costumes and meticulous makeup in the Festival of Fantasy parade.  Notice that the change you receive after each purchase is shiny and new.  Notice the witch at the door of Snow White’s house as you finish riding the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  Notice the creative designs of the snacks in The Confectionary.  Notice the amazing details that make you feel like you shrunk in the Toy Story Mania ride at Hollywood Studios and the incredible environment all around you in the new Pandora section of Animal Kingdom.  The details are incredible.  Notice them.
  20. Know that, sadly, you can’t do it all, even in a week. We spent five and a half days in Disney parks. That is a long Disney World vacation.  Five of those days, we arrived at the parks around the time that they opened.  Five of those days, we left the parks after dark.  We used fast passes and checked wait times to make the most of our time and took advantage of every moment.  Still, we hardly watched any of the live shows at any of the parks.  We never sat in one place long enough to watch an entire display of fireworks.  There were rides that we had hoped to revisit, but we ran out of time.  We didn’t have a chance to explore Disney Springs or to enjoy our resort pool very much or to go mini-golfing on Disney property.  Even in a week, you can’t do it all.  There is so, so much that you can do!

So if you decide to splurge on a Disney vacation, do your research and invest in the planning so that you can enjoy the experience as much as we did.  My boys really want to go back . . . but we have a lot of saving to do until then!  But that’s okay.  Disney reminded us that there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow waiting at the end of every day, whether you are at a Disney park or just enjoying life with a Disney World mindset at home!

Purge

It was a cool summer day, too cold to go to the pool, so my younger son and I decided to bite the bullet and clean out his room. And by “clean out his room,” I don’t mean we revved up the Dyson, sprayed some Pledge, and called it a day. I mean we sorted through every drawer and unloaded every shelf and examined every piece of everything that had been shoved into the closet throughout the past year.

It seemed like such a great idea in the moment. After all, the mess wasn’t really that bad. But it didn’t take us long to realize that the little bit of mess that you could see was the result of a whole lot of mess that you couldn’t see behind closed drawers.

Bit by bit, we pulled everything out of everywhere. We sorted. We purged. He tried on. And when we finally had to stop to leave for an appointment, it looked like Old Navy, Dicks Sporting Goods, and Toys R Us had exploded from a confetti cannon. The shrapnel was everywhere.

I sat in the middle of the chaos – the piles to donate and the piles to sell and the piles to relocate and the piles to trash – and nearly cried. (Admittedly, a bit of an overreaction, but it was that kind of day.) “What have we done?” I thought. “This is worse than before we began! I never should have started this project.”

Sometimes, the mess that we can’t see is much bigger than the mess that we can.

And, sometimes, things have to get messier before they can get better.

The disorder was annoying, but I knew that when we finished organizing, my son would more fully enjoy his space and more easily find the things that bring him joy. But to fix the visible mess, we needed to address the problems that weren’t as visible. We had to face the junk and the clutter. We had to look at it and think about it and physically touch each and every piece of it. We had to make decisions and say farewell to some things while saying hello to the unlimited potential of empty space – instead of falling into the temptation of filling it.

And then, in the midst of the damaged posters and the Goodwill donations and the dress shoes that are two sizes too small, I realized something – that I am unpacking the drawers and the shelves and the closets of my own self this summer. I am facing the messes that I’ve shoved to the back where I could not see them. I am looking at them and thinking about them and allowing myself to physically touch them and viscerally feel them. I am pulling all of the questions and all of the pain and all of the lessons and all of the regrets out of the hidden spaces, and I am forcing myself to sit in the middle of those piles and sort them all out. I am trying to elevate the gifts in my life to a special shelf and to purge some of the heartache to make the space for what is new and what is good.

And you probably need to do this, too.

Because we all have a tendency to push the hard, ugly parts of our lives into the furthest corners of our minds and ignore them, and we all have a tendency to pull the easy, more beautiful things into the light. And then post a picture of them on Facebook.

When the piles finally cleared, my son’s room evoked a new and palpable sense of peace. We had trashed some things that no longer mattered, things he did not want to keep nor need to remember. We had discovered buried treasures that my son dearly values, and we had reminisced about their significance and given them the special space in his room that they deserve. And we had found items that he no longer needs stuffed in the back of the closet, things that were stealing his valuable space, things that he will now pass along to benefit someone else.

Our lives are so similar, filled with problems and messes that we don’t want to face, stuffed with regrets that haunt our days and hurts that steal the empty spaces in our souls. There are mistakes that need to be pulled out of the darkness and corrected, and insecurities and negative influences that need to be thrown out with the trash. There are important life lessons and happy memories that are being smothered by pain that no longer serves us but that we refuse to let go. And there is wisdom that can be excavated from experiences that we’d rather forget, gems that we can’t share with others unless we allow ourselves to dig them up.

Stuffing our hurts into the back of the closet may seem easier, but living in the midst of our messes, learning and growing and facing the things we would rather ignore, creates the healthy spaces that our hearts need to heal and to dream and to change the world in positive ways for the people around us. And if I am openly sorting through my piles, I don’t need to worry about what others will discover behind my closed doors. They will have already stepped over my junk just to reach them, and there will be nothing behind them but empty space – space that is ready to be filled by blessings that are yet unknown.

It’s tempting to envy a house that seems pristine, an image that seems cut from a retail ad, or a soul that seems unblemished. It’s easy to assume that an uncluttered room is actually clean.  But don’t.

Because you may trigger an avalanche if you open the closet.

Just clean your kid’s room and you’ll see.