Organizing a Surprise (To Disney!)

“I hate you! I can’t believe we’re going to Disney! ….You are the worst and the best Mom in the world! I love you…”  

A quote from Super Tall Guy as I filmed them learning about leaving for Disney. It was four in the morning. I woke up Mr. Ornery first with, “Hey, it just snowed 4 inches overnight – let’s go outside and play!” “Really?” he questioned. “Yes,” I exclaimed as I woke up the other two. Once they were dressed, they got to open backpacks laid out in the hallway ready for the plane flight. The excitement was intense.

The emotions were a true contrast to the past couple days when they had mourned the fact that they were missing out on fun when they found out that their cousins were going to Disney. They were not happy about having a mother who “never takes them anywhere.”  They begged to go. The eldest was perhaps the most sad. The younger two are pretty resilient.

I had spent two months in stress. Trying to coordinate a trip with my sister and mother while keeping it secret from my own kids. Shopping and hiding items in boxes in my room and keeping them separate from all the Christmas presents hiding as well. Staying up late at night buying tickets, planning the travel, trying for Fast-Passes at the parks. 

At one point, Super Tall Guy was awaiting a gift he ordered for his cousin from Amazon. On a Saturday morning when I took the younger two on errands with me, he opened the boxes that had been delivered…. finding the LEGO character gift he was expecting…. as well as the 5 Magic Bands for the upcoming trip!  Thankfully I masterfully distracted him with the “little lie” that the bands were for his cousin and family.

My sister questioned me several times – “Are you sure you want to do this? My boys don’t like surprises.” “I feel so bad that the boys are unhappy…” And yet I persisted. It’s a balance between giving them the sense of anticipation for the weeks leading up to a trip and the excitement of being surprised. It’s a choice that only I could make. It’s a choice that required me to reflect on the temperament of each boy. It’s a choice that made my life infinitely more difficult for a bit of time.

For example, there was that new suitcase that I purchased for the trip and hid in my shower stall so I could get it packed up and back into the car before the boys noticed. Unfortunately, I listened to the “odd” sound of the shower water hitting something before realizing what I had done the next morning.

Then there was the angst of trying to find items that were so well-hidden from the boys that even I couldn’t remember where I had put them. As soon as I “found” the magic bands and linked them to the tickets, I promptly “lost” them again after re-hiding them!

And yet, it’s a choice I made to create a “memory” within their hearts and minds. A memory that hopefully they will share together when they are older and sitting around the table – “Remember that time when Mom woke us up at 4 am to go to Disney?!?” Hopefully it will be a good memory, filled with fun and laughter.

Here are some things that I learned:

  • Super Tall Guy does not actually like surprises and definitely doesn’t like to travel back early in the morning at the end of a trip to make it to the karate dojo tournament. You basically wasted your money in changing those flights!
  • Boys get overstimulated by crowds easily and so throwing in a beach day when it’s over 80 degrees is great fun, especially if grandma splurges on renting a couple boogie boards.
  • When coordinating six boys from ages 6 to 13 (my three and my sister’s three), it’s pretty difficult to make all of them happy with the choice of park for the day or the next ride, so stop trying!
  • There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns. There will be meltdowns.
  • Leaving the boys to be put to bed by the grandmother the first night while you run to the grocery store for a week’s worth of food is not a very good idea – for the kids or the grandmother. See point above.
  • Mickey Ear chocolate ice cream is as delicious as I remember it to be but sadly my young ice cream fiends prefer the Mickey Ear sandwich ice cream bars.
  • Having the “Elf” join us for the trip added to some tossing-around fun and to the memories (but may have caused some distress from other elf-believing young kids).
  • Would have been a good idea to bring along the boys’ homework so they could make up missed work from school….and not have to force them to do it all the day we got back! Live and learn…. 
  • You may ask the boys to turn around and smile nicely for a picture in front of whatever (insert Castle, LEGOLAND sign, Animal Kingdom decorated Christmas tree, etc.) and they know full well that you are going to require a “nice” photo every day….but that’s not going to make them all actually look happy in the photos! 
  • The boys are not actually ready for two days of Universal Studios and you could have saved a lot of money by just getting a one-day hopper pass.
  • Don’t even bother to consider how much money you just spent.
  • Limiting souvenir purchases is so difficult – oh, but the memories….
  • Traveling as a single parent with three boys is exhausting but easier with grandmother and family alongside.
  • It’s quite freeing to finally visit Disney without renting a stroller and really only carrying the youngest two when staying late into the night. The “school-age” travelers are much easier than the toddler years!
  • I miss being the kid and having a “Mom” carrying EVERYTHING!
  • Pools at the hotels are a must.
  • There will be meltdowns (especially on the night that Super Tall Guy is disrespectful and so you prohibit him from a night-time swim!).
  • A trip to Disney the week before Christmas is a bit of a nightmare.
  • Memories were definitely created and hopefully the boys see and feel how much they are loved.  

Whew! Don’t need to do that again for awhile! (But you know we will!)  

But we are looking forward to some new adventures in 2018!  Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree

 

 

Light in the darkness of fear

“Mommy, can you please give me some food?”
He screams into the air.
Tears stream.
He sits on the edge of the bed.
“I’m starving. I haven’t had anything to eat!”

 

He is paralyzed. He can’t get off the bed.
He can’t face the prospect of going downstairs by himself.
At night.

 

“I have dreams of getting killed. I can’t do it.”
“Please, Mommy, get me some food.”

 

He bargains.
He pleads.
“Please, Mommy, get me a granola bar.”

 

I sit against the wall.
Recording the conversation on the iPad on my lap.
Encouraging him to venture downstairs.
Refusing to get up for him.
“Which feeling is more powerful?” I ask.

 

He is relentless.
He is persistent.
The piano tinkles.
There’s a sudden realization that the other brother must be downstairs then.
He pops out of bed and runs down for a snack.

 

I sit and wait.
Peace returns to the room.
“Please, Mommy, can you read Harry Potter now?”

 

It is paralyzing. Fear is paralyzing. I know it. I have my own fears. Will I be a good enough Mommy? Will these boys grow up independent and courageous? Will I forever be alone? I have few paralyzing fears, though there are moments of them – when your car slips on ice, when there’s a new sound in the house at night and you remember you’re the only adult.

 

Yet I sense that our world is troubled by fear of late. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the different. Fear of the random and sudden violence. Fear of the new. And maybe this is not a new experience – maybe it is just a resurgence or a cycle of difficult times. Whatever it is, I have noticed and felt it.

 

But we are not to live in fear. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:10-11)

 

Advent; the season of waiting.
(I know you’ve been waiting for a post from me. My laptop crashed a few weeks ago and all got off track, but it’s back on again. Maybe I can blame that new puppy somehow; after all, she’s chewing up the carpet and currently destroying Super Tall Guy’s old shoe while I type.)
Advent, a waiting filled with a sense of peace. A confidence of knowing that there is hope.

 

That there is a reason to celebrate. There is light within us. Light for the darkness without.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~MLK Jr.

 

Let us have Love this Christmas season and hold up the light.

 

Merry Christmas to all. 

 

A Christmas in Photos

Whoever is making toys these days just doesn’t understand boys….or at least not our boys. We tried some new toys this year and have not been impressed. My top goal is to find a sturdy remote control vehicle that lasts more than a couple days – I’m still hunting.

This Wubble lasted a couple hours, despite the claims to “bounce it, catch it, squeeze it, kick it.” Fortunately it has a lifetime replacement guarantee (“if you happen to pop” it, you can pay for another one, states the website….since our patch attempt with Ninja Turtle Duct Tape didn’t help :))

"Lifetime warranty"

 

IMG_8506Yet the replacement Wubble seemed to experience the same fate as the first (and the mom is not paying to replace it again!).

 

 

 

The “Smash Toys”  that splat against the ground and slowly reform to be thrown again also come with a free lifetime replacement….and lasted …oh….about 4 throws….(doubt they will be replaced either)

IMG_8507

 

 

 

 

 

The tent survived almost an entire day before the poles were too bent to erect again….(guess it’s trash!)

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So I am just thankful for Legos….every single time I open a box, I’m amazed legosat the quality (and the price tag! and the pain of an unsuspected Lego under a walking foot). This year, though, The Little Guy got his first set and he was thrilled (and persisted in putting together 5-6 pieces)!  And….we have a new record — of keeping a 400+ piece “construction” together for more than 3 days so far!  The Star Wars spaceship goes to bed every night with Mr. Ornery to “protect it” from the others!

 

 

 

And…lest you think  we have mice in the house (well, we do….but mainly in the kitchen)….most of the mess comes from 5 boys! (Um, one does not like chocolate. One does not really care much about candy. One is too young to figure out how to hide wrappers behind furniture. Hmmm…that leaves two with incredible sweet teeth and cunning mentality!)

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Lastly, it seems pretty clear that the dog is just humoring me with a new toy, but she seemed to survive the chaos commonly known as dog-bearChristmas!

 

 

 

 

 

All in all – it was “relatively quiet” (ie, no broken windows) and the boys were “relatively happy” with their gifts (ie, very little thievery from each other….except of stocking candy), and the adults got “relatively” few moments to open some gifts as well. (Although, we have resorted to texting relatives to ask, “what did you get for so-and-so?” — helps in writing the thank-you cards that way!).

Hope you all had a great Christmas. Any gift joys or frustrations?

P.S. (added 12/29/14) – And….apparently….you shouldn’t submerge new watches in 8 inchesIMG_8511 of bubble bath water! Who knew?  (Actually, I’m not complaining about this one. First and only day the 8-yr-old wore a watch and I was vowing to never buy him one again! “Aren’t we done yet? It’s 11:47.” … “You said 10 minutes and it’s already been 12 minutes.” Never. Again!)

Ephiphany – Realizing the real Truth of the Holidays

Epiphany – this could become one of my new favorite words. The pastor explained the meaning of Epiphany this morning at church as “it is the realization of the truth that was already there.”

You see, last week I posted a very nice, albeit a bit mushy, post about how holidays can make one feel perfect. And that all happened solely because Super Tall Guy just happened to mention those words as he got ready for bed. I, on the other hand, had been much more ready to share the Truth, but alas, that has had to wait.

So, on this Epiphany Sunday, I thought I would share the Truth about Holidays so that you might also have an epiphany and realize the Truth that is already there.

Holidays stink. (I try to watch my language in posting….I have a wide (not really) audience of mostly family and friends….and who knows, maybe someday the boys will read these….)

But they really do stink (insert whatever).

Here are the Top Ten Reasons:

8. You are just too tired to care anymore.  You had to stay up into the wee hours of the morning for 3 nights before Christmas just to get ready. Then family arrives and you stay up visiting and playing games (so much fun!). Then New Years’ Eve arrives and you feel compelled to get the second wind to stay up again!! And by now, the sleep deprivation is so vast that I can only think of 8 things instead of 10 reasons that the Holidays stink….and I don’t actually care.

7. Your kids’ normal out-of-control behavior is even more out-of-control. The two-year-old and the three-year-old won’t nap, becoming wild hooligans in the evening twitching hours and sleep fitfully (likely due to exhaustion). The older boys have too much energyIMG_4647 due to insufficient gross motor play, such that the front room becomes a basketball court and the mothers don’t even flinch (praying for that chandelier!).

6. The kids start thinking that they are entitled to have soda with every meal and eat as much chocolate and candy canes that they want in-between meals. Any time I would enter a room and see The Little Guy scamper and attempt to hide, I knew to immediately bark, “Let me have it!” Sometimes I even caught him before the lines of liquified chocolate were streaming down his chin.

5. Churches trick you into attending “Family Service” which turns out to be a 50-minute long tortuous experience of trying to keep tired, excited, hyped-up little boys quiet for a sermon (really, a sermon?) followed by a 5-minute screaming battle for control of the burning candle –“Me hold it” vs “No, Mommy holds it” as the rest of the congregation tries to respectfully and quietly sing Silent Night.

4. You can’t decide if you don’t want to go to work because the thought of being “on holiday” and taking a break is just so delightful. Or you DO want to go into work because you realize that if the kids are home, you’re not actually “ON holiday” and it’s more tiring to be home than at the office!!

3. You have a constant nagging sense that you’ve forgotten something….and chances are about 100% that that feeling is true. So, if I somehow managed to get the Christmas cards out before Christmas, is it okay that the nieces and nephews gifts arrived on Epiphany Sunday?  You know, make them wait….till the Wise Men appear (or the aunt clicks the button!).

2. You can’t quite figure out how it could be January already and you wish you had checked your first-grader’s backpack….like when he was let out for the two-week holiday break, rather than a few days before he’s to return to school….and turn in all those “Practice over the Break” worksheets!

1. And the number one reason the Holidays stink is because they really are warm and wonderful, with family and friends, and twinkling Christmas lights and soft white bulbs decorating the staircase, and the good food – oh, the food….and everything seems wonderful and magical. I just love it. And then it ends…and you are left to face the short days, the dark nights, the slippery snow, and the cold, cold winds. And you would rather just climb back into pajamas, throw the covers over your head, and begin the count-down to next Christmas. (Mr. Ornery already wants to know how many “sleeps” there will be before then!)

“I am perfect with everyone”

I don’t even know where to begin tonight….except to be incredibly thankful to be sitting in a warm living room, with a twinkling Christmas tree, toys still scattered over the floor, my favorite Christmas song (Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas Canon) just on, and the house otherwise completely QUIET!!  (A crackling fireplace sure would be nice….but I won’t be too picky tonight…).

It has been anything but quiet for the past few days. As you might imagine with 5 boys under age 8 in the house….Christmas day was a zoo:

Boys clamoring over
Presents strewn across the room
Looking for their names

 

Wrapping paper shredded
Grandma trying to gather it up
Toys inspected and passed aside

 

Where is the next one?
Are there any more for me?
Open this, please and put it together.

 

It needs batteries….
Mom, he knocked it over
Will there be more presents tomorrow morning?

 

Christmas day….
Such joy and excitement, that
We ALL were asleep by 8:30!

 

The day after Christmas, my three cousins arrived and spent the next 3 days with us. We thought about “going places”….doing something more structured….but it seemed just easier and nice to stay home and spend time together. The boys loved their older relatives because they had “energy” – they carried them on their backs, they chased them around the loop, they played tickle monster, they engaged them nonstop….and the kids really appreciate that. It’s amazing how they sense who is “kid-friendly” and how much they love the physical nature of play. It’s so important for them to have these other adults show their love and affection.

To top off all this excitement, we also hosted our “first” foster child for the weekend ….now age 9 and living with his adoptive family (who called to ask the day before). The boys love it when the Older “Brother” comes to stay. He doesn’t really have to do anything – he’s in the “cool” category just by virtue of being alive 2 years longer than Super Tall Guy and The Flipper. He’s very easy-going and engaged each of the boys despite the ongoing jealousy issues of wanting more time alone with him.

I worried about how all the excitement of Christmas and schedule changes and the chaos of 15 people within the house at times would affect Super Tall Guy. He tends to be pretty sensitive to changes.  As he got ready for bed tonight, he said, “Now I’m lonely with everyone gone,” and a couple seconds later he added, “I am perfect when they are all here.”  Huh – I suppose I didn’t need to worry – he seemed to cope pretty well (and likely better than introvert me).  So as I tucked him in, I told him how proud I was of his ability to  handle all of the intensity without throwing any (major) fits. He smiled and said “Slam me, Good Job”….Body slam! Good Job!!

Yes….”I am perfect with everyone here.” We all need each other. Family. Friends. Neighbors. We are more perfect when in relation with others. Good Job, Super Tall Guy. Good job.IMG_5281

Peace and (very little) quiet!

There was a morning this week that I came into consciousness during the wee hours when it was still dark. I sighed when I realized that at least the entire right side of my pajamas felt drenched any time I moved in bed. There was a large boy on my right, a middle troll (I mean, boy) on my left, and a wee one bumbling around trying to figure out how to squeeze in somewhere. The “fluid,” I can only surmise, was the result of boy #2 who had decided his jammies were wet, left them and the pull-up in a pile beside the bed and climbed naked into my bed sometime in the very, very wee hours of the morning (apparently I am tired enough not to notice additions to my slumbering anymore).  Deep down inside, I groaned, “I am miserable….”

….for a second. Then I said to myself, “I am blessed.” For if you desire peace, you create peace within yourself first. You lay amidst the chaos and say, “I am blessed.”  You take ten deep breaths as Super Tall Guy works to escalate a battle and say, “I am jello…your emotions will not stick to me.”  You watch a football soar from the arms of Super Tall Guy, sail over the hands of The Flipper and bounce off the head of the Little Guy who is in the midst of tackling The Rascal while Mr. Ornery races around the indoor home loop. And you say, “this is pretty good – all is well. There is peace here.”

The center of peace is in the way that I perceive what is happening and can negotiate the environment and interactions around me. This is a work in progress (every single minute). Super Tall Guy and I had a very miserable year when he was about three. He was struggling with independence issues (very normal) and a quick temper. I was struggling with unhappiness in my adult life at the time, a quick temper as well (that part hasn’t necessarily gone away), and having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that I could not “control” this little human being. We were an explosive combination with intense negativity at times and a general lack of peace. There was very little “tranquility” and not much “harmony” in our relationship. It has taken quite awhile to grow together and get to the point where we are today with random flares disrupting a much calmer sea.

And most of the time now…more honestly…some of the time, I can handle the chaos and the noise of 5 active boys running around, pushing, shoving, sticking their tongues out, biting, kicking….pretty much invading each other’s personal space in order to meet a personal desire for an object or invoke a whine or cry from the other. Sometimes I have had enough sleep. I am feeling “okay” in my professional life. I am not (too) stressed and can tolerate the chaos.

But sometimes I just want quiet. I want peace. I want a moment to myself that is not between the hours of 10:00 pm and 1:00 am. I’m wondering what was that insane moment when I decided to become a parent and why.

Sometimes, the words of an Amy Grant holiday song run through my head:

“Look at us now, rushing around
Trying to buy Christmas peace…

I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night.”

It helps me to know that my crazy days end with a “silent night” even if sometimes that night is really short by the time the last one stops waking up to be re-tucked in and the first one hasn’t yet proclaimed “it’s morning time!”  It helps me to try to keep a bigger picture in mind. To understand that the occasional chaos is a temporary and very small aspect of the larger task of raising up three wonderful men and wanting our relationship to continue in peace for years and years to come.

So, this Advent week, I’m going to reflect on peace a bit more, model it more in myself, and encourage it more in the boys. I’m also going to pray that night-time pull-ups will be a bit more super-absorbent, and that we will all work towards peace at home, at work and in the world. IMG_4464