When the phone rings

Monday, August 27, 2018

I struggle to understand how everything could seem so wonderful and happy only to have my heart utterly shattered completely out of the blue and putting it back together is a very slow and painful process.

June 1, 2018 started like any other day. I got up, packed lunches, morning scramble out the door, dropped kids off with hugs and kisses and wishes to have a great day and then I drove to work. Turned my computer on and did my tasks, the day exactly like the day before it. My phone on silent but face up on my desk in case the school called. Every day my phone sits face up on my desk. On June 1, it rang. My friend called.

My friend called.

She did not text, she called.

My heart sank and I knew.

I picked it up and she said his name and I knew. The sound of her voice and the weight of her words still sit on my heart. Every moment of that conversation sits on my heart.

Her sweet, amazing Noah had passed away unexpectedly in the night. I don't know how long we spoke. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that we sat in silence because there are just no words that can make a mother, a friend, feel anything other than grief and disbelief.

I still can't wrap my head around how suddenly life changed. He had been here at our house not even a week before playing with our kids, playing in our yard, sliding down the playhouse slide and making funny faces in our traditional couch picture.  We had talked about their next trip, hugged and kissed and loved and laughed. The very last thing that would ever have crossed my mind was that this would be his last visit to our home.

Noah was an amazing little boy with CHARGE syndrome. Laura and John were his advocates and did so much to ensure that he had the best life and helped educate others about their special boy and the CHARGE community.

In the days, weeks, month since Noah has been honored by his family, his school and his community. The people who surrounded my friends and their children with love and generosity in the days immediately following the call restores my faith in the good of the world.

Telling my children that their friend had gone to be with Jesus was hard. Walking through the weeks before my trip to visit them was hard, because while every fiber of my being wanted to jump on a plane that evening, I knew that when the family and friends cleared out after the service my friend would need space and then she would need me. The blessing of having friends for decades is that you know them well and sometimes you just know what the other needs.

Getting to the other side of the country was more stressful than it needed to be. Broken planes, delays, terminal changes- my anxiety grew but I made it.  Holding myself together to be strong for them was hard. I landed and spent four love and grief filled days being called "Hey you girl!" and "Wisa" by some of my favorite tiny humans. We had a birthday party and dance parties, nap times and silent understanding, tears, hugs and laughter. What was not hard was being with her, with them. The hard is found in the weight of how their life had changed forever and that I could do so very little to carry that burden for them. The hard is knowing I can't fix it, change it or even make a small dent in healing them.

For months I have checked on my littles in their sleep. This is so ridiculous to a rational mind but anxiety is never rational. My anxiety about their safety has gone up. Dealing with the irrational fear that something could happen to my babies and with the internal guilt of not being able to be with my friends, not being able to just bring their sweet boy back and make it better has been like sacks of sand on my shoulders. I have struggled with what to share on social media because I question if my words are coming out "right".

In reality nothing will ever be as hard as what they are walking through each and every day.

If you know a family walking through grief know that you can never fix it. What you can do is be kind.
  1. Fill their freezer with food (easy, ready to reheat meals)
  2. Clean their home or send a gift card for a service. 
  3. Offer to take their children to the park or offer to stay with them so parents can get out. 
  4. Be there when they need you. 
  5. Let them know they are loved and never, ever forget about their child. Remember them, share the pictures that you have of them, make a plan to honor them. 

This is not the post I sat down to write but this is what poured out of my heart. Noah we loved you so much and we're trying our best to watch over your people from a far. We love you all so much. 

You're going to Disney!!! (Now what?!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Congratulations! You've made the decision to dive full on into the craziness and plan a trip to Disney. Or maybe you just want to know about my full fledged plunge into an entire world I had no idea existed- the Disney planner people.

The day I clicked purchase on our Disney park tickets was awesome! I felt pure elation because we were finally taking our kids to Disney and some of my family was coming with us! I reveled in that joy and elation. I sent a picture of the screen to G, my mom,  my sister and a couple of others. Not going to lie...I shed a tear. Those of you who know me well know that one of my more endearing qualities is the ability to cry through every range of emotion. So I sat in my office chair on my lunch break and cried tears of joy that I was making this dream come true, that we had worked hard at my design business and were paying cash to make this dream come true.

And then the panic hit. Where do I even start? Oh, and we were keeping this top secret from my kids just for an added layer of excitement and to complicate the planning process just a little.

Trust me, planning a trip to Disney can go so many ways. You can just book the whole thing online and wing it or you can plan the shit out of each and every day. I'm happy to say I rescued myself from going full on into Disney over plan mode and we ended up being an almost perfectly planned trip for our family.

(FYI- the perfect trip involves a lot of Mickey Bars)

Doesn't matter if you plan to keep the trip a secret from your kids like we did or if you plan to fully engage them in trip prep. The VERY FIRST think you need to do is-

1. Book Your Trip

I was making arrangements for 8 people so we used a travel agent to help us with the travel and accommodation logistics. I am so grateful that we went that route. Sure I could have done all of that myself- but I'm not a travel expert so I was happy to have the help. Debbie got us a great travel package with Sunwing that included flights, rental home in a gated community and rental cars for a very reasonable price. We decided not to stay on property because there were so many of us and because we knew the parks would be very busy when we would be there which meant higher prices and no solitude. Our house had a pool and Jacuzzi and was located on a quiet street. It was really relaxing to be able to find some quiet at the end of each day. I'm not sure my anxiety would have been quiet so well managed had we not had that retreat away from all the people and the excitement of the parks.

Do you know how many Disney trip planning sites, blogs and Facebook groups there are out there? Hundreds! It is so easy to get overwhelmed (like I did) and just walk away with the thought "Frig it! I'll show up and see what happens!" Please don't do'll spend your whole day in a line and not get to enjoy anything.

Fans everywhere! Great for cooling down when you have to wait in a line...

So dear reader, this brings me to step 2-

2. Talk to your friends who have been there

Luckily I have a few friends who have been to the parks. I discovered completely by accident that someone I've known for many years is a full on Disney fanatic (he hid his Disney infatuation well lol) Next thing I knew I had a full list of websites, podcasts and logistical information. I've reduced the list to the ones I found most helpful:

The Mouse for Less- This site has a ton of Disney news and info about the parks. We were going at Easter and I was able to find good info about what was happening in the parks over the holidays here. I was also added to the Facebook group and got quick answers to my questions from them.

Dad's Guide to Walt Disney World- Crowd calendar here was really useful and he had some good tips for planning fastpass and enjoying the trip.

Disney in Your Day- Becky's Disney blog is a fun read. Disney info, food reviews and park news.

Now, to be fair, I read way more than 3 blogs. I filled a Pinterest board with links and ideas. I overwhelmed myself with information. Friends, don't do that to yourself. Find a couple of resources that you like and stick with them. Most of them share the same info with just a slightly different perspective. You have to decide what type of vacation you want to have and what will work for your family.

Smiles, fun, adventure, laughs- basics covered!

Talk to your vacation friends and decide-

3. Decide what kind of Disney experience you want to have

Travelling with 8 people who all have different crowd tolerance levels made planning a little bit of a challenge. Especially for a gal who gave everyone in my life an itinerary broken down in to 15 minute increments for my wedding day. The more I read and the more I looked at the crowd calendars, the more I can to terms with a strict schedule was not going to fly in my post baby life. I opted for a more relaxed plan of attack- Pick three things to do, pick one direction to move around the parks and enjoy every moment.

This sounds pretty simple. You can pre-book 3 FastPasses, so my plan was space the passes out, start at the first one and then head towards the second. There proved to be a few flaws with the plan in a park or two but I'll get in to that later. As an overall strategy it worked really well. Those flaws resulted from failure to do the next step-

4. Book your dining!!! 

You've booked your vacation? Awesome! Now look at the calendar, count back 180 days and set an alarm. Go do it now...I'll it done? Great now when that alarm goes off you will log in to My Disney Experience and BOOK YOUR DINING. By the time I figured out what parks we would be in on what days, EVERYTHING was booked. It was also Easter, and US spring break so reserved dining was very difficult to come by. You will need a break. A sit down lunch would have been a great break in each park.

Why hello footlong hot dog that fed two!

5. Book your Fast Passes

Seems easy enough right? Nope! This is a game of strategy and if you aren't staying on resort you only get to book your passes 30 days out from your visit. Oh and did I mention that you'll need to do this multiple days in a row. Again set your alarm for 7am EST 30 days before your first park day. Log in and see what's available and then get what you can get. I have to say we were pretty lucky as I was booking passes for 8 people and I got most of the attractions we wanted to do together. The beauty of this is that if you don't get the time you'd really like for an attraction you can always rope drop (get to the park before opening) and head to that attraction first, release your fast pass while in line and book something else.  People change their plans so passes can open up last minute.We did this for the Safari at Animal Kingdom, released the afternoon pass and my sister and brother in law were able to get on another ride they wanted to do later in the day.

The Safari first thing in the morning was awesome! 
So those are the basic 5 things that I found really helpful in planning our trip.  I know you want more details and pictures, they are coming!

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