Monday, April 22, 2013

Disney Vacation Part 1: Making Ready for the Rodent

A few weeks ago, when my brother called to offer us the timeshare points that his family wouldn't be able to use before the mid-May expiration, Josh and I gratefully fell to examining our options. I'm thankful to my awesome brother and sweet sister-in-law for two reasons -- first, for the generosity of their gift and second, for the deadline. You see, Josh has been championing the idea of a family vacation since last May when, after months of estrangement and exhaustion in our collective pursuit of my Ph.D., four kind and qualified scholars finally signed The Paper. We all needed time away, he said, to reconnect and regroup. I knew that he was right, but somehow a family vacation seemed.....wasteful. Extravagant. Excessive. Love relies, though, on extravagant, excessive acts -- it's always impractical. It was time, he insisted, to wastefully, extravagantly love our kids in the insular environment of away-ness:) And what could be more extravagant and excessive than Disney World? Which is why, after perusing the timeshare list for less than an hour, we honed in on an Orlando resort and began making strides toward our first family vacation in more than a decade. (Last vacation, we drove baby Olivia to the Indiana shores of Lake Michigan for a long weekend of sand, sun, and sleeplessness.) Without the mid-May deadline, I think we would have procrastinated indefinitely; after all, impractical things are difficult to prioritize. But the 11th hour feel of an impending expiration date ushered me into my comfort zone -- my frenetic, relentless, whirlwind of a comfort zone! I swept into the homestretch of this sprint determined to celebrate my kids with a kind of epic specificity that they wouldn't soon forget.

I started my Equipping phase of this adventure armed with a broad net. After all, a LOT of people have taken families to the Magic Kingdom. I didn't want to re-invent the wheel, just grease it up and stick a few playing cards in the spokes. The morning after my brother's phone call, I saw the sunrise through screen-seared eyes in the wake of a night spent surfing the Disney web (which should, by the way, have it's own little suffix -- .dis or something! It's so sprawling!) My list of add-on extravagances began to take shape; I knew by dawn that I wanted us to wear matching shirts, mouse hats, and fanny packs. I am in no way kidding. The matching shirts bore the dual function of kitsch and practicality. If one of our little ones should slip away from us in the inevitable Disney crowd, my face would not necessarily be the one that a helpful stranger or uniformed worker might seek. BUT, if we were all wearing the same distinctively red, mouse-emblazoned top and Taye were to sift (disoriented by exhaustion) between the hundreds of legs entering the Hall of Presidents. And if, say, he wandered onto the Main Street of Disney proper while, back in the lobby of the Hall of Presidents, Josh and I were baptized by that wave of panic and vigilant clarity that wash over the first moments of realizing that neither parent knows where Taye might be, then it would be useful (hypothetically, of course) for the red shirt to act as a kind of signal. First, for the parent, whose frantic eyes can sweep a room for red in fractions of a life-long second and, then, for the preschooler who, bleary-eyed and afraid, can begin to look up and do the same. Finally, if some well-meaning stranger steps in to help, the home-made shirts can leave no doubt about a relationship that will become altogether clear when my Taye finally falls into my arms, sobbing with mingled fear and relief. All is well.

So, I found a site called CheapestTees and ordered our array of sizes (for less than $3 per shirt!) in crimson, green, and pacific blue and had them sent to my wonderful Mother-in-law's house, where Aunt Judy generously (do you see the theme of generosity peppered across this whole experience?) air brushed silhouettes of Mickey, an elephant, and an orca onto the chests. She also personalized five drawstring backpacks that I added to the order (free, after my shipping discount and additional 20% internet coupon!).

I quickly realized that the personalization element of extravagant love could not be extended to the backs of Mouse Ear Hats without hyper-extravagant expenditure. So, I switched gears, not yet ready to sacrifice the iconic souvenir. I found a set of official Disney ear hats on Ebay for around $3 apiece. They had been abandoned in layaway and were therefore new but deeply discounted.....because they already had names embroidered on the backs....other people's names. I bought them. For one entirely too-short week, we answered to the names of Christine, Joey, Sabnna, Evan, Hunter, Kathisson (that's Katherine in pink overstruck with Addison in yellow), and Paolo.

Here's the weird thing about the "Personalized" ear hats. Each kid read the name on the back, put on the hat smiling, and then called himself or herself by that name --- without asking any questions. Isn't that strange? They just rolled with it! Once we loaded into the van and donned our collective iconography, the kids just called themselves by the names on their hats without pursuing the obvious contradiction. No one said, "Why does this hat say Sabnna instead of Olivia? or Why are you calling me Paolo?" I have no explanation for this anomaly.

I enlisted the fanny packs to solve the two-pronged problem of an unwieldy backpack, annoyingly banging other (already irritable) people in crowded lines, invariably forgotten while stashed in the pick-up bin of a ride that doesn't accommodate luggage. I figured that a fanny pack on every hip, equipped with snacks and a clip-on, BPA-free, collapsible water bottle would solve all manner of problems. It did....some....and it created others. My fanny pack, which ROCKED, (can I just tell you how much I already love this sentence? :) came from the 50 cent bin at my favorite thrift store. I bought some fanny pack attachments on the same rack, but ended up sticking to the basics. First of all, my fanny pack is awesome because it has numerous compartments, some of them secret. Secret compartments are one of my two favorite attributes of anything. (Transformability is the other....but one cannot expect too much from a single fanny pack). My kids' fanny packs, on the other hand, came from the dollar spot at Target (as did a number of the Disney themed car activities that filled their personalized drawstring backpacks). While I am a huge proponent of dollar spots, I also realize that some items often sacrifice quality for the sake of profit margin. Two of the five fanny packs had to be ditched on day 1 of the Disney adventure due to faulty zippers. The others were just a bit too big in the waist for the little ones (although we solved that problem fairly quickly by making them into shoulder strap bags). The snack distribution was very helpful. When the kids would begin to complain of being hungry, I just answered with the glorious sing-song refrain, "Look in your fanny pack!" I did, actually, compose a little song, which I taught to my kids, and we all sang (some of them, I'll acknowledge, participated under duress) -- with choreography. It's more of a chant than a song, really. In case you ever have occasion to don matching family fanny packs, I'll share my lyrics. It goes "Get." (Extend right hand, palm facing forward) "Back!" (Left hand joins right, palm facing forward) "Back up off my fanny pack!" (Hands swivel inward, palms down, to frame fanny pack. Then, to the beat, add a rhythmic hip thrust in the direction of said fanny pack while pumping arms up and down). How in the world could anyone object to such a cool song and dance!? Here's Tari proudly displaying her pack!

A little note on the water bottles: Clip on collapsible water bottles seem like a great idea. And they are....for adults wearing backpacks. Little ones have no great place to clip them, and they spill more than they drink. The combined problem of water bottle size and loose fanny packs make for some untoward....ummm....exposure. On day three, we abandoned most of the kid fanny packs (although I still worked mine) in favor of a snack backpack, clipping a water bottle to the front of the pack. That worked beautifully! (Except, as expected, it did bang into a lot of unhappy people -- who may or may not have been unhappy before being clobbered by our backpack -- and it did get left at the stash bin of the carousel at Sea World, though it was easily retrieved before the final Shamu show.)

During the first days of preparation, I found a Craigslist post that promised a large bin of Disney paraphernalia for $25. I had hoped to pre-purchase souvenirs to pack in the kids drawstring car packs and hand out after each day of fun, but even online prices seemed prohibitive. I love a large mystery bin almost as much as I love secret compartments and transformability, so I responded to the Craigslist post. Crickets. For two weeks, a silence punctuated by imaginary cricket sounds. Then, a week to the day before our trip, the poster responded and said the bin was still available, which I jumped all over. We wound up with plush characters and plastic toys galore for all of the kids, and I still have a half-full bin of breakable or batteries-not-included Disney gear headed to our local thrift store!

So the car activity packs looked like this: Four or five Disney themed books (purchased for 50 cents each at the profusely acknowledged thrift store), a few Disney themed work books from the Dollar Tree, a gallon sized ziplock bag packed with snacks and a smaller ziplock bag marked "Trash" to collect wrappers from the snack bag. (This second bag idea seems good, but it didn't work at all. Ultimately, it just CREATED one more piece of trash to be thrown into the giant collective trash back parked between the two front seats -- which DID work). A pencil bag full of Disney themed art supplies and some Disney antibacterial wipes (also courtesy of Dollar Tree). A plush toy and several smaller plastic character toys from the $25 mystery bin. A journal. I did not include a water bottle because, quite frankly, I didn't want them to drink more than was absolutely necessary for survival. The trip was already going to take more than 14 hours. Bathroom stops have stretched 3 hour trips to nearly out the math and you'll find that water bottles might have made Disney utterly impossible. I kept some juice boxes and water bottles in the front seat with me, hoping that the inconvenience would slow them down. It basically worked. We made the trip each way in fairly good time and no one suffered (severe) dehydration in the process. All told, just the FACT of personalized drawstring car activity bags worked like a charm at making each of the kids feel extravagantly loved.

In fact, I think the whole vacation worked to that end! Hopefully, I'll have a chance to write a little about how that played out across our adventure, but, for the moment, suffice it to say that we all piled out of our messy van, splashing Disney excess and laundry across the front room of our house and collapsing into bed with smiles on our faces. All of us. Even Paolo.

1 comment:

Mama Melch said...

You are a GENIUS! Are you available to plan our first Disney extravaganza? I LOVE the hats and that the kids just adopted the names without question. Though they ARE your kids, so they must be used to winging it creative style. See you Sunday!