Friday, August 29, 2008

Helping The Bereaved

When someone suffers the death of a loved one, it's hard to know what to say or do and even when we send a card we don't know what to write. True?

Here's some help--both from my experience, after losing our 21 yo son to cancer, and from those who added tips for this post from our grief support group. The group consists of parents who have lost a child but most of these ideas are universal.

The outpouring of love and support we received from our family, friends and even complete strangers was phenomenal; I don't know how we would have survived without them. The best gift we received was prayer and love.

One of the hardest things was when I would see someone, like a neighbor, and I knew they knew but they never said a thing. It wasn't so much needing their sympathy (tho it's nice) but there is anxiety on both sides with the first meeting after a death. It's nice to tackle the elephant in the room. There is anxiety over what to say for both people so just get it out in the open.

So yes, rule number one: Do something, say something! ALL parents I know agree that the WORST is when people don't say ANYTHING.

If you don't know what to say (who does??) just say, "I'm really sorry," or "I don't know what to say, I'm just so sorry." Hugs can be great and don't worry if the person cries. One mom said, "Don't be afraid of the tears. They are healing and a normal way of expressing grief."

More thoughts:
Call soon if you are family or close friends; a little later if more removed. If you are able, go to the service. Several family members and some of my best friends flew in to be with us and I know it must have cost a bundle for last-minute airfares but I will forever be grateful for their love and companionship.

Send a card. If you don't know what to say just write, "I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry and wanted you to know I'm thinking about you." It's also great to share a memory of the person who died, something like, "I will always remember his great smile." Copy favorite pictures you may have.

More ideas:
Contribute to the memorial fund or donate to a non-profit of your choosing.

Food is great, especially if it can be frozen to use later.(One suggestion tho, several families said lasagna seemed to be overly popular-one family received SIX frozen lasagnas, so perhaps another selection?) Another mom said her sister and mother brought over a meal a week for a year!

Flowers--I especially love those I was able to plant in our yard to watch bloom again this year.

We also received cookie bouquets and fruit bouquets which were especially loved by our other children.

Gift cards--to restaurants, fast food, Target etc. We SOOOO appreciated those! Expenses are high following a death and of course, nobody feels like cooking!

Paper plates, cups, napkins, plastic forks, paper towels--great for large amounts of company and avoiding dishes.

Thank you notes, stamps, even help writing the notes.

Activities for the kids--art supplies, craft kits, writing supplies, balls, toys.

Books on grief for parents or kids.

A special gift; for instance, Joe'e entire high school baseball team attended the service and they all signed a baseball for us. Priceless!

Clean the house--don't ask or you will be told not to. Our church group surprised us with this. I am still mortified but it was such an act of Christian love and SO appreciated!

Offer your home for out of town guests--our neighbor did this and it was wonderful!

Offer your freezer for food.

When on the way to the store call and ask them to list five items to pick up. This works better than, "Do you need me to pick up something?"

Along the same lines, don't say, "Call me if you need anything." Instead say, "I'll call you next week to see what you need."

Offer to do errands, drive the carpool etc. Kim's godmother took her to the orthodontist for months--it was such a blessing!

Mow the lawn, pull weeds, sweep the front porch--or hire someone to get the front yard looking nice.

Detail the car--wash, wax, vacuum.

Offer to help with the funeral or memorial service.

Take the children on a fun outing giving the parents a chance to grieve without their children present. Don't ask if the parents would like you to do this, call and say you really want to do such-and-such with the kids. For us, this was one of the most helpful things.

If you are visiting the home keep the kids entertained--talk to them, cuddle, read books, give them your time and attention.

Along those lines, if the children want to talk about the person who died, let them. Patrick would openly share with his entire classroom that his brother died. The other children asked questions--good questions--like how he died, what his favorite color was, his age. The parents present usually got noticeably uncomfortable, and changed the subject.

His teacher was awesome tho! She would always acknowledge Patrick's feelings. I love her for letting Patrick feel free to bring it up all the time! Adults should take a lesson from children :-)

At the same time, remember that some children, especially older children/teens, may not want to talk about the death so respect their need to grieve in their own way.

Several parents said they didn't appreciate people trying to explain why their child died. One mom said, in regards to her daughter's sudden death, "I am a Christian but Christian cliche's are hollow and not a comfort. I know she is in heaven and do take great comfort in it. But when someone comes up with a smile and says she is in the arms of Jesus now--it isn't comforting because I want her in MY arms. Tell me you are praying for me, but don't tell me why God chose to take J. home. Quite frankly you don't know and neither do I and we will never know this side of heaven."

Keep in touch with the bereaved. One of my dearest friends sent me a card every week for months.

A card on the anniversary of the death is appreciated.

One mom had the gift of a big candle that smelled of sugar cookies and she burned it all day on the anniversary of her toddler's death.

Another mom's neighbor planted a strawberry garden in her yard because he remembered how her son loved strawberries.

Feel free to continue to talk about the lost loved one in the future. Personally, I've noticed when I bring up Joe's name, people often freeze and aren't sure what to say. It's okay to talk about him! It's not going to make me sadder by talking about him--it's not like I don't think about him all the time!

One mom said, "I think what's been helpful for me is when people are willing to listen to me talk about N. and to look at my picture of her if they've never met her. I really love it when people who did know her share a memory they had. Even though we were attached at the hip, often they will tell me something I don't remember. It's such a gift to hear these stores. Huge. I would love for people to write them down, too, but no one has done that yet! A couple of people have shared pictures they took that they hadn't given me before, and I really love that because I've looked at our pictures so many times, it's great to see other ones."

Another said, "Bring up J's name and the memories you have. She was alive for almost ten years. Don't pretend like she never existed."

Lastly, accept the fact that the bereaved will forever be changed. Things will never get back to "normal" tho there will eventually become a "new" normal. It might help to keep in mind this brief overview of an article on grief by Jana DeCristofaro entitled "Three Common Myths About Grief":

Three Common Myths About Grief:

Myth #1
We grieve in stages.
The reality is, we go back again and again through the stages.

Myth #2
There is a right way to grieve.
The reality is that everyone has their own way of handling grief.

Myth #3
Grief follows a timeline.
The reality is that grief never ends.

So, there you are, several ideas when you just don't know what to do or say.

I'll end with a HUGE THANK YOU to all of YOU, my blogger friends, for your love, support and prayers during this last year.

Thank you to our grief support group for listening and understanding and for helping with this post.

Thank you to our family and friends. You've been our rock.

Thank you God for the promise we WILL see our son again and it will be for ETERNITY!

Truly. Thank you.

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One of my favorite pictures of Joe--here with our youngest son Patrick. Patrick had just cut his own hair and Joe's was just growing out after chemo. Twins!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Steven Curtis Chapman and Grief

The best part of our vacation was being together as a family.

The worst part was missing Joe. He was a HUGE fan of Disneyland and we started planning this trip when he was going through stem cell transplant. When he got well we were all going to go TOGETHER.

It's tough, there's just no way around it, but a friend sent me this video of Steven Curtis Chapman and family and their words echo our hearts and lives.



Tomorrow--a post on what to do/not do when someone loses a beloved family member.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Final Day

The day started out amazing. The children all woke up excited for the drive home and happily helped load the car and buckle into their carseats. The air was filled with excitement for more adventure and when Eric said it would be a twelve hour drive they all yelled, “Hurrah!”

The kids all played wonderfully together, sharing everything and helping one another with car games. Lunch time came and when Eric asked, for the 16th day in a row, who wanted a sandwich, all the children shouted, “Yum, yum! Another delicious sandwich!!!”

NOT!


Let me start over.

The day started out with dread. The kids wouldn’t get out of bed and were cranky when they did. When Eric said it would be at least a ten hour drive they all said, “Ugh!”

The kids did play very well in the car, thanks to buying $50 in new toys/activities—best money I’ve ever spent. The lace-up cards were a big hit as was the magnetic design toy. Also, D2 gave us several new craft items and fun gadgets. D2 is the most amazing craft lady ever—she inspires me to get my kids into more handicrafts.

It’s lunch time now and we stopped to make sandwiches but the kids have threatened mutiny so I think this will be the last sandwich of the entire summer. Eric did get brave enough to dig to the bottom of the snack bin. It was like a treasure hunt. “Eureka ! A chocolate pudding! Two! Going once, going twice, SOLD to the loudest bidder! And even a spoon—Paul and Kim, share the spoon. Stale crackers anyone? How about a pack of fruit snacks melted into molten sugar???”

So far so good, more updates later . . . .

Update:

Home sweet home! The remainder of our trip went well and now I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz saying, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home!"

There truly is no place like home!

A few more pics of the trip:
Vu loved meeting all the characters including Cinderella. Check out Lizzy holding Etame in the Ergo.
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Patrick had some moves in boxing at ESPN
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More proof I will have some wild and crazy drivers in the future:
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It's amazing any of our children learn to walk:
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My mom and dad:
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My mom and aunt--her first time at Disney!
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Paul was determined to use his own money to play this game and of course he won so now he will want to play again at some other money-sucking game place. Ugh!
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More memories:
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Catching some fish:
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James and Will holding Patrick's hands at the end of a great day.
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Which brings me to the end of a great trip.
THE END

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chevy Chase And Code Brown

The mood this morning:
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This morning consisted of dealing with tired, cranky, irritable, non-listening kids. Patrick is totally vacationed out and I can see Vu reverting to some behaviors he had during the initial phases of his homecoming—he is tense and hyper.

I remember those first couple of weeks after we adopted him--I could tell he was going to be a very high-energy kid. I was wrong. It turned out that once he got settled in he became a very mellow kid. Just goes to show one cannot discern a lot about a child’s personality in those first weeks.

Anyhoo, the day started with a replay of Chevy Chase in National Lampoons Vacation. In case you have not seen the movie, of course I have to replay it for you. I will give you the PG version:

The dad (Clark Griswold) has had it with vacation and here are words to his family,

"I think you're all (bad word) in the head. We're ten hours from the (bad word) fun park and you want to bail out? Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much (bad word) fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our (bad word) smiles! You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of you're (pie)holes! I gotta be crazy!
-- Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase)

It wasn't pretty folks but apparently the "pep talk" worked and the day was saved with more fun time with D&D and family. It is SO nice to have a down day! We hit the farmers market, a lab rescue site, batting cages and a cool art and toy store.

After a delicious lunch featuring homemade hummus and produce from the farmers market we took the kids to the pool. Swimming has been Vu’s favorite part of the vacation—that and the lightsaber of course. It was cool, refreshing and EXCITING!
Here's Paul enjoying the pool:
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Near the end of our swim the lifeguard got on his loud-speaker and announced, “Please get out of the pool. I repeat, please get out of the pool. We will be closing due to an unfortunate incident.”

I looked around alarmed that perhaps someone had drowned but realized several people were laughing and the exit mirrored that of the barf incident. I asked one of the lifeguards what was up and was hurriedly told, “Code Brown!”

Code Brown? Could it be what I thought? Our kids watched in horror as one lifeguard, apparently the one who drew the short straw, took a long handled net and large garbage bag and scooped something brown out of the deep end of the pool! (All I could think about was the movie Caddy Shack.) The deep end! Can you believe it? A big person pooped in the pool! Yuck!!! Yuck with lots of laughter and long, hot, SOAPY showers!

Definitely one of the memorable events of the trip. I really doubt any of my children will grow up to become a lifeguard. Looked like a cush job until that point!

We went back to D&D’s and my kids ate them out of house and home. The big people stayed up until 1 am wishing our visit could last longer and planning a camping trip together next summer. They truly are gluttons for punishment—either that or they just want to make sure we meet somewhere other than their beautiful home next time! LOL!

Kim helping D1 and D2 give their rescue dog a bath:
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D1's mom knitted all the kids hats and Eric and I scarves! Aren't they wonderful? If you look closely you will see Grandma hidden behind the kids. She is a charming woman.
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Tomorrow--another road trip!!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The LONG Road Home

As I type we are four hours into the trip but have only traveled 180 miles. No golds today--not even in medal contention. Did I ever mention there is a lot of traffic in LA?
ET Phone Home! Someone save me from my family!
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Nicole left for the airport at 6:30. I imagine flying with two small children she is having even more fun than I am. We miss her already. The kids love being with cousins and I am so glad we had special time together:
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After so many days of theme parks, walking, excitement, late nights and early mornings I would think my kids would sleep but instead they are more hyper than ever! I was on the phone with my mom and I heard Eric shout into the backseat, “Patrick no! Water bottles should not be used as weapons!”

It’s going to be a FUN day!!!


D1 just called (yes, we are invading them again tonight) and asked if I needed anything at Costco. After a long pause I suggested a tranquilizer gun. He laughed and said Costco only sells in bulk. Sign me up!!!

I do have Benadril left over from Patrick’s asthma attack. Do you think it would be considered child abuse to give all five children double doses?

Maybe I’ll just take all five myself!

I’ll update later if I’m still sound in body, mind and spirit. On second thought, I'll update later if I'm still alive.


Update:
If you were driving with us, you would hear all the fun things my kids say. Since you're not, welcome to my world!:

“Get your finger out of your nose, you’re clear up to the second joint!”

“I need to go potty! Bad!” long pause “Uh-oh! I need new underwear!”

“Oh no! Does someone have a TON of napkins?”

“I’m getting carsick.”

Life is never dull, especially in the car for six hours.


Update #3:

Dear Mr. Nintendo,

I love you so much. You are my favorite inventor. Your invention of the handheld video game is right up there with the Miracle Bra. You rock!

Thank you,
Still Sane After Seven Hours


Update #4

We’re now eleven hours into the trip. I’m in the back with the kids keeping the peace. Entertainment has included:

*Finding Waldo 1000 times
*Listening to Ribsy on CD or rather, trying to hear amongst the chatter.
*Making up a story of the Crazy family that got locked into Disneyland for a week.
*Doing an amazing (IMHO) puppet show with Tweety Bird, two Shamus, and a Beenie dog. The kids loved it, Eric’s ready to stuff my mouth.
*Playing hangman until I’m ready to lead myself to the gallows.

We’re almost to D and D’s! Hip, hip, hooray!

Update #5
The day ended great with happy kids playing with the bunny, the dog and the Foosball table complete with watching the Olympics and eating watermelon with special friends.
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It’s good, it’s all good.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sea World

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I wasn’t so sure it was going to turn out well as the first couple hours I heard more than one child say they just wanted to go back to the motel and swim.
The mood of the morning:
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It was hot in the morning and esp. so as we sat through Shamu’s tricks. We were in the soak zone hoping for some refreshment but disappointed when we did not get one drop of water. Near the end Patrick looked over at Vu and with jealous disgust demanded, “How did YOU get so wet! No fair!”

I looked over and Vu’s hair and face were dripping with sweat. After laughing my head off I had some mercy and put one of my aunt’s homemade neck coolers on him—those things are awesome!

After that they found a show where they did indeed get VERY wet! They all loved it. I sat up top snapping pictures. Someone had to protect the camera you know!
Before:
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During:
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After--cooler and happier, here holding starfish:
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The highlight of the day was feeding and petting the dolphins. Lizzy said it was in her ‘Top 100 Cool Life Experiences.’ Next time I think we are going to have to pay for a swim-with-the-dolphins experience.
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The playground was popular, we hit a couple rides, a few more shows (dolphin show the all around fav with the Cirque de acrobat my personal fav) hit the gift shop (of course) and went home tired and ready to pack up for the long drive home tomorrow.
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It ended up being a great day with many special memories.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What To Do When The Pool Is Too Crowded

When we woke up this morning Vu looked over at me and asked if we were going to Disneyland again. I very gently explained in a lengthy sentence that we would not be able to go back for a long time.

"Good!" he said!

I think the boy is Disney'd out!

After taking the three older kids to the airport (lucky them, they get to fly home as they couldn't miss more work) we leisurely drove to San Diego. Nicole is still with us, crazy person that she is--guess it runs in the family! We love having her company and being with her kids.

As we drove past Legoland I was tempted to stop but I was taking the advice of Dr. Will (our family version of Dr. Phil). The kid is a wealth of advice and knowledge on everything from decorating to marriage--this can be good and bad.

Dr. Will said we need to make sure we actually put some vacation into the word and have some down time so we didn't even go to the beach. Dr. Will had good advice, it was nice to relax and even do a little laundry.

That isn't to say it wasn't an exciting day!

We were in the pool--yes again! I tell you, next summer I am just going to stay home and take my kids to the pool everyday. Anyhoo, we were in the pool and the excitement was almost more than my kids could believe!

Little James threw up in the pool!!!

Let me tell you, if you are ever in an over-crowded pool and you need some space, get your kid close to the jacuzzi jets and whiff up some chlorine and they will start coughing and heaving and then just have your child lose their lunch. Amazing results. Cleared out the entire pool in NO TIME FLAT!

Problem was, all my kids wanted out too.

I tried to coax them back in but to no avail. What's a little (lot) of barf? That's what filters are for, right?

Tomorrow--Sea World!

Swimming--Vu's highlight
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We must have hit the blue light special on blue and green goggles:
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Nicole with Mr. Personality--aka Little James--aka The Pool Clearer
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Disney--Day 3

We are now CFK party of 13 since Texas and her family, my mom, dad and aunt all headed home today. I was sad to see part of the troops head out:-( Our kids are still here--the older kids fly home tomorrow:
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We spent the morning on the Jungle Cruise--
Our own jungle troops:
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Isn't this the cutest couple ever? James with his Style Girl.
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And at Toon Town:
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After splitting into fast/slow ride groups we were on opposite sides of the park when I got a frantic call from Eric. Patrick was having a full blown asthma attack and I had his inhaler. It is only by the grace of God that I had decided to bring it to the park as Patrick has never had an attack in the middle of the day without warning. Eric put Patrick on his shoulders and ran. I did the same.

For the record, I would like everyone in the world to know I DID NOT RUN LIKE A MOTHER. I ran like a Jamaican sprinter. Lizzy says I always run like a mother, whatever that is, and today, I did not. I ran like a mother running to save her son!

After a few scary minutes we got Albuterol into Patrick then took him to the first aid station. WOW! If I had known it would be like a full fledged doctor's office I would have just had Eric go there. They can even do full breathing treatments, had four full time staff, oxygen monitors, the whole bit. More like an urgent care than a first aid station. I was VERY impressed.

Patrick was okay but it put a big damper on his day and he never really recovered. He didn't even want to go on any rides the rest of the day, poor guy.
Patrick before his asthma episode:
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Patrick after his asthma episode getting some love from Will:
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By late afternoon everyone was tired of the heat and crowds. Here's the family:
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Guess what the kids wanted to do? Yes, more swimming!

After dinner, we decided to have some big kid fun. Lizzy stayed at the motel and watched the little kids while the big kids, mom and dad had some fun.
Is that Dash with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible?
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We also had some very wet fun! Oh, how I wish we had some pictures!
We were on Splash Mountain and James asked the Disney employee the secret to getting wet. The employee said he could call in for us to get really wet then proceeded to get on the phone. We thought he was kidding. He was not. It was like having a tidal wave come over us. Even our underwear were wet!!!

I really wanted to watch the light show but the big kids wanted to go on more rides and I figured I could always watch a show but I can't always be with my big kids so we went on lots and lots of rides and didn't leave the park until 1 AM!

Great times, great fun! We won't wait seven years again to come back!

Monday, August 18, 2008

California Adventures

We let everyone sleep in today then hit the other side of Disney—California Adventures. It was hot and crowded and we only fit in two rides before lunch—the new 3-D Toy Story ride (yes, I said hi to Woody) and Soarin’ Over California, which everyone loved from the oldest to the youngest.

By then several of the little kids were already hot and tired and just wanted to go back and swim so Eric volunteered while the rest of the clan broke into groups.

It is great to be traveling with so many but in order to make it more do-able we break up. This means I only get to spend minimal time with some people and it’s hard to be so close and yet so far—I feel like I am always missing out on something with someone yet I don’t know how else to make it work.

The afternoon included more swimming (can someone please tell me why we drove all this way to spend so much time in the pool?) and then I took Kim and Vu and went out to dinner with R and her daughter N. We have been friends for 25 years, since Germany days, and she is one of those people I can go long periods without seeing, then feel like it was only yesterday and just continue where we left off.

R and N had met us at the LA airport when we had a long layover coming home from Vietnam. They were amazed how far Vu has come in only nine months. I am reminded that indeed, it is almost miraculous. Vu remembered every detail of meeting R and N including their gifts. The kid has an amazing memory!

After dinner it was back to Disneyland where we had time together with just our eight kids (7 plus James' girlfriend) hitting the big rides and staying until midnight.

I am very afraid for the day Paul and Patrick learn to drive—they like the adrenaline rush way too much--the faster the better! Yikes!!! After each fast ride Paul would be grinning ear to ear and Patrick would shout out, “SAWWEEEEEET!”

We left with very tired but smiling kids.

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My Mom, my sister Texas and my other sister's (Nicole's) new baby
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Showing the Dream Passes--James has lots of practice pushing strollers--I am so SO glad we brought the stroller!
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 1 Part 2--I'm Back!

Delayed due to technical difficulties--just imagine this is DVR style AND you can't find the remote! Sorry!
continued from day 1 part 1 . . .

I have the perfect way to overstimulate a newly adopted (or any other) child in one day or less—take them to Disneyland!

In all seriousness, Vu did amazingly well considering the fact that when he first came home just taking him into 7-11 overwhelmed him! He really did enjoy several of the rides--others provided a love/hate relationship where he would be both thrilled and terrified. His favorites were Star Tours (a Star Wars ride) and Buzz Lightyear’s target shooting.

The weather was PERFECT and the crowds minimal. Our longest line was only 30 minutes--a pleasant surprise!

Rides provided excitement all the way around. James, Sara, Will, Lizzy and Kim were the lucky recipients of Disney Dream passes, randomly given out to 200 visitors a day. This entitled them to an extra 12 Fast Passes (go to the front of the line) and they were able to fit in 33 rides the first day!

Later in the evening Eric took the little kids back to the hotel and the big kids got me on Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad. I am not afraid of roller coasters per say, it’s the mechanical failure I am terrified of. I’ve heard that several people die at Disneyland every year and are paid off to keep it mum. As we turned a particularly scary corner my thoughts were that at least my children would get big bucks when I died. Kim had similar thoughts. She said she just kept saying over and over, “Please God! Don’t let me die!”

Then we rode the same ride again! Crazy! The best part was spending time with my older kids, seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter. I don’t get a lot of time with just the older kids so it was very special.

We all went back to the motel with tired, aching feet. Some of the ranks suffered sunburns, blisters and leg rashes but everyone wore a smile and everyone is excited to hit the big D again tomorrow!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Disney! Day 1 Part 1

I had a post all written and lost it. Motel wireless is pretty stinky--esp. when it comes to uploading pics.

I will have to update everyone tomorrow since it is too late to rewrite. We had a wonderful day! I will leave you with this--

Vu was the first one to wake up this morning. He saw a peek of light coming in and roused the world proclaiming it was time to go see Buzz Lightyear! He was also convinced he was going to be able to find a two sided lightsaber at the Star Wars store—like Darth Maul’s. Mind you, these are not available in stores anymore--believe me, we have looked! (I did find one on e-bay but it was over $100 and I love my son but there is a point that the addiction must be curtailed.)

I assured Vu over and over that they probably would not have double sided lightsabers but he was holding onto his hope of hope they would. I patiently explained that if they don't sell them in stores they probably won't at Disneyland since Star Wars isn't even a Disney movie. He kept saying, "But they might Mom, right? They might?" I knew they wouldn't but how could I burst his bubble?

I guess dreams really do come true! Not only did he find them, they were Build-A-Lightsaber style complete with lights and sounds—definitely the highlight of his day and maybe of his whole life!

Patrick was pretty jazzed too and they both spent their money from Grandma and Grandpa on Darth Maul lightsabers. Then we proceeded to try and poke out half the eyes of other visitors as we hauled them around Disney. Note to self--don't buy lightsabers (esp. double-sided) until the end of the day.

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