Silencing the Noise

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It’s funny how a brain dump at 10 PM after a long week can, unexpectedly, result in a slew of responses from friends who are having the same thoughts and feelings. I fully expected to piss off a lot of people with that last post. It was just a cathartic ripping open of my heart, with little regard for who would be reading it or what their reactions would be. It wasn’t journalism. But it made me feel a helluva lot better. And I slept great that night.

One of the comments I got on my last post was from a friend in my neighborhood. Also a writer, she said something about how interesting it is to watch someone sift through their emotions through writing. And that’s exactly what this blog is for me. It’s a place to sift and sort, to proclaim and then sit with it for awhile. And to absorb your reactions, let them sit with me for awhile, too. Maybe I did piss off some people. They just kept scrolling. After all, who wants to be told their hometown sucks? I can still see the faces of people back in Pennsylvania when I would tell them (usually after they had apprehensively asked me how we liked it there) that we love it so much we want to retire in the area. They absolutely glowed. Pride leaked out of every pore and they stopped dismissing its beauty, if only for a little while. The Lebanon Valley in Pennsylvania is not New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles. It’s not even Atlanta or Nashville. But it is picturesque and quiet. People take pride in their homes and cars, even if the homes are small and the cars are old. We also loved Kansas, Virginia, and Georgia and every resident that I talked to was always braced to hear the worst, but practically giddy when I told them how much we were enjoying the area. I was unprepared to have the opposite conversation here.

And, really, when we get to the heart of the matter, isn’t that the problem? Expectations. I have always placed a high value on knowing what to expect and, intentional or not, I have passed that on to Blue. I mentally prepare myself for whatever I am getting ready to face; from going to the dentist, to moving across the country, to driving on the 405 at 5 PM. It’s why, even before we have orders in hand, I’m on area Facebook pages asking spouses where to live, what the schools are like, where to find great pizza and what we can do as a family. Six times I’ve done this and six times I’ve realized, after about 6 months of living in the new area, that my expectations were wrong. Five of the six times, I had actually underestimated an area. Man, it blows when you overestimate it.

But how do you not overestimate a place like southern California? Palm-tree lined streets everywhere, not just on Rodeo Drive or Sunset Boulevard. Movie stars that could show up at your famer’s market at any time. Old VW buses parked down at the beach with a surf board strapped to the top and 2 guys in the front who may have just started a band in their parents’ garage. Seafood on the pier and taco trucks down the street. And realizing that you know exactly what they are talking about when Jimmie Allen sings, “I see the sun sink down on a coast in California” or when Kenny Chesney sings, “Baby, here I am again/kicking dust in the canyon wind/waiting for that sun to go down./Made it up Mulholland Drive/hell bent on getting high/high above the lights of town.” When Maverick pulls up to Charlie’s house on PCH and when you find out that all of the campus scenes of Larry Crowne were filmed at the college in the next town over, it does make you feel like you are in the middle of something bigger than yourself. Tiny fish in a fast-moving ocean. This is where it is all happening and I think a lot of people crave that atmosphere. It’s just that I don’t. I should have known better. My favorite film maker is Ken Burns and the only series I’ve seen every episode of is M.A.S.H. Sometimes I flip through People at the check-out line and realize I only recognize the actors who are older than me. I’m doing good to remember the names and faces of people we were stationed with 10 years ago, there’s just no space left for famous people. Except Gary Sinise.

Today is one of those days that is saving me, though. It’s January 24th and if we lived almost anywhere else, we would be bundled under at least 3 layers. Our faces would be chapped from winter winds, practically frozen in place, and I would only leave the house if I absolutely had to. But here, today, it is 75 degrees and full sun. Low humidity and warm enough to have all the windows open in the car and still drive with a breeze. It is, dare I say it, perfect. It is that first really warm spring day in Kentucky – when the girls are out on the quad with blankets and bikinis and the convertible top drops for the first time since September. When music of every genre can be heard at a stoplight because everyone has their windows down. It’s the first day of spring break when summer is actually a possibility and not just a promise. And I turn up the country music because that’s what spring break is to me – Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Dierks Bentley. Take off your socks, pour a margarita, soak up the sun before it turns chilly again.

Days like this aren’t enough to keep me here, but they are enough to get me through. I’m going to get off this bucket list hamster wheel for a little while. It will never be completed anyway. I’m going to stop trying to do everything that’s uniquely California…or even uniquely L.A. I don’t need to go to a cat-themed pop-up that’s sponsored by Fresh Step or to a movie premiere every month. I need to find the nature that is out here and remember that that is why people flocked here. For the unpredictable Pacific and the whales that fluke as they pass through on their way to Mexico. They came because you can hike a mountain in the morning and build a sand castle after lunch. And because the fruit trees grow like crazy and the grapes make the best wine. All of this stuff that’s man-made? The museums and the shopping centers, the tourist destinations and the boutique cafes? Those are distractions from what is truly beautiful about California. That is not where my time is best spent and that will not refill my cup. I need to go to the places where I can see God and I need to show the light of Jesus to those who have been kicked down while living here. The rest of it is just noise.

Thank you for always supporting me, even as I publicly sift through this rollercoaster of emotions. While I was at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned this morning, I was chatting with my hygienist, who is 30 weeks pregnant with her second child. We had a good laugh about how completely lost we were with the first child. Those first few weeks of motherhood with a newborn are frightening, exhausting, and overwhelming.  If I learned anything from giving birth, it’s that I want to get this right the first time. I don’t want to look back only to be disappointed by the fact that I didn’t put more effort into finding the good. And just like childbirth, I won’t get a second chance to do it again. This is it and I need to make it count. I have adjusted my expectations and I’m ready to start over.

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Know Better, Do Better: The Christmas Edition

The question came up last week, as was inevitable: “What does Blue want for Christmas?” My mind went absolutely and completely blank. Because what I heard was not, “What does he want for Christmas,” I heard, “What does he need for Christmas?” And honestly…nothing. Our child wants for nothing. Sure he will tell you that he needs another Star Wars Lego set or some more Jungle in My Pocket toys. He will beg for a laser tag set and a whole semi-truck full of stuffies. But all he truly needs is an attitude of gratitude. Santa baby, can you slip that under the tree?

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I understand that this problem is almost 100% of our own doing. From the time we found out I was pregnant, we have been buying for him. First it was all the toys that, according to numerous mommy bloggers and the Today Show, he had to have. I rolled my eyes at the wipe warmer, but he had a giraffe teething toy (but no teeth), the cutest little shoes (before he could even crawl), and a crib full of stuffed animals (many were bigger than him). Over the years, we’ve tried to supplement the growing footprint of toys with “educational” gifts. An entire library full of all of the “recommended” books, “brainy” toys – some requiring batteries and some made of wood, marble runs, and bins upon bins of Lego. There were plastic animals of every size and species, Army men and all of their accessories, Hot Wheels cars with the accompanying track and even a suitcase to carry them all. Ironically, nothing has made all of that seem excessive like living in and exploring around Los Angeles.

It is impossible to go anywhere, besides within the gates of our own neighborhood, and not see a member of the homeless population. Whether you drive or walk, you will see at least one person who is homeless every single day. Across the street, across town, in the parking lot of the vet’s office, outside of Starbucks, in the park next to the aquarium, sleeping on the beach. They live all along the L.A. river, under wind-shredded tarps that are strewn across sun-faded tents. They usually aren’t asking for money or help, they are simply moving about their day, just as we are. Some are passing the time by watching traffic, some are sleeping, and some -judging by their awkward propped positions – look like they may have passed on. I don’t know any of their stories, but I hear the locals talk about their “favorites”. Most are known, many are liked, some are helped. It has taken me months to be even a little bit OK with this. I want Oprah and Ellen to give every single homeless person a house, but the reality is that isn’t the root of the problem or even a viable solution. And the most difficult part for me to accept? There are so many homeless children.

When the school year started, I had to log into an L.A. school district website and confirm that we have a home. The default was not that everyone lived in a house, it was that everyone lives in something other than a house or apartment. The school district wanted to know if we were living with friends or family, in an RV, in a tent or in a shelter. I almost felt guilty by the end. No, no, no, no…no to all of that. We have a house. I’m so sorry, I wish they all did. And the truth is, there are children in Blue’s school, children he sees and plays with everyday, that are homeless. And I don’t think he had ever noticed. I wasn’t about to bring it to his attention, but a few weeks ago he began saying variations of, “This is the worst Christmas ever.” I let it go (for probably longer than I should have), but by the second week, I had had enough. We had a chat.

“Do you remember the people we see living in tents on the side of the road? Did you know that some of those people are kids? Did you know that those kids don’t have toys or stuffies or even a bed to sleep in? Did you know that those kids sometimes only eat when they are at school?” Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Tears welled up in my eyes and a look of remorse washed over Blue. Homeless had become part of his lexicon, just as Amish had in Pennsylvania. The difference, he was beginning to understand, was that one chose the life and one did not. Sometimes I have serious doubts about moving every two years. Like when I remember fondly the Christmas traditions we shared with my grandparents and cousins when I was growing up. I become nostalgic for a time when my grandmother would stick the Bing Crosby 8-track tape in the player (which was installed in the wall) before decorating the tree. And I think, “Blue will never have this to reflect on each Christmas season. We are ruining his childhood.” But then we have a Come-to-Jesus about how he is not having the worst Christmas ever, although there are kids in his class who certainly are. Like Billy from The Polar Express….Christmas just doesn’t work out for them. And because he can look out of the car window every single day and see someone having the worst Christmas ever, he has stopped saying that. Next week it will be something else, but at least he has come around on this topic.

All of this was spurred by a Facebook post shared by a friend this morning. It urged people to stop giving Santa credit for the expensive gifts their children received. The iPads and gaming systems, the 52424-piece Lego kits and the new iPhones. Because when kids talk (as they inevitably do), it will appear that Santa is more generous to the families with more money. How old were you when you realized this? I was today years old. Why? Because our child has never wanted for anything, just as I never wanted for anything when I was a child. I never wanted a pony, but I wanted a My Little Pony. When I was Blue’s age, I got an entire stable full. One Christmas, the hot item was a Cabbage Patch doll. I received three. And now I’m doing the same thing. We wait for Blue to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas and then we order it from Amazon, with Prime shipping of course. The greatest irony is that for Blue’s third Christmas, we began the rule of 4: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Then Santa gave him everything else. We seriously restricted what he got from us and let Santa have a field day. Up until this morning, I thought we were doing what was best for him.

We are all doing the best we can as parents, which is sometimes a train wreck, often a fly-by-night operation, and occasionally flashes of brilliance. I’m certain we are going to look back in 20 years and regret many of the decisions we’ve made along the way. But if we’re lucky (and willing to accept that we are learning as he learns), hopefully the result will be an empathetic, kind, generous, well-rounded, and productive member of society. Blue may remember the countless renditions of A Christmas Carol that we dragged him to, the hours we spent sipping hot chocolate while strolling through the most decorated neighborhoods, Jingles the Elf fishing for marshmallows in the toilet, eating candy thrown from floats in Christmas parades, meeting reindeer at the zoo, sitting on Santa’s lap at the Macy’s in New York City, and any number of other unique experiences that we treat him to every Christmas season, but hopefully he will also remember dropping a $5 in the Salvation Army bucket, collecting food for a family in the church, buying toys to donate, making a meal for a friend, and sending care packages to our troops overseas. He will remember that at the center of Christmas is Christ and the light that He brought to a dark world (we can certainly argue until the cows come home about when Christ’s actual birth was – but that’s for another post). And when Blue has a family, he will share the traditions that we got right, change the ones that we got wrong, and do something for those who are having the worst Christmas ever. (And if there is karma in parenting, he will get to have a similar conversation with his own child.)

I love this post by Karen, whose blog, And Then We Laughed, is full of insights about life’s little moments. She and her husband have made the commitment to make more purposeful decisions and this post reflects that change. The Christmas season is full of things we do on auto-pilot, much we do because that’s how our parents did it. But there is no shame in stopping to take stock of our family’s needs and changing our traditions so that they represent what Christmas…Christ’s birth…means to us.

Day One in Disneyland: Part One

The 2nd and 3rd Disney posts are taking me forever to write. That has nothing to do with finding the right words to describe the experience and everything to do with whittling down the 1,973 pictures to what I want to use for my posts. That isn’t an exaggeration. My photo software conveniently counts them for me, in (I feel) a somewhat judgmental and deriding way. Sooner or later it’s going to completely lock up, give me the black screen of death, and I will feel some guilt about my photo hording habit.

This post will recount our experience in Disneyland, from the rides to the food. We spent the third day in California Adventure and that will be a separate post.

All of my research, up until the day we left, told me that Disneyland was going to consume 2 solid days. And even then, because some rides don’t have the FastPass option, we weren’t going to get to it all. And we didn’t. We completely skipped Mickey’s Toontown (an executive decision I made based on the face that Blue is right on the cusp of aging out of their target audience) and Pirates of the Caribbean (something I deeply regret and will remedy when we return at Christmas). There were also several rides that were in and out of commission, based on the Disneyland app, and Matterhorn Bobsleds is being renovated so it was down the entire time we were in the park (not that we were going to ride it anyway…speed + scary = 3 in the bed and the littlest one said Roll over, roll over).

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Birthday buttons on, ready for Day 1! It was overcast but this is southern CA and we knew we would stay as dry as the Sahara. No ponchos needed!

The Monorail

Is there anything more iconic in Disney than the Monorail? Coupled with the teacups and It’s a Small World, there is just no Disney without that holy trinity. By the time we arrived Friday morning (after the “magic hour” – the hour before the park opens officially to the public and only available to guests staying in one of the resort hotels), Downtown Disney was already hopping. We decided to hop on the Monorail to see where it went.

It dropped us at Tomorrowland, which is themed around space and the future. It also happens to be one of the five original “lands” of Disneyland, but the Imagineers of Disney have striven to keep the land relevant with a ride centered around Buzz Lightyear, as well as the new Star Tours. But more on that in a bit.

Autopia

Our first stop was Autopia, a slow, driving ride through the “countryside”. Autotpia is the only existing attraction in Tomorrowland that dates back to Opening Day in 1955. But you would never know that this ride is 63 years old! Sponsored (I assume) by Honda, it features Honda’s Humanoid Robot and Bird, guiding you along the “path”. The old-timey cars at Hersheypark was Blue’s favorite ride last year so we knew this would win him over right from the start. The only rules were: no bumping the car in front of you and keep your seat belt on. Both translate nicely to real life and this was the least stressful drive I’ve taken since we arrived in SoCal.

 

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

The next ride was the one attraction that every Disney blogger on Pinterest said was a waste of time. But Blue wanted to go and this was 93% about him, so I acquiesced. Most bloggers said something along the lines of, “It’s a cramped, smelly space where everyone gets a tiny portal to peer into a fabricated underwater world.” Well, it’s Disney…everything is fabricated, but usually to a satisfying degree of detail. I was willing to try it once. The submarine has 4 or 5 narrow steps you must descend/ascend and once inside, it is a bit cramped. If you are severely claustrophobic, this may not the ride for you. Mom is claustrophobic, but in that “don’t-close-me-in-this-cell-at-Alcatraz” kind of way and she was just fine. As we embarked on a “research expedition” to an “active” volcano site, we encountered several characters from Finding Nemo, who were on their own underwater adventure. The entire cruise lasted about 5 minutes and is a welcome break from the thrill rides and lines, which explains why, even though this ride is criticized by Disney bloggers, the wait time can still creep up to 30 minutes or more.

 

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

One of the handful of rides we went on more than once, this slow-moving attraction with its shooting gallery element was a huge hit. Once we figured out what our intended target was (the Zurg insignia: a square with a “Z” inside), it was game on! After we battled the Evil Emperor Zurg and emerged victorious (of course), the next words out of Blue’s mouth was, “Can we do that again?” Fortunately, it has a FastPass option.

 

After our intergalactic battle, it was time to refuel. Eating at Pizza Planet has been on my bucket list since before I knew there was a Pizza Planet to eat at. Throughout the first Toy Story, I was fixated on how much I wanted to eat at Pizza Planet. As it turned out, it was right next door to Buzz’s ride. Unfortunately, they were experiencing (what I would consider) a major flood.

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That lady in the black wasn’t super pumped about me taking this picture. She looked up right as I took it and said, “Do you need some help?” Well, no…but I document everything, so #sorrynotsorry. Here’s the thing, though…this was a significant water event. They had jackhammered part of the sidewalk up and there were sandbags everywhere. However, when we returned the next day, it was as if nothing had ever happened. There has to be a place in federal government for that kind of expedited problem solving.

Because Pizza Planet was temporarily incapacitated, our only real food option was Galactic Grill, just a few steps away. I had categorized Galactic Grill under “foods that we should only eat in an emergency because there is really nothing special about them.” It was 12:15 PM and our last meal was at 6:15 AM. This was a true hangry emergency. I took that list of Disneyland foods we must eat and chucked it in the trash with the burger and fries wrappers. It felt like I was disposing all of the impending disappointment from preconceived notions. I should do that more often.

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We were also just in time to watch the 12:40 performance of the Jedi Training Academy. With 6 training opportunities per day, it’s pretty easy to catch one as you’re passing by and/or get your tiny Jedi registered for one (as long as you do it earlier in the day). This worked out perfectly because Blue likes to know what to expect before diving into something. I have no idea where he gets that…

After lunch, having done just about everything we wanted to do in Tomorrowland on our first day, we began making our way down the street to Fantasyland, another one of the five original “lands”. The official entrance to Fantasyland is through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, unless you come in the back way like we did. It is home to many of the classic Disney stories that we grew up with, from floating over London in Peter Pan to trying to evade the evil witch in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. And these rides almost always have escalating wait times as the day goes on. We were able to step right on (or wait for 15 minutes or less) for several rides on Friday and then used the FastPass on Saturday for the rest.

It’s a Small World

This attraction was both bigger and more annoying than I remember from my youth. First of all, it would be awesome if the song had at least 6 more verses. Secondly, I understand what they were doing by incorporating some of the Pixar characters into the scenes, but I wanted this ride to be 100% vintage Disney. When Jesse and Woody showed up in the “heartland of America” display, it sucked just a tiny bit of the joy out of it…for me. Blue, on the other hand, was delighted. I see what you’re doing there, Disney. Always pander to the one who is the youngest. But I loved seeing so many nations, cultures, and skin colors represented, all side-by-side and joined in cherubic chorus. It’s a ride full of hope, even if that is also fabricated. Also, could the outside of this experience be any more beautiful? I am looking forward to seeing it decorated for Christmas next month!

And the inside…

Also, the site of the most awkward family selfie we took during the entire trip…

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Storybook Land Canal Boats

Another slow ride through the bedtime stories of our childhoods, the Storybook Land Canal Boats sail right into the mouth of Monstro, the whale, and past the miniature recreations of such classic tales as The Three Little Pigs, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and The Little Mermaid. The designers have also included the village of Arendelle from Frozen. To add to the festive Halloween feel, several tiny pumpkins were hidden throughout the ride, ready to be discovered by observant visitors. To get us started, our captain/guide pointed out the first one. If you are the first kid on the boat (I’m assuming around 4′ or taller), you can ride on the bow. I’m a little surprised this isn’t some sort of safety violation, but Blue was thrilled and wasted no time climbing up.

 

Mad Tea Party

I did mention in my last post that none of us were interested in spinning for 90 seconds, but I had to make an exception. How do you come to Disneyland and not do the tea cups? I just couldn’t justify skipping it. Even when Blue was fiercely opposed. I vowed not to use the center wheel to make the cup spin any faster than it was already and by the time he had launched his argument, we were at the front of the line. Mom has a video of this and it’s irrefutable proof that once on, Blue had a blast. I’m keeping it forever and replaying it every time he fights me about trying something new.

 

Random Odds and Ends

As I wrap up this post at around 2000 words (because no one is going to sit and read a post that takes 15 minutes to get through…not even the most ardent Disney guest), here are a few photos from the things and people we stumbled across as we made our way from ride to ride. This is the stuff that you can’t plan for and part of what makes this place so stinkin’ magical. You just never know what (or who) will be around the corner.

 

Please check back for part 2 of Disneyland. And possibly part 3. Hopefully not. But…maybe. It might be a small world, but Disneyland is a huge park.