Monday, May 30, 2016

Disney Do's and Don'ts (aka Our Disney Trip in Review)

Once upon a time, about three months ago, my husband and I were both awake when all the kids were asleep.  This, in and of itself, was a VICTORY.  We sat on the couch drinking wine and talking when he came across ridiculously cheap airlines tickets to Orlando.  “We could go to Disney,” he said.  I almost spit out my wine (I’m not that crazy) and did a double take to make sure he hadn’t been replaced with a pull-string mannequin who’d suggest such an insane idea.  He’d previously said “hell no” whenever I suggested a Disney trip with all the kids.  I quickly seized on his momentary weakness, excitedly saying “YEAH!! Let’s do it!”  A few clicks later, our Disney “vacation” (this was a trip, not a vacation) was really happening.    

That’s the quick story of how the eight of us, along with my mom, ended up at Disney this May.  That’s three toddlers, one preschooler, two school-aged kids, two 38 year-olds and one grandma.  (We were totally outnumbered, right?  I digress.)  All things considered, it was a really great—albeit exhausting—trip.  Here’s a quick list of Disney do’s and don’ts based on our trip.  Enjoy!        

DO some pre-trip strength training and conditioning.

Disney is a strenuous trip.  You should prepare for it by strapping all your children and luggage to you and running around your yard.  Or, if your gym has a sauna, strap weights to your chest and pace back and forth while you shout, “no this way!  We’re going to the Magic Carpets!  Stay with us!”  Even if you don’t physically prepare for your trip, you should at minimum mentally prepare for the marathon days at Disney.  It will be nonstop, so get in a good headspace so that you’re up for the challenge. 

DO keep it a surprise, if you can.

On the day of the trip, we picked the big girls up from school, came home, and told them we had a big surprise.  “You’re having three more babies!” Molly guessed.  Um, no.  “We’re getting a dog!” yelled Lucy.  No again.  Thankfully, they weren’t disappointed when they learned that Disney was the big surprise.  Keeping the trip a surprise helped set the tone for a relaxed, fun trip; they hadn’t had weeks or months to think of all the rides they wanted to go on, etc.  Instead, they were just happy we were going. 

DO buy the entire athleisure wear dept. of Target, but DON’T bring it all with you.

Go ahead and give up any idea that you can look stylish at Disney.  Because you know what?  YOU’RE AT DISNEY, PEOPLE.  Think athleisure wear (athletic/leisure aka athleisure) for the trip, unless you’re going in January.  I bought pretty much every item in Target’s athleisure dept., then pared down my selection to a few key things I could wear more than once.  Capris may be out, but I rocked some athletic capris most days because they dried quick and were comfortable as we slogged our way around the park. 

If flying, DO pour some sugary sweetness on the ticket agents.  They can help you big time.

Checking in at the ticket counter, we were quite a sight to see: bags stacked high, babies in the triple stroller, big girls dancing around the open areas.  As the ticket agent enjoyed the spectacle that is the Roussel family, I kindly asked if we could be spread out over three rows, and she happily obliged.  That meant we had a baby, big girl, and grown-up on each row—lots of room.  Thankfully, the flight was quick and fairly uneventful.  I can’t remember now who had a screaming baby but it wasn’t me.  The only thing I remember about that is that it wasn’t me who had the screaming baby (#winning). 

Do KNOW THYSELF when picking a hotel, deciding how long to go to the park, etc.

This is big.  You have to know your group and consider what’s going to be realistic for your days at the park.  If you’re taking triplet toddlers to the park, you can’t expect to stay there from morning to midnight.  It’s not going to happen.  That’s where we were this trip, so we stayed as close as possible to the Magic Kingdom (Contemporary Resort) so that one of us could go back to the hotel with the babies mid-day.  I think there are some great, affordable options offsite, but those wouldn’t work for us this time.  Maybe next time.

As for setting an agenda for your park visit each day, I think it’s wise to keep your expectations ridiculously low.  I asked the biggies what one ride they wanted to go on while we were there, and we made sure we did those rides.  Otherwise, we loaded up our fast passes and tried to do as much as possible before our group disintegrated each day, which typically happened around the 4-hour mark in the park. 

DON’T wait in lines for rides all day.   

Disney loves you and your army of small children, so they have all these ways to make sure you don’t wait in lines forever.  Take advantage of the fast passes, where you can reserve a time window for riding popular rides.  If you have little kids that can’t ride certain rides, ask for a rider swap, which is basically a fast pass good for whichever parent is stuck waiting with in the little ones.  Your lucky big kids (up to two) will get to ride the ride again with you.  Along those same lines, don’t completely lose it when you HAVE waited in line for 20 minutes and your preschooler declares she has to pee RIGHT NOW—they’ll give you a fast pass to get back in line.  My last piece of advice is to get the park EARLY in the morning because it is so much less hot and crowded.    

DO bring snacks and water bottles into the park.

Disney doesn’t care if you bring snacks and drinks into the park because they know they’ll still make a small fortune off you.  Seriously.  We brought water bottles, goldfish, granola bars, baby smoothie pouches, etc. so that we had food and drinks at the ready.  That left us with more time for rides, buying overpriced souvenirs, crying, bathroom breaks, you name it.

DON’T bring everything you need, Amazon Prime has your back, as always.     

Even when we pack “light,” there’s just so much stuff.  We brought a double stroller, a triple stroller, a backpack for each girl, and one large suitcase full of miscellaneous stuff—with only two checked bags, that was pretty light for us.  We Amazon Primed diapers, wipes, rash cream, sunscreen, snacks—anything we could.  Amazon Prime, you always come through for me, so thanks for that.  I love you.

You can also order groceries online and have them delivered to your resort.  That was amazing!  We had milk, bread, fruit, wine, etc. waiting for us when we checked in at 11 p.m.  We used Garden Grocer but there are a few stores that do this.

DON’T lose your shit when the wheels fall off, literally or figuratively. 

Oh y’all.  Let me paint this picture for you.  It’s a good one. 

Seth was in charge of the babies while I rode some rides with the big girls.  I get a call from him as he’s exiting the monorail and heading the park that our COMPLETELY ESSENTIAL triple stroller had broken when a front wheel snapped off.  As my friends said, NOT THE TRIPLE STROLLER!  Seth wheeled the gimpy stroller, holding three screaming babies, into the Magic Kingdom.  We met up on picturesque Main Street.  We unloaded the babies and Seth sat on the ground trying to fix the stroller with duct tape (a ha ha ha ha ha).  Meanwhile, the babies were eating popcorn, dropping most of it, and eating it off the ground. 

At this point, Seth and I are both sweating buckets and cursing under my breath when some passersby tell me, excuse me, just so you know, your babies are eating popcorn off the ground.  I said thanks and waved them along from our shitshow.  I was actually aware they were eating popcorn off the ground, and was ok with it, because it meant that they weren’t all running away.  With only one of me and three of them, they could scatter fast and get lost in the crowd. 

At that exact time, a double decker bus pulled up, and I shout, DOUBLE DECKER BUS, BIG GIRLS, GO GET ON IT!  I knew how much Lucy wanted to ride a double decker bus (how does she even know they exist?) and I thought, I’ll be damned if my broken stroller crushed those dreams.  I continued trying to corral the babies, still eating like birds off the ground, when I see Emily dart over to the double decker bus.  Seth, meanwhile, was holding onto shreds of hope that he could fix the stroller.  I repeatedly tell him it’s a lost cause.  I may have started singing Let It Go, I don’t remember.  I keep my eyes on the three babies and Emily, who’s off in the distance about to get on the double decker bus alone.  After more urging, Seth finally agrees and runs to get on the bus with Emily and the other big girls. 

The babies and I schlepped back to the hotel.  I don’t know if you’ve ever pushed a double stroller up a steep incline while also holding a toddler too, but it is hard.  Really hard.  You’ll be glad you’re wearing those lightweight athleisure pants and shirt.

DO ask for help when you need it. 

I decided it’d be a piece of cake to take the triplets on It’s a Small World by myself.  I was wrong.  Actually, the ride itself was great but disembarking with three toddlers was basically impossible.  Cue the lovely French-Canadian couple sitting in front of me with their 4 year-old twins.  The multiples bond runs strong, even at Disney.  Each of the parents carried a baby off the ride for me and I carried the third.  They were the loveliest family and we sat visiting for a while outside It’s a Small World.  Because, y’all, it IS a small world after all, where Canadians helps Americans when they need a few extra hands.  Isn’t that amazing and unexpected?  I only regret I didn’t get a photo with those nice people.    

DO take a few photos.

You need to have photographic evidence of your fun.  Trust me, you do.  Your kids will look at the photos and talk about how fun it was (or they’ll see them on your phone, because, let’s face it, we’ll never get them developed).  They won’t remember the crying, the sweating, the bickering.  They’ll remember the time together.  Be sure to snap a few.      

DO pause to take it all in when you see the joy on your little one’s faces. 

I think one of the most fun things about being a parent is seeing the joy on your kids’ faces when they experience the same fun things you did as a kid.  That’s how I felt on It’s a Small World.  It was my Dad’s favorite ride, and I remember riding on it with my Dad and my whole family.  On this trip, baby Ruby LOVED every second of the ride.  She clapped and smiled and laughed the entire time.  It was also fun to see my other girls laugh and smile on their favorite rides.  Lucy loved Splash Mountain, while Molly loved the water ride at the Animal Kingdom.  Emily couldn’t get enough of the Peter Pan ride, as evidenced by her detailed description of each part of the ride.  The other babies seemed to enjoy watching the crowds and the Main Street parade.  In short, there were so many moments of happiness and joy that it made all the schlepping and sweat worth it.      

DO toast yourselves when you make it home. 

I ransacked our kitchen for our best champagne, which, ironically, had been purchased on a fabulous trip to Napa sans-kids several years earlier.  Home never tasted so sweet. You conquered Disney and won.  Cheers to THAT, friends.

DO start planning your next trip.

I’m kidding.  I know Seth says we’re not going to Disney again until the triplets are 10, but I think he’s wrong.  Because here’s the thing—he will eventually remember that, although it was hard, it was worth it.  Like most things in life.  So the next time he has another momentary weakness and suggests a trip to Disney, I’m going for it.  Or should I say, we’ll go for it, and head back to the most magical place on earth.

P.S. if you have friends going to Disney who could benefit from these superb tips, feel free to share on Facebook!!!  We're all in this together--sweating, laughing, and finding the joy in the chaos whenever we can.

P.P.S.--there's a video below of Ruby on It's a Small World but if you're reading this on your phone it won't show up there!

Roussels Take Disney 2016
Heading to Orlando!
The Disney Magical Express was slightly less magical at 11 p.m. with three overtired toddlers.
Even the coffee is magical, y'all.
Three out of four Roussels thoroughly enjoyed this ride.
Grandma and Lu on Splash Mountain
Hanging out while big sisters rode Thunder Mountain.
Seven Dwarves' Mine Ride--a favorite.
Who doesn't love the teacups?
Babies liked the hotel splash pad more than the park.
When you have six kids, you stroll your laundry to the washing machines in your oversized stroller.  
Em loved the people mover.
Goodbye Disney, it's been fun.

Cheers to a great trip.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guest Blog Post on New Orleans' Moms' Blog: My Virtual Village

Hi, all!  Life has been crazy in our house.  We took the six pack to Disney World (more on that in another post!) and then it was end of the school year craziness and now it's summer!  How on earth did that happen so fast?!

In the midst of the recent chaos, I neglected to share this recent guest blog entry I wrote for the New Orleans' Moms' Blog.  I am thrilled they published it.  This is one of my most favorite blog posts I've written.  I laugh, vent, and sometimes cry to my best friends, my "virtual village," via text on a daily basis.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

School's Almost Out: Let's Have a Party for the Parents

Dear Fellow Parents,

It's almost here.  The END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR.  We know this because there's a different year-end celebration every other day and we're all doing our best to keep up.  Soccer team parties.  Class parties.  Scouting parties.  Field day.  This has me thinking that we need to have a huge party for all the parents, because we survived yet another school year.

So here's my (not remotely) modest proposal for my dream parents-only year-end party.

Party attire will be come as you are.  No specific theme.  No silly socks required, no specific color shirts required, just come as you are.  So friends, dry shampoo that hair for the third day in a row and wipe that peanut butter off the shirt and head out the door.  Also since I know you spend half your days looking for shoes, no shoes required.  Just come barefoot.

Party food will be all those things you try to hide from your kids so you don't have to share. You love Reese's?  Ok, we'll have bowls of them and you won't have to hide in your closet to eat them.  Or maybe you like Cheetos but don't ever get them because your kids would never eat anything else, so we'll try to have those too.  And bright red jumbo alcoholic snowballs.  Oh wait, I guess that's daiquiris? Ok daiquiris for all.  You won't have to worry about them staining your lounge wear.  We will also have fancy craft beer for the beer snobs (ahem, Seth).  Whatever we serve for food, it will be so amazing because we won't have to share it with ANYONE.  And we will get to eat it while sitting down because we won't be scrambling to get everyone else their food too.  Let's just pause and daydream about how amazing that would be. . . . Amazing!!

Party entertainment will be giant slip-n-slides and karaoke.  There will be no whining or crying because we're all adults and we should be able to wait in line for our turns on the slides.  And no one will cry when they fall off the slide and get grass burns on their arms and legs.  As for karaoke, how FUN would it be to see all your kids' classmates' parents belt out some Britney Spears or Madonna?  I think the last time I did karaoke was Bourbon Street 2004 at my bachelorette party.  Clearly it's been too long.  Start warming up those vocal cords now.  And be sure to charge your phone because without our kids with us, we'll be able to keep our phones on us the whole time and capture all the madness.

At our party, we'll also have clean bathrooms and no one will ask us to wipe their bottoms.  This may be the highlight of the whole party for me.

Goody bags.  Oh the goody bags.  Because the party itself is not enough, there will of course be goody bags.  I'm going to send you home with the most beautiful new beach tote, monogrammed with your name on it.  It'll be filled with essentials for summer.  Like a giant, beautiful candle that you can light when you're having a really long day with the kids.  It will smell just like the spa so that you can pretend you're there.  I'll give you earplugs, too, to drown out the crying and whining.  The bags will also have a new secret stash of chocolate and diet Coke Sometimes you just need them in your life.  Especially during summer.  Oh, let's also throw in a Starbucks gift card for good measure.  

In between slip-n-sliding, slurping daiquiris, and karaoke, we'll trade high-fives and pats on the back because we did it.  We survived--and thrived--for another school year.  We sat there night after night through the painstaking task of reading the new books.  We completed the special school projects about the water cycle without shedding many tears.  We kept the class hamster alive!  We didn't forget a single free dress day (can I get an amen for that!).  We went on the field trips.  We remembered to send the money for the special class projects and the teacher gifts.  In short, we rocked it for the school year, so cheers to us, fellow parents, for getting it done.  When summer is over, we'll have an even bigger party, because surviving summer is a whole other ball game.  

P.S. I'm on Facebook--Roussel Six Pack.  Feel feel to share if you'd like.  

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Buoys, Babies, and a Bittersweet Day

When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time boating.  (Just bear with me a second, ok?!)  Every weekend, my parents would load the six of us into the boat and set out to the Gulf so that we could play on the deserted barrier islands.  We’d push away from the dock and make our way out of the Back Bay, guided by the buoys that marked the route of the deeper channel.  Many times, when we got out of the channel, I’d look back and see the little buoys dotting the path we took.  It was always interesting to me because as you were passing them, you really didn’t notice that they created a clear route for you, marking the way.  But when you paused to look back, you could see the path so clearly, like a highway on the water.    
Like watching those buoys, sometimes you go through major life events that you don't fully process right away; you need a little time and distance before you can see the mark they've left on your life. 

That is exactly what happened last weekend when my family and I walked in the March of Dimes walk for babies. 

When our babies were in the NICU, the March of Dimes did lots of little things to make families’ time in the NICU a little more pleasant.  They left coloring books and crayons for siblings in the lounge, and they generally made things a little more like home. Those little things—bottled water you could take with you, a quick hello and how’s it going—go a long way when you’re trekking back and forth to the NICU every day to see your babies.  So, when I found out about the March of Dimes walk, we happily signed up to march for the babies and raise money for March of Dimes.  I felt like we had personally benefited from their services, and I was looking forward to celebrating our three healthy girls.  We also wanted to celebrate my niece, Elise, who passed away in December after being born very premature.  As a fortuitous coincidence, or maybe a God wink, the walk fell on my sister’s due date with Elise, April 30.  My sisters and I knew it would be a bittersweet way to celebrate her life.      

On the day of the walk, we got to the event early and unloaded the babies on the big grassy field.  I looked around and saw teams of families in different colored shirts.  Their shirts said things like “believe in miracles,” “preemie strong,” and “miracles do happen.”  It was almost like different sections of the rainbow all huddled together in various spots around the field.  Each team seemed happy to be there and ready to celebrate their babies.

Then I saw a mom pulling a wagon with her daughters, and the back of the wagon had a large photo of her intubated preemie on the back.  I looked at it and felt something twist in my chest.  It was both so familiar and so foreign to me now that I have three healthy, crazy-busy toddlers.  But deep down I knew that my babies once looked just like that.  I was staring at it and trying to reconcile in my mind how my three rowdy toddlers ever looked like that baby.  It brought me right back to the time when my toddlers were preemie babies trying to figure out how to eat and breathe.  I was surprised that I felt so emotional about it.     

I will not cry, I said to myself.  

I looked around again and saw a few special needs kids.  Though I don’t know the cause of their disabilities, I think that they were likely a result of prematurity, since the March of Dimes’ mission is (in large part) to reduce premature birth.

I found myself jolted to back to my days on bedrest with the triplets, where I lay on the couch—never sitting and always laying down—and hoped to make it to the next day and next week and then finally my big goal of 28 weeks.  I thought back to my doctor’s appointment at 23.5 weeks gestation, when I hovered on the cusp of viability.  I thought about my doctor’s words when he said, “so things have changed, but all hope is not lost.  I still think everything can be fine.”  I thought about how focused I was on my mission to lie down and be still.  If being still could keep the babies baking, I would do it.  I would be the stillest person they’d ever seen.  I would do whatever it took.  But I also knew deep down that I could only do so much.  Which was terrifying.  Because it wasn’t up to me, what would happen to our babies.  We just had to wait and take each day as it came.

I thought about those other parents, who wished and hoped the same things, and got different endings to their stories.  I knew that nothing but luck separated me from those other parents.  I thought about my sister, who had a different ending.  An unimaginably sad ending.  I thought about all those parents who were consumed with worry and fear about having a premature baby and whose stories did not have happy endings.  And whose endings did not include healthy babies.  I knew the only thing separating us was luck.  And nothing else.    

I will keep it together.           

Someone encouraged us to visit a video booth set up for recording testimonials for the March of Dimes.  I was preoccupied sorting through all those big feelings, but I nevertheless scooped up two babies and headed to the booth.  Seth trailed me with another baby.  I could feel the tears building up inside, ready to spring from my eyes at any second.    

I will not cry right now.  I will hang on.  I can do this.  This will be easy.

The videographer started asking questions.  Why did we think it was important to support the March of Dimes?  I felt myself looking back, like I did in the boat.  With time and distance, I felt myself appreciating the full spectrum of emotions that came with my experience of having a high risk pregnancy and preemie babies.  Thinking about how easily we could’ve had a different outcome.  Thinking about how grateful we were to have our three girls.  Thinking about my sister.  Thinking about Elise.   

And just like a buoy that was somehow buried deep under the water, it was suddenly untangled and racing to the surface.  I could feel it coming closer, speeding towards the top of the water as I exploded into tears.  Big, ugly tears.  I could not stop crying.  I could not talk.  I was standing there on camera, not talking—just crying and holding two babies.  I could feel Seth turn and stare at me for a second, realizing what was happening.  I must’ve looked a little comical.  Or hysterical?  Or both?  I could tell that the young videographer was caught off guard and thinking, do I keep going?  Seth picked up the slack and started answering: our babies were born at 30 weeks and spent a month in the NICU.  Two of our babies received surfactant, which was developed by the March of Dimes.  We appreciated everything they did for us in the NICU.  I squeaked out something about appreciating the small things that the March of Dimes did, and something about bottled water.  We finished our interview, and the professional photographer came over and wiped tears off my face because I couldn’t do it while holding two babies.

I thanked her and felt words tumbling out: we are just so thankful.  This—having three healthy, thriving, crazy toddlers—is all we ever hoped for.  I wished for this and the craziness of three busy toddlers because that meant our babies were okay.  But I know so many others’ babies did not make it, including my sister’s own baby, who was due today.  We are so happy and sad. And, oh, yes, thank you so much for wiping my tears.  It is such a bittersweet day for my family. 

Like a buoy bobbing on the water, all those big feelings were completely on the surface: knowing how close we came to having a different outcome; feeling like we had "made it;" grieving the losses of those whose babies did not, including my own sister’s.  Of course those feelings were there all along, but sometimes it takes time and distance to see more clearly how things like this shape your life and guide your path.  In that way, they’re so much like the buoys, and I’m happy now that I can look back and see that they are just one part of the journey in creating our family.  My hope is that one day, my sister will also be able to say the same.

So yes, it was a great day indeed.  To celebrate our babies.  To remember my niece.  I can’t think of anything more bittersweet.  

To my sister, I love you.  You are the strongest person I know.