Sunday, July 17, 2016

My Dog isn’t a Golden Retriever: A Nature Study

Society is a mess right now. There is a lot of fear. Fear for the future, fear for our families, fear against our fellow man. I have a couple stories.

I have a Rottweiler named Ripley. He is my baby boy and I’m obsessed with him. The last two years have been hard for me when it comes to Ripley. I thought he had a major personality flaw. Ripley is territorial of our house, Natalia, and mostly me. He follows me from room to room, puts his head on my lap when I go to the bathroom, and does his “big boy bark” when I am in the carpool line. He doesn’t like Natalia’s school administrators. It doesn’t matter that everybody’s body language is happy and non-threatening. He’s not having it.

We took him to doggy boot camp and he is one of the best-trained territorial Rottweilers ever. I have buzzed his “attention” collar to correct his “big boy bark” when we are in the carpool line, or when people walk too close to the house, to no avail. Before we knew the extent of Ripley’s territorial feelings, we allowed him to roam the house when Natalia’s friends were over. That stopped when he bit one of her friends on the pinkie. He didn’t break the skin, but he got her. It scared everyone and I was devastated. A misguided parent called Animal Control to investigate our “jerk-face” dog, and I am so glad that happened. I gained insight that I never would have if she and I hadn’t sat down and talked.

She (Animal Control Officer) told me that Ripley isn’t a vicious dog, nor is he a bad dog. He is doing what is in his nature and this cannot be “trained” out of him. He loves his
family more than anything and when we are in our house, he is guarding us. It is his purpose. All Rottweilers inherently do this, some stronger than others. The force is strong with Ripley. This is why we can take him to the dog park or hiking and he will run up to people for his head to be scratched and even sat in a lady’s lap the other week. He was off duty. The problem wasn’t with Ripley, the problem was with my perspective, lack of understanding, and need for control.

Let’s talk about God. I’m going to give you God from Jeremy’s perspective to the best of my understanding from our conversations. Jeremy’s big turning point toward “no God-ness” was Sandy Hook. That horrific day when the children were taken by gunfire by the hands other hate-filled children. He asked me “How could a God who has total power do that?” At the time I didn’t have an answer for him. I guess I still don’t. I have my own insight though, and I want to share it because there is so much hate being plastered on the media.

As Chip Ingram would say: God is not a vending machine. Let that sink in for a second. You don’t get to follow rules, pray certain prayers, go to a revival or two, hang out with other Christians, and in response have a god that spits out blessings. The best friends you have in your life want nothing from you. If you say “no”, they are okay with that. They respect you. They understand that “no” is a complete sentence and you don’t always need to explain why. God deserves that kind of friendship from you. He has asked to be your family, not your pansy to fulfill every whim. Satan can do that. Money? Satan has your number. Sex? Satan knows what rings your bell. Relationships? Sorry, Satan can’t help you there, but he’ll give you some people to hang out with that will spend your money and have sex with you.

I was so mad at Ripley for biting that little girl. How could my well-trained, good dog do something so bad? Because it was in his nature. How can good people do things like murder other humans, molest their children, gossip, lie to each other? Because it is in our nature. Eve was the first to demonstrate the pull sin has in our minds. That’s where the real battle takes place. Call it a conscience, call it a moral choice; it’s still a power struggle between your ears. The apostle Paul talked about being purposeful with the thoughts you allow because they have the power to take over your life (2 Corinth: 10:1-18). The struggle may just look like me versus the plate of nachos, but it is really about me eating my stress and needing to deal with my troubles. I know you can relate. I’ve watched a friend slowly slide into anorexia that totally took over her life. It wasn’t a battle between her and her food. It was a struggle in her mind. I struggle with depression that effects every aspect of my life and relationships. The war isn’t against the outside situations in my life. It is the inner conversation that I need to control before it washes me away.

Let’s go back to God’s nature. First, if you really want to get an impression of who God is, read the Old Testament. I thought it would be boring (the book of Chronicles is boring), but it’s actually kind of funny. The Israelites were a bunch of orgy loving, naughty children. What it shows is that God is REALLY patient. And consistent. People are bad, not God. People shoot other people, not God. God created perfection, man (given freedom from the beginning) chose rebellion and sin. We are still choosing that today. We want to do things OUR way, on our terms. We want God to bless us according to OUR wants, not what God would have planned for us. Oh no! That would be too scary and not enough control. Like, what if God wants me to be a South American missionary?! I don’t do well in the heat. I want God to bless me in the comfortable way that I choose. Me, me, me. I, I, I. God, make the world act according to MY view of perfection. Actually, God, just move over because I think I would be a better god than you. Satan tried that. It didn’t work out to well for him and he was sent here. To earth. As punishment. Let that settle in when you wonder why our world isn’t “perfect”. This is the celestial “penalty box” right now. Thank God for the blessings you DO have.

We can’t blame God for our rebellious nature that brings perpetual brokenness into the world. Sin is not God’s nature. Perfection is not ours. Grace brings it all together, and boy
do we need it. If you don’t believe in God because people do horrific things to each other, then I feel so sad for your broken heart. I’m not saying that in a southern “bless your heart” kind of way. My husband lives with a broken heart; therefore, my heart breaks for him. Jeremy doesn’t understand how God could “allow” the bad things to happen to innocent people, but it isn’t God’s fault. It is our fault. We have to own our humanity and be humble in front of our Creator. Your belief (or lack thereof) in Him doesn’t change who He is any more than my belief Ripley would have the friendly mind of a Golden Retriever once he was trained. It just isn’t him.

These blogs aren’t to “preach” at you. I really do love you friends. These are messages to Natalia because she will continue to live in a broken world. Her faith will be tested, shaken, and pulled taut. I want her to look at this and know that I understand, but hold tight. Of course we all feel uncomfortable in this world. You weren’t created to stop here. We all know this deep inside us. We were created for something else. God passionately loves you like the perfect parent loves their child. When Christians talk about Heaven and “going home”, we aren’t being macabre. We just know that the blanket of sin is heavy and temporary. I told Jeremy yesterday that I can’t wait to go to heaven because my body is so heavy and painful. I live in constant, nagging pain that even invades my dreams. It’s so temporary. I will shed this busted-up body and get my new one (I Corinth 15:53). I will finally be true to my intended nature. Who and where I was supposed to be. So will Ripley. He hopefully won’t feel the need to “protect” me anymore and the biting will stop. Everybody knows all dog go to heaven… even the “jerk-face” dogs. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Occultism & My Christianity

I find people generally fall into two categories: People who believe in the supernatural, and those who haven’t experienced it yet. The people who have had experiences but have decided to explain it away after the fact fall into the first category in my opinion. Since this is my blog, well, it’s all my opinion.

Okay, So I’m going to be setting up a few points here before I get to the meat of the topic. Christians are supernaturalists. We believe we have a soul, we believe God is super-duper out of this realm, and we also believe in angels. They are the “worker bees” of heaven. Lucifer was a perfectly created cherub who was both wise and exceptionally beautiful (Ezekiel 28:12-19). Lucifer decided he was too good to not be in charge and got himself kicked out of heaven along with one-third of his friends. Oh, he also got a name change. Lucifer (the morning star) became Satan (the adversary).

Next topic. This scripture is one that will make most people squirm. Ready?! It’s from Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
This means that we are in the middle of a battle whether we like it or not. Either you are ready, or you are a casualty. Your battle isn’t really against your husband who you no longer connect with, your child who has lost her battle to addiction again, or yourself in the throes of depression. You are battling The Adversary. Let’s all picture The Church Lady from Saturday Night Live….. Satan!

Now I’m going to tell you how he got to me and to my kiddo. It was my fault and I have owned it and moved on. My purpose of sharing this is to speak to someone else who unknowingly opens the door to the same mess I did. In essence I was a Christian lady practicing Satanism. Yep. It’s really that simple. Not my best moment, but there it is.

No, I wasn’t sacrificing goats or selling my soul. Satan is smart, remember?! I have a spiritual gift where I can see what some people call “auras”. This led to me being able to see "spirits" in my house. I knew I wasn’t schizophrenic because Natalia could see them too before she knew I had any sort of gift. I have had this gift since I was little. Natalia started when she was four. I’m here to tell you that I struggled to figure out how God would give me, or Natalia for that matter, a “gift” if it was not from Him? To answer that I first went to all the wrong places (Pinterest, books on mediumship) and then I went to the bible (last) along with a couple of pastors. At first I hated the answer. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

God does give spiritual gifts. His Holy Spirit dishes out what is appropriate for God’s purpose (I Corinthians 12:7-11). The emphasis is on God. What started out as my house being “busy” with apparitions moving here and there every once and awhile became spirits of people’s relatives passing on messages through me. The messages caused me a lot of anxiety and never made sense to me. They made sense to the person I delivered it to and it was creepy. Yes, just like the mediums on TV. Something in me inherently knew it was “off” and I kept searching for a sense of peace with this “gift” and just wasn’t finding it. In the meantime, Natalia was freaking out because she was seeing “people” in her room more frequently and I was constantly praying over her and her room and burning sage in the house trying to get the “busy-ness” to stop. Something was wrong.

To my friends who I thought I was helping. I’m sorry. Those were not your loved ones. I am a coward that I haven’t told you to your face. I honestly didn’t know when I talked to you and I was doing it in good faith thinking I was helping. Hebrews 9:27 says “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. There is nothing in the bible that talks about an interim or the need for relatives to communicate back and forth. All communication happens between man and angels, or man and God/His Holy Spirit. He doesn’t need grandpa to validate anything. In other words, when we die we are removed to paradise (like the criminal on the cross next to Jesus) and the “loved ones” that spoke to me were “angels”, but not God's. They were the other one-third.

Why is this important? You may say “Well there isn’t any harm in it because it gives people closure and peace when they seek out mediums.” Remember the Ephesians scripture? It’s the bigger picture and Satan is insidious. He wants your attention off God and, well, anywhere else. Grandpa, yourself, your grief. He doesn’t really care; he just doesn’t want you going to God. If you are going to a medium, or tarot cards, or meditating on your future to create a positive path then you aren’t yielding to God. You are controlling you. Satan loves pride. It’s something he knows best.

There is always a “door point” where the occult gets in. It goes back generations for me and has been in my family all my life, and my mother’s life. I’ll just talk about my stuff, though. When I was in elementary school I played with Ouija boards. I know many people think it is a slumber party game, but it’s not. I actually made one with ripped up pieces of paper and a
drinking glass and used it alone. It worked and I let garbage in. I read countless books on hauntings and demonology. I had Pinterest boards on hauntings and demonic possessions. I used sage to “clean” my house while “praying”, but I was trying to get it done. When I finally realized I had the occult pouring into my life and was cooperating with it, I had a hard talk with God. I said I was sorry. Like the kind of sorry where I don’t do that anymore. I also talked to Natalia and apologized to her and Jeremy for allowing that garbage in the house. Natalia has not seen anything in her room since that day. Nothing.

My spiritual gifts don’t go away, but I turned the mediumship off. Yes, it can be done. There are still times when I “know” things, but I ask God before I react. Satan loves that gift for me because it made me feel special and gave me a sense of pride. At one point another medium offered me a job to work with her as a medium “team”. I know that moment of my life was a test. It was a huge distraction for my faith and my family. It is a stumbling block for sure.

It kills me when people don’t want to accept the totality of the warfare we are in. I am reading a book that eloquently stated some Christians want to reduce God to a “happiness vending machine”. If I do these works, God will produce these blessings. Like any good dad, God wants you to feel loved and in that way happy; but His primary goal isn’t for you to be absorbed in earthly happiness. Your real home is with Him in heaven. That’s why we are so restless here trying to fill that “hole in our soul”. The only thing that fits is God. Not your children, not your job, not your spouse, not your fancy shoes. God.

So what do you do if you want to fill that hole? How do you do it? What are the steps? Well, the most difficult thing, the most radical thing to accept is there is nothing you can do. It is the most painful and beautiful concept to wrap your brain around. Most Christians don’t even have that one down. So you yield. You give up; surrender. You realize that Jesus knew you before you were “you” and took all your mistakes to hell and dropped them off. He did that so your soul could be free to meet Him at the family dinner table. God is a family man. If you aren’t a part of the family, you don’t get in. It’s not about being a “nice person”. You may be a nice person, but if I don’t know you then you aren’t being fed supper by me tonight. By the way we are having Greek quinoa and it’s amazing. Just the same, if you don’t know God, you aren’t getting in. He’s easy to get to know and He’s consistent. Since Jesus pitched your mistakes (sins), God sees you as his child and will never stop fighting for your love. Just like we would never stop fighting for our own children, God loves you so
much more. It’ll make you cry when you figure it out, I swear. Since you don’t “do” anything to be in God’s family besides have a relationship, you don’t have to be “perfect” to get started. He’ll meet you where you are and smooth out the rough spots as needed. If you find yourself feeling like “well, I’m too far gone” or “that’s not for people like me” just remember who’s talking to you. Not God. Satan loves that stuff. It’s an easy target and keeps you off kilter. God doesn’t accuse you, Satan does. God rescues, Satan overwhelms. God loves his family; Satan is out to destroy your relationships. Choose family. Please choose family. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Natalia: Conspiracy Theorist

Natalia is a born conspiracy theorist. I mean, who doesn't love a good conspiracy story anyway. Aliens, government cover-ups, biblical mysteries; she loves them all. The best part, all of her stories have a sliver of truth to them, so you know they are good. Jeremy and I actually Google her chronicles to figure out where in the world she comes up with this stuff. We still have no idea how the stories evolve in her brain, but there is some truth to them. Some of you may remember the "green granny smith spider" (click on it to catch up on the legend). This terrifying arachnid can take out five kids on the playground in one nasty spray. She saw a kid go down that day from it's venomous onslaught of terror. I think I found out later that kid has type I diabetes, so he probably did go down that day... but not from "Granny".

Okay, so here is the conspiracy story we got last year that I am JUST now getting around to telling y'all.

In another country there is a company that makes t-shirts and ships them to the US. It's a popular manufacturing site for making t-shirts, apparently. Well, one day when a worker was doing something involving stirring shirts in a vat of chemicals, the worker fell in! The shirts being manufactured were white, but when the worker fell into the mixer, or whatever, it stained all the shirts RED! (This is a good story, huh). The company is so corrupt that they just added more red dye to the batch, and now if you are wearing a red shirt you are probably wearing the blood of that poor worker! Shame!

Yes, I get that my daughter is the future hipster, granola, "can I tell you why dairy is bad for you?" college student of America.

So I actually re-Googled it and found it is a story from 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. All of the articles I found talk about clothing being manufactured based on the "blood, sweat, and tears" of Indian workers. It's really sad stuff. Last year when Natalia was in fifth grade they had to find current event articles to talk about in class. I guess she skimmed. Her story is much more interesting. In Natalia's defense, after reading the article I'm pretty sure all of our t-shirts (regardless of color) have some blood mixed in them. Yikes!

Then there is the story about how you can use coconut water for a blood transfusion. What?! We had been to Mexico not too long before and enjoyed walking around the shops armed with pesos and a fresh coconut with a straw. Now I'm imagining tourists walking around with fanny packs and coconuts hanging from IV poles while they head into Senior Frogs. As a nurse I was willing to stand firm in my "know-it-allness" and shoot this down. Natalia was adamant that this was a real thing. 

Enter Google.

I guess the article came from NPR about how coconut water is similar in composition to human plasma. In Somalia, a guy's life was saved by an emergency transfusion of coconut water when nothing else was available. How they figured out to reach for a coconut is beyond me. 

Nurse: "Doctor, we are losing him!"
Doctor: "Hand me a coconut"
Nurse: .....
Doctor "Hand me a coconut, dammit, we are running out of time!"
Nurse: "Can somebody shake that tree and give the doctor a damn coconut?!"

There are also rumors that coconut water was used during the World Wars for the same reasons. So there you go. Maybe the concept of fanny packs and IV coconuts isn't too far from the future after all. 

Sometimes Natalia just hits us with random factoids. Like, we were at the zoo checking out the giraffes when she says "If a giraffe falls down it dies." We were next to a kiddo who was about five, or six who all of a sudden looked very concerned about the giraffe's welfare. Jeremy and I were all like, "Nuh, uh." and we start arguing with our child like we are all in fifth grade. So what do we do? We Google it, of course. You know what? She's right! If a giraffe falls down in the wild it can't get itself back up and will meet its demise by either starvation or predator. As in lions and such, not the extraterrestrial hunter of Arnold Schwarzenegger; although I guess that is a possibility...

There you go. Natalia 3, parents 0.

So, after a few of these immature battles with our smarty-pants tween, Jeremy and I have stopped Googling the stories. Well, sometimes Jeremy will look into, as Paul Harvey would say, "The rest of the story". Last night Natalia was sitting on my lap crying (literally) because she says she's "stupid". What?! Not even!

She is still struggling in school. Lots of "F's". She just finished being watched like a goldfish in a bowl by resource teachers to test for disabilities. The word
disability sounds off to me. Quirky learner sounds more appropriate. I told her last night that she is the best student I have ever seen. I'm not just paying mommy lip service here. It's not like "my kid is a very special kid because I made her", although I feel that way too. No. Here's why: I have never seen a student work so hard and stay motivated even when she knows her grades are going to consistently stay low. She knows there is something wrong with her processing. It's not like it is a secret. She has to work harder for her mediocre grades than anyone in her class and it's exhausting. All that, and she still loves learning. That speaks volumes about her school and teachers. It makes me so proud of her character. She is starting to figure out ON HER OWN what works for her and what causes her brain to put on the brakes. That's huge. Okay, I'm wandering away from my point, but she can totally learn and she is insanely smart. When she takes in information she really keeps it. These stories are funny because she has limited life experience to wrap them up in a realistic bow, but she understood the complexities of the stories. Gold star.

I'll try to keep y'all up to speed on her latest conspiracy theories. It's a public service really. How would you know there is a green granny smith spider threat, or that the Black Claw (another blog link) is waiting in the climbing tubes at Wings to capture your children? Should the zombie apocalypse cause a massive disaster, make sure you grab as many coconuts as you can; and if you see a fallen giraffe for heaven's sake help him up before he dies. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Autoimmune Disease: Because I'm so delicious, my body eats itself

I have looked back over my "Motherhood" posts that are marked "draft" and see that I have tried to write this particular post about five times. What is the holdup? A couple of things. One, Jeremy has cautioned me about being too transparent when I am vulnerable emotionally. He is the Spock to my Mary Poppins, so I have put this on the back burner. I feel "called" to finally get this out now, and I hope it speaks to the few that read my blog. Besides, March is Autoimmune Awareness Month.

Almost two years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called undifferentiated connective tissue disease. My rheumatologist assured me he didn't make that up. It is similar to Lupus, but I do not have the internal organ damage that people with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) suffer. What I have is a bunch of odd-ball symptoms because my body thinks I am a Frankenstein-like patchwork of transplant tissue, and therefore is in attack
mode ALL THE TIME. It's annoying, to say the least. 

Fun facts about my autoimmune disease for all my nursing people out there: I am allergic to the sun, therefore I get to wear my marvelous hats and carry an umbrella in the summer sunshine. And y'all thought I was just being fabulous in my pictures! 

It makes me dumb in a "toddler just ran into your room at 3am screaming with a bloody nose kind of stupor". You are awake, but if you had to put a puzzle together for Survivor your tribe would vote you off that night. Raynaud's means that my hands and feet are not only cold and corpse-like, but they hurt when they clamp off. My body doesn't like my thyroid either, so I have Hashimoto's thyroiditis and will be on Synthroid forever. The good news is "Hashimoto's" is fun to say with a Japanese accent in a louder than acceptable voice. 

My body also hates my joints, so it's like I constantly walk with the feeling of sprained ankles/knees. Then they swell to not-quite Hillary Clinton status, and that hurts too. I have also hit the genetic jackpot with early onset of osteoarthritis. That is why I had my knee replaced a year ago. THAT knee was my "good" knee before I knocked the cartilage off it. The other knee will need to be replaced in about five years, or so. Oh, my hands have arthritic changes in them too, which has started affecting my ability to open jars, push syringes at work, and stuff like you see on mid-day commercials for old people. 

Okay, so what do I do about this? Complain. Just kidding, although I do feel like I complain a lot. I take medications to knock my immune system down; prednisone to make me feel better, but make me irritable too (we won't talk about the weight stuff); and then there is the dieting. Dammit. Before now I had never been on a diet a day in my life. Now I hate food. I hate it because a lot of it makes me sick. 

I cut out gluten, which was remarkably easy in Boise. For two weeks I cut out carbohydrates except fruit because I had gained 10lbs from the damn prednisone and caramel popcorn obsession. Both of those are gluten free. Okay, so I lose the poundage and feel better. That REALLY sucks because now I know in order to feel better I have to cut out a lot of carbohydrates and have all these "rules" for eating. I will find an unhealthy avenue to ANY diet. I have figured out how to make the best gluten free buttermilk biscuits ever, and I eat grits with two tablespoons of butter and Splenda (see, moderation) in the morning. I find if I eat my carbs in the morning, I do alright. 

I think if you ask anyone with an autoimmune disease what the worst part of their "diseaseness" is, they would say it is that they look normal. I happen to look quite fabulous most of the time. All of us Lupus-like people have had someone say to us "But you don't look sick". That is the most dismissive thing you can say to... well, anyone. Like if someone was suicidal, would you say "But you don't look sad"? No. Granted, I know there are dumb people out there. I'm a nurse after all. They are my job security. My disease war takes place inside my body. My boss is amazing and can tell when I "wilt" at work and has sent me home. If I am "wilting" I have way overdone it. I tend to keep powering through because it is embarrassing for me to admit defeat from a disease that doesn't look like a disease. I'm worried people will think I'm "faking it".
My round, prednisone face

Yesterday I got home from work and picked Natalia up from school about 4:00 pm. I could not keep my eyes open. I went to bed at 4:30 pm in my work clothes and false eyelashes and didn't wake up today until 9:00 am today. That is what it is like to have an autoimmune disease. You don't even see it coming. Just BAM. You are out of commission. I didn't even get up to eat. That is very telling for those of you who know me. I like food. A lot. 

I am definitely a changed woman. When I was diagnosed and then had my knee replacement I had to face the harsh reality that I could never be a floor nurse again. My body cannot do that anymore. Ever. I will not "get better". This isn't like having a cold. I will gradually get worse. I actually have gone through stages of grief because of this. What it has taught me is compassion. I was so snarky and judgemental toward patients who had chronic pain issues. You know why? Because I feared being in that situation. It's a very vulnerable place to be. 

I know so much about autoimmune diseases now, and there is so much more to learn. People with autoimmune illnesses want to be heard and understood. I can offer that to my patients now. My "plot-twist" of life has led me to becoming a Nurse Practitioner. I had lost my enthusiasm for nursing when I became burnt out of the ER. I have found my passion again. Some day I am going to have my own clinic in a neighborhood. I am going to take care of you and your families. I am going to have a rescued dog who is a therapy animal that is not only the clinic mascot, but an active provider as well. The dog will calm the kiddos during vaccinations and make everyone happy. No, it won't be Ripley because he is a jerk to everyone but the Lacows. He has to stay home.

I'm rolling with my punches. It has taken a year, but I can see how blessed I am to have all this happening in my life. God has given me an opportunity to find my compassion, become the nurse I had dreamed of being, and understand that I am so much more than my profession or body. Yes, I get frustrated and sad when I have a series of flares and bad days. I can tell you that deep in my soul where everything counts I am happy and loved. Everything else is just temporary.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's Hard to "Like" Unfiltered Photos

Today's post is brought to you by the letter 'P'. As in photo. I LOVE taking pictures. I actually take a lot less now than I used to. Mostly because Jeremy and Natalia just got sick of my stopping every two seconds to set up another picture. I finally had to have a coming to Jesus meeting with them telling them to smile, dammit. It makes me happy, so look happy. They still complain, but I have less pictures of the back of Natalia's head and more pictures where Jeremy looks like he is actually enjoying himself. I have a resting b#*@h face, but Jeremy has a resting serial killer face. We are all working on it.

These fun Lacow pictures eventually make it onto Facebook. Yeah, I have an Instagram account, but realistically I can only handle one social media account at a time. More than that is too much work. I don't count Pinterest as social media. It's actually where I go to get away from people. I can cruise all sorts of interesting things and I don't have to interact with anybody. An introverts haven. 

I pretty much wear a lot of my insecurities on my sleeve because I know I'm not alone. I totally get caught in the trap of obsessively checking Facebook to see who has "liked" my pictures and posts. My logical, left brain knows that this should not matter. My right brain wants to not only gather all the "likes" to validate my worth, but also compare my accumulation of "likes" with other
family "likes". I am cringing right now at how ridiculous this is sounding. Facebook has become the equivalent of passing notes with the "do you like me; check 'yes' or 'no'". The only problem is I get to lie to you on Facebook. I get to show you this candy coated version of our family outings. I'm not snapping pictures of the frustrated family moments when Jeremy and I have five "false starts" getting into the car to get going because we can't get our stuff together. Then we get down the block and remember we STILL forgot something, so we have to turn around and head back into the house to get it. This is when Natalia takes out her headphones to ask "What's wrong? What happened? Are you mad at me?" when Jeremy and I just want to quietly stew so we don't blow up. You know we are both blaming each other for not getting out the door in one fail swoop. I'm certainly not going to take a picture of him trying to find his hat (again) that he insists I moved (why would I touch his hat?!), and he is not going to take a picture of me angrily putting on lip liner while I blame him for going over speed bumps too fast. Does he KNOW how hard it is to put lip liner on in the car?! No. We are not taking our Facebook pictures of all this stuff. Maybe we should. It actually sounds kind of funny now. 

Okay, I promise I will eventually arrive at a point. Stay with me. 

So, about a year-ish ago Natalia set herself up with an Instagram account. Yeah, I made the same face you are making now. I let her go with it only because my sister was the "watchdog" for the account. I want to add that Natalia has also set herself up with a Snapchat account that she deleted herself. This is just to scare the pants off the other tween mothers. I can tell you your tweens ARE doing this. They do not need your help. Yes, you should panic now. 

Okay, back to the blog stuff. The Instagram account went well.... for a while. At first it was what you would expect from Natalia. Lots of pictures of cats in tights and dogs that didn't know how to "dog". Totally cool, right? Then she started in with the selfies. Okay. They were cute. They were selfies with her with a mustache, or her with a funny hat stamped on the photos. Natalia did start to show me her friends' Instagram. Some of her friends were posting things like "I bet you don't have the guts to tell me I'm beautiful. Like this if I'm pretty", and then they would post a picture with their hair flipped to the side and a coy look. Yes, there was filtering involved. No mustaches. 

Are you grinding your teeth now in that unconscious anxious way that the dentist had to give you the drool inducing mouthpiece for? Me too. Take a breath, because it gets worse.

Natalia showed it to me and we had a good "after school special" talk. I felt so accomplished as a mother. I was totally like, "Ha! That won't be MY child because she likes dogs that can say 'I love you' like a human and doesn't care about 'likes' on Instagram". Was I high?! It took about three months before she caved to the peer pressure and my sister called me with the "Have you checked out Natalia's Instagram" call. 


Okay, so I look. First of all, I had to figure out what my password was and then try to figure out how to navigate Instagram. Then I had to wipe away my frustrated tears because I felt super old that I had finally lost touch with technology. My child was already smarter than me in the cyber sense. I had been outmaneuvered by a 10 year old. Dammit.

Once I figured out how to even LOOK at what has been going on, I catch up with what has actually been going on. Natalia has been posting things like "I bet you aren't brave enough to say I'm beautiful", or something like that. Crap! AND, her photos have gone from Moon Moon the Husky that can't "dog", to selfies that have been filtered, edited, and "improved". Crap! Set your tasers to stun because I have to take out a tween. I'm just going to take her out for like, ten years. Actually, based on all the "leggings as pants" college girls downtown, I'll take her out for 15 years. I'm just jealous because I can't wear leggings as pants, but that's probably another blog for another day.

Okay, so we had another talk, but more importantly I had HER shut down her Instagram account. I could tell you that it was because I wanted her to be responsible for shutting down the account, but realistically it is because I have no idea how to navigate that damn site, let alone cancel her account. I was fried for that day and didn't want to deal with the frustration of being beaten by technology..... again. 

We made an agreement that she is not allowed to have any social media accounts until, well, I don't know when. When I un-taser her. How's that? It is just too difficult to not get sucked into the "likes". I'm 39 and I get sucked into the "likes". I am filtering, cropping, and editing most of my pictures so you see only what I want you to see. That has become our society norm. I think for the most part it is not that big of a deal unless you don't know who you are yet. Tweens fall into that category for sure. 

Okay, so I was on The Chive today and I saw a post about a girl who went back into her Instagram account and re-labeled her posts. This is the link to look through her pictures and how she was honest about what was really going on. The pictures look candid, but she comes clean that the pictures often took about 100 takes to get "right". She would go without eating for most of the day, the pictures were paid for by promoters of clothing or tanning products, and she was only 15! I am going to go through these with Natalia because she (and I) look at these types of pictures and think "Oh my. I should go to the gym so I can look like this. This body is normal and I am just falling behind. She looks so happy because this is what happiness looks like". I'm glad I read it. What makes me really happy is this girl was 19 when she edited her posts. She sounds like she is really on the right path. I love a happy ending, don't you?

This stuff is really dear to my heart and this is why: I have much younger sisters. One is obsessed with selfies, the other has had fluctuating weight issues all of her life. I have a dear friend who was severely anorexic and I thought that she might actually die. Most of my life I thought if I gained so-and-so amount of weight my husband would just up and leave me. Like there was a magic number that when I reached that amount he would about-face and say "Peace out". One day I was thinking about what my "worth" was all about and I realized the worst thing that could happen to me at that moment was for me to go blind. How would I be able to gauge my worth if I couldn't see? How would I be able to know that I had a nice car, looked pretty, was thin, had cute clothes, a cute house with a purple door? Scary, huh? I can tell you that our daughters see that stuff. We don't have to tell them anything. Those insecurities are out there like ugly Christmas sweaters. They announce themselves. 

Okay, so what do we do about this? I can tell you all the right answers, but that would be akin to my edited pictures on Facebook. How about I show-out the "pictures" of us trying to leave the house for the umpteenth time? Okay, so let's say the right things. Moms, we all know what to say. We all read that Pinterest good mommy crap all the time, and then post it to Facebook. Ha! Aren't we funny?! I can tell you that I make a face every time I put on my jeans right now because I am 15 pounds over my normal weight and can't fit into most of my clothes. I crop my photos so you don't see that. I am going to try to stop making that sour face. I have also started working out and quit raiding the Halloween candy. Damn candy for being gluten free. 

I am not going to pitch a fit when Natalia dresses herself and "fixes" her own
hair. See what I did there? Look at those quotes. Lose the quotes. She fixes her hair. It is her hair to style and she is learning how to do it. I need to back off. She is not a "Gap kid", nor is she heading out to a photo shoot. We are going to Fred Meyer for heavens sake to pick up cheese and then a bunch of stuff that wasn't on our list because it was on sale. I should be happy with her washing her hands, like once that day. 

I am going to listen with my mouth closed. This is a big one because my mouth is a big one. I mean, look at this blog. Wor-dy! I am a fixer so I feel like I have a lot of advice to give. Natalia has ADHD, so she ain't go time to listen to my dissertation on how calling out line-cutters in sixth grade will define the moral background of her life in her thirties. Yeah, she doesn't care. She just wants to vent. I've learned to ask "Do you want help, or do you just want to vent?" It helps me know what I'm in for. Most of the time she just wants to vent and then a hug. One good thing about being 15 pounds overweight right now is my hugs are a lot softer. Natalia won't remember that mom couldn't fit into her jeans when she was in sixth grade, but she will remember sitting on the mommy chair while I hugged and held her. 

It really bothers me when people don't like me, so I'm not going to try and sell Natalia the notion that she shouldn't care. She's going to care and it's going to
hurt. It's about perspective. She (and I) need to focus on the quality people who do like us. I tell her that if people don't like her it's because they really don't know her. Also, there is my strawberry ice cream analogy, which I found out she absolutely hates. I tell her that people are like strawberry ice cream. Not everybody likes strawberry ice cream, but that doesn't mean it's bad; it's just not for everyone. It's fine. I use ice cream analogies a lot. Jeremy reminded me that when we were dating the first time when we were 14 I told him that he was also like ice cream. I like ice cream, but when you have it every day, all the time, you are going to get sick of it. Nope. That did not go over well. He one-upped me by telling me that I was like cancer when we broke up our freshman year. He said just when he thought he got rid of me, I came back again. See, my analogies are yummy and cute. His are horrible. Jeremy and I were laughing about these stories walking back from the Little Big Town concert this week while Natalia looked at us like we were crazy. 

Okay, so let me try and wrap this up. I'm certainly not judging the kiddos that have social media accounts. Natalia's friend lives in Singapore right now and has one to stay in touch with her friends in the states. I get that. I let Natalia have one to see where it would go. Well, it went where I feared it would go. Not because there is anything wrong with her, but because she is just a normal tween. It's a lot of pressure for all of us. Even now that she doesn't have a social media account doesn't mean that all those desires to be accepted and keep up with her peers have magically gone away. Nope. Those are still there. I just know that Instagram fed the beast. I want her to know the pictures aren't real. Most of all I want her to know daddy and I are here to listen with our mouths closed, and provide as many hugs as necessary until we have to lock her away for 15 years because we can't figure out how to navigate her social media accounts. Sometimes you have to take the easy route. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lumpy Clay and Rough Patches

100% photoshopped and filtered
I feel like I keep writing the same blog over and over again, but it never quite makes the cut to your eyes. I'm going to explore another avenue of motherhood right here. The imperfect world of absolute brokenness. It is the taboo state that mothers do not want to admit to because we fear that even uttering the word will collapse our house of cards. We fear that announcing our defeats will crumble our fiercely held facade, which is sometimes the last thing we are clinging to. It is the last thing I am clinging to right now. An image that is crumbling before my eyes. Thank God because I am exhausted holding that crap up. Whew. I'm no Atlas able to hold up the world so I'm just going to start putting things down one pretty piece at a time. 

This has been a long process. I asked God years ago to move my butt over and let people see Him through me. Like, get me out of the way. Be careful what you ask for. I can tell you that I am not "there" yet. I am, as I put it in a Facebook status post, a piece of lumpy clay still. I mean, I know most of us are slightly lumpy, but I walked around for years pretending that my lovely lady lumps were supposed to be there. They weren't. 

I will tell you where I am at in all transparency. I am a woman who lost a baby in 2012. Yes, it wasn't planned and it was ectopic, but it was also my "last chance" at ever having another child. Jeremy didn't think the timing was right for another child so that is why we decided together that Natalia would be a singleton. I also never really allowed myself to mourn the fact that I lost a baby that day. I had one day of that scared excitement you get when you find out you are pregnant only to realize my body was not made for making babies. I also realize now the fact we have Natalia is awesome-sauce. I'm super grateful. 

I became burned out of my dream job as an ER nurse. I had wrapped up my whole identity as a person in that job title. When I left the ER I found I was no longer proud of who I was as a person. That really terrified me. I realized my sense of self was on pretty shaky ground if my whole "me" was built on a job that I couldn't hack anymore. Not only that, I went to a job where people made fun of the work I did as a nurse. That was humbling and embarrassing. See how the lumps are getting smoothed out? Now I'm at a surgical center that is not exactly glamorous, but at least it's not revolving around fecal matter. 

I lost my mom this year. I lost my dad when I was 21 years old. Therefore I am now an orphan. The kicker is that both of my parents are still alive, but they were so abusive and pathological that I have had to stop all contact with them in order to protect my own family. Both of my parents do not have the capability to love or bond with their children, so I have never really had parents to begin with. I didn't realize this of course until I had Natalia and realized what loving and bonding was really like. I am one of four siblings, but the only one who will fully acknowledge the abuse and neglect. Obviously I am not a very popular family member. This is another lump that is being worked on. As a matter of fact, this lump is a pretty big one and is being worked on right now. So I cry a lot at random times. Like at the doctors office for a routine checkup for my thyroid. Awkward! Dang it I just started tearing up right now....

I have lost my health. I look like a pretty put together package on the outside,
but my health is not good. I'm not going to tell people it is great to make them feel comfortable. It doesn't do any of us any good anymore. Denial has not been my friend. I have a disease that there is no cure for, and I long for the days past when I didn't even think about my health every moment. I am in constant pain. Every moment. My pain invades my dream story lines and then wakes me up. It makes my hair fall out. The medications make me gain weight. It hurts to move, but if I stop moving I will get worse. I push through and smile so my family doesn't worry. I'm exhausted on some days, and just plain tired on others. Most of all I'm angry. Like spitting nails angry. I'm angry that my body has betrayed me. I followed the rules, exercised, didn't lead a high risk lifestyle and I am still sick. Even now I am following all of the treatment rules and I am still not rewarded with better days. I am not yet at the point where I have accepted that this disease is mine and has changed my life. I'm working on it, but I'm not there yet. I'm still busy being angry.

I am afraid. Like paralyzed in my own skin afraid. I am working on my Master's degree and have clinicals coming up in spring. I haven't really got anything prepared like I should have because I am afraid of being told I'm not good enough or smart enough to be a nurse practitioner. Like, I am "test taking" smart, but clinically scary. I do not know who I am right now and it is the scariest place I have ever been in. I am no longer defined by my job, defined by my past, controlled by my abusers words in my head, or spoon fed by a teacher in a class room. I am an empty vessel and I can feel that void right now pretty strong. It feels like a vacuum. I get why people want to stuff all sorts of random things in there. I'm just standing still in my life right now trying to figure out what in the world fits in that space!?

So with all of this I can tell you that I am pretty sensitive right now. Like, can you blame me? I don't need anything from anyone. I have fabulous support from a good counselor, Jeremy, Natalia, and some close friends. What I need is time and healing. Both of those will come from me. I just want you to know that I feel you, girl. I understand that feeling of swimming in jello. I get how hard it is to keep up that pretty facade because some days it is the only thing you are holding on to. Sometimes a good day comes down to being able to match your underwear to your bra and that's it. Take that win and enjoy it. The pressure we have in our heads is amazing. What is terribly sad is it is really all in our heads. I have been more open with Jeremy than ever, and he really doesn't have any of the crazy expectations that I have. My fear is that I will let him down if I flunk out of school and that I am a financial detriment to our family. He is thinking that I am really smart to make into the program and I am a worthwhile investment. It's all in my head. Girl, it's all in your head too. 

Here is my parting thought. Dump the toxic crap from your life. I have A LOT going on right now. I may be too heavy for you if you have a bunch going on. I am 100% giving you permission to take a break from me if you need to. But seriously, look around at your circle. Do they build you up? When you get off the phone, quit texting, or leave the restaurant are you energized from the encounter; or are you drained from the conversation? I understand that everyone goes through rough patches (like me) where they aren't necessarily going to be able to pep you up with every conversation. What I am getting at is are they sucking you dry every time? You are someone to be cherished and your friendship should be reciprocated. It's a big deal. You deserve honest interactions and interest in your life. Gossip and snark are just not the way to go and these things are so contagious. I can tell you first hand that I have a hard time with these when I am in a bad place. Why? Because I just feel so crumby about myself that I want to make sure that I'm not the only crumby person on the planet. Announcing the faults of other people is my way of convincing myself that it's okay to drop the perfection facade. Then I walk away feeling like a jerk because I am acting so childish and petty. Call me out on that stuff. Jeremy does and I love him for it. Those are the kind of friends we all need.

I have wanted to share all of this with you guys for a long time. It's where I'm
at, but it is unpleasant. I want to entertain you with funny Natalia stories and perfectly filtered pictures, but this needed to be said as well. It's like the theme song from "The Facts of Life" You take the good, you take the bad; you take them both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life. It was a good show. I hope you find yourself in a very zen place right now, but if not I hear you girl. I'm on my journey too. I'm a very lumpy piece of clay getting worked over by a gifted potter. It'll be good, but it will take time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Untestable Intelligence: Brain Damage and Mom Freakouts

I'm going to try something new here. Lacowland is in the throws of some turmoil and I am going to create this post when, gasp, I don't have a good answer to my own troubles. I usually wait until I have things figured out before I unleash my insecurities out into the world. That may look good on facebook or whatever, but it's not real life. Speaking of facebook.... I will be the first to admit that my facebook page is like most of our pages. A cookie cutter version of my life, full of cropped photos with filters and editing. Honey, that ain't my life. My life is messy, chaotic, real, and full of a lot of love. Lacows are like Goonies: We never say die. 

Okay, so here is what is really going on between visits to pumpkin patches and vacations. Natalia is failing all of her subjects in school. I'm not even kidding. Like, even PE right now is struggling because she has tight calf tendons that make it so her legs hurt all the time. She can't flex her feet when her legs are straight. That issue has been going on, well realistically all her life. It's been the past year and half where she is miserable. She is having surgery to lengthen the tendons next month, but she will be in a wheelchair for six weeks. Yep, six weeks of non-weight bearing, emotional 11 year old who is missing more school. I have to hand it to her. She is going at this with a positive attitude. Like, she's excited to have a wheelchair experience. I can hear your thoughts and I echo those too. It will be exciting for like, a nano second. 

Okay, here is the bigger issue. The school stuff. We have known that something was off with Natalia since about first grade. By third grade she was really behind. At this point Natalia is in sixth grade, but only tests at a third grade level. Are you getting that sinking feeling too? Obviously there is something wrong. Like, really wrong. She's not lazy. Good Lord, she is trying so hard. This only leads to frustration all around. It is scary because all of us in her life know that she is smart. You can talk to her and know that she is firing on all cylinders. She just can't get her knowledge to her hands to write it down. If you ask her questions about what she is learning verbally, she'll tell you. She also can't follow a sequence or correlate pictures right now unless they are exactly alike. She had a map quiz that was open book. She can't see that the pictures are the same because one is in color and the other is in black and white where she is supposed to label the picture. Yeah, I'm freaking out too. Something is really wrong. 

Last spring Natalia fell off some playground equipment twice and hit her head both times. I know. I don't know how she managed that either, but it happened. She suffered a moderate concussion. Moderate means that it was significant. She missed the last month of school while she was recovering. With her traumatic brain injury (that sounds so much worse, doesn't it?) she hasn't been the same. She had a whole summer off, so there was no way for us to see how it impacted her cognitively with new learning. Oh, it's doing some impacting. Like, I think she may have some significant cognitive damage. Brain damage. There, I've said it. That makes me sick to write it down, but it's the truth. As a nurse I know this is true. As a mom I am in shades of denial mixed with panic. What is this going to mean for her in the long run? Is college out for her? How will she function as an adult? Is this fixable? Am I crazy and need to just go take a walk? Probably.

Another possibility that has been placed on the table is high functioning autism. We know Natalia is quirky. We embrace quirky here because all three of us are a little different. She is our only child, so we have nothing to compare her quirks against. Some of her funny quirks are the sounds that people make with their mouths. It drives her crazy. To her it sounds like people walk around smacking their mouths all the time. No one notices it but her. To make matters worse one of my nervous ticks is sucking air between my front teeth or sucking on my inner retainer behind my bottom teeth. Dives. Her. Crazy!

Routine. Natalia needs predictable routine and does not do well with spontaneity. Transitions are really hard for her. We have always just worked around this pretty easily because if you give her a 5 minutes "heads up", or "find a stopping place" cue, she does fine. Do you see why we took her out of the traditional middle school setting? Too much chaos; too many people. She is affectionate and snuggly with Jeremy and I, but she does not like to hug or touch other people. This has been notable since she was a young toddler. Like, she would physically push kids away or guard with her hands if other kids were too close to her. I didn't think too much of it because I don't like people touching me or being in my personal bubble. It physically makes me contract. To me, it seems justifiable.    

These are just a couple of her quirks that are starting to paint a bigger picture. So if she has a form of autism, then what? To be honest and transparent I don't really care about her quirks. Neither do her friends. I'm content that she is polite, empathetic, and makes a few quality friends. My panic button is school. I know her life as an adult won't be based on her 6th grade MAP scores, but the real problem is there is not a cookie cutter way to test her intelligence. I can hear the question "Who cares how she tests if she understands?" To that I answer "The real world does, and it will eat you alive if you don't fall into line." 

Yes, there are some Asperger's genius people out there. My research turned up
Bill Gates and Einstein. Natalia is not Bill Gates, nor is she Einstein. Let's be honest. I'm not insulting her intelligence, but I also know that she is not genius level. The reason this is important to me is because as she goes to college, or gets a job, or finds a career path her intelligence is going to need to be proven. How will she prove what she can't write down? One can take the idealist approach and say that she shouldn't have to prove anything. That is not realistic. I guarantee she WILL have to prove her intelligence because hiring an employee is a financial risk. A company wants to know that their investment will get an appropriate return. I want her to be financially independent because I don't want her at the mercy of someone else's wallet and generosity. I know I come into adulthood with a lot of baggage. Part of that baggage means I am insecure right now that I work very little while I am in school and must rely on someone else for my food, shelter, and transportation. Jeremy is amazing and loves our family. My insecurities are not because of anything he has done. I have a deeply burrowed need for the financial power in our house to be equal. I think this is something Natalia needs to take seriously as she becomes an adult. She needs to be able to support herself and be independent, or she will be wide open for someone to take advantage of her. 

My fears look ugly, don't they? I have narrowed my child down to an intelligence investment in one small paragraph. As a mother I know she is so much more. As an adult I know that society isn't going to care what her mother thinks. She is at risk now for young pregnancy, drug addiction, depression, and low self-esteem. I am at risk for being a crazy mama bear fighting the world off on her behalf. None of this is okay with me. 

Okay, so what do we actually know? I know that Natalia can learn. I know that she actually loves learning and figuring things out. When she gets something in her mind she is all in. Both feet jumping in all at once. You should see the research and creativity she puts into "customizing" her Littl'est Pet Shoppe animals. They are very creative. 

She acts like I would expect a normal 11 year old to behave. She isn't trying to be 16 and she says she enjoys being a kid. Whew. Sometimes at 39 I enjoy being a kid. She is probably the most empathetic and loving child I have ever met. I mean, sometimes it is overwhelming for her because she feels things all the way down to her soul. People like her are often called "highly sensitive persons". Me too. It's why I don't watch the news or read the paper. It's too overwhelming, but being sensitive is a gift. She has a perspective on other lives that is amazing. Like, sometimes I get some of the best advice from her. I hope she is like Maya Angelou and writes all of those thoughts down. We just have to figure out a way to get them out of her head. 

So those are just a few of my fears. I'm a bit single minded when it comes to solving a problem that freaks me out. I obsess. I'm obsessing now. I need to write all this craziness down so I can emerge from my Evil Queen Lair as a functioning mom and wife. Oh, then there is the little task of continuing to work on my Master's degree every day. Dammit, this is hard. 

There you go and here it is. Messy, but honest. As I told one of my friends this week, I liked it better when my biggest accomplishment as a mother was feeding my toddler vegetables for lunch. Every time I look at Powerschool I have a sense of dread. Every failed test she has to take again, and again chips away at our family. It isn't because she disappoints us. It is because we see there is something much bigger going on than just being lazy or not studying. As parents we tell our children they can do anything. Just work hard, try harder, and you will be successful. Well, my daughter is working hard, trying harder, and she can't. Period. She cannot. At least not within the current framework. We need a change in strategy. I just don't have that strategy figured out yet. There is the source of my panic. Fear of the unknown. 

On Monday Natalia is going to her psychiatrist's office to set up additional testing. I mean, how can you start fixing something if you don't know were the starting point is located? I am afraid that things are going to turn up much worse than we imagine. Yep, definitely the fear of the unknown is what is freaking me out. On my emails I have my favorite saying "It's like eating an elephant, you just have to take it one bite at a time." I heard someone say that and loved the truth of the saying. I need to follow my own advice.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

An Introvert's Guide to Disney World

I am so excited about this post because I have a lot to share. I want to first set up some ground work to explain my different perspective on Disney theme park-ing. Our family has been to Disneyland/World more than 10 times since Jeremy and I have been married. I have come across people who really don't get why we would continue to go back after having been there so many times already. I mean, it doesn't really change that much, it's super crowded, it's loud, it's geared toward children.... What makes Jeremy and I (mainly me) want to return? I think I have figured it out. What really makes it unusual for me to want to return to Disney is that I am a total introvert and Disney is everything introverts usually try to avoid in life. Okay, so let me break down a couple of things for you first to "get" what I'm going to talk about:

An introvert is NOT a shy person. Some of you who know me on an acquaintance level may not understand how introverted I am. Jeremy laughs at my introversion because he says I am an introvert disguised as an extrovert. Introverts NEED time alone to recharge their batteries and really get worn out by crowds, noisy places, and social situations. Even work wears me out socially. 

Jeremy is an extrovert, but is shy. Well, shy really isn't the right word, but he takes a while to warm up to people. He doesn't do small talk, he has a small group of close friends, and he also hates crowds. This looks like all the makings of an introvert, but he HAS to be with people to feel recharged. He hates being alone and spending time on his own. He just doesn't know what to do. He needs social contact. Want a funny little kicker? Natalia is the perfect introvert mix. She needs time alone, takes a while to warm up to people, and will really get mentally sucked dry if she is in social situations for a long time without a break. She is your cookie cutter introvert. Jeremy is the extroverted odd man out. Everyone say "Awe, poor Jeremy!"

Okay, that has a point for Disney World traveling, I promise. Just tuck that nugget in the back of your mind, or start diagnosing all of your friends as introvert/extroverts as I go on.

Now picture the ski instructor from Southpark. If you've never watched it, don't
worry. You won't miss out on much of a joke. If you are going to Disney solely for the rides "You are going to have a bad time." The lines take longer than the rides, the rides are mostly cheesy, and the roller coasters are pretty slow so they appeal to a broad array of age groups. All the really good rides are dispersed on opposite ends of the park so you have to haul your churro eating butt all the way across the sparkly hot-as-death concrete to get from one headlining ride to the next. Yes, there are "fast passes" and other tricks to get you on to rides faster, but if you want to go to a park for rides alone you are better off going to some place like Six Flags. Oh, if you want to know what the hell a "fast pass" is and all that other Disney lingo, this isn't your blog. There are countless amazing blogs that will explain all of that. Let Pinterest be your guide.

So why do people like us go to Disney? Because we are crazy, of course. Okay, that is partly true, but I actually have a real answer. We go because it is about
the experience, not about the checklist. Let that sink in for a minute. You know those touring plans that will get you on every ride, see every parade, and find every character? We have those too. We look at it at the end of the day and proudly exclaim: "Look at all the stuff we did compared to the list! Let's grab some popcorn on our way out." We agree before we go on vacation that when Disney stops being magical we all tap out. That's it. We just stop what we are doing, quickly take emotional inventory, and just leave. I don't care that the park is open for another four hours. If we are done, we are just done. That right there is the best advice I can give any family. The second best advice is to leave the park in the middle of the day if you are at Disneyland. When you go to Disneyland you can just walk from your hotel into the park, so leaving is easy. You can't do that at Disney World. You are magically trapped. Just leave. 

Okay, so what are we doing at Disney World if we are leaving early and we are
The Queen of Hearts, Alice, & Dad
not in it for the rides? Why are we willing to throw down a small fortune to experience all the magical chaos? The key word is experience. You have to let your guard down and just go with it. Disney is not the place where anyone is looking at you, so girl, you wear that princess shirt. Honey, wear that Star Wars full on nerd reference gear. You will stand out more if you are NOT wearing a little something quirky. Natalia and I dressed in "theme" almost every day. We took characters from movies and wore regular clothes in the character's colors. It's called "Disney bound" styling. We are awesome. Jeremy did not participate. I ran out of time to make our special t-shirts, but his was a storm trooper reference and very cool. His idea because he is awesome.

She has spotted her prey
Another Disney thing we do is pin trading. Again, Pinterest will be your reference guide to the rules and how to get started. Once you have your starter set Pin Trading Is Free! Did you read that! Yes! Something to do at Disney that does not bleed your wallet dry. Natalia is the Katniss of pin traders. She will be able to see a Cast Member with pins to trade from 50 yards away and make a B-line to them in a slightly creepy, stalker-like fashion. Her skills are second to none. She trades all pins. She will have a pin theme of "keepers" one day, and the next day she will decide to have a different theme and trade them all. I am a methodical trader. I am very selective over the pins I trade, keep, and who I trade with. This drives Jeremy and Natalia crazy, and they tease me about not being "into" the trading game. We are all very competitive, so the pin trading is entertaining for us. We would go into gift shops and descend on the shop workers like vultures trying to see who could trade for the coolest pin. It beats waiting in line again for 30 minutes. 

Speaking of waiting in line, we have games for that too. I want to say up front that we go to Disney during the off season and NEVER during busy conventions. I am not willing to wait over an hour for a five minute ride. Yes, we pull Natalia out of school and that is frowned upon, but this is our big family vacation and I've never met a homeless drug addict who said their downfall began they day
they missed 6th grade Social Studies.  Okay, back to the games: We do not rely on our smart phones and social media to individually entertain us. Our love language is quality time, so that would defeat the vacation purpose. There is one exception. Our dog's boarding facility has a "doggie cam" and we would watch him run around and act a fool with some doberman that he befriended. Since Ripley (our rottweiler) is so skinny it was hard to tell them apart. A large portion of the game was trying to spot our own dog. One of the best things that happened to me for this trip was running out of data. It forced me to put my phone on airplane mode and be present. We used Jeremy's phone for the Disney app and watching Ripley. The Disney app tells you everything you need to know at the moment. Ride times, fast pass stuff, restaurant reservations. It's awesome and saves a lot of walking. Ain't nobody gonna walk two miles for the Dwarfs Mine Train when the wait is  65 minutes long! Skip!

The second game was for lines and in the whole park. You can judge our family on this one because it is kind of terrible. We set up a point system for other families fighting in public in the happiest place on earth. One point is just loud snarky comments by an adult to another adult or a child. Children fighting with each other do not count. The bigger the scene and the more ridiculous the fight the more points scored. It should be witnessed by another Lacow, but we also use the honor system. Yes, we had a couple times when we cast points on our own family. That was usually right before we decided to call it a day or eat a snack. I really have a hard time in crowds lately and actually had to turn to the people behind me in line a couple of times and physically demonstrate the amount of space I needed in line. Remember, this is Florida at 89 degrees in enough humidity to make you a crazed lunatic (obviously). I think some of it was a cultural thing because by the end of the week I started to see a common denominator. I started putting my hands on my hips and rotating around like a sprinkler while in line. I don't care that I looked like a nut. Don't come in my personal bubble! I'm sure people had the "family game" going on as well and I earned them a lot of points with my line antics. 

Here is another big Disney touring secret: Pack your own food. I'm not even talking about saving money, although you definitely will. When hunger comes up on you it will strike like a cobra. It will take out your children and husband like the zombie virus and turn everyone within minutes! You think I'm exaggerating but it's the gospel truth. Do you really want to spend 15 minutes in line with the angry undead who all of a sudden cannot make a decision between Sprite and Coke? You better have some food on the ready. Don't even think about stowing it in a locker. Those are at the front of the park past Main Street. You won't ever be back there until you are hauling your tired butt out of the park. Let me tell you how it's done. Go to Publix or whatever grocery store has meals on the go and grab meals for the family before you head to the park. Oh, don't forget plastic ware. Our top picks were ready made salads (just shake and eat), sub sandwiches, sushi (um, eat that early in the day), chicken with hummus and crackers, and those laughing cow cheeses. I swear people looked down right jelly as we sat down on a bench and ate real food, people watched, and planned our next area of attack. This is also a good time to check your feet. Jeremy got horrible blisters this time. We did eat at one character breakfast and ate lunch in Germany at Epcot. There is an app for Disney (of course), so don't just show up and wait. Get on that app, make a reservation and eat something for the love of humanity. The beer garten was surprisingly good food, air conditioned, and did not feel rushed. Jeremy and I had a coronary from the sausage and the price tag, but we decided it was worth it. They sit you at community tables with other families and we racked up a lot of points with the family at our table. Bonus. 

We chose October for our visit because of the lower crowds and the Halloween Party. Yes, you pay extra to go to the party. Yes, it sells out so you better plan ahead. People really dress up (adults go all out) and EVERYONE gets to trick or treat through the park. They have little trick or treat stations dispersed throughout and you wait in  quick lines for big handfuls of good candy. We were hoping to go on one of the rides that had a consistent hour wait during the Halloween party, but no dice. Still an hour long. We just skipped it. There were fireworks, parades, candy, and lots of people. Oh, lots of people. I guess that is to be expected when the event is sold out. It was fun, but I don't feel the need to ever do it again. I like Christmas at Disney better. I did have fun passing out glow sticks to little kids just for fun. I felt like the Oprah of glow sticks. "You get a glow stick! You get a glow stick! You get a glow stick!" It helps me hate the crowds less. Naughty children who don't know how to behave in line do not get glow sticks. Jerk parents' kids don't get glow sticks either. It is my passive aggressive way of "getting back" at jerky parents in line. I'm so immature. 

My final advice is to leave. When it isn't fun just leave. This is going back to my snippet on personality styles and really knowing yourself before you go to
Disney. It seems awfully deep for a Disney vacation, but Disney is expensive and physically taxing. You need to know what you are getting into and what you can handle before you go. If you have unrealistic expectations (like getting to the parks at opening every day and staying until closing every night for a whole week) you are going to be miserable and have miserable memories. We had the option to visit one more park on our last day and we chose to not do anything. Yep. We slept most of the morning and then went to Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs) for a couple hours that evening. We didn't even last very long at Downtown Disney. The night before we did a bunch of research regarding the best park to see one last time and had decided on Animal Kingdom. We had this big plan and set up our fast passes for the day. Our outfits were picked out. We woke up the next morning and all agreed that if we had gone we would have been miserable and it just wasn't worth it. Bam! Tapped out right then and there as a family. Our goals for this vacation were not to cross off items on a checklist. Our goals were to spend time together, be silly, escape from the normal routine, and get our Disney fill. Once we felt like we got our Disney fill, we were just done. That's it. Done. I didn't even take a whole lot of pictures this time because I was too busy just being "in" it. It was nice. 

I know Disney is not for everyone. I think it is something that should be seen at least once in a lifetime just because of all the details and genius that go into everything in the parks. It's pretty astounding. It is a place where you will have more fun if you let your guard down and give into the silliness for a while. Grown women wearing crowns (me), kids wearing pink and purple cat tails (Natalia), and a man with a resting serial killer face wandering the park in normal clothes and a pirate hat (Jeremy) looking for pins. No one is looking at anyone but their own families, really, and no one cares. Disney smells good (some of the people don't, but Disney does) and it is all about families. I have watched Natalia experience Disney in a whole new way each time we have gone as she has grown up. She has gone from coloring at the table with princesses to
master pin trader/roller coaster enthusiast. Every time we go to Disney with Natalia the experience is a little different. I wondered about her this time since she is a "tween". I was relieved when she bought the cat tail and wore it everywhere. Still my girl. 

So there it is. The reasons we go to Disney and why we go back. It's not the rides, it's not the food, it's not the weather. It is our family place. I know our family has fun anywhere, but Disney is a special place for us. It isn't the usual vacation spot of choice for introverts or people who abhor crowds, but it is our place. I love Disney and I know we will do it again. Not in Florida, but Disneyland, California; but that is a whole other post.