40 days ago, Michael told our kids that we were going to Legoland and Disney World:
He read the boys a letter of appreciation for their sacrifice while he was in seminary. And to honor that, we wanted to do something really special. They were beyond excited.
So after a rigorous count down (like every 5 minutes for the past month, we counted the days, minutes, seconds), we embarked on our journey at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday night. And I must have planned the trip when I was still in my twenties, because when I saw the arrival time on the GPS:
I thought, ‘what in the world was I thinking?? We can’t drive all night, spend all day tomorrow with our friends, then wake up, go to Legoland from open to close (to get our money’s worth), check in our hotel, go on a timeshare tour at 7:30 the next morning, then do every single thing the resort has to offer (to get our money’s worth), then wake up and be in the Magic Kingdom from open ’til close (to get our money’s worth), then wake up, collect ourselves, and drive all the way home…’
I must be crazy.
But the adrenaline kept me going. I was excited. Too excited to sleep.
I put on Josiah’s batman headphones and rocked out while everyone else slept and I took the 1:30-4:30 a.m. driving shift. We arrived at our destination at 4:30 a.m. and realized that no one else in Florida was awake. So we pulled over in a CVS parking lot and slept for an hour. Except Josiah. He stayed awake during that final hour. When he saw a palm tree at 4:40 a.m., there was no convincing him to go back to sleep. His vacation had begun…
So, with the help of Yelp, I found a little breakfast place and called them. They opened at 6:00. Perfect. We pulled in and with an extremely cheerful waiter, we had a fabulous breakfast. Of course, Zachary spilled his chocolate milk (even after a warning about the shoddy lid from our waiter) all over the table. And we had to brush our teeth in the parking lot.
But when I walked out of the restaurant, reenergized from good coffee and an excellent eggs benedict, this is what I saw.
That’s just not a bad way to start the day. We live in the woods, and I rarely get to see the sun rise or set. There is such comfort in that daily occurrence. I stopped and praised Him for His beautiful handiwork.
‘From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.’
I really hesitated planning a ‘theme park’ vacation because I was afraid the kids would be too enamored by man-made cement, brick and mortar, plastic, steel concoctions and forget to appreciate God’s great handiwork. As if a theme park or fancy hotel could cover it up… We saw God’s creations the entire trip.
Whoops, how’d that last one get in there? Oh,that’s right…because God made coffee. And that’s just true.
And there was also this:
This is just a few of the 500 little creatures with whom we shared our hotel room. And before I killed them with my flip flop (sorry, but I did. They were trying to get my honey and peanut butter) I snapped this photo. Even though they are pests, it is really something to see how hard they work. They made a perfect line all the way from the entrance of the condo to the kitchen, neatly lining the edge of the floor. I admire their tenacity and work ethic. Then they died. The end.
Our first day was with my best friend since 2nd grade, Erin. We have been friends for 25 years, and because of distance and life demands, we have only been able to see each other twice in the past 10 years. We are both moms now and we have the added obstacle of a 3 hour time difference which makes it extremely difficult to chat on the phone. If she can talk, I’m doing dinner, if I can talk she’s trying to get kids out the door. But there is an understanding and a deep friendship love that we share, which makes seeing each other just….easy. We can pick up right where we left off, and it’s hard to explain what a comfort the familiarity of her voice is to me. We, amazingly, (thanks to our very understanding husbands) were able to talk without interruption for almost 2 solid hours in the ocean. Our hands and feet were pruny. Our hearts were full.
And then we just relaxed and watched our five children run around and play together like they’ve grown up together since birth.
Because in a sense they have. They already know each other because Erin helped shape me, and I her. We experienced childhood together. Elementary. Jr. High. High school. Youth group. Camp. Family strife. Brothers. Prom. Driving. Boyfriends. Mistakes. Graduation. Life. She’s one of my dearest and I’ll treasure that day so close to my heart until we can see each other again…hopefully sooner than later.
That evening Erin and Billy treated us to dinner and we shared a wonderful meal and great laughter together. Love them.
Have you ever seen a child look more like her mother???
Can you feel the love??
We got back to their condo and piled the kids up on the floor and fell fast to sleep. My cup truly running over.
The next day was Legoland.
(You should read Nolan’s face as extremely excited….but that’s his new ‘cool’ pose).
It was super, duper hot. We were sweating within 30 seconds of getting out of the car.
See the glisten in that photo? Yeah, that’s sweat. The humidity was 1,000,000%.
So imagine my anticipation of the water park, which I scheduled right after lunch (and paid extra for). You know, during the hottest part of the day? Well, let me give you a little tip for when you visit FL. God likes to throw the smack-down between 1-4 p.m. every single day in and around Orlando. The water park closed. The driving school closed. The boat ride closed. And Zachary, Josiah and I were stuck under a shelter waiting for the storm to pass, while Michael and Nolan were in another location doing the same.
Here we are being thunderstruck.
Finally we stumbled upon the build-a-car-and-race-it-down-the-track activity that was inside and out of the storm/humidity/heat. Zachary had long since removed his shirt (because we were supposed to head to the waterpark), and they made us dress him.
‘Why?’ Michael asked.
‘Um, we just like for everyone to be dressed.’
This was also the time that we discovered 2 huge blisters on Zachary’s poor feet from his new flip flops. Thankfully, I had read about the dangers of flip flops and packed tennis shoes. So we switched them, and the kids went to work.
See the cute guy in the green shirt? He outwardly loved this activity so much. Cars/engineering? Are you kidding me? He was in his element. At one point he came over to me and said, ‘Some bratty kid keeps stealing my wheels.’ He was really really into it.
After spending a really really really loooooooooong time trying to help the kids choose a lego set that was within their budget, we came upon a 12 minute 4-D Lego movie that wrapped up our final 15 minutes at the park. It was perfect. It almost redeemed the not-getting-to-do-the-water park fiasco.
(Note: Nolan’s ‘cool’ face)
After we left Legoland, we went to 1. Get coffee and 2. Check into our hotel. Ok, here is one thing. It is hard to drink coffee at a theme park. It’s hard to find it. It’s hard to drink it. (They’re pretty serious about not letting them on the rides.) And it’s hard to enjoy it slowly over conversation, the way coffee should be experienced. So we were feeling pretty pitiful by 7:30 p.m., when we finally got our lattes.
Next was check-in. Now, keep in mind that we had lost a night of sleep, spent from 7a-11p enjoying Erin’s family, and a full full day of Legomania at this point. So by 8 p.m. that evening, we were so ready to
put our kids to bed so we could have 1 minute to talk to each other settle in and relax in our hotel room.
Check-in took 2 hours. From 8p-10p. Our kids are 7, 5, and 4 years old. You know how that went. So we got to bed at close to 11 that night, and then had to be at our timeshare tour by 7:30 a.m. They had a ‘complimentary’ breakfast and a 90 minute (read: 4 HOUR) presentation. We brought all of our children and refused to put them in the convenient child-care area. Hey, 2 can play at this game. Our poor sales lady offered our kids crayons and coloring sheets ‘so we could talk.’ Ha. By the end our kids were playing ninja tag between all of the sales reps. (Coloring sheets neatly stacked and untouched.) Here’s how we ended the conversation.
‘Look, it took my husband 8 months to pick out my engagement ring after he had decided to propose to me. So, if you think you can convince him to commit to you for the rest of his life, you’re insane.’
Michael nodded and we gave them a blank stare until the
harassment sales pitch ended. I will say that we walked away actually considering it. But no way in the world would we buy something like that on the spot. No. Way.
The rest of that day we spent enjoying the resort. The facilities were really nice. It was packed, but really beautiful.
Not too bad for the city in Florida which is the furthest from the ocean.
That evening, our kids were cranky. It had been a lot of days with a little sleep. And by dinner time, they were starting to show signs of overindulgence. We had a serious talk with them about gratitude and decided to postpone the arcade, which we had promised they could do after dinner. Instead, they went straight to bed. As a mom in a country with so much, I vacillate between wanting my kids to experience all the fun things and teaching them an accurate perspective of the world. Most kids just don’t live like we do. It is never lost on me that 25,000 people die of starvation every single day, while I enjoy eggs benedict, gourmet coffee, and mouthwatering brick-oven pizza. And I don’t have this figured out. I love vacation. And I love the little children of the world. We sponsor our daughter, Reina, from Bolivia through World Vision. Her picture is in our home and we pray for her often. But sending a check and saying a prayer just doesn’t seem like much, when we live the way we do. I want my kids to understand. And I see the importance of family vacation. And I don’t have this figured out. I just don’t.
The next day was the Magic Kingdom. And in a wave of sheer brilliance and intense fear, I made these shirts the day we left. 2/3 of our kids are flight risks, and I was completely sure that they would wander away and get lost.
I had planned to be there from the secret 8 a.m. opening until the 11 p.m. Electric Lights Parade. We had one day, people. And I was going to squeeze every single possible magical moment from it. We were prepared. We had a plan. We had water, snacks, lunch, energy, and anticipation in our backpacks. And a few surprises up our sleeves.
By 8:05 a.m., we were running into trouble. Zachary kept complaining about his feet hurting, and I felt so bad about his blisters. But he had tennis shoes on. He just kept saying ‘it’s too tight!’ Upon examination, we discovered that we had put his shoes on with an extra pair of socks in the toes.
We rode the uncrowded (no really, it wasn’t bad) ferry over to the entrance. We entered the park and then something called ‘Disney’ came over us that allowed us to execute our plan with seamless precision for the next 16 hours. It. Was. MAGICAL. I can’t explain it. There were down pours. We happened to be sheltered. There were tons of people. We didn’t feel crowded. It was hot. We were cool (thanks to our clever mister bottles). I planned, Michael navigated. Our kids walked that entire park. By hour 10, they began to take turns in the stroller. And we took turns carrying them. Which wasn’t hard. I don’t know why. I carried Josiah 10 steps to our front door when we got home and thought I was going to die he was so heavy. If a ride was down, we stopped to enjoy fireworks. If a line was too long, we enjoyed overpriced lollipops. Our day was so efficient and enjoyable, we were able to ride Splash Mountain twice. And I think we would all agree that Splash Mountain is, hands down, the best ride in the Magic Kingdom. There were no catastrophes, no disappointments, no complaining, and in 16 hours, only one argument. No kidding.
The castmembers (Disney employees) kept telling us to have a magical day. We did. But it wasn’t magical because we were at the Magic Kingdom. It was magical because it was intentional together time. It could have happened anywhere. At a campfire. At the park. Around the dinner table. At a church picnic. This just had the added flare of Splash Mountain.
When Michael and I got the kids loaded in the van at midnight, gave each other ‘ring pound’ (when we fist pump our wedding rings together after accomplishing something only the 2 of us could accomplish), and smiled, we claimed a parenting victory.
One thing is for sure. Our family’s future includes more intentional together time. Whether that is on a bike ride at the local park, serving together at church, or another theme park trip. The destination isn’t so much the point as the value of being together. Thanks Walt Disney, for taking a risk and understanding the value of family time. The Coats family sincerely appreciates your dream realized.