Pacing

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Let me set the scene.

The year was 2009. Jon and I were a young married couple with no kids. I had just started my third teaching job (at my third school) in three years, and I desperately needed something bigger than myself or my classroom to fill my mind and my energy. Jon was in grad school at Stanford, which meant he was away in classes or studying for approximately 23 hours a day. And, because I was young and foolish, I decided it was the perfect time in life to run a marathon.

About a year earlier, right after we’d moved to Palo Alto, I had joined a weekly running club. This tight-knit group of people made up of grad students, Silicon Valley techies, and millionaire housewives became my second family during those long (and often lonely) years of grad-student-wife-ing and young teacher-ing. Somewhere along the countless hours and miles I spent running with these friends I realized that I actually had it in me to train for and run a marathon. It had always been a goal of mine and I figured “If not now, when?”. I roped one of my run club friends into coaching me for my first marathon, and I signed up for a December race. Done deal.

When race day came, I was ready. I had trained hard, I had a few of my run club friends by my side, and I knew I could do it. And I did. I ran the crap out of that marathon, and I finished 1 second faster than my goal time in 4 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Running that marathon taught me a lot about myself which alone could warrant several blog posts, or maybe even a memoir (The title would probably be something along the lines of “Consume Enough Electrolytes During A Marathon or You’ll End Up In The Hospital The Next Day With a Kidney Infection”). But running the marathon also taught me something else of importance to my bigger life story: Pacing.

Pacing is essentially finding your groove and pushing yourself just the right amount so you can make it for the long haul. Pacing is consistency. Pacing is making smart choices early on so you can make it to the finish line.

At this point in the global Coronavirus pandemic, I think we’ve all realized that we’re going to be in this thing for the long-haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And since we’re in a marathon, pacing will be essential. If we over-exert ourselves too much now, in the early stages of the race, we’ll never cross the finish line in one piece. Based on what I know about marathon pacing, this is how I plan on pacing myself through the months ahead as we cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Pacing Miles 0-3: Adrenaline Rush
The first few miles of a race are a blur of excitement. People line the streets cheering, the running pack is thick, and the miles fly by. Without even thinking about it, you are carried through the first few miles on a burst of adrenaline.

We have already been through the Coronavirus adrenaline rush. Everything changed so rapidly that the last three weeks are simply a blur of confusion and exhaustion. The mad rush to the store to stock up on supplies, the flurry of cancelled activities, the swift paring down of my world. I don’t know what day or week or month it is any more. I just know that the world is fundamentally different Now from how it was Before.

Pacing Miles 4-10: Finding Your Stride
After the initial rush in a race, you start to find your stride. You remember your training and you start to find a steady pace that you can maintain. In the running world, we often call this “conversation pace”: the pace at which you can still coherently have a conversation with someone running next to you–not so fast that you’re breathless and jumbled, but not so slow that you’ve lost sight of your end goal.

I think this is where we’re at currently in the Coronavirus Marathon. We need to remember our training: What is most important to me right now? Maybe it’s maintaining a routine and a schedule with your family. Maybe it’s returning to academics after a prolonged break. Maybe it’s setting reminders on your phone to drink enough water and exercise every day. Maybe it’s purposefully setting aside a block of time each day to do something that you want to do, not that you need to do. Maybe it’s logging off of social media for a time. Maybe it’s cooking comfort food. Whatever it is, I need to find a pattern for living that will be sustainable Now, for as long as this lasts.

Pacing Miles 11-20: Pull Deep
Most marathon training regimens include at least a dozen “long runs” that take you up to about 20 miles before your race. These long runs are training for the distance you’ll have to cover–not only physically (Can my body do this?), but also mentally and emotionally (Can I make myself do this even when I want to quit?).

We didn’t have much warning that we would be entering this Coronavirus marathon. Sure there were stories coming out of countries on the other side of the world, but that was There and I live Here. Had I known I’d soon be entering a marathon, I would have used those early months to practice some of my “long runs”: I would have stocked up on a 3-month supply of essential food and household items. I would have spent as much in-person time as I possibly could with the friends and family I wouldn’t be able to see for months on end. I would have gone to all of my favorite places and done all of my favorite things. But, alas, I did not.

Instead, I’m going to have to pull deep to make it through this long stretch of social distancing and physical isolation. Along the way I’ll probably get painful “blisters”–trying times and plenty of “I Quit” days. I’ll feel lost and unequipped because, well, I’m lost and unequipped. NOBODY in the history of the world has ever had to do what we are attempting to do right now to the scale at which we are attempting to do it. There is no course map or proven best practice. So I will have to rely on those ahead of me and those above me to help me make wise choices along the way. This is the long run, and it won’t always be easy.

Pacing Miles 20-26: Hitting The Wall
There is a point in every distance race that runners know well: The Wall. This is the point where–despite your training and adrenaline and preparation–you just hit the point where everything sucks. Your feet don’t want to move. Your lungs don’t want to breathe. Your legs feel like lead. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You think you can’t go on. And yet you do.

I imagine at some point during this Coronavirus marathon I will hit the wall. There will be some straw that will break my camel’s back. Maybe it will be some flippant thing someone says or some stupid Facebook post or my inability to find some item I’m craving at the grocery store. I don’t know what it will be, but there will be some point where I get to the point where I’m just done.

And that, my friends, is the point where you just start chanting the mantra (out loud if you need to): Breathe. One foot in front of the other. You can do this. You will do this.

And once you push through the wall, you have nearly made it.

Pacing Mile 26 – Mile 26.2: Strong Finish
The last 0.2 miles of the marathon are by far the hardest “miles” of the race. Often times you can literally see the finish line, yet somehow it feels so. Far. Away. And this is where you quit relying on yourself or your own abilities, and you just finish as strong as you can.

In my Coronavirus marathon, I will need to seek help outside of myself if I want to finish strong. Keeping myself and my family healthy, helping my kids learn and keep up with school, maintaining joy, developing patience, finding hope each day–I can’t do all of that on my own. Nor should I. So during those .2 miles that feel like a lifetime, I will lean heavy on my faith, God’s Word, and His promises. And that, my friends, is the strongest finish I can hope to find.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

So let us run hard, friends. Let us set an example for our children, our friends, and our neighbors about how this race should be run. And when the going gets tough–as it surely will–keep your eye on the prize. No race lasts forever.

The 5 Stages of Coronavirus Grief

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Yesterday marked one month since the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, was confirmed in the United States. This confirmed case was reported in Kirkland, Washington, just 3 miles away from our home. From that moment forward, our world started slowly–and then very rapidly–coming to a halt. Coronavirus had come to our community (How dare it?!) and our lives began to change day by day, moment by moment.

First the schools started to close. And then all of the schools closed. Then we started E-learning. And then E-learning was shut down and our beloved teachers were effectively given a government-mandated gag order. Then the restaurants started shutting down. And then all of the restaurants shut down. And then all of the parks closed. And then all of the gyms and the movie theaters and the dentists and doctors offices closed.

Little by little our big, open world began to shrink until all that was left was our own homes. And that is where we find ourselves today. Many parts of the country–and the world–are in a literal lockdown to try and stop the spread of this virus. This virus that, three short months ago, nobody had ever even heard of. And it’s all just so…crazy. Never in a million years would any of us have predicted something like this could happen, let alone that it actually would happen. To us. Here. Right now.

With all of this change, I’ve definitely done some grieving. I’ve grieved over the communities around the world that have been shattered by sickness and death. I’ve grieved over the European vacation that we had to cancel.  I’ve grieved over the friends and family that I desperately want to see but am not allowed to be in contact with. I’ve grieved over the pace and routine of life that I used to have. I’ve grieved over an unknown future.

As I was thinking about this grief, it reminded me of the 5 stages of grief that psychologists use to describe the stages we go through while mourning. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the stages fit quite well with what I’m experiencing right now with my own Coronavirus Grief.

  1. Denial and Isolation
    The first stage is to deny the reality of the situation: “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening.”When we first started seeing news clips about this strange new virus that had surfaced in China, it felt very distant. And even when the news moved much closer to home (the first couple dozen confirmed US COVID-19 cases, and deaths, all happened right there in our community), it still felt like something beyond me. It felt like something happening to others, but it wouldn’t actually touch my life in any tangible way. I was happy enough to ignore it and try to move on with my life.
  2. Anger
    But before long, the Coronavirus did start to touch my life in tangible ways. And I didn’t like it. At all. When my kids’ schools started closing and the very-important-things I did in my life all started getting cancelled I was mad. The injustice! I resented the virus, a thing that does not care one iota how I feel about it. And then I would feel guilty for being angry about my very-important-things being cancelled when there were much bigger problems in the world…and that would make me feel even more angry.
  3. Bargaining
    So as I continued my journey of feeling helpless and powerless I attempted to regain control through my actions. If only I could organize our days at home better the time would pass more easily. If only I could write letters to our political leaders, they would give us access to our education again or impose orders that would keep people safer and healthier. If only I could do something different, something more,  then things would all be better.
  4. Depression
    But things have not gotten better, at least not here. We’ve had neighbors die. Our healthcare workers are being forced to reuse personal protective equipment because they don’t have enough supplies to tend to the large number of patients. Our friends and family members are becoming unemployed. We miss people and places and just a basic sense of freedom. And all of these things are, well, sad. The loss we are experiencing day-in and day-out is a heavy burden to carry. It. Is. Hard.
  5. Acceptance
    Despite it all, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, and after much exasperation, I have come to realize that there is, in fact, nothing I could do to change these circumstances. I am not responsible for what has happened, I am not responsible for the actions of other people, I am not responsible for the policies that are put into place during these times.I am responsible for one thing, and one thing only: me. And that, I can change for the better. I can choose to find joy each day. I can choose to help others. I can choose to do what I think is right. I can choose to throw out the rule book and eat ice cream for breakfast. I can pray. I can choose love and hope in the midst of pain and confusion. And in the end, I know that this will make a difference. Probably not for the world, but for my world.So that is where I’m at today, approximately one month in to our foray of worldwide pandemics. I will continue to look for the good, to love mine the best that I can, and eat lots of home-baked carbs along the way (Trust me, the carbs help.).

    And some day–maybe 3 weeks from now, or maybe a year from now–we will come out of this thing. We will come out as changed people, because grief never allows us to remain the same. We will look back at what we have overcome and how we persevered, and we will be better for it.

    We’ve got this, friends! I can’t wait to see you on the other side, better than ever.

 

 

How To Homeschool On The Fly In The Age Of The Coronavirus

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Late last night our school district outside of Seattle became the first school district in the nation to close due to concerns about the Coronavirus. Effective immediately, and for an indefinite period of time, all schools are closed and shifting to a remote learning model “on the cloud”. Translation: ready or or not, we’re all about to homeschool!

While I 100% support our district’s decision to move to this model, I know from experience how daunting the task ahead will be for families. I used to be a classroom teacher, and I’ve homeschooled before. Teaching is my jam, but helping my own children learn at home was a totally different league.  Let’s just say there’s a very good reason why I’m not still homeschooling.

My kids were only 3- and 5-year olds the last time I attempted homeschooling, so I’m definitely a bit out of practice (And I’ve never done this with a 1st grader, a 3rd grader, and a preschooler, as I’m about to attempt.). While I am by no means a homeschooling (or “cloud schooling”) expert, I did pick up a few tips and tricks during our oh-so-fun year of “Mommy School” that I want to pass along. Just remember: we’re all in this (separately) together!

Set Expectations
Make sure the kids know that this isn’t just a never-ending weekend. These days at home will be a learning time that they will be expected to participate in the same as if they were away at school. Attendance will be taken, they will need to check in for certain online classes, and they will have assignments to complete within specific time frames. Bonus: They can do it all in their pajamas with their dog curled up underfoot.

Gather Supplies
For our particular scenario, students will need a computer, internet access, and a few  physical supplies in order to attend Coronavirus School.

Our school district has come up with a plan to move all learning “outside the four walls of the school and onto the cloud”, which basically means kids will be completing and/or submitting their school work online. Each physical class in the real world now has a virtual Google Classroom where students and teachers can interact with each other virtually. It’s actually really cool! And, since we had a bit of warning that this was coming, teachers spent the school day yesterday as a bridge day. They trained students how to use these new-to-them online tools and had time to practice using them under teacher guidance. In addition, our school district has made available computing devices and WiFi hotspots for any students that need them in order to complete their “cloud learning” at home. Really, I can’t believe how well-planned this whole thing is on such short notice and in such an unprecedented circumstance!

Each of my kids also came home yesterday with a backpack full of physical tools (textbooks, workbooks writing journals, books) to use at home. In addition to these supplies, it will probably be a good idea to have basic school supplies on hand. This is what I’m going to have available in our homeschool space (More on that in the next section!):
-Pencils
-Pencil Sharpener (At the beginning of the school year I bought this fancy sharpener and it’s been a great tool to have at home!)
-Crayons/markers/colored pencils
-White printer paper
-Lined notebook paper
-Headphones (so my kids can work on their computers simultaneously with minimal disruptions to each other).
-Computer microphone (we had to get one for my third grader because his PC doesn’t have a built-in microphone)
-Small dry erase boards with markers and erasers
-Ibuprofen (for Teacher-Mom)

Since we are yet to put any of this into practice, I’m sure this list will evolve over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you want to stock up you can find most of these items in the Dollar store (Or, if you don’t want to even set foot in the world of viral outbreak, just have them delivered from Amazon).

Set up Your Space
It’s important for you (Teacher-Mom or Teacher-Dad) and for the kids to have a dedicated space for school at home. This can be the kitchen table (This is a great choice because it’s central and you can spread out a lot of junk learning tools on it at once) or a home office with tables  set up for the kids. Or, really, just sitting on the floor in a hallway. For the love, do NOT set up school near a TV/XBox/Switch/Pokemon card collection that will be more enticing than the schoolwork that lies ahead!

Schedule Your Day
You need a plan some structure for your day or you will all go crazy and quite possibly end up in a mental institute (Which is probably quite clean and Coronavirus-free, actually, so that might not be a terrible back-up plan).

As you make your “School Day on The Cloud” schedule, think about what will work best for your family, and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go. Set a time in your day when schoolwork will get done–maybe this is first thing in the morning when everyone is fresh, or maybe it’s in the evening after Mom and Dad get home from work. Agree on an amount of work and/or an amount of time that you will dedicate to schoolwork during the first chunk of work time, then take a break (this is when you kick your kids outside for 30 minutes to roll around in the mud puddles). If your kid usually eats snack at school, eat a snack at the same time. Try to have lunch at the same time every day…again, consistency is key. Plan a block of time for independent or shared reading somewhere in there, then schedule a second chunk of work time later in the day (if you can muster it) and call it a day.

A typical homeschool day usually lasts only 2-4 hours, compared to 6.5 in a regular school day. YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO 6 HOURS OF SCHOOL “ON THE CLOUD” (Sorry to my childrens’ teachers who are probably reading this, but I’m just telling it how it is in the real world!). Just do what you need to do, and don’t burn yourselves out.

I’m using a checklist with my kids so they know what needs to be accomplished each day and can move at their own pace. Here is the checklist I’ve made for my kids to follow:
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What About Younger Siblings?
Great question! I have a preschooler who will be joining us on this grand learning adventure, so I will also be curious to see how this aspect all plays out in practice. Some tactics I’ve tried before to help minimize the distraction of a younger sibling with marginal success:
-Having simple activities prepped and available that the younger sibling can work on independently while I assist the older sibling(s). Think: coloring pages, simple puzzles, Play-Doh, building with blocks, Duplos, or an iPad with noise cancelling headphones (#kiddingnotkidding).
-Do “school time” during the younger sibling’s nap time
-Childcare swap with a neighbor or trusted friend so you can take turns playing with younger siblings and helping your school-aged kids complete their schoolwork.
-Hire a teenage babysitter (They’re all out of school right now, too!) to come entertain one or more children while you help your school-aged child.
-(Weather permitting) move school outside–younger siblings can play outside while you sit in the grass or at a picnic table to do schoolwork with your child
-Let your school-aged child work independently while you care for the younger sibling.
-Involve the younger sibling in the learning. Have your school-aged child read to them or teach them a concept they’re learning about (Teaching is the best tool for testing comprehension!).
-Turn on Frozen 2 in another room and walk away.

Use Bribery Liberally
Please don’t judge me, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, and bribes work wonders. Maybe the kids earn screen time for finishing assignments. Or a trip to the drive-thru for ice cream after they’ve chosen to read rather than squabble with their siblings for __ minutes. We’re only trying to make it through a few weeks here, so no long-term habits are going to have time to fully grab root–I say bribe away!

Plan Enrichment
School is all well and good, but we all need a break from the rigor every now and then. Consider both academic and non-academic enrichment you can offer your children while they’re at home to help keep everyone’s minds and bodies moving. And since we’re trying to maintain social distancing, here are some ideas you can implement from the comfort of your own home.

Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Learning games such as Uno, Cribbage, Chess, Scrabble, and Bananarams
-Do a puzzle
-Read! You can even ask Alexa to tell you a story and “she” will comply
-Play academic games on a website like Starfallor ABCMouse (subscription required)
-Write a letter to someone–they would probably love to hear how you’re doing in Ground Zero of the Coronavirus Apocalypse!
Do a science experiment 

Non-Academic Enrichment Ideas:
-Get moving with an app like Go Noodle! or Cosmic Kids Yoga
-Bake (Math, Literacy, and Science all wrapped up in one!)
-Arts and crafts (You can literally just pull stuff out of your recycling bin and tell your kids to get creative with it!)
-Make homemade Play-Doh or Slime
-Create a song in Chrome Music Lab

Give Yourself Grace and Space
School-at-home can be stressful. There is a different dynamic when the environment and the people involved in school change, and this is a process that can take a very long time to feel comfortable. Give yourself (And your kids! And the teachers!) grace–this is a big learning curve!

Also, give yourself physical space to decompress. If things in the living room-schoolroom start to get rowdy or out of control or just feel off, take a break.  Maybe this means taking your kids outside for a walk around the neighborhood or banishing everyone to their bedrooms for “silent reading” so you can take a shower and eat the chocolate you have hidden in the laundry room. After everyone catches their breath, come back together and begin again–I promise, you’ll all feel better!

And if all else fails, just remember: This, too, shall pass.

Stay healthy out there, friends!

Diary From Ground Zero: A Day In The Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Apocalypse

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So, you may have heard of this little thing called the Coronavirus. Like an Instagram darling, Coronavirus is this little-known “virus next door” that made a big stage debut a couple of months ago and now, overnight, it’s famous. And like any good Influencer, Coronavirus is changing the way the world acts and thinks and eats and shops and dresses.

Unfortunately for me, I happen to be living right smack dab in the center of the USA Coronavirus Special. In the past week, our community became the host of not only the first confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the United States, but also the first fatalities. Not exactly the kind of bragging rights you want for your hometown (Who’s doing the PR for this thing, anyway?!).

It’s been a wild ride so far, and I have a feeling things are going to get even crazier before this whole thing packs up and moves on (It will pack up and move on eventually, won’t it?). And just in case you’re so lucky as to not be living in Coronavirus Ground Zero, here’s a little glimpse into what a day in the epicenter is actually like:

2:00 AM 
Startle awake because you hear your child coughing. Lie in bed intently listening to her coughs and try to decipher if they sound “wheezy” or “wet”. Determine that the coughs are most certainly wet, and thank the stars for the first time that something is moist.

5:00 AM 
Wake up early so you can get a head start on the day before your kids are up. Open a fresh tube of Lysol wipes and wipe down every hard surface in your home. And, since she’s constantly touched by your children, wipe down the dog for good measure.

7:00 AM
Your children wake up and come downstairs. After you feed them a hearty breakfast, draw up their morning baths. Just to be safe, replace the water with Purell hand sanitizer. Hey, good clean fun!

8:30 AM
Get shoes and backpacks for school. Wrap the children in Saran Wrap and cover the exposed skin on their faces with N95 masks.

9:00 AM
After dropping off the children at school, drive to the grocery store to stock up for…something. Everyone else is doing it, so this definitely seems like the next right choice.

9:10 AM
Get stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into the grocery store parking lot. Listen to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It while your car idles.

9:40 AM
Finally find a parking space after driving in circles, arcs, and even rhombuses through the parking lot. Congratulate yourself because you haven’t practiced this much Geometry since 8th grade math!

9:45 AM
Enter the grocery store and get to work shopping. Well, at least you would get to work shopping if there was anything left to shop for. Go down the bread aisle: empty. Go down the bottled water aisle: empty. Go down the hand sanitizer/disinfectant/soap aisle: empty. Go down the toilet paper aisle: empty (WHY?!?! What is this virus doing to our bowels that I don’t know about?! I blame #fakenews. Or maybe we need all the toilet paper so we can collect toilet paper rolls to do crafts when we’re all locked down in quarantine? Or maybe if I wrap myself up in toilet paper like a mummy the virus will take one look at me and take a hike? Whatever the non-reason, decide that you definitely need more TP in your life.).

10:45 AM
Leave the grocery store empty-handed and defeated…well, mostly defeated (they still had wine).

11:00 AM
Contemplate your options for the afternoon. Do you A) Risk going out into public again and possibly catching/carrying/transferring a disease of mass destruction, or B) Go home and start digging your safety bunker in the backyard. Decide it’s not worth the risk and head home to open that first bottle of wine.

12:30 PM
Get a robo-call from your kids’ school informing you that all day tomorrow the entire school district is shutting down for a staff training on how to “conduct learning outside the four walls of the school building”. Translation: For an extended period of time and with an unknown end-date, I’m going to have my constantly bickering kids darling children home with me wreaking havoc learning under the abundant patience of my love.

1:00 PM
Scan your only reliable news resource (Facebook) for the latest updates on the spread of Coronavirus in your community. Based on the plethora of information, decide that you are most certainly going to die and/or be totally fine.

2:00 PM
Wash your hands for the 2,378th time today. Notice that your skin is red and dry and about to fall off your body in a burning pile of over-scrubbed detritus. Scrub them harder.

3:00 PM
Go to the school to pick up your children. Avoid these moms in the school pick-up area: The Prepper (and her flippant “I told you so!” comments), The Hypochodirac (you’ll know her because she’ll be wearing microporous coveralls and a gas mask), The Hippie (she’ll smell like patchouli and be slinging essential oils and elderberry syrup out of the back of her Subaru), and The Politician (at least she’ll know which political party is responsible for this whole mess).

4:00 PM
Get the kids home from school and unpack their backpacks. Find a pile of used tissue, two half-eaten sandwiches, and a wad of already-chewed gum. Marvel at how no children under the age of 15 have contracted Coronavirus yet.

5:00 PM
Cook dinner. Choose between frozen foods and non-perishables from the pantry since the grocery store was out of literally everything. Decide on freshly breaded chicken cutlets hand-shaped into whimsical shapes (frozen dino nuggets) and organic pasta with a rich, creamy cheese sauce (mac ‘n cheese). Arrange a plate of crudité (carrot sticks) to round out your gourmet Apocalyptic meal.

6:30 PM
For your post-dinner entertainment, have a friendly family competition with “minute to win it” games. Include classics like Who Can Wash Their Hands The Longest and How Do We Unlock Mommy’s Cellphone To Call 911 If You Find Her Unresponsive. The prize is a nice, big squirt of hand sanitizer (Spoiler alert: everyone wins!!!).

7:30 PM
Put the kids to bed early so you can collect yourself and plan for a previously unscheduled day off of school. Do the calculations and realize that–between holidays and snow days and flood days and teacher grading days and school conferences–your children have actually only gone to school 3.2 days thus far in the school year.

8:00 PM
Pour yourself a glass of wine. After all, alcohol is a disinfectant.

9:00 PM
Update your will on lastminutelawyers.com. Make sure to equally distribute your treasure trove of toilet paper and hand sanitizer among your children.

10:00 PM
Congratulate yourself, because YOU MADE IT! You have survived another day in the Coronavirus Hot Zone without so much as a sniffle. Reward yourself by going to Amazon and ordering yourself a trophy (manufactured in a virus-free factory in China). Scroll past the $200 bottles of hand sanitizer and $500 disposable paper masks before you checkout. Upon checkout, note that your order is estimated to arrive on March 5…2022. Give yourself a mental trophy instead.

10:30 PM
Call it a night…and don’t let the Coronavirus bugs bite!

Whether you live here in Ground Zero or you have your day coming… may the odds be ever in our favor!

 

 

Four, For Now

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This week I’ve been feeling all the feels as we approach yet another family milestone. Tomorrow is Hannah’s birthday and, while it’s not a particularly monumental birthday in the general timeline of birthdays, for me it feels huge. You see, Hannah is my baby. She’s the third child (and final) child who almost didn’t happen, and she’s the daughter who I never thought I would have. Her birth order and gender give her a unique place in our family, and somehow that makes each of her milestones all the more meaningful.

Somehow four feels very big to me. When she was three I could get away with calling her a preschooler or even a toddler. But now? Now she’s four. She’s big. She’s a certifiable kid. She has one more year until kindergarten. And then that’s it.

There’s not another baby in the queue coming up behind her that I can snuggle and rock through the night. As Hannah ages out of this stage of life, my days of nursing and diaper changes and stroller walks are over forever. And as much as I struggled through some of those days of nursing and diaper changes and stroller walks, I will miss them deeply. The babyhood years with my children were some of the most exhausting, rewarding, trying, learning, messy, beautiful years of my life. A piece of me (mostly the piece that’s not nursing around the clock or changing infinity million diapers or walking fussy babies in the stroller at 3 AM) is sad to see them end.

But end they must, because God’s work is not yet done.

I can’t wait to see what these next few years and the next few years beyond that hold in store for you. I can’t wait to see which interests you pursue and which passions come to define you. I can’t wait to see which paths you pursue in your life. Maybe you’ll be a “baby doctor”–and if those 87 baby dolls that you’ve patched up in our living room are any testament to your skills, you’ll be a darn good one. Or maybe you’ll continue down the path of a fashionista and you’ll transform the world one yoga-pants-wearing woman at a time. Or maybe you’ll be a CEO of your own Fortune 500 company (we all know who wears the pants in this family). Whatever you choose to do I know that you’ll bring your whole sweet, sassy, happy self into it. And as long as you do you, it will be amazing.

I see hope and joy for your future. I see the love you have and the love you give, and I know you will impact the world for the better. I see the curiosity you have for the world around you, and I know that you will help others to see things in new ways. I see the growth you have already made in four short years, and I look forward to the leaps and bounds that still await you. You, my precious daughter, are bound for greatness.

And while I will cherish your baby days and already anticipate your future, even more than any of that I will celebrate who you are today. You are four now, for now. As quickly as the last stage passed, this one, too, will soon be gone. Today is a gift, and I plan on enjoying every bit of it with you while we still have it. Let’s be silly and snuggly and throw tantrums when we need to. Because you are four, but only for now.

I love you, sweet Hannah Doreen. Happy fourth birthday–let’s make it the best one yet!

 

 

The Case For Traveling With Children

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If you follow me on social media, you may be aware that we’ve been living in a winter wonderland this week. Starting on Sunday evening our weather turned arctic. We got enough snow to bury all of our outdoor toys (yep, the same toys that I told the kids to put away at least 5,483 times) and cancel school for infinity days. During our unexpected immersive experience in the worlds of Narnia and Frozen, I had plenty of time to sit at home and dream about being somewhere else.

Thankfully, that “somewhere else” happens to be a place we’re actually going in the not-so-distant future. This spring we’re taking our whole family–Mom, Dad, 9-Year Old Trouble Maker, 7-Year Old Trouble Maker, and 4 Year-Old Barely Potty Trained Princess–to Europe. Like, on a 16-hour-flight-to-a-country-where-we-don’t-speak-the-language Europe.

When we first started planning The Big Trip, Hubs and I went back and forth on whether or not we should bring our kids with us or just bribe the grandparents to stay with our offspring so we could galavant carelessly across the pond. After all, bringing kids along on travels adds extra stress and expense and hardship. Traveling with kids can be a very different, very anxiety-producing experience for the adults in their party. In the end, though, we decided that the difficulty–the challenge–of traveling with our kids would be worth it: for us and for them.

For any of you who are scared off by the idea of traveling with your kids, let me present my case for why you should take them along for the ride:

Traveling with kids helps them contribute to decision making.
When we travel with our kids we let them help with some of the planning for our trip. We’ll look over guide books and websites about the places we’ll be traveling to and allow our kids to make suggestions of things they would like to see or places they would like to go. We don’t always heed every suggestion they make, but at least they start to feel some ownership for the experience they’re helping to create.

Traveling with kids helps them develop responsibility skills.
We have our kids help pack their travel bags and keep track of their belongings while we’re traveling. What? You can’t find your Hyper-Strike Battle Beyblade? And whose job was it to put all of your toys back in your backpack before we left the hotel? Yours?
Yep. Responsibility.

Traveling with kids helps them see the world from a different perspective.
Wherever you go–whether it’s a new city an hour away or a country on the other side of the world–will have people and experiences different from what your kids experience at home. Meeting different people living in different ways helps kids develop a more flexible idea of what “normal” is. In this way, seeing things from a different perspective can help kids develop empathy for others and challenge them to try new things in their own lives.

Traveling with kids forces kids to step out of their comfort zone.
Almost certainly, kids who travel will be forced to try new experiences. New places to sleep, new foods, new languages, new modes of transportation, new ideas. Sometimes–often times–those new experiences can feel uncomfortable at first. When there is no other option than “The New”, however, you are forced to try it…or at the very least observe it. These are the character-building encounters that every kid should experience.

Traveling with kids is great for family bonding.
By the very nature of travel, you will spend a significant time together as a family. In our upcoming trip our family will spend 336 consecutive hours together. Compared to the 140 hours we would spend with all of us together at home during the same time period, that’s a huge jump in Quantity Time points. And it’s not only a lot of time, but it’s quality time. We will try new things and visit new places and learn new things–all together.

Traveling with kids teaches them “forced flexibility”.
Every time something doesn’t go according to plan while you’re traveling–which is quite often–you have to be flexible. Delayed flight? Flexible. Missed the bus and have to wait 20 minutes for the next one? Flexible. Want to eat a cheeseburger but there’s only sushi on the menu? Flexible. There are a lot of uncontrollable variables in travel, and this forced flexibility makes kids more resilient.

Traveling with kids gives them real-world experiences.
It’s one thing to read about ancient Rome or tropical rainforests, but it is an entirely different thing to experience those things in the flesh. Actually seeing and feeling and learning about new places and cultures can spark a zeal for learning and further exploration that no other experience can.

Traveling with kids is good for socialization.
When you travel you are forced to interact with new people: taxi drivers, tour guides, waiters, commuters on the subway. By interacting with new people on a daily basis, kids can learn valuable lessons in how to approach and interact with people. By seeing and meeting people who are different–and yet the same–as them can help kids develop altruism and a greater respect for all people. When kids return home, these social skills can help them more confident and accepting when they meet new people.

Traveling with kids gives them memories that will last a lifetime.
Travel gives your family a shared experience and a shared history that you will all remember for the rest of your lives. Somehow even the bad memories of travel (I’m looking at you, puke-covered Fiat) tend to turn into good/happy/hilarious memories over time. I can’t tell you a single birthday gift that I received as a child, but I can easily recount for you in vivid detail every trip my family took together growing up. These memories are the ones your family will carry with them forever.

So, even though travel with kids is hardly convenient, it is always worth it. I can’t wait to make new memories with our kids this April–no matter how crazy or comical they end up being!

 

How To Prepare For S***

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With the exception of a few years of living out my wanderlust dreams, I’ve spent my whole life living in “Seattle” (And by “Seattle”, I mean within a 100-mile radius of the city for which everyone else in the world defines this region of the country). Having lived here for so long, I am quite attune to the quirks and curiosities of this place. Nothing, however, can prepare you for the absolute mayhem that ensues each winter when this one crazy thing happens. It’s such a taboo subject that many Seattleites refer to it as a 4-letter word: s***.

That’s right, SNOW.

Now I don’t know what it’s like when it snows where you come from, but in Seattle it’s quite a spectacle. People lose their minds and all sense of normalcy goes out the window. If you’re new to a Seattle winter, your first Seattle snowstorm might catch you off guard. And since we officially have s*** in the Seattle forecast for most of this upcoming week, I thought I’d help you out and provide a handy little guide.

How To Prepare For A Seattle Snowstorm

  1. Check your phone’s weather app and get very nervous-cited (nervous + excited) when you see snowflakes. Screenshot the snowflakes and post them to Facebook.
  2. Pray to God and Cliff Mass that snow won’t impede (A) Your ability to receive emergency services should the need arise, or (B) the Seahawks playoff game.
  3. Drive as fast as you can (Read: very close to the posted speed limit) to your nearest grocery store. Buy all of the bread and milk. Squeeze all of your loaves and jugs into your Subaru.
  4. Drive over to Target and buy a sled. And a snowball maker. And an igloo snow block mold. And snow chalk. Why didn’t they have these things when we were kids?!
  5. When you get home, realize you don’t have room in your fridge for all of the milk you just bought. Move the milk outside onto your deck because it’s as cold as a freezer out there right now anyway. Hope raccoons and squirrels aren’t interested in your milk.
  6. Pull out the boxes of snow clothes that have been packed away in your garage since last March. Realize that 2 out of your 3 children have outgrown their previous season’s winter wardrobe.
  7. Return to Target and sift through the bikinis and sombreros they put out the day after New Years so you can buy two pairs of snow bibs, two pairs of gloves, and two pairs of boots. They only have snow bibs that are 3 sizes too big, and all of the gender-neutral boots left with the Thanksgiving turkey. Hope your sons are good at layering and that they enjoy pink unicorn footwear.
  8. Check your weather app again. Yep! Still Snowflakes!
  9. Stop at the gas station on the way home so you can fill up your car and gas cans for your generator.
  10. When you get home, check your email. Read all 78 emails from various organizations in your community that want to remind you of their inclement weather policies.
  11. Set up a security camera pointing toward that road with a hill that tends to get extra icy. Hope for some poor saps to try and make it up that hill in their car and, in turn, make you a YouTube millionaire.
  12. Keep pipes from freezing by turning every faucet in your house to a slow drip. If you have kids, however, you may skip this step. Like every light in your house, every faucet in your house is already on.
  13. Double check your weather app. YEP, STILL SNOWFLAKES!!!
  14. Create a winter home emergency kit for the chance you may not be able to leave your house for several days with your children. Your kit should include, at a minimum: wine, chocolates, Ibuprofen, and noise-canceling headphones.
  15. Collect all of your kids’ kinetic sand and slime-making materials. These may come in handy as de-icers tomorrow morning.
  16. Go to bed with visions of snowflakes dancing in your head.
  17. Wake up the next morning and run to the window to see if it snowed! Even though it’s almost 8:00AM, it’s still pitch black outside and you can’t see a darn thing. Flip on some lights and squint really hard. Is that…? Could it be…?! Yes! It is. Rain. Just rain. Lots of rain.

The End.

Here’s to whatever this week holds, Seattle friends!

The Box

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The scene: New Years Eve 1999. I am 16 years old, a junior in high school. We are on the verge of Y2K and everyone is a bit on edge wondering if the world as we know it is about to collapse and sink into chaos. On this fateful night, all of our nearest and dearest gather together: My parents, my younger sisters (12 year-old middle schoolers), my grandparents, and our closest family friends, the Lindner family. We sit together in the living room of my parents’ new house that they had just finished building the year before. In the middle of the room sits an empty box.

***

For twenty years that box, now full of treasures, sat on a shelf in my parents’ storage closet.  Twenty years seemed like a long time to wait. During that time my sisters and I graduated high school, completed college, started our careers, got married, and had children. Time passed and life happened. As we–the children of the family–grew up and began lives of our own, The Box became a constant subtle reminder of our family’s shared history.

Many times we would completely forget about The Box. And then someone would go into the closet to pull out extra winter gloves or a box of childrens books for new grandchildren, and we would catch a glimpse of The Box tucked away on its shelf. Then we would remember: This is where we came from. As time went on we all forgot what was actually in The Box, but the mystery just added to its allure.

***

As New Years Day 2020 approached, excitement was in the air–not just because we were approaching a new year, a new decade, a new beginning, but because this was the year we could finally open The Box.

We made plans to gather together once more so we could open The Box together. This time, though, it required quite a bit of planning. What originally was two families totaling 8 people had now grown into six families consisting of 18 people from two states and six different cities. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we set a date for January 1st, 2020.

On New Years Day we gathered together once more in the same living room of my parents’ house. And in the center of the room sat The Box.

***

As we all watched on with eagerness, my dad and his best friend, Ed Lindner, did the honors of cutting the seal on The Box. When they lifted the lid we could finally see the latent treasures. There were newspapers (the real estate section was quite enlightening/depressing, depending on how you look at it), magazines (Teen People with a 17 year-old Brittany Spears on the cover), and advertisements (Circuit City was having a blowout sale on the brand new flat screen TVs). There were relics of our youth: Beanie Babies (Still worth exactly nothing, despite our hopes that we’d be millionaires from their popularity and rarity 20 years in the future), McDonald’s toys (my kids’ favorite), a baseball. There were mementos of our past lives: ribbons and awards, photos, my homecoming corsage. There was even a gold coin.

None of the treasures, however, compared to the stack of envelopes stacked in the center of The Box. For inside these envelopes laid the hopes and deepest thoughts of the former selves of the people gathered in that room.

Each envelope bore the name of one of The Boxes founding members, and inside each envelope was a questionnaire we had filled out. The surveys included everything from our favorite places to our thoughts about what life would be like in the future. The answers were both hilarious and touching. As we went around the room reading our “letters” aloud there were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy over who we are and how far we have come. Joy over the relationships that have endured and the new ones that have come. Sadness over what and who we have lost.

We spent hours that New Years Day going through the letters and the contents of The Box. And as we did, I was reminded of the power of a dream and how precious this life is.

When we created The Box I was a teenage girl dreaming of the life I now live. I had dreamed of some day being able to travel and teach and start a family. And now, 20 years later, I can truly say that I have lived the dream. Since the box’s creation, I have traveled to over a dozen countries and even spent time living abroad (a dream I had but wasn’t even bold enough to put down in writing). I got to live out my childhood dream of being a teacher and having my own classrooms of full of real-life students. I’ve been married to my one true love for nearly 14 years, and together we have 3 beautiful, crazy children. The life I dreamed of 20 years ago is my current reality–complete with the peaks and valleys of a life truly lived.

I know that things could have easily turned out differently for me–that my dreams could have produced a different reality–but I suppose I was lucky. Or maybe, just maybe, the dreams I had as a girl were placed in me as a guidebook. The life I was supposed to live already had a roadmap, and it was simply up to me to stay the course. My hopes drove my desires, which led to my doings. And by staying close to the path that had already been carved out for me, my dreams really did come true.

***

I have no idea what the next 20 years will hold for me, but I can’t wait to find out. In another 20 years I will be in my mid-50’s with three adult children. My world and the world around me will surely have changed yet again. And despite the changes that lie ahead, I look forward to that day 20 years from now. That day when I will look back and realize I’ve lived my own dream.

The 12 Days of Christmas a Mom Really Wants

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The Christmas season is fully upon us, which means I’m streaming my Pandora Christmas stations during all waking hours. My Christmas music streaming is done much to the joy of my husband and children, who especially love that I treat the Christmas music station as my own personal sing-along karaoke.

One of the more amusing Christmas songs that always pops up on my playlist is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Everyone knows the song: “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.” As the song progresses we learn about all of the glorious gifts bestowed upon the recipient: Two turtle doves, three french hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, six geese a-laying, seven swans a swimming (So many birds!!)…and all the way up to twelve drummers drumming.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if my true love gave me a boatload of birds to take care of for Christmas, I’d chalk that right up there with receiving a toilet scrub brush and some rubber gloves. No thank you, sir. No, if my true love gave to me what I really wanted, it would look something like this:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me one whole day off to do whatever I wanted.
I don’t even know where I would start, but it would for sure involve a lot of not-cleaning and not-responding to the needs/wants/whims of , well, anyone not named Me. We could just stop right here with this one and be set for life, but this is the 12 days of Christmas, so we’ll keep going.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two solid days of your time checking off items from your “Honey Do” list (that I so kindly wrote out for you).
Let’s turn that “Honey Do” list into a “Honey Done” list. I know that a lot of the things on that list don’t bother you because you’re away in an office for 10 hours a day…but my office happens to be our house, and they drive me bonkers! That little patch of the wall that still needs to be painted, the rattling pipe, the drawers that still need pulls (that we already bought) installed. Please and thank you.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three (proper) massages.
No funny business, just a good ‘ol back rub. And if you’re not up to the task, you’re welcome to send me off to the spa.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four weekends per month to sleep in.
Sleep is the one thing I dream about when I am awake. You, my friend, could make my wildest dreams come true.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five opportunities to work out every week.
How amazing would it be to just go to the gym or hit the pavement any time I wanted? No need to shlep along unruly children or push a whiny toddler in the stroller. I would actually have a legitimate purpose for wearing yoga pants and running shoes every day. Yes, this would be bliss.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six hours of time washing and detailing my minivan.
I’m not sure that 6 hours would be enough time to remove the slop and grime and pulverized goldfish crackers from my kid-mobile, but you have to start somewhere. I would absolutely love to sit down in that car some day and be reminded of the carpet’s natural color and look through windows that are not smeared with sticky handprints.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven days off of bedtime duty every week.
Bedtime is perhaps my least favorite part of any given day. The cajoling, the whining, the arguing, the pushing of buttons when my buttons are already worn out from the day. How amazing would it be to just give my kids a hug and a kiss goodnight, then sit down with a book and a cup of tea while the nighttime chaos unfolded out of earshot? SUPER-amazing, that’s how amazing it would be.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight hours of quality time with our family doing whatever I plan for us.
My true love does not (under normal circumstances) enjoy “adventuring” as I call it. Neither do two out of my three children. They’re much happier staying home working on a project or playing video games with their friends. I, on the other hand, am like a caged bird that needs to spread her wings.

For one solid day I’d like to take the whole family and go to all the places, do all the things, eat at all the restaurants, and enjoy all the time together. Everyone would be happy and well-rested and cooperative and excited to see all of the wonderful things I had planned for us. They would marvel at the beautiful places in nature we would visit and they would appreciate the new culinary journeys I would take them on. At the end of the day they would thank me for opening their eyes to new experiences.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine months of carpooling service for our children.
I spend approximately 27 hours a day driving my children to and fro. If someone could just help me drive kids to school and sports and clubs and playdates I would have enough time to do, well, everything. And I’m not even asking for a whole year of driving services. Nine months, from September-May, should do just fine for now. I’m so magnanimous.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten loads of laundry completed by someone other than myself.
In a family with three young children I do laundry every. Single. Day. Of all my domestic chores, laundry is the most consistent time-suck. I would love to have help every now and then with completing full loads of laundry. And by completing, I mean sorting, washing, drying, ironing/folding, and putting away everything. Not just one step in the process as is occasionally offered, but the whole shebang.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven fresh, healthy dinners prepped, served, and cleaned up for our family.
Even though I’ve been an “adult” for quite some time now, the fact that I have to make dinner every day is still surprising to me. Growing up I rarely gave dinner a thought because it always just appeared on our dinner table at 6PM. Now that I’m in charge of the whole dinner rigamarole, however, dinner carries quite a different connotation in my mind. Dinner requires planning, time to prep, time to cook, time to clean, and will power to not lose your cool when nobody eats the meal that you’ve spent all day obsessing over. For a few days I’d love to just revert to my childhood and show up to dinner on the table at 6PM–is that too much to ask?

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve months of a housecleaning service.
Can I get an amen?! Admittedly, I am a terrible housekeeper. I love clean, but I despise cleaning. I mean, I’ll do the basic bed-making and vacuuming and putting things away, but I need someone to get into all the nooks and crannies. Someone to come in and mop up the dust bunnies and scrub the baseboards, and rub the fingerprints off our front windows. Someone to make my home presentable, even if it’s just for the 2 hours between elementary school drop-off and preschool pick-up.

So, there’s my twelve days of Christmas list. No partridge in a pear tree or calling birds (They’d just mess up my house and add more noise to the usual cacophony, anyway)–although I really wouldn’t mind the five golden rings.

Now it’s your turn–what’s on your twelve days of Christmas wish list?

Great Wolf Lodge For First-Timers

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting, people standing and indoorThere are certain rights of passage that you go through as a parent: Your first holiday with kids, your first vacation with kids, your first bout of sickness with kids. Each is momentous in it’s own way, and each has its own challenges.

As a mom living in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to add to my list of parenting rights of passage an overnight trip to the mecca of family getaways: Great Wolf Lodge (Hereto referred to as GWL for the sake of blogging brevity). I have been aware of this milestone for quite some time–for several years we would drive right past the gargantuan Hotel/Resort/Water-Themepark just off the shoulder of I-5 every time we drove from California up to visit our family in Washington—but we had never taken the plunge. I knew it would be exciting (for the kids) and expensive (for the parents) but I really didn’t know quite what to expect.

Last week we finally had a good enough excuse to book ourselves a stay GWL. Jacob had broken his arm on the second day of school and his cast (that couldn’t get wet for 8 weeks) finally came off. That paired with no-school and no-work days for Thanksgiving (and a great deal on our stay for going mid-week) combined to make it the perfect getaway timing for our family.

This was our first stay at GWL and, while I know that there are still a lot of intricacies to maximizing your time/money I could still learn, I did come away with a few tips for those of you who are considering your own maiden voyage.

  1. Timing, timing, timing!
    GWL, like all resorts, bases their pricing on peak travel times and filling their hotel to capacity. Basic supply and demand. For GWL, this means you can pay anywhere from about $150 per night all the way up to over $1000 for ONE STINKING NIGHT. That’s a pretty big range! If you’re like me and you see the $899 per night price tag pop up and you feel like you’re going to faint, maybe consider going at a different time. Like a Tuesday in the middle of January. Sure, it may not be ideal timing, but think of how many extra goodies at GWL you could spend your additional $600 on (and, trust me, there are a LOT of extra goodies to spend your money on) if you go off-peak!

    There are also several ways to score a “deal” on a stay at GWL. You can check the “Deals” tab on their website, sign up for their mailing list and get deals emailed to you, look for vouchers on Groupon (they come up a few times a year), or use your PTA membership for a discount. Any way you cut it, this won’t be a cheap stay, but at least you can take some of the sting out of your final bill.

  2. Choosing a Room
    There are several types of rooms to choose from. We opted for a middle-of-the-road suite that had 1 set of bunk beds, a twin bed, a Queen bed, and a pull-out couch. The kids’ area of the room (bunk bed + twin bed) was separated by a half-wall from the “adult” portion of the room (queen bed + pull-out couch)–in theory this is nice, but everyone can still see and hear everyone else. My kids are weird sleepers and I don’t like being anywhere near them at night time, so maybe next time I’ll just book them a room down the hall with a grandparent so I can sleep in peace 🙂

    When you book your GWL stay online you have the option of (generally) choosing your room location. The main things to consider for a room location are mobility and noise. By mobility I’m referring to how mobile you are and how easy it is to access the things you want to do. GWL is HUGE and if you get a room at the far end of a corridor (as we did) you could spend 10 minutes just walking to the lobby (and that’s if your kids are actually cooperating and walking at a normal human pace, not the sloth-like crawl that they get into when they’re tired/hungry/unwilling participants in the labor of movement).  By noise I’m referring to the fact that you’re literally in a hotel run over by packs of exuberant children. That being said, if you can, I would opt for a room on the 1st floor (lobby, Starbucks, restaurants, and gift shop are on this floor) or the 2nd floor (arcade, spa, ice cream shop, and pool entrance are on this floor). I would also request a room that is at least 5 doors down from any stairway or elevator…I honestly don’t know how the people sleeping right next to a constant slamming door full of screaming children survived the night. 

  3. The Magical Bracelet
    When you check in to GWL you get a pair of wolf ears for each of your “pups”, a map of the resort, an activity schedule, an ID wristband for each guest…and no room key. You see, the magical (adult) wristbands that they give you at check-in are actually your key to everything. They are your room key. They are your credit card. They are your admission ticket to the water park. Everything. You just scan your wrist and you’re good to go–no keys or wallets to schlep around. I loved this concept.  My dear husband, however, was paranoid as anything that somebody was going to chop off his hand when we weren’t looking and start charging massive amounts of ice cream to our room without our consent. I guess just don’t lose your wrist, and you’ll  be fine.
  4. So Many Extra Goodies To Spend Your Money On
    From the arcade to the mini golf to the high ropes course to the on-site Build-a-Bear to gem mining to a kiddie-spa there is an abundance of “extras” you can add to your (already pricey) GWL stay.  They do sell combo packages (starting at about $35) that give you access to some of the extra activities, so that could be a good option if you plan on doing several activities during your stay. Do your research ahead of time and decide the types of activities or a price limit you’re willing to spend on extras. Then–and this is important–try to set your kids’ expectations for what you will/not be doing once you arrive. Meltdowns over alluring arcade games and adorable stuffies are still sure to arise, but at least you gave everyone fair warning.
  5. Speaking of Extras…MagiQuest
    I had done my due diligence in researching the many extra activities of GWL and I determined that we would allow our children to play the much-lauded MagiQuest game (along with $10 of spending money per kid that they could waste however they wanted). The only thing I knew about the MagiQuest game was that my kids would 100% beg me to play it, and that there were wands involved. I also found out that I could borrow the wands from friends before we left so I wouldn’t have to buy them.

    So, feeling quite proud of my forward-thinking, I borrowed three wands assuming our MagiQuest adventure would now be a bonus freebie. I talked it up like crazy because I had thought ahead and borrowed the wands. Big mistake. Turns out, even after you buy the wands (for the bargain price of about $40 PER WAND) you still have to pay $15 per wand to play the game. And, since I’d already talked up the dang wands so much I pretty much had to cough up the money to activate them. Two out of my 3 kids played with their now-activated wands for a few microseconds before they decided the game was too boring/confusing, and the third kid would only play with my direct supervision and participation (which basically defeats the purpose of a kids’ game, in my opinion). Some kids love the game, and maybe yours will, too…but next time I’m saving my money and using it to buy an extra Mai Tai at story time.

  6. They Have MaiTais at Story Time
    Just thought I’d throw that little tidbit out there. They also have poolside margaritas. And they’ll bring you wine and a cheese board to your room. Nothing says good ol’ fashioned family fun like a bunch of parents cutting loose among a sea of children and animatronic wild animals.
  7. Dining Options
    As far as I know, every room at GWL is equipped with a microwave and mini fridge. This means you can bring basically all of the kid food groups (salty snacks, sugary treats, unhealthily-quick breakfasts, processed junk) along with you. Bringing some of your own food along could save you a bundle (the buffet breakfast was $18 per adult).

    There are several on-site dining options that allow you to eat “out” while still in your bathing suit and/or pajamas: a buffet restaurant, a sit-down bar and grill, a pizzeria (takeaway only), a poolside burger shack, and even a Starbucks. There is also a Dippin’ dots and a “bakery” (you can buy stale donuts and cupcakes, but I can guarantee nothing is actually baked there). The food is so-so quality and a bit on the spendy side, but nothing outrageous. And, while nobody’s giving our Michelin Stars to The Wolf any time soon, I thought the food was fine (and my kids loved that we got pizza for dinner AND burgers for lunch, all in the same weekend!).
    If you want to put on real clothes and shoes, you can even venture off-site. Within a 5-minute drive there are several fast food restaurants, a Mexican restaurant, and a couple of coffee shops.

  8. The Waterpark
    The main draw of GWL is its massive indoor waterpark. We’re talking: kiddie splash pool, wave pool, family play pool, hot tubs, and waterslides galore. All indoors and heated to a balmy 85 degrees year-round. They’re also quite generous with size requirements. I was worried that my kids wouldn’t be big enough to go on most of the water features and I’d have to quell in-water meltdowns, but that wasn’t the case. Hannah (age 3) was able to do the kiddie pool, the huge climbing structure/medium-sized water slides, the wave pool, the family pool, and the hot tubs. Jacob (age 7) was able to do literally everything (including the massive hurricane slide that I wouldn’t even go on).

    You may want to bring your own flip-flops and towels and/or robes to wear while you walk from your room to the pool–the hallways and lobby are definitely not as warm as the waterpark. Pool towels are provided at the pool, but you have to check them out and there is a fee if you don’t return them.

    The water is quite chlorinated (For obvious reasons–just imagine what happens in a pool full of over 1,000 children…). Wear swimsuits that you don’t mind getting ruined by chemicals, and definitely bring goggles if you have sensitive eyes. You may also want to bring water bottles and a few snacks to get you through the long swim sessions (Just sneak them in under your towels, because the official rule is “No outside food or beverage” poolside).

  9. Included Activities
    GWL offers a number of free (!) activities for their guests including crafts, evening story time, the “clock tower show” (creepy animatronic animals singing weird songs), a nighttime pajama dance party, and early morning (9:00 AM) family yoga. My kids were so-so interested in the activities, but it’s nice to have options.
  10. How Long To Stay
    Now, this is open to interpretation…or your idea of how much insanity you’re willing to suffer through for your childrens’ joy. We stayed for one night, which was plenty for us. You are able to start using the waterpark and activities at 1:00 on your day of arrival until 8:00PM the day you check out. That means in our “1 day” we got two very full days of activity and one sleepless night. Some people like to go for a few days so they can experience all that The Wolf has to offer, so it’s your call.

The final verdict: I’m glad we went! It’s a long drive, and it’s expensive, and it’s utterly exhausting…but it was absolutely worth it all. Our kids were in paradise and the smiles on their faces and the memories we made together were priceless. We’ll definitely be back again some day…after we recover from our first trip.