Monday, January 21, 2013

Cruising with the kiddo (and my mom, one of my nieces, and that guy I married).


Several weeks before Christmas, El Hub said to me, "Let's go on a cruise."

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The memory of my response has dulled with time, but I am pretty sure I said something like, "Hang on, I have mental whiplash from you suggesting a vacation, give me a minute to think about this."

And we did think about it. We were big cruisers in our pre-baby days. We even went on an amazing European cruise for our honeymoon, and our babymoon was a cruise as well. But now that we have a toddler, how did we want to approach this cruise? Did we want to bring him or leave him with my mom? How long of a cruise did we want to go on? Why do cruises charge full price for toddlers? (That last question is one we never got an answer to. So absurd since toddlers certainly don't eat as much as an adult. The kid doesn't even know what a buffet is yet, much less how to totally take advantage of one.)


Our biggest concern was the kiddo's sleeping. He cannot fall asleep with someone in the room. To him, that is a cue that it is party time. And El Hub and I do not envision a vacation being relaxing if all our kid wants to do is party all the time.

So we started wondering if we could convince any of our dear family to think it would be a good idea to go on a cruise with us. That way, we could get an adjoining room, let George fall asleep in our room, and hang out in the other room while obsessively listening to him chat away on the baby monitor (that last part might have just been me). And two of our family members stepped up to the plate; my mom and my niece Cassandra volunteered to be the brave souls to go with us.


We had no idea how it would go. We didn't know if George would sleep, we didn't know if he would get seasick, we didn't know if he would hate the boat and the food and the activities. But we wanted to get back in touch with our love of cruising. So with a wing and a prayer and a credit card, we booked our vacation.

And it was a blast.

Seriously, one of my favorite vacations ever. If you are thinking about taking your toddler on a cruise, then keep reading, because I have an awful lot to say about this.

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Everything went better than we could have hoped. The room logistics we chose with an adjoining room worked wonderfully; one of the four of us would stay behind while George was napping or down for bedtime, and we would switch off who had the freedom to go explore. Our room was technically interior, but since it was the Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas, we chose one that overlooked the "Royal Promenade." George loved people watching from our window, and we loved the lower price tag.


We chose a five day cruise but probably could have happily gone on a seven day; we intentionally picked a cruise with two at-sea days since we were not really focused on exploring the ports with George. This worked out even better when one of our two ports, Labadee, Haiti, was a private Royal Caribbean-controlled area with the beach, food, and even a splash pad in walking distance.

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The ship itself was big, but we never once used our stroller on it. George was happy to walk nearly everywhere, and once he wanted to be carried, it was never far from our destination.

We packed light and just brought a duffle bag for George with diapers, one change per day of day clothes and dinner clothes, diapers, and his bedtime ritual stuff. RCCL has a partnership with Fisher Price, so during the day they have a room full of toys that parents can hang out at with their kiddos. They also have a toy-lending program, like a little library of Fisher Price toys. But we never needed to use it because there was so much for George to do and see, and we didn't spend much time in the room.


There was also a nursery for $8 an hour that we did not use until the third day, and I regret waiting that long. George LOVED it. Full of Fisher-Price toys, and the ladies there will feed them food to your specifications if you leave your kiddo there during a meal time. He always left happier than when he arrived.

Before the cruise, we had been wondering if we would be able to do the fancy sit-down dinners or if George would pitch a fit at the leisurely meals. We never tested this as breakfast and instead always went to the Windjammer buffet, but we were pleasantly shocked that George happily made it through dinner every night. That is not a short meal. But they sat us at secluded tables, and we let him play on the floor blocked into the corner until the food arrived.


And finally, employees on cruise ships LOVE KIDS. Holy moley. George was a rock star everywhere he went. I think sometimes it is that the employees miss their families, but then the rest of the time I think that the employees just like the change of pace that kids provide. But oh man, he was loved. And of course, George loved that, and it made him even happier to be on a cruise.

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So ta da! We went on a cruise with a toddler and not only survived to tell the tale, but happily so. Now I just need to await the next time El Hub turns to me and says, "Let's go on a cruise." Maybe this time I won't have the mental whiplash.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Christmas 2012.

Well, this is only almost a month late! But I know I'd be kicking myself later if I never bothered to record this for posterity, so here's the requisite Christmas post.

Last year I wrote about George's first Christmas, and mentioned that "I can only imagine how much more fun it will become in the future as George grows and he 'gets' it more." High five to my past self for acknowledging the limits of my imagination, because I could not have anticipated how much he would enjoy it this year. And trust me, he still did not get it. No clue who Santa is, or that the "twee!" was a Christmas tree, or that there are other presents to open after the first one. That last one we had a pickle of a time with because all of the family members gathered were so excited to see the little one tear into their present to him, while George just wanted to play with the last present his was given. Whoops.

We hosted it at our house again, and my lovely MIL cooked again. Both sides of our family congregated at our house. By the end of the day, it looked like a toy bomb hit it (still does nearly a month later, to be honest). This year differed in that we went to visit my dad later on in the evening. All in all, it was a lovely holiday, two enthusiastic thumbs up, would do again.

Here, have some photos of our big ole' family Christmas:

Our 2012 Christmas tree.

Mickey ornament.

Sitting down for dinner.

Our family at Christmas.

Present time.

A stroller for Mr. Owl.

Christmas with Dad.

Christmas with Dad.

Rob, George, and me in front of the tree.

Rob kissing my cheek.

Glad to say goodbye to 2012.

Big boy on the slide.

Here, have a cute photo of the kiddo on a slide.

I have been procrastinating on writing here, because I have not felt like I can write about the topics I really want to expound on. In past posts, I have briefly touched on how crazy this past year has been, and part of me feels a bit like a drama queen for doing so.

But the reality is that it's been a rough year. For a lot of different reasons.

Several trips to the ER, three hospitalizations. My dad not only going into a nursing home, but now being at his third one, one that we had to scramble frantically to find and get him into. Medicaid application, the most cumbersome pile of paperwork I've ever seen. My mom sold their house and moved in with us. El Hub works unspeakably long hours, so much that the kiddo sometimes doesn't see him for days on end because El Hub leaves before he wakes and come home after he goes to sleep. The year involved lots of packing, lots of research, lots of doctors, lots of co-pays, the sort that add up to make your eyes pop while simultaneously making you grateful for insurance (until that very insurance refuses to pay for something you need). And a few of us in my family entered this new year still waiting for answers, with appointments already penned in our 2013 calendars.

I feel like this year hasn't been as utterly awful as it could have been because we are a close family. I was raised to believe that family is vitally important. Name your cliche - get in each other's hair, rub the wrong way, drive each other up a wall. We can drive each other nuts, but we are infallibly dedicate to being there for one another.

Some people not as close to us in our lives have quietly slipped away, which hurt. But tough times are a test of fire; not everyone can take the heat. And since it's not happening to them, they are not required to stick around. So they don't. I imagine we've all been guilty of it at times in our lives, but that doesn't exactly make it easier to bear when you realize that the people you care about don't quite care about you the same way.

Others reached out, for which I am forever grateful. Even the text messages I received acknowledging what we were going through could bring a smile to my face. But when limited with time and energy, sometimes all we were able to do was text back a quick thank you. And that doesn't do these folks justice for trying to find something comforting and helpful to say during these difficult months. It's my goal to reconnect with all of these folks to give them the time and attention they deserve.

Then there are the people who were able to weave their way into our chaotic lives. I cannot tell you how many folks offered to help out with the kiddo, bring food, and just talk any time we were ready. One family member hopped on a plane. Friends shifted their own kiddos' schedules in order to take care of ours. People listened to me rattle on about the latest issue complicating our circumstances. People remembered, and followed up with us when they knew we were supposed to have updates. These people I also hope to be a better friend to this year, when the time arrives that healthcare and bills and houses consume less of my thoughts.

So all of these dominoes may have been crashing down in our own lives, but our friends and family helped us feel less alone. This is what I am grateful for.

Like most, I had hoped to feel that we could wipe the slate clean for 2013. But money, homes, and especially health are sometimes out of our control. So instead of the unrealistic starting fresh, I am thinking in terms of starting differently. Tackling the day differently, changing certain priorities. Getting back to all those friends who texted. And writing here.

Wish me luck. And I wish you a happier 2013.