Getting Out: What Does It Mean To You?

Today I have some questions for my readers who are stay-at-home parents of young children, which I'm guessing is most of you. (And if it doesn't describe you right now, it probably did in the not so distant past.)

Have you received the advice to "get out of the house and make sure you have adult conversation"? Do you follow it? Do you go out every day? Or only when you have a specific reason?

Sometimes we prefer to stay home and do this
Because personally, I like spending time with my family, and don't consider communicating with my own children to be subpar to communicating with adults. And does anyone really take their kids out every single day, for the sake of leaving the house? Because seriously, two or three times a week and we're good. I know I tend to be all introvert-y, but still. The thought of packing everyone up every single day and going somewhere simply to be able to say we did does not appeal to me. 

So, I'm curious . . . What does "getting out" mean to you?
  • Does a prearranged lunch and play date with another stay-at-home mom count?
  • When we go to the library by ourselves but end up chatting with another mom and her kids in the children's room, does that count?
  • If the Agents and I go to the commissary, and we don't talk to anyone except the cashier and the person who bags our groceries, does that count?
  • When we stop at Starbucks and have a 30-second conversation with the gentlemen in line in front of us, does that count?
  • Does the back yard count?
Just wondering what others' experiences have been, as this advice seems to be the first thing out of folks' mouths when they learn I'm a stay-at-home mom who homeschools with a rarely-home husband.

Staying Sane When Your Spouse Is Away

Whether for military service or business travel, short term or long term, it's likely that even those of us with a supportive parenting partner will have to go it alone at some point. Following are six tips for keeping it together when your significant other is not around.

1. Be prepared. For a short trip, this may be as simple as stocking up on groceries and making sure the car is filled with gas so you don't have to worry about it. For longer separations, consider the things your spouse usually takes care of that you will need to add to your radar (e.g., I would never remember what day the trash is picked up if it weren't in my calendar because that's not my usual domain). Use bill pay and other automatic set-ups when possible. Arrange for someone to take care of the lawn.

2. Be really prepared. It's pretty much a guarantee that during the time your husband is gone, something completely out of the ordinary and semi-disastrous will occur. Have a plan. Know in advance who you would call if the washer, the toilet, or the roof started leaking. Make sure your car maintenance is up-to-date, check the tires and fluids, and confirm you have roadside assistance. Change all the smoke detector batteries. Know where the nearest emergency room is. Make sure you have flashlights and candles.

3. Embrace routine. You don't need to account for every waking hour, but having some semblance of a schedule, even if you normally balk at the idea, is critical. If nothing else, it means you don't have to think too hard about what to do next when you feel overwhelmed. For us, we also have a few activities we always do on certain days to help make the week more predictable: groceries on Wednesdays, park time on Fridays, etc.

4. Respect that each child will respond differently. Our six-year-old wants to know details (where he is, what he's doing), to mark days off on the calendar, and to be my official helper. The four-year-old kind of understands, but doesn't have a great grasp on time yet, so she needs to be distracted and kept busy. At 20 months, A barely notices. Really. Sure, he'll be excited to see Daddy again, but as long as his primary object of affection (Mommy) is accessible he's good.

5. Don't take it personally. I remember the first couple of times Dear Hubby left for a long stretch, I would worry when I didn't get a response to an e-mail, or a phone call when I expected one. Keep in mind that whatever your spouse is doing, he's probably just very busy and not slighting you. If you plan to correspond via video chat, clarify when and how often this will be possible. 

6. Take care of yourself. You won't be able to help your kids through the transition if you are running on empty. Prioritize time to do whatever fills your own cup. For some that may mean time with friends, away from the kids. For others it may mean joining a gym with free child care. Maybe family could visit during his absence. Everyone has different needs when it comes to what energizes them.

Top 10 Disney Tips

We love Disney. We have Florida resident annual passes and we are also DVC members. We've lived in Florida for all of five weeks and have been to Walt Disney World twice. Prior to moving here, we visited the Orlando parks two separate times (once pre-kids and once with 3.5-year-old Agent E and 1.5-year-old Agent J). We have visited Disneyland Paris two times (once with two kids and a pregnant Momma and once with all three Agents) and taken a ten-day Disney cruise. It's safe to say it's our favorite vacation spot (for right now, anyway).

I think we may have finally figured out what works and what doesn't when planning and executing such a venture, so today's post will share some of what we've learned.

Group hug for Daisy
1. Choose where you stay wisely. On a recent trip we booked a room at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It's beautiful, it's peaceful, and it has safari animals outside your window. It's also pretty darn far from three of the four main parks, even before factoring in time waiting for buses. Probably not the best choice of hotels for us with the Agents at the ages they are currently.

2. Get the dining plan. Seriously, do it. It is totally worth it if you plan on eating one "nice" (read: sit-down, table service) meal a day. The best part: character meals are included! (We did one a day. Agents loved it. Okay, Momma did, too.) You also get drink mugs you can refill anytime at your resort and one snack a day per person. The "snack" could be something as simple as a bottle of water or a diet coke (or a Mickey-shaped ice cream bar, ahem), but it also includes some pretty substantial dessert treats, smoothies, and even fresh fruit.

3. Don't plan anything too early if you're not a morning person. Yes, it is possible to schedule a character breakfast first thing. But can you manage getting everyone up and out and to the parks (or another resort) in time? Keep in mind that most restaurants where reservations are recommended also charge for no shows ($10 a person).

Snuggles for Tigger
4. Use the Fast Pass option. I cannot even tell you how many times on our most recent visit we walked past rides where the wait time was 60 or 80 minutes. Guess what? Children don't like standing in line. They get fidgety, they get bored, and they drive you crazy. Avoid it. With Fast Pass, you can get a receipt with a specific time block (a one-hour window) to come back and board the ride with little to no wait. Granted, you can only have one at a time, but if you plan it right you can just keep picking one up every couple hours all day long and hit several major attractions that way. The longest we ever stood in the Fast Pass line was about ten minutes.

5. Use rider swap. If a ride is not suitable for all members of your party, everyone can still go on it without having to wait twice. Just tell the cast member at the entrance to the line that you have a small child that someone will need to stay with, and they will give you a pass so that when the first person is done, the second can go right up without waiting again. You can also use this in combination with Fast Pass, and the ticket they give you is good for up to three people. So if you have, say, two little girls who absolutely love Soarin, you can grab Fast Passes for it, come back later at your designated time, have Dad take them on while Mom entertains the baby, and then pass the baby to Dad and have Mom immediately take them on a second time.

6. Let your children lead the way. Depending on their ages, they may be simultaneously fascinated with and terrified of what you find to be perfectly benign. Some dark rides may creep them out; others they may beg to go on. (Oddly, Agent E found the dark parts of Splash Mountain scary, yet we went on Pirates of the Caribbean three times.) One child may get off Big Thunder Mountain yelling, "that was awesome!" while one is repeating over and over, "I am never going on that ride again. I hate that ride." (Not that it happened to us. But it happened to us.) Just go with it. If they want to see the same show more than once, who cares? We have lost count of how many times we've sat through Disney Junior Live (beginning with when it was still Playhouse Disney Live on Stage).

With Toy Story friends
7. Respect your children's personal space. We never forced any of them to interact with the characters. The first time A saw a costumed cartoon mouse he clung to me so tight, I'm pretty sure if I had a pouch he would have crawled right in. By about the third or fourth time, he became every character's best buddy. (And at the end we were physically prying him away from them while he muttered things like "I want Tigger.")

8. Consider whether the stroller is helping or hindering. Every visit I cannot help but wondering, at what point during the Disney vacation planning does one think, "I know what would make this week even more magical: pushing my ten-year-old around in a stroller." (If you think I'm exaggerating, clearly you've never visited Disney.) We personally find it easier, with two adults and no ambulatory or back issues, to carry Agent A or let him walk in the less crowded areas. We made an exception and took the stroller when visiting Epcot; it seems a lot more practical there, especially if you visit the World Showcase. In the Magic Kingdom, however, we would have been parking it every five minutes. (You cannot take strollers in line queues for rides or characters, into shows, into most restaurants, etc.) 

9. Accept that you cannot do everything. I know for many people going to Disney on vacation is a huge financial commitment, and that one visit may be their only one. Disney is BIG . . . four main parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, the boardwalk, countless restaurants, shows, rides . . . you need to prioritize. Because we know we'll be going back in a few months, we don't stress if we "miss" something, and neither do the Agents. But if you only have limited time, definitely do some research beforehand and know your own "must do list" in advance. 

Agent A and Piglet
10. Find your breaking point, and try not to push the limits. I'm talking total time you can be out and about (including travel to/from the resort and meals) before someone loses it. For us, this is about 10 hours. This means we can be really motivated and leave the room by 8:00 a.m., but only if we commit to being back by 6:00 p.m. Or if we want to stay for the 9:00 fireworks and not make it back to the room until 10:00, we shouldn't even consider heading to the parks before noon. Our typical day that worked well tended to be around 10:00-8:00; not too early of a start, and still back at the resort to do bath time and bed time at a reasonable hour. When we stepped outside these parameters, things (and people) fell apart.

Homeschooling: First Grade Edition

We started our new school year this past Tuesday, July 3rd. I did not intend to start until at least August 1st, maybe September 1st, but Agent E had another agenda (as she often does). I expect to "do school" year round eventually, but we were kind of taking a bit more time "off" now (or so I thought) because of that whole moving and settling in thing. Apparently, though, she's had enough of a break and now she's ready to get down to business. So I'm going with it. First grade: it's on.

Dress up time
For this year, we are still not following any particular curriculum. Child-led learning seems to be working well for us, so we are continuing with that "method" for now.

Not long ago someone gave E on of those big grade level workbooks that has a bunch of worksheets and puzzles divided into sections like spelling, reading comprehension, xyz math skills, etc. Given her penchant for a good printout that she can look at, fill in, decorate, and talk about, it's a big hit. The pages tear out easily, and so she will randomly take one or two, complete them, and put them in her folder. I know this wouldn't work for every six-year-old, but E likes this. (She also likes things like flash cards, in a the-only-kids-who-like-flash-cards-are-those-who-don't-need-them sort of way.) She enjoys the sense of accomplishment: "I finished the whole section on fractions and now I'm moving on to maps."

This may seem like a weird method to some, but it works for her. And it's not our only tool, of course. I asked her what three things she would like to concentrate on for the next few months of school. This, obviously, would be in addition to the regular library visits, outside exploration time, computer time, independent reading time, and general helping around the house and life skills time. We talked about it, and I offered some suggestions so she could narrow them down. 

Our new playroom
She concluded that for first grade she would like to concentrate on the 50 states, weather, and Spanish. For the states we'll probably do a state-of-the-week sort of thing. (We actually did this with countries at the beginning of last year, but then we kind of got off track.) We'll make weather our "science" for the year, likely in a series of unit studies. Spanish? I studied it in high school, which wasn't that long ago (cough, cough). Okay, it was eons ago. And I'm probably going to need more help than what Dora and Diego can offer. But we'll figure it out as we go along. That's pretty much what we do.

I know this may sound super organized to some and completely willy nilly to others. But that's how we roll. We find things we are interested in, we study them for a while, we tweak what's not working with our routine, we move on. Toward the end of Home Kindergarten we got pretty lax as far as formal instruction. I don't think we'll completely swing over to a hard and fast daily schedule of specific subjects, but I think we'll be trying a little more structure in the next few months as far as what we study. Either way, I think she will still learn what she needs to know.