The Power of Mom Friends

To tweak a famous quote, no mom is an island. As moms, we get so caught up in our daily lives and obligations that cultivating friendships can often fall to the very bottom of the “to do” list. But as I was reminded the other evening, female friends are essential for reassuring yourself that you are not alone on this sometime crazy journey called motherhood.

When I had my first child, I was a full-time professional and single mom. I did not have “mom friends.” My girlfriends and work friends were in their 30s, like me, but I was among the first to have a child. Someone offered that a hairstylist she knew was a single mom with a child; perhaps we could be friends? I dismissed the idea and continued socializing with my work and college friends. Upon the suggestion of another new mom and work colleague, I began taking my daughter to a children’s music class on Saturdays. Although I didn’t really socialize with any of these parents outside of the classroom, the time spent singing and banging on instruments was a window into the social world of other parents of small children.

After my daughter turned one, I married a wonderful man, and a year and half later, we moved to a new city, along with our newborn son. I had stopped working at my law firm around the time of my daughter’s second birthday, and I was excited about the prospect of being a full-time mother, able to enjoy my children throughout all hours of the day, and truly experience all facets of motherhood.

My experience in our new city of Houston was vastly different than my mommy experience in my hometown. I didn’t have the security blanket of my parents, school friends or work colleagues to rely on; instead I dove in head first to the task of meeting other mom friends. It wasn’t really so hard – I joined the local MOMS Club, and I discovered that just showing up to a playdate or planned outing was the biggest hurdle. The moms were friendly, and it was a diverse group, ranging from moms with master’s degrees to engineers to the more rare Martha Stewart types. Overall I found most of them to be highly educated and professional women who had chosen to stay home in order to spend quality time with their children and not miss out on those early years.

Six months into my time in the club, I found myself as the prospective president of our chapter. I somewhat kicked myself, as the position took up a lot of time and planning, and other aspirations, like writing, took a backburner to planning social events, handling email correspondence and attending meetings. I didn’t realize the value at the time of these interactions and friendships that I was forging. When I had my third child, and other moms brought meals to us for four weeks straight, I was overwhelmed by their generosity and the power of moms. I finally understood that a group of moms is a powerful thing that could support each other in times of need. We eventually moved, and a few years later I still think fondly of the different ladies with whom I had the privilege of sharing parts of our lives.

After spending two years in Houston, we moved up to Connecticut for a short six-month stint for my husband’s job. I considered joining the nearby MOMS Club, but unlike my previous chapter, this one required a much longer drive to attend functions. With the winter weather and occasional snow, I tended to stay in my bubble and venture out primarily to the YMCA. I met some great moms at my daughter’s preschool, which is another promising venue to meet potential friends, as well as a like-minded young mom in our neighborhood of mostly retirees. After only six months, I was sad to say goodbye to the small group of friends I had made. We were now headed down South, where we would settle in and have the opportunity and time to forge deep friendships.

Since moving to Florida, my experience in making mom friends has been different but positive. There are various ways to meet people, and these days I prefer a more organic approach. I have met other moms at the dance studio, the local YMCA or playing at a park. There are some nice moms in our neighborhood, and I have met some friends through a simple introduction by established friends. I saw one mom that looked familiar to me at a popular, kid-friendly restaurant the other week and realized that her son was in my son’s music class. We struck up a conversation before her friend came to join her, who I realized I had met at the local pool the previous summer.

It had been awhile since I had attended anything formal or organized like a girls’ night out, as some friends had recently moved away or given birth. Last week a mom friend of mine through my daughter’s school and dance studio (though I initially met her as my daughter’s Vacation Bible School leader) kindly agreed to watch my daughter while I attended some local writers’ workshops. She asked me if I wanted to perhaps have a glass of wine when I came to pick up my daughter that evening. My Friday evenings are usually spent getting the kids to bed super early and gearing up to watch Dateline with my husband, but I thought a glass of wine sounded nice and didn’t require too much effort.

That evening, I made the drive over to her part of the island and noticed the way the orange tinted sky looked immense from the winding road. Living on an island, people joke about not wanting to go “OTB,” (over the bridge), and I must admit, I don’t go OTB too often, or even venture to the south side of the island. As I pulled up to her home, I admired their vibrant fruit trees, blooming rose bushes and its elegant cottage feel. I entered their inviting home, and the girls were ensconced in a cozy set-up with cheese pizza and a Disney movie. Admiring her distressed white kitchen cabinets, we agreed on a red California blend and settled into her white couch to sip and talk. (After an unfortunate red wine and white couch incident at a close friend’s urban pad years earlier, I hoped that I did not repeat my past gaffe.)

An hour passed by quickly as we chatted about the differences between boys versus girls, our rescue dogs, career aspirations and feeling overscheduled with activities and obligations. I met her daughter’s pet lizard and was impressed that she allowed a pet that required live crickets as its diet. Not every mom would go for that! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and realized out loud that I hadn’t known how much I missed hanging out with another mom until in that moment. The clock struck 8, and not wanting to overstay our welcome or keep my daughter up too late, we headed back to our part of the island.

The next few days following our social visit, I began to have grand plans of double dates with other couples, game nights at our home with a few other parents and making time every few months for a fun moms’ night out. Sometimes as moms our focus is so laser-like on our children and pets (and husband, if he’s lucky) that the thought of nurturing our need for human connection doesn’t register. A simple shared conversation over a glass of wine was the eye-opening realization that cultivating friendships does matter, even to a woman in her 30s. Friends now are probably more important than ever. I’m looking forward to that next glass of wine.

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My Disney Hangover

We returned from a trip to “The Most Magical Place On Earth” yesterday. No, we were not at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, or Tahiti. We traveled to Disney World – the Magic Kingdom, specifically – for a quick and easy weekend trip. Except that there wasn’t anything quick and easy about it.

We should have known better. As the saying goes, Fool Me Once, Shame on Mickey, Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me. We weren’t Disney virgins; we were seasoned Disney sophomores. This time our trip was going to be smoother, less expensive, more mainstreamed. Oh yeah, we had this excursion in the glittery bag.

Let me back up a bit. As a child, I never visited Disney World. My parents weren’t theme park people, save an occasional trip to the amazing Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. Our trips primarily consisted of driving to Port Aransas or South Padre Island, Texas, swimming in the beach and pool, fishing and relaxing. My Dad always joked about how we would never have an itinerary on a vacation. I chuckled and thought that one day I would have trips with itineraries. I should have known that the beach bum doesn’t fall far from the coconut tree.

Last spring, the stars aligned and a trip to Disney World seemed within reach. We lived within a short drive of Orlando, my husband was coming home from a long deployment, and our three children were at an age where at least one of them would remember the trip years later. After an internal struggle inside my head, I finally decided to give Disney a shot – after all, I might really love the place and fall under its magical spell.

We stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation resort on our first go round. I felt like I was staying at the Walmart of Disney properties, though the price could have gotten us a suite at a nice Marriott. We didn’t use the inviting pool facilities because we were too busy knocking out four theme parks. We used a Disney specific travel agency and enjoyed wonderful dining experiences and met enough characters to choke a Hungry Hungry Hippo. The trip was not without its challenges, though.

For one, we were exhausted. As the week pushed on, every morning I would think, I have to get on a bus and do this again? The crowd levels were low, which was wonderful, but the rain was unrelenting and put a damper on the week. Overall, the kids had a blast, so we chalked the trip up to a success. Next time, we thought, we will make a few tweaks, and the adults would enjoy Disney too.

For our second trip, I did not consult the predicted crowd charts (yes, some guy online actually graphs out the estimated crowd levels for every day of the year at Disney), but in my heart I knew that the park would be crowded on Valentine’s/President’s Day weekend. “How bad could it be?”, I thought. We set up our FastPass selections for character meet and greets. I diligently researched hotels and found a well-reviewed boutique hotel off property with spacious and budget-friendly accommodations. We would visit only the Magic Kingdom on a Saturday, so we wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by multiple parks. In essence, this trip would be manageable, fun, and dare I say, magical?

Our first misfire was leaving our home on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, as opposed to the morning. I didn’t want the kids to miss their Valentine’s parties at school, so we didn’t take off until the end of the school day. This was a costly mistake, as we encountered massive traffic delays in Jacksonville, due to the holiday traffic and several car wrecks. We lost about an hour. Strike one.

After the initial miscue, we arrived in Orlando and began Yelping nearby restaurants. And what to my hungry eyes did appear – Chuy’s, that classic Tex-Mex restaurant based in my hometown of Austin. Now, when I lived in Austin, I tended to classify Chuy’s as overrated and sloppy seconds, best left for the tourists or non-foodies. But when you live in a Mexican food desert, and Chuy’s appears on the horizon, it’s like a gallon of ice-cold water after walking for miles parched. This trip was going to be the best ever!

Chuy’s delivered the goods – I chugged the first margarita in about ten seconds flat – the queso and creamy jalapeno sauce were so divine I initially just stared and took in their pure deliciousness. And to top off the good food and drink, there was a jolly man making balloon animals for the children. Our first and last meals in Orlando would ultimately prove to be the highlights of this trip. Chuy’s was the Last Supper.

After dinner, we made the short drive over to the Point Orlando Hotel and marveled at the spacious suite and nice set-up. We tucked in early and dreamt of magical fairies and fireworks. The next morning, we sprang out of bed bright and early, ate a solid breakfast at the hotel and started our trek to the Magic Kingdom. We arrived to the parking lot by a little after 8:00, which felt like an accomplishment. We easily parked and marveled at all of the Disney employees deployed to assist each of us. Disney runs a tight ship, I thought.

We then took a tram into an area where we could either opt to take a ferry or monorail into the park. My husband grumbled a little about all the transportation required to simply enter Disney, and we hoped we would not miss out on meeting Cinderella and Rapunzel. We packed into a car like commuters in Beijing, and I told the kids to pretend they were riding the subway in a big city. We finally arrived, and the fun could officially begin.

Looking back, the morning was the best part of our day at Disney. We met various characters with our three FastPasses, and as a bonus we even got to meet the coveted Anna and Elsa. For lunch, despite not having reservations, we waited a moderate amount of time and dined at the Crystal Palace, featuring a quality buffet and the affable Winnie the Pooh crew. After lunch, the day began its downward spiral, which would end with us hitting rock bottom.

The crowds became insane. You know when the Dumbo ride has an hour wait time, that fat elephant has the last laugh. We queued an hour to ride the Jungle Cruise, which consisted of a millennial tour guide making corny jokes the whole way. He was probably the highlight of the ride, next to the fake elephants and dark cave. The only other ride we were able to get on was Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride. We waited 45 minutes to go in circles in the air for about five minutes.

We finally called it quits on waiting in line for the rides and caught a few shows in Tomorrowland. My husband nearly lost it when a Disney employee moved our stroller to an unknown location, which took about 20 minutes to find in the dark. My middle son said he couldn’t wait to go back to school so he could tell the other kids how Disney took our stroller. “We visited Disney and all I got was this lousy stolen stroller story” is what his t-shirt should read.

We originally had dinner reservations at a Disney hotel restaurant but decided to cancel them because we didn’t want to deal with riding a bus and monorail all over again. The clock ticked on into the evening, and we had to start thinking about dinner. The sunny afternoon weather turned back into a chill, and we did not want to eat at an outdoor counter service restaurant. We decided that the kids would not make it to the 10 p.m. fireworks show, so we say goodbye to the Magic Kingdom and headed out of the gates.

The monorail was down, so all of us were forced to ride the ferryboat back to the area where we would then get on a tram to take us to our cars. I was fine with riding a ferryboat, as I thought the kids would enjoy the novelty, but the waiting dock was super crowded due to the lack of monorail service. I almost made a crass comment referencing third world country conditions but another guest took that liberty first.

Brooks sat down as we waited, and I urged him to stand up so he wouldn’t get trampled when guests started loading the boat. The ferry docked and we all loaded the boat like a bunch of hungry and tired refugees, desperate to not get left behind. The ferry, filled to the brim with people, pushed off from the dock. Our oldest child began to fall asleep as she was standing up. I had to hold her arm up so that she wouldn’t collapse. She was incoherent and for a time we thought she might require a hospital visit. How does a child fall asleep standing up? Was it an undisclosed side effect of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust? We finally hoisted her into our toddler’s stroller where she went comatose.

We arrived on land and made the short walk to the tram lines. We missed the first one, and Good Samaritans allowed us to wedge into their car, as our bulky stroller lay horizontal on all of our laps. We finally arrived at our parking lot, and with much relief, we settled in for the short eight-mile return trip to our hotel.

Our eight-mile jaunt ended up taking two hours. The highway was jam-packed – apparently there was a wreck, though we never saw it – and the light at our exit appeared to be out. We sat in the right exit lane for about one and a half hours, as some fed up cars veered onto the shoulder and took matters into their own hands. Other drivers sped up to the front of the line and cut in, thus we never moved forward. Discussing their lawlessness and whether we should follow suit, I maturely said, situations like this bring out the best or the worst in people. The worst in me would materialize soon enough. Everyone has a breaking point.

Initially we were going to eat at a nearby restaurant for dinner, then we decided, okay, we will just hit up the McDonald’s drive thru. (I remarked that I had never eaten at McDonald’s for a Valentine’s dinner, and that this would be a memorable time.) That quarter pounder with cheese meal was sounding divine. Unfortunately, once we exited the highway two hours later, the McDonald’s was on the wrong side of the road and inaccessible to us. That’s fine, we thought, our glasses still half full, the hotel restaurant is open until 11:00, so we will order food from them.

We finally pull into the hotel parking lot, and the kids are in various states of incoherent moaning and crying. We pick up various kids and sprint like scared animals toward the warmth of the hotel. We run into the light and inquire as to the restaurant’s location. A young man informs us that the kitchen just closed, one hour early, as the staff was overwhelmed and needed to catch up. At that point I lose my cool with a few choice phrases. I loudly proclaim that Orlando is the absolute worst city I have ever been to, and that I have been to some pretty crappy places, so this is a legitimate designation. At this point, I am beyond tired, hungry and dehydrated. Disney had finally broken me.

Dejected and resigned to failure, we return to our room, where we feed our kids a random assortment of snacks and leftovers from the previous night’s meal. Here is one cheese quesadilla; you may each have a third of it. Our two-year-old was so exhausted he started shouting “tired, tired!” and collapsed in his porta-crib, forgoing his nightly cup of milk. My husband and I ordered a pizza and finally ate a few slices at 11:30 p.m. I then collapsed into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Our youngest son, who probably fell asleep at 10:30, woke up at 6:30, yelling “I want Eltha [Elsa]; I want Eltha!” We reluctantly awoke, showered and packed our belongings, ready to get the hell out of Orlando. (We originally considered visiting another attraction that day, but there was a tacit understanding that our only destination was home.) In my state of starvation the previous evening, I had remembered seeing a sign for Denny’s near our hotel. We made the decision to eat at the diner, and I silently prayed that it would not take two hours to go two miles to the eatery.

Like Chuy’s, Denny’s was the other highlight of our trip. The food was hot and delicious, and the perfectly mixed Diet Coke recharged and invigorated me. We stuffed our bellies into a comfortable state of fullness and then hit the road. The roads were relatively clear of traffic – church, we figured – but we didn’t want to jinx ourselves and comment on the smooth roads. We arrived back home later in the afternoon, at which point I collapsed into a deep sleep for three hours straight while my “husband of the year” took care of the kids.

On the drive back, we immediately decided to cancel our Spring Break trip to the Florida Keys. Too far, we thought. Too stressful. You know it’s bad when a beach vacation seems too hard. Thanks Disney. Instead, we would send the kids to preschool and camp and utilize a nearby luxury hotel’s pool and spa facilities during various days of the week. We would only return to Disney if the Disney guru’s website showed low crowds on his bar graph, we could afford a hotel like the Polynesian for ease of transportation to the Magic Kingdom, and if Arrendelle froze over (again). In other words, we may not return to Disney for many years, if ever.

Take away the transportation hiccups, long wait times in lines, and overall logistics, my main issue with Disney is much more philosophical and less tangible. Disney World is a fake world. It is not a national park, a cosmopolitan city, a museum of acclaimed paintings or ancient works. It is a creation built on consumerism and elaborate sets and 20-somethings dressed up as Disney princesses. My favorites are the rides or experiences that end with a mandatory walk through of a gift shop.

At my core, I am at odds with Disney’s being. I will no longer pay money to wait in line for an hour to enjoy a fake jungle ride among plastic animals. The most authentic part of Disney is probably Hollywood Studios, because that park celebrates the heritage of Disney and the art and evolution of animation, which are of artistic, educational and cultural value. This is probably Disney’s least popular park.

Cinderella’s Castle is a sight to behold, but so are centuries-old castles in Europe. From now on, I will seek authenticity and/or relaxation on my vacations. Tired, stressed, hungry, dehydrated and borderline losing my mind are not markers of a quality vacation. In the future, I will enjoy a view of the azure ocean from my beach chair with a cold drink in hand and line free bathroom nearby. I will enjoy a leisurely stroll through a bustling, cosmopolitan city with real people, culture and historic buildings. I will breathe in nature hiking through a majestic state or national park. Sorry, Disney, you have broken me, and we are breaking up for now. Thanks for the magical memories.

When Mom is Sick

It has been a few weeks since my last post on my blog. First, my husband and two kids contracted the flu. After bragging about my robust immune system to anyone who would listen, I then got sick with what appeared to be the flu. I say the flu because of its complete decimation of my person. (I thought about going to my doctor to get tested, but I simply didn’t have the energy to cross the bridge over to her office.) My middle son has survived this flu invasion unscathed (he is half robot). The CDC says the flu vaccine is about 23% effective. This makes sense, as only 20% of our family did not get sick, despite five flu vaccines.

After celebrating the fifth anniversary of our vow renewal ceremony (this has become our de facto wedding anniversary, because January seems to work better for us than the legal date in June), I started feeling bad. Come Monday I was running a fever, which did not decide to break until Friday. I suspected the flu because of the complete exhaustion element. All I could do on Monday and Tuesday was sleep with spurts of consciousness spent watching HGTV. When you have to set an alarm clock to wake up at 1:00 p.m., things are not normal, unless you are working night shifts.

On Wednesday, after napping away the morning, I decided this whole sickness thing might be mental, and perhaps some fresh air would perk me up. So I gather up the two dogs whose combined weight outweighs me to take on a casual stroll around the neighborhood on the way to pick up my daughter from the bus stop. The dogs pull this way and that, and I am incredibly grateful that our German Shepherd did not see the errant Chow running near us. Our Great Dane mix did, and she pulled on the leash with all of her 80 pounds trying to get to the Chow. The Chow looked our way, assessed the dogs and wisely decided to change course and jaunt off in a different direction. Crisis averted.

Once we got home, I was completely exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon, and decided to start putting a dent in the growing pile of laundry. By the end of the day, my fever had spiked up again. I guess fresh air wasn’t going to shake this thing, and being sick wasn’t just in my head.

On Thursday, my oldest child had an event at her school she desperately wanted to attend. We dutifully completed her homework in the afternoon, and I sold my husband on the idea of taking her back up to school for the evening festivities. Don’t worry about me, I reassured him. I can easily get our two sons down to bed on my own. Yep, I’m starting to feel better.

After being in nearly full-time childcare for the beginning of the week, due to my inability to care for them and relentless need for sleep, my two sons were beyond tired and cranky. I had to put my two-year-old, Blaine, in a near chokehold to brush his teeth. I then wrangled him up the stairs as he convulsed his body and screamed. Like one of the Super Bowl players, he was in “beast mode.” We then tussled on the bathroom floor for about five minutes as I attempted to contain his body while simultaneously trying to unzip his jacket. He was determined to keep that jacket on. I began to break out in a cold sweat from the exertion. I finally got him undressed and in the bathtub, victorious. He tried to throw a few toys out in protest, as well as the tub mat, and I was prepared to climb in there if necessary, as he is prone to throw his head and body back when angry.

The bath seemed to calm my toddler down, and we peacefully made our way to his bedroom to get dressed and ready for bed. Shoot, I realized, his bed needs to be made with new sheets, and I have to wedge an inflatable barrier under the fitted sheet so our son won’t roll out in the middle of the night. I struggled mightily to fit the inflatable bedrail underneath the too short and too tight fitted sheet. Unbeknownst to me, my husband and daughter just happened to check out the video monitor to Blaine’s room at that moment and chuckled watching me struggle with the bedding as they enjoyed pizza and bingo.

After the usual reading routine, exhausted and frazzled, I got Blaine to bed, and then turned my attention to his four-year-old brother, Brooks. Of course he refused to take a bath as well, so after much cajoling and idle threats, he was nearly ready for bed. At that time, my husband and daughter arrived home, my fever spiked up to a new high, and my other half could wisely say “I told you so,” about the decision to attend the school function.

Lucky for me, my fever broke the next day. I assured my husband I could handily get the children off to school. At 6:30 a.m., Brooks proceeded to have an accident and pee a huge geyser on our couch. I could picture the urine seeping into the cushions, where it would forever live and add to the smells of our home. Twenty minutes later, Blaine approached me crying about something on his hand. Turns out it was covered in his own fecal matter. After clean-up efforts, Blaine wanted to play outside, so I started with the dreaded task of shoveling up the unending piles of dog poop. Wouldn’t you know it, I managed to step in a huge one. Friday was quickly turning to shit.

Mercifully, the weekend arrived, and we spent the next few days catching up on massive piles of laundry, taking copious amounts of medicine and arguing about who needed sleep the most (my husband still has lingering effects from the flu). Bright spots included watching the Super Bowl and dissecting the commercials and half-time entertainment. Unlike Super Bowls of my younger years, this year involved taking a shot of Nyquil and praying I didn’t knock out until after the fourth quarter. I also wanted some game day snacks, but I was coughing so much I didn’t know if I could logistically chew food and cough at the same time. (My love for food won out, and I scarfed down some homemade nachos – yummy!)

Perhaps in a feeling of guilt due to the utterly wasted first part of the week, I spent a good chunk of Sunday de-cluttering my daughter’s bedroom, which could have appeared on an episode of “Hoarders.” Seashells, dried up Silly Putty, thousands of unmatched Barbie shoes, mangled Christmas bows, cardboard boxes turned puppet theater – it was amazing what she had managed to stockpile over her six years of life. Every dress-up purse I opened up was chock full of random stuff like marbles and sea glass. Toward the end of this huge undertaking, she told me that someone could pay me “like $55,000” for this type of work. I took that as a compliment, from one hoarder to another.

I remember when I was a child, having a sick day and missing school could be fun. Now I’m not talking the flu or strep throat variety of sick. Perhaps the culprit would be a garden-variety virus of the low-grade fever producing kind, allowing me to lie in bed and watch cartoons instead of schlepping to school. As a parent, however, I dread getting sick. The homework, chores and kids’ activities continue as the shell of your former self tries to keep up. I was fortunate this time that my husband was not deployed and that we had the availability of drop-in day care.

At some point, however, the novelty of lying in bed and watching TV begins to wear off – I want to rejoin society as a productive and contributing member. As a new week begins, I am fever-free but with a very annoying cough. I don’t have that pep in my step back. I am looking forward to returning to the gym, teaching Zumba, siphoning caffeine and feeling like myself again.

Here’s to hoping this flu season doesn’t hang around much longer.

How do you cope when you are sick? If you have children, what are your strategies for parenting when you aren’t feeling 100%? Also, what is your favorite TV guilty pleasure when you are under the weather?