May 18, 2016

Our California Trip and Disneyland Tips!

We just recently returned from California as a family of 7 (my mom came with us) and besides documenting our trip, I wanted to pass along some invaluable things we learned traveling and visiting a lot of parks with a big family and millions of kids. (Most of the pictures are at the very end.)

They counted down for 3 months!

But first let me say this: I've mentioned a time or three hundred that I worked for the airlines for five years and during that time we traveled extensively. We used our flight benefits all the time, even after our kids were born. I am well-versed in traveling with kids and I rarely get overly stressed while traveling. (Except if we're running late and/or I'm hangry and then so help the individual who has a cross word for me.)

So the first thing I want to say is really the second but I had to preface it with some experience. Ok, the second thing I want to tell you parents is this: FREAKING RELAX. I cannot tell you how many times parents showed up to the airport stressed out of their brains for no reason whatsoever except they were traveling and they had kids. They acted like they were the first family to ever fly in the history of flight.

Oh, you have CARSEATS TO CHECK? Yeah, we've done that a time or two. Every flight.

You have an INFANT IN ARMS? Somebody call the FAA, we need to figure this out. Oh wait, that's done every day thousands of times around the world.

RELAX.

That would be my first word to you. (I'm looking at you Family of 5 that was in line behind us in Tomorrowland. Holy yelling much.)

My next important tips would be the following Top 5:

1) Book a vacation rental. It would have been impossible for all 7 of us to sleep in one big open room and everyone not be disowned and disavowed by the end. We had a house that had plenty of sleeping options and we all agreed it was the best house ever. Even the boys still talk about it.

2) Don't bring your own stroller and take up valuable space in your car. Rent from City Stroller Rentals (I cannot, literally cannot, say enough good things about Jewel and her company). They have only top of the line strollers and their customer service is in tippity-top shape. And their prices are so fantastic, it's silly not to use them.

I'm really happy here, not sure why I look like Debbie Downer.

3) With that, rent a stroller for your big kids too. We had two double strollers. We had only rented one but halfway through that first day at Disneyland we realized there was no way Micah and Asher (6 and almost 5) were going to be able to walk all day and not have the option of resting. So I called her from the Pirates of Caribbean line and she met me outside Disneyland to drop off another one. Awesome, right?? She also didn't charge us because she was actually out of doubles and it was an older one that she doesn't like to advertise but I was shocked when I saw it because it was still at least a $500 stroller and in great shape; we ended up liking it better than our first one!



4) If possible, travel with family or friends. My mom came with us and not only was it so much fun to have her, she was a huge help the entire trip. She held babies while Matt and I rode rides with big kids. She helped get food, disperse food, change diapers, keep watch on the wandering littles, and so much more. We wouldn't have been able to do nearly as much if she weren't there.

5) USE FASTPASSES. I cannot stress this enough. Disneyland has an ingenious system called the FastPass that enables you to come back at a later designated time and skip to the front of the line. We used it for nearly every ride that had one. Along with that, we also planned our visit during a less busy time so the waits were mostly between 15-20 minutes for the rides that didn't have FastPasses. Disneyland was still pretty busy but we really saw the benefit of our timing at California Adventure; we walked onto almost every ride and if we did have to wait, it was very short.

Used passes for the Star Wars ride and got right on!

Some things I learned along the way:

I needed to lower my expectations. I wanted the boys to get into Disneyland the first day and literally run around out of their minds because they were so excited to be there. Instead they took it all in with cautious wariness the way they do everything at first. I had to get over my disappointment and accept that even though it was awesome, it was still new to them and they needed time to adjust.

I also had to get over the bad attitudes that they got when they were beyond tired. It was necessary to give them grace and understand when they were acting out of exhaustion, not ungratefulness. I also had some parenting epiphany moments during this trip. One of them was that our oldest is recharged by time alone. The day after we got home, he literally spent 6+ hours alone in the office, building his new Lego set. He requested (and I happily obliged) to eat all his meals downstairs and he was a different kid when he came out of his lair, recharged with his sparkle back.

I kind of knew this but this solidified it; our family thrives on doing and adventure. It's just not us to go somewhere and chill. We like to be out and about and doing new things and seeing new things. Even our kids are like, Now what are we doing? Now where are we going? What's next? It's just our family MO and it's not a bad thing. We crammed every day full and we fell into bed exhausted every night happy and full of new memories.

Some things that went well:

Sleeping. We never baby our kids' sleeping. We're not quiet when they're sleeping, we don't drop everything so they can sleep, we've taught them to sleep together and not wake each other up or if they do wake up, too bad, go back to sleep. We also use this sound machine for the babies which totally helps. We only had a night or two where it took some coaxing to get Eden back to sleep but other than that she kept up her sleeping through the night and all of them were able to nap through major noise and crowds at the parks and beach and zoo and everything in between. I think getting good sleep is the difference between a crappy time and the best time.

The drive down there. We bit the bullet and had a DVD player installed and if I could snuggle it at night to show my love and affection and devotion, I totally would, because it saved our sanity. If they weren't napping or coloring or reading, they were happily watching a movie, which meant I was happily reading a book or surfing Instagram or sneaking gummy bears.


San Diego Zoo. Because we went midweek and during a slow season, it felt like we had the zoo to ourselves. The exhibits weren't crowded, we could jump on the open-top buses that went around the park without a wait, we got to leisurely stroll and let Luke walk and wander without losing him in a crowd. It was probably the most laid-back day we had.


The sweetest moment for me:

Micah and Asher had picked out a stuffed character at the Disney Outlet store in Las Vegas. Micah picked Mickey and all day at Disneyland he was adamant about finding Mickey to show him his stuffy (that's what we called anything stuffed). The entire day went by and we hadn't had a chance to see Mickey and Micah was getting pretty anxious about it. We stayed late for the Parade (which had about 9 million people crammed into 7 square feet) and it was hard to get the boys to a place where they could see. Micah had his first real meltdown at that point. He was so upset that he couldn't see the parade and show Mickey his stuffy. We finally got him lifted up and as Mickey came by at the end of the parade, Micah's entire face lit up and he held Mickey high up in the air the entire time he went by. And the sweetest thing is that Mickey looked right in our direction for several long seconds and I think he saw it because it looked like he acknowledged it, which made Micah's entire life! I got so teary, thinking about how much that meant to Micah. Such a small thing but it mattered so much to him. So sweet.


In summary, we had an amazing time. I think being flexible and purposing to have a good time and relax are key. We had hiccups along the way, like when the drive from Las Vegas to LA should've taken 4 hours and it took 7 (curse you TRAFFIC) but we rolled with it and simply popped in a couple more movies and snuck a few extra chocolate-covered pretzels.

I didn't want to do a play-by-play because hey, that's boring, but hopefully this helps while also serving my non-scrapbooking but still need a documentable outlet self.

Any specific questions? Ask in the comments and I promise I'll answer!

Order of trip and photos:

Monday - Huntington Beach

Tuesday - Disneyland

Wednesday - San Diego Zoo and La Jolla Beach

Thursday - California Adventure

Explored Las Vegas briefly on our way out. We weren't big fans.
Matt's mom got this for her before we left, so cute!

Channeling his inner Titanic.
Huntington Beach was beautiful but WINDY!

Love these sweet boys!


Riding into the wind was just my most intense cardio to date. NBD.

First ride of the day! 

Eden did amazing every day, just totally chilled all day.

Woody was the first character we saw. Look at Asher holding his leg, so sweet!

Micah rode all the roller coasters with us! This was us waiting for Big Thunder Mountain.
It's a Small World.

What's that, Dad? 

Oh, that's so funny!


Such a good Nana.

Luke did so amazing too. He loved the rides and was content to ride around and eat lots of treats.

Hyperspace Mountain! Asher was definitely crying at the end. :)





If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen this. Lots of wild life at the zoo! :)

Sweetest big brother.


The Okapi, proof that God is creative and funny.

La Jolla was stunning.

I never know where to look for selfies!!



Hands down, funniest picture of the trip. Asher was NOT a fan of Tower of Terror. 

I loved that Asher made himself at home between these two guys.

Whose GIANT FINGER is in the way?? Seriously. I love how Asher's holding his hands up!



Thanks for making it this far, whew! It was the best trip and we're so thankful for the memories!

April 25, 2016

Grace's Story - a stillbirth birth story

I posted on Instagram a couple of weeks ago that I felt I was ready to share Grace's story of arrival and goodbye. Not long after I posted I sat with Eden in her room in the dark to feed her. That last nighttime feeding is my time to think and pray and that night I thought about Grace and her birth and the pain of seeing her for the last time. I thought about the day of her funeral service and the homeless man at the light we were stopped at and the way my heart ached for him. I was sad for both of us. And then, in the dark while my sweet girl ate in sleepy quietness, I cried and cried and cried. But I wasn't really even crying for me. I was crying for that homeless man from three years ago. I was crying for the countless stories of hurt and pain that I've heard and known. I was crying because we suffer so much in this life and because so many suffer more than others.

It reminded me yet again at how much Grace's life and death has changed me. Yes, it broke my heart. But it didn't just break my heart for me, it broke my heart for the hurting. And I'm so, so thankful for that.


I recently finished a book called Colors of Goodbye by September Vaudrey. It's a memoir, telling her story of the sudden death of their 19-year old daughter and the subsequent wake of grief and loss they experienced as a family. I was so comforted and moved by many of her descriptions of what grief looks like in the everyday life. We often write and talk about the big things (anniversaries, funerals, hospital stays) but what does grief look like as you keep clocking in those 24-hour days?

She described an experience that she calls "body memory." Their daughter passed away at the end of May and she says every spring stirs those last memories they had with her and worse, the memories of getting the news and then the plunge into their new normal.

That's exactly how I feel every end of March/beginning of April. I can't help but be reflective and introspective. I find myself lost in thought, staring very far off as my mind sifts through memory after memory. On a regular basis I find myself stopped at the light on the road that leads to the cemetery and I'm back to that day we drove there for her service. My thoughts were so desperate, I just couldn't fathom that we were really on our way to our daughter's funeral. I literally could not bear the thought of her being buried underneath the ground. I had carried her and birthed her and held her and loved her; how could she now be buried in the ground? It was insane to me. To this day, it's something I can only think about for a moment at a time and the reason I rarely visit.

But after reading September's memoir and also the birth story of another bereaved mama, I felt like I could finally tell Grace's story. I never thought I would, quite honestly. I've rarely even spoken of it. The memories have always been too sharp, too burdensome to take on unnecessarily. But I feel like in this season, it could bring more healing than pain.

So here we go, Grace's birth story.

It was a Thursday morning and I was 29 week and 6 days. I woke up that morning and I can't explain how I knew except that I just knew. She was gone. I knew it in the deepest parts of my mama heart. Surprisingly, I didn't feel a crushing weight as it sunk in or even the deep grief that would come, just a calm, indescribable peace in its acceptance.

I had my Bible study that morning and I forced myself to go. My dear friend, Ashild (who you'll hear more about later) looked deep in my eyes that morning and squeezed me long and tight. She later told me that she knew that I knew.

I didn't call my doctor's office because I already had an appointment that day. I spent that time between my study and the appointment in a surreal state of peace. It's so hard to describe. How do you describe the work that God does in a person's deepest being? He says his peace in our hearts is like a river and yet our bodies can't contain a river. At least not like the rivers we have in Montana. It's something other-worldly, it transcends understanding.

I walked to a park with my sons and watched them play and it's as if I watched from a different world. I saw things more clearly. It was like God was bolstering my spirit, giving me a strength and grace you can't have until you need it, and you can't describe until you have it.

I met Matt at the perinatologist's office. We were brought immediately back and before the ultrasound tech put the wand on my belly, I said, I haven't felt her move, I think she's gone. It took only moments to see stillness where two days prior there had been a beating heart. The calm I'd had previously was gone. Sobs and anguished words burst out, so unlike my normally composed person.

Matt took over immediately, in the best way. He made all the phone calls, made all the necessary arrangements for the boys and his work; he contacted Sarah, my friend and photographer who would document our time with her. He handled it all with such grace and strength.

We were told to return at midnight that night to be induced. The calm and peace I had experienced that morning, when I knew that I knew, returned. It covered both of us over the next hours as we went home, had dinner with our boys, tucked them in, laid down to rest, got up and packed our things, and ultimately all the way through the coming hours of labor.

When my mom came over that night to stay with our boys, my only request was that she please remove all the things we had collected and bought for Grace. I knew I wouldn't be able to bear to see them when we returned home. I didn't have the strength to look at those things for over a year and even then it brought a wave of tears and pain.

One thing that I prayed for very strongly that afternoon as we waited was that every person that we would encounter for our time there would be kind and compassionate. And I can't even tell you how God answered that prayer. Every single person that walked through that door, from our nurses to the guy who drew my blood to my doctor, literally, physically reeked of compassion and empathy. It brings me to tears even now to think about it.



The first thing our night nurse did when she got us settled was sit down on a chair right in front of me and cry as she told us how sorry she was and that she would do everything she could to care for us in the best way. It was a tremendous answer to prayer.

I was given Cervadil and some pain medicine to get my body laboring and also to be able to sleep. Matt's mom and sister arrived in the middle of the night after flying and driving all night. Morning came and there had been slow but steady progress made. Matt and I mostly spent time alone with the occasional visit from our families.

I remember so vividly lying in bed waiting hour after hour for her arrival, but my spirit felt so strong and prepared, even in the middle of such profound sadness and I knew that people were praying for us. Prayer is incredibly powerful and to this day I don't downplay my ability to help others when "all" I can do is pray for them. It does something in the supernatural that we'll never fully know until Eternity.


As late afternoon came I felt my body changing and preparing to push. I didn't want anyone in the room except Matt so everyone left except Matt and our nurse, Ashild.

Yes, the friend I mentioned earlier. She's a labor and delivery nurse and she "just happened" to be working that day. She asked the night before if she could be my nurse when she came in the next day. I couldn't say yes fast enough and she ended up having an irreplaceable part in our story. I never think about this part of our story without thinking of Ashild too.

When the urge came for me to push, it came fast and strong. It was my doctor, Matt, Ashild and me. The lights were all dimmed except for the one directly overhead. I have to describe this part because it's the one memory I treasure and visit in my mind over and over again. My doctor is in front of me, ready to deliver. Ashild is to my right and Matt is to my left. We had already talked about what it would look like and what my desires were, and my desire was to have Grace given straight to me.

I have immediately held and loved all my children and she would be no different. I felt extremely strongly about that. I wanted her in my arms and held against my chest in my love just like all my other children.

I pushed only a few times before she was born. Ashild wrapped her in a blanket like we had talked about and placed her directly on me. And this is what I remember and treasure. I cried and cried as I told her over and over, You're so beautiful, you're so perfect. And you know how in those profound moments in life, you take in a hundred different details at once and store them away as a memory, though the moment itself only lasted seconds? That's what it was like. As I was totally caught up in meeting her and holding her and taking in her face, I'll never forget Matt's face as tears streamed down as he did the same, the way he pinched his thumb and finger over his eyes to stop the flow. I see my doctor's kindness as he did everything as unobtrusively and gently as he could. I see Ashild's tender face and firm resolve to make every moment count with her as she helped deliver her. It was only moments but I see everything played out as if a full-length film.

The hardest thing of that moment that many stillbirth mamas will say is the silence. Where there should have been a crying baby and constant chatter about who she looks like and rehashing to one another those final pushing moments and laughter and finally getting that Ginger Ale, there was only heartbreaking quietness.

I held her for a long time before I asked them to bathe her and then I watched from the bed as Matt and Ashild worked together to bathe her, the way Matt has done with every single one of our children.

After a long while, we called Sarah (my friend and photographer) and our families in. Everyone had a turn holding her. The boys got to meet her and hold her. They still talk about it to this day. After what was probably less than an hour I was weary to my core. I wanted only to hold my baby and to sleep. We said goodbye to our families with lots of tears shed by everyone and then Matt and I collapsed in total exhaustion into a deep sleep. We took turns snuggling her close and when I was awake, I constantly traced her face and hair, telling her over and over how sorry I was. I was so sorry that she had a broken heart. I was so sorry that she had to endure anything other than a whole heart and a family that loved her desperately.










Because she had so much swelling from her heart failure, her skin was very delicate and peeling in a lot of places. After spending most of that day with her, I saw that it was nearing the time to let her go. Matt asked me if I was sure and I managed to say I was, though no mama is ever ready for that moment to say goodbye for the last time. We called our nurse in (the same night nurse we had the night before) and she asked me the same. I knew we had to do it, whether it was then or in another five hours, I was still going to have to say goodbye for the last time.






I kissed her for the last time, said I was so sorry one final time, and then Matt had his turn. I can't even write this part without crying. He held her close, kissed her one last time, wrapped her in her blankie, set her in her bassinet, and then just stood and stared at her while his tears fell. It was beyond heartbreaking, it's a pain you can't imagine unless you know.



The nurse wheeled her away and I literally collapsed onto the end of my bed, totally unable to comprehend the pain and magnitude of it all and the fact that I would never see her again. I managed to send a message to my Bible study group asking them to please pray because it was a pain I couldn't fathom. We were discharged that night and we headed home to adjust to our own new normal.

And that's her story. Much of it at least.

This was as hard to write as I thought it would be. Many tears were shed but I prayed today as I sat down to write, Lord, let me write truthful words that honor her life. And that's what I've done.

If I could beg you to come away with one thing, it would be this: Jesus is the greatest delight of life and there are no good substitutes. If you read this story and thought to yourself, I could never do that, please know I thought the same thing! But we could only never do that because we've never had to do that but when we do, His grace will be all-covering, all-filling, totally and completely enough to sustain and bear fruit even in the most arid of lands.

I'm not just saying that. I hate Christianese, feel-good verbiage. I mean it with all my heart. I spent time in his Word just now before I sat down to finish this and it so moved me to praise him out loud, God, you are so good, so beyond description. Thank you, Father, thank you!

He is worth it. You will never walk through anything so hard you can't endure. He will sustain you, he will empower you, he will redeem everything in his time.

He is making all things beautiful.