How Far Love Goes

Dear Maggie,

Time it was I had a dream


And you’re that dream come true


And if I had the world to give
I’d give it all to you

Seven years old. It is a constant source of amazement to me, the passage of your growth. Looking at baby Minna and then to you, I can sometimes try to put a finger on a memory of your babyhood. Something in her look or her babble as she sits next to you will trigger the tiniest glimpse of that baby you used to be, and I think I can touch that moment again.

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I can’t, of course. These days, I more often see the woman within the girl—long, striving legs holding up an ever-taller body, lengthening and slimming into a big girl and then into a young woman. You’ve lost six teeth in the last year and a half, including your two top teeth. Sometimes you hold your book directly up to your nose. These things have me thinking less about the days of baby car seats and strollers and more about glasses and braces, and then buying clothes with a size 7/8 label, and I sigh a bit for the baby you were while glorying in all that you are becoming.

All the things you treasure most


Will be the hardest won


I will watch you struggle long


Before the answers come

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You have worked so hard this year. You’re about to complete first grade. For reasons escaping my memory—my own sleep deprivation has been our highest hurdle this year—we decided to start school the week Minna was due. She was born on our third day of school. Despite that, you’ve completed two levels of our reading curriculum and rocketed ahead right to a second grade-level status. You read beginner chapter books confidently and for pleasure, enjoying how the Magic Tree House transports you to different lands. For the first time, you turn right at the library to walk to the “Big Kid Room” instead of straight on to the picture books.

But I won’t make it harder


I’ll be there to cheer you on


I’ll shine the light that guides you down


The road you’re walking on

I wish I could say that I have been the teacher you deserve; often I wish that helping you over your own hurdles came more naturally to me. I wish I had the answer in hand before the event instead of two or three days later. But we’re getting there as a family, watching you take your gentle, cautious way down the road. You’re a bit risk-averse and nothing will persuade you to deviate from your assessment of your own ability except time and patience.

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Before the mountains call to you


Before you leave this home


Wanna teach your heart to trust


As I will teach my own

This has been the year that we signed up for swimming lessons. You hate them, and often me for making you try it. However, I push on, encouraging you to trust me and to trust the teacher, and usually the lesson ends with you bursting with pride at what you’ve achieved. Getting you to trust yourself, and trusting myself to help you get there, is my greatest hope for you in your life. Learning to let you go and let you fly is my own life’s greatest lesson.

But sometimes I will ask the moon


Where it shined upon you last


And shake my head and laugh and say


“It all went by so fast”

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Time is flying. I see it when I look at Minna, at Moira, and then at you and marvel at the passage of time. The baby issues that so consumed us with you are a mere blip with Minna, faced with the new challenges of an emerging big kid. We’re well out of dealing with baby concerns like gassy tummy or trying new foods, years away from toilet training and zipping your own coat.

Now we have conversations about managing fear and anxiety, and I found myself saying what I know in my heart to be the greatest truth of your specific journey: “Finding a way through the fear, the panic, to get to the goal you’ve set for yourself is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do, and we all have to do it over and over again. But you can. I know you can. I believe in you with my whole heart, and you can do this.” I see the way you are with Minna, and I see everything you could be and will be if you let yourself be guided by love and ease and compassion. I see your heart, and how different your bravery is from Moira’s sheer persistence: I see how your bravery means that you are sometimes terrified, but that you are trying to find a way through. I see you.

You’ll fly away, but take my hand until that day


(Until that day)


So when they ask how far love goes


When my job’s done you’ll be the one who knows

Our jobs aren’t done yet, you and I. We’re still learning and growing together. But watching who you’re becoming is one of the greatest dreams of my life fully realized, and I am so proud of the girl you are becoming. I could not love you more.

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So when they ask how far love goes


When my job’s done you’ll be the one who knows

Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Love,
Mom

(Italicized lyrics are “The One Who Knows” by Dar Williams)

An American Were-Family in (Disneyland) Paris, Part 1

Once upon a time this was a blog about our travels. That…sort of fell by the wayside. I’m trying to get back into the habit of writing, so I thought I’d recap our very last trip while we’re living abroad. The girls have been excellent sports about being dragged all over, up and down mountains and to wineries and other boring places of no interest to small people; thus, we decided our last trip would be all about them: five days in Disneyland Paris.

Our adventure began several months ago when we realized that for but a fraction of the cost of taking our brood to Orlando (and at a fraction of the temperature), we could go to a smaller park and see if the Disney experience was really right for us. We had some concerns about how Maggie would handle the Florida parks, Disney not known for being gentle to those who experience sensory sensitivity, and we’d have a small baby and no grandparents in tow.

By the way, I saw numerous groups at Disney where there were two or three adult relatives to every child in the party, and those people are living right. Two adults to three children is a constant game of zone defense, and never more so than when you’re all traveling and out of your element. But I digress. Disneyland Paris is far more compact–two parks, not six, plus a tiny Disney Village strip and all three share an entrance plaza–and traveling out of term-time meant low people volume. We could handle ourselves. We were in.

After booking and then actually taking the trip, we figured we got about 80% of the Disney Experience for about 50% of the price. No Epcot or water parks, to be sure, and no pool at our on-site hotel (which I could charitably describe as “ramshackle” but that would be an insult to ramshackle buildings; it was clean and breakfast was free, I’ll leave it at that). Smoking is also allowed in Disneyland Paris, which I never quite got over.

But the shuttle rides were never more than 5 minutes to our budget hotel, as opposed to the long rides in Orlando, and we could cover a lot more ground in less time. The package we bought was a reasonable price, and included extended park hours, an unlimited Photo Pass for all those goofy mid-ride shots, a meal plan for one meal a day and a tea-time treat (a “pause gourmande”) prepaid, a character breakfast, a Wild West dinner, and a Princess Pavilion Meet-and-Greet lunch. It only left 2-3 meals for us to pay out of pocket (plus souvenirs and other treats, of course). I don’t know if, monetarily, we maximized the value of everything we prepaid, but it was REALLY nice knowing that nearly every time we sat down to a meal, it had been paid for months ago. Since we just put a down payment on a thirty-year albatross house, we could just relax and not wonder if getting an appetizer with dinner meant that we would have to pay for a snow shovel for our house in weekly installments later. Unfortunately, we had to fly at 6am. Getting three children out the door to be at the airport by 4am is exactly as easy as you’d think, although the promise of Disney put the big girls in exceptional moods.

And was that 6am flight and Mouse House package worth it?

Well…

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…I do believe so!

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The weather was temperamental, often misty and sometimes veering into outright rain. The nice part was that the mercury stayed in the mid-low 60s, and with a refreshing mist it was so much easier to enjoy the physical exertion of actually being in the park. The other nice part of that was that outside of term-time and with threatening-looking weather overhead, rides that would normally require Fast Passes to go on once were so empty that we could exit and re-enter on a continuous loop. My Buzz Lightyear space blaster skills were REFINED, y’all. Sadly, that also meant going on the girls’ favorite, “It’s A Small World,” somewhere around one dozen times.

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The things we do for our babies.

One of the things we booked in advance was a princess lunch, figuring we could bypass all the wait times at the Princess Pavilion. Little girls wanting a glimpse of their favorite princess are apparently undaunted by such trivialities as weather or school term schedules. It was lovely. Minna was utterly astonished by Cinderella’s mice.

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Because we stayed at a Disney hotel, we got extended park hours. I was waiting at the exit to Small World, which was alongside the Princess Pavilion, for Tom and the big girls to exit while I tried to get Minna to take a brief nap (we were trying to power through for the 10:30pm final show). The Pavilion was closed for the evening, but guarded by a cast member who periodically turned away inquisitive guests. During a quiet moment, Tom and the girls exited the ride and the five of us began our shuffling transfer of people, snacks, bags, and assorted stuff. We then heard a “Psst.”

“Psst.”

It was coming from the Pavilion cast member.

She was holding the door open and beckoning us in.

Now, I have no idea what her criteria was. I don’t know why she chose us, or just how drunk with power she was. I only know that she chose to bestow Father Disney’s most richest abundant blessings upon us and we walked directly to the front of the line, no waiting whatsoever (average wait times during the day hovered around 90 minutes). The cast member at the top asked who our favorite Princess was. Moira had gotten to meet Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella, and Tiana earlier so she was pretty satisfied. Maggie had not gotten to meet Merida, the only one she really cared about. There were two princesses in the Pavilion at the time, and you got surprised by whoever the cast member chose for you.

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How lucky are we? PRETTY DAMN LUCKY. (Please enjoy our Parent Dork couture and Minna’s “HEY I’M NOT NAPPING. NO NAP HERE, GUYS!” expression.)

I have more thoughts for later, but this post is long enough already. Next: the dragon, the Crush Coaster, rats of a most excellent nature, and the 3D ride I missed entirely.