A few years ago, before she turned two, we had Nora evaluated by early intervention for her speech, when we were concerned about her lack of words.

Today, Nora was evaluated again. Girlfriend has words—a lot of them. She doesn’t stop talking. But this time, it was about understanding what she says.

I mentioned in my recent post about kindergarten that Nora’s preschool teacher told us at her parent-teacher conference in January that she thought Nora could benefit from some speech therapy for her pronunciation. We were given a referral to speak to the necessary people in our school district, and then we set up an appointment for someone from one of our local agencies to come and evaluate her. This process took over a month, but today was the day.

Last night, we told Nora that a couple of “teachers” would be coming to our house in the morning to play with her and ask her a lot of questions, like taking a test. “Yay!” she responded. This morning, she was really excited for their arrival and asked us, “They’re coming only for me, right? Not Vivienne?” She wanted the attention to be all hers. :) 

When the two women arrived—one speech pathologist and one developmental psychologist—Nora did not hesitate to lead them into the family room and settle in on the floor with them to begin. WITHOUT Michael and me (we stayed in the kitchen). The speech pathologist worked with her while I answered numerous questions for the psychologist, and then they switched. The whole process took about an hour, and Nora was being tested the entire time. Even though we called them about her speech, they performed a comprehensive preschool evaluation on her. They looked at her speech-language, cognitive, motor, and social skills, and in several different areas within those categories. Then they scored her in those areas and reported back to us their findings.

First of all… speech. The reason we had her evaluated in the first place. Not surprisingly, she qualifies for services because of her trouble with sounds. I think the pathologist said that she identified 22 (or uh… 19? 29? somewhere in there) different sounds that Nora has trouble with. They determined she is “moderately delayed” in this area, thus qualifying her for speech therapy. Otherwise, Nora scored well within normal limits for her expressive and receptive language skills, even putting her in the range of 6-7 year old children in some areas. So, said the pathologist, for a little girl with so much to say, we should get her some help with pronouncing it all. :) 

I know next to nothing about speech pathology, so it was interesting to hear her explanation of it. She said that young children take shortcuts with pronouncing certain sounds. It’s easier to say “baff” than it is to say “bath,” or “dovel” instead of “shovel,” so they do. As they grow, the more and more they hear and say these sounds, their language and pronunciation evolves. But with some children, the wrong pronunciations basically become a bad habit, and it takes some extra work to re-train their brains to speak the words correctly.

Anyway, the speech pathologist is recommending twice weekly speech therapy for Nora, for 30 minutes each time. She said that she thinks that with the therapy, Nora will make some really huge strides pretty quickly. But given that we will receive her therapy through the school district, she will only receive it during the school year, which will leave us with only a couple of months before summer vacation. In all likelihood, she will probably need to pick back up services at school once she begins kindergarten in the fall.

That was the other interesting thing that came out of the evaluation today. As I mentioned, a developmental psychologist also evaluated her on cognitive, motor, and social skills. Nora scored on the high end of “normal” (or even above the normal range) in all of these areas. They marveled at her attention span, since she sat through the entire hour of testing without issue, never once asking if they were almost done, never getting up, etc. As part of their questioning of us as her parents, they noted that her birthday falls within the timeframe in which some parents decide to hold back their children an extra year before school, and asked us our plans. When we told them we had long debated but that we’re currently planning to send her (barring any major issues arising between now and then), they said that in their opinions, she is READY. The speech pathologist even said that she thinks it’ll be better for her speech improvement and therapy for her to be in kindergarten.

It’s amazing, the little signs that life gives you when you need a little extra reassurance that you’re doing the right thing.

Nora will still have her kindergarten screening at her future school in May, at which point she’ll be evaluated by additional professionals—including another speech pathologist—but I’m feeling good about all of this. We’re getting her the help she needs for speech, she’s obviously growing and learning at preschool, and we’re on track for kindergarten.

Pardon my gushing, but I’m just so proud of this girl. I don’t get an opportunity to write about my kids that much anymore (and sometimes I struggle with whether I even should, but that’s a story for another day). I KNOW I’m biased. But man, I love her to pieces.

And for the record, I’m really going to miss it when she no longer says that her sister’s name is “Bivienne.” :) I will cherish her “baby talk” as long as it lasts, even if she was supposed to outgrow it by now. I know that one day, all too soon, it will be a memory. And she’ll seem all that much older then.

Why must they grow so quickly?!

 

Looking back, I’m not even sure what possessed me to do this. I am NOT a dieter. I have never done South Beach, Atkins, The Zone, etc. I *did* do Weight Watchers in 2006 after I put on some post-college desk job weight and it worked well for me—I lost 20 lbs. and after gaining just a couple of pounds back shortly after quitting, I have been maintaining my weight pretty successfully ever since.

The difference between Weight Watchers and the other “fad diets” I listed is that it’s not restrictive. At all. It’s about portion control and balancing your unhealthy choices with healthy ones. No one told me I couldn’t have a giant brownie or two slices of pizza if I wanted them, so as far as diets go, it was something I could do. I also felt it was the best choice for long term. Nothing was being taken away. And that balance—that mindset—is largely how I’ve been eating for the past nine years, even if I’m no longer counting points.

Exercise has always been harder for me. It was always something I had to MAKE myself do, and then once I had Nora, I fell off the exercise wagon big time and I didn’t pick up anything I was able to stick with until I started CrossFit almost seven months ago now. Since I had my weight under control, I figured that if I wanted to look better, all I had to do was get the exercise part in order. Build some muscle, some definition. Tone up, slim down. I haven’t been overly unhappy with my body. I have my insecurities, sure, and I wish I felt more confident in a bathing suit on the few occasions I wear one but overall… I’m cool with myself.

I’ve noticed results from CrossFit, but nothing earth shattering. And after starting CrossFit three days a week, I found that I actually GAINED a few pounds. The scale was a little disheartening, actually, because like I said before—prior to this, I had been maintaining my weight within a pound or two for eight freaking years. I start CrossFit and then suddenly the scale goes UP?! What? I know, I know, “muscle weighs more than fat” and all of that, but still.

Before the holidays, a good friend and fellow CrossFitter put a bug in my ear about doing an upcoming nutrition challenge. “Diet made a huge difference for me,” she said. “Just wait. You’ll do it and slim down so much that you will want to eat like this [paleo] all the time.” I suddenly found myself feeling like maybe I should give it a shot. Even if it went against everything I stand for. LOL. I talked to Michael about it and he was on board. I figured we had to do it together if we were going to be successful, so once he was in, we were doing it. We anxiously awaited January 19, the start of the next challenge.

Our challenge was through Lurong Living. They organize big nutrition challenges several times a year and CrossFit gyms across the nation organize teams to participate. Our gym always puts together a team and this time, there were 22 of us. The basics are that you eat a clean, paleo diet. Lurong has resources on its site for participants—a food search (to see whether or not certain foods are “legal”), recipes, a diet plan should you want to follow it, etc. Every day, we logged our nutrition based on their scale. We scored our meals as Elite, Pro, Starter, or Cheat. The cleaner you eat (Elite), the better, and the more points you earn. We also had a benchmark WOD (workout of the day, for you non-CrossFitters) we performed during Week 1, then again during Week 5. The idea is, obviously, to see whether or not your change in diet positively impacts your performance in the gym. Lurong also assigned us “mini WODs” each week, which we performed in addition to our normal WODs for extra points. Our coach/owner of our gym took our weight and measurements at the beginning (January 19) and at the end (this morning), too, because we earn points based on weight loss and lost inches as well.

I signed up for this craziness. I was mostly just curious. I wanted to do it as an experiment.

So, Week 1 was rough. I posted about it back in January. I was really hungry for a few days, then that gave way to huge amounts of rage on Day 5. I have a friend who told me then, “When my husband and I did the paleo challenge for the first time last January, days 4-5 were so awful! I was cranky, had massive cravings and wanted to punch my husband in the face!” Yes, that. Except for maybe punching Michael, because I never blamed him for this mess. IT WAS ALL ME. :) But I could’ve punched SOMEONE, that’s for sure.

I was going to say that Weeks 2 and 3 were probably the “easiest” of the five, but I realized that’s not really true. The thing is—this whole experience was a rollercoaster. There were days when I felt like I pretty much sailed through without any issues, and there were days when I felt like the end could not come soon enough.

I had several really bad days, or at least stretches of hours. There were a few times when I contemplated quitting. I knew I couldn’t keep up this level of diet restriction long term, and I didn’t feel like I was seeing results (I was weighing myself at home, couldn’t help it). Or, at least, the results I was seeing were not enough for all of this freaking effort. The rewards were not outweighing the costs in my mind.

What were the costs? you might wonder. Well, aside from not being able to eat any sugar, carbs, legumes, dairy, etc…

The food prep was killer. Just killer. If I had someone to cook for me, I am fairly confident that I could eat like this at least 90% of the time (because hello, sometimes you really just NEED a cupcake. Or a sandwich). But as full-time working parents to two really young kids… no. Just no. Over the course of the last five weeks, I spent HOURS in the kitchen on Saturdays and Sundays. I would do anything and everything I could do to make meal prep easier during the week—chop veggies, pre-cook chicken, make sweet potato “rolls,” make salads, recipes for lunches, etc. Honestly, this was the part I was most pissed about. I get a limited amount of time with my girls, and with other stuff around my house, and I felt like I missed out on a lot of that because I was in the freaking kitchen so much. And the days when I was feeling particularly rage-y about the challenge were on the weekends, during major meal prep, or when we had not done enough to plan or prep and I was overwhelmed with just the thought of making dinner after work.

And meal PLANNING—something I do on a normal basis anyway—was a beast. Not having a repertoire of familiar and tried-and-true recipes was really hard. Every week, I was searching multiple sites, reading comments on recipes, making a huge grocery list, etc. It took forever. But it is KEY. Like I just said, the most difficult times of the challenge were when I had not planned or prepared enough.

Speaking of grocery lists… the trips to Wegmans were insane. Tons of stuff in the cart, tons of time to find new ingredients that I wasn’t familiar with. And the total at the cash register?! Wow. Our grocery bill for our family of four went from about $120 a week to $240 a week. One week, it was $275. Picture my eyes popping out of my head, because… yeah. I still maintain that in our “normal” lives, we eat pretty healthy. It’s pretty balanced. But if you REALLY clean up your act like we did for the challenge… eating this clean is EXPENSIVE. A huge family pack of meat that would typically last us 2-3 weeks was now only lasting a week. So every week we were buying meat, and when you add that on top of like $80 worth of fruits and vegetables plus the specialty/organic ingredients we were buying… it gets out of hand quickly. I do think it would’ve been cheaper for us to do this challenge during the summer months, when we could hit up the huge public market and get most (if not all) of our produce there. But then we would’ve had to trek down there every week, which is a feat and a commitment in and of itself. And this is not to sway anyone away from trying to make positive changes to their diet for budget reasons. It was just our reality during the challenge.

Cravings and such were okay, actually. I mean, my boss brought in donuts one day and I thought I might die because I wanted one so badly. I steered clear of the kitchen but I sat at my desk and literally could not stop thinking about them sitting in there. LOL. But most of the time, I really did all right. Don’t get me wrong—I wanted bread, I wanted cake, I wanted chocolate, etc.—but I also learned that my willpower is stronger than I ever thought it was.

I also learned that I like more foods than I thought. I was not at all fond of raisins before, but when one of my fellow challengers mentioned that they make a good “dessert” in place of chocolate or candy, I tried them and fell in love. I am the type of person who really wants a little taste of something sweet after lunch and dinner, and I found that eating a few raisins did the trick. I became really well acquainted with cauliflower—we made “rice” a lot. Brussel sprouts are another thing that grew on me. And pretty much the only packaged snack that is considered paleo legal is the Larabar (only certain flavors). I bought a few and tried Cashew Cookie first. It tasted like a piece of cardboard. I then tried Apple Pie and again, fell in love. It’s hysterical because my coworkers and mom have all been like “Those are gross, they taste too healthy/too plain/etc.” and I have been like “YES, but when you have not had sugar in weeks, they.are.glorious.” I actually remember trying a Larabar during my “no dairy” days when nursing Vivienne and I also thought they were nasty (although I can’t remember what flavor I tried at the time). Go figure. Your perspective and tastes change, that’s for sure.

Another big lifestyle change was a drop in the frequency/quantity of our drinking alcohol. I mean, please don’t take this the wrong way—we don’t go crazy. But we usually enjoy a couple of beers on a Friday night, and then might have a few more beers or a bottle of wine on Saturday night. On the challenge, we could only have ONE beer or a 6-ounce glass of wine per night. We rarely even bothered to take advantage. Honestly, as far as the challenge goes, this was one of the easier things for me to give up, simply because I’ve done it before. Twice. For NINE MONTHS. But still—yet another restriction to live with.

I’ve been thinking about this recap post for a few weeks now and I was all ready to come here and tell you all that I think that the diet is kind of a crock, because I followed it REALLY closely and ate REALLY cleanly for five weeks and I hardly lost any weight. And I don’t feel all that different, either. People swore I’d have a lot more energy, feel less bloated, etc. and I don’t feel that I’ve noticed many changes. BUT then this past week, I started to notice that my pants were maybe fitting a bit differently.

And then I had my measurements taken this morning.

And then I brought up my “before” picture and my “after” picture side by side in Photoshop.

Now I’m kind of eating my words. You know, before I ever even publish them.

The thing is—my results are definitely not drastic. Maybe people who are not me will not even notice the difference. But here is where I let it all hang out. Literally. Because yeah, I’ve decided to share my pics with you all. The pics that I took after rolling out of bed first thing in the morning, bleary eyed, no makeup, not showered, bedhead. Pasty white in the middle of winter. Half-nekkid. *DEEP BREATH* OHMYGOD HERE WE GO.

Yep. So there I am. *cringe* I better hit publish on this post before I chicken out.

Really, I only see a small difference in my abdomen. It’s perhaps a little more toned, and my tummy is perhaps just a teeny bit flatter. (By the way, is there anything worse than looking at straight-on photos of yourself? Haaaate that angle.)

Officially, I lost 8.6 pounds. Now, as I mentioned in my post about Week 1, this is kind of a farce. I ate like it was going out of style the weekend before the challenge began, so on Day 1—to my shock and horror—I was up 6-7 pounds from where I had been consistently weighing in before that. Not surprisingly, I was already down 6.5 pounds like two days into the challenge, so yeah… clearly it was bloat. So don’t be fooled. My REAL weight loss was only about 2-3 pounds. Which is why, you can imagine, I was getting so discouraged by the scale the last few weeks. Which is why I should’ve stayed off of it, but gah, I just couldn’t. But you’d be much better served if you did. BECAUSE…

My measurements this morning revealed that I lost a total of 8 inches. THAT was surprising to me, and was really what made me feel like an idiot for thinking poorly of this whole thing. I lost inches everywhere except for my arms (they stayed the same). I’m going to chalk that up to the fact that I’m lifting weights like a boss. LOL I’m just kidding. But really, I am working on toning them obviously, and arms are one of the areas where I’ve noticed the biggest changes from CrossFit alone.

As for my benchmark WOD performance… the workout was a 7-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible in the 7 minutes), alternating between 5 front squats (with 65 lbs.) and 7 burpee bar-jumps (burpee + two-footed jump over your barbell). The first time, on Wednesday, January 21, I scored 63 reps. We repeated the WOD on Friday, February 20 and I scored 74 reps. So I saw improvement there, too. Although, I will say that everyone at the gym—even non-challenge participants—did this same WOD with us, and many of those who were not doing the challenge still saw improvement in their scores, so I’m a bit skeptical about the correlation between the diet and the WOD performance. Just for full disclosure.

So, am I glad I did the challenge? Yeah, I guess I am. It was really hard, and is typically not the type of diet I would ever subject myself to—but maybe that’s why it was good that I did it. I challenged myself, for real. It was not easy. But along the way, I did learn quite a few things about myself and about eating that I feel like I can carry forward into my “real” life.

Would I do it again? I don’t know. I don’t think so. For “maintenance,” my coach at the gym suggested we try to eat like this 80% of the time. I don’t know if I can do that, honestly. But maybe. Breakfasts and lunches were not as big of a deal as dinners. So maybe I can eat clean for most breakfasts and lunches and dinner is more “normal.” We’ll see. Now I’m curious to see what happens going forward. Can I maintain the progress I made without eating like a caveman? Time will tell. And if I ever feel like I want to commit myself to further slimming down, I think I would be more likely to use what I’ve learned to eat like this on my own—and potentially allow a few cheats, which I did NOT do until this past Saturday night. With a few cheats, I’m sure it would be more bearable. My friend—the one who encouraged me to do this in the first place—eats paleo in her normal life, but she has 1-2 days a week that she allows herself to cheat. It works for her and doesn’t affect her progress. So, just like Weight Watchers, I suppose it is about finding balance.

Now, I want to add that I feel like this—or Whole30—can be really great tools for people. Myself included, because like I said, I learned a lot. There are people from my team at the gym who lost 15-20 pounds or more. In five weeks! So clearly, this WORKS for people. And if I can do it, anyone can. It’s just 30 days (or five weeks, depending). You can do anything for that long (and that’s what I kept telling myself every time I was tempted to quit or cheat).

I hope this is helpful or somewhat interesting to those of you who wondered how I was doing along the way. And if you have been contemplating doing a challenge yourself, I do think it’s worth experimenting with. Different bodies react in different ways and yours might respond really well to this type of thing. So give it a shot. Report back. :)

I thought this whole thing would be a great opportunity for me to photograph, blog and share a bunch of new recipes on my blog but… nope. I never got around to photographing or blogging any of it except for a few iPhone pics thrown up on Instagram here and there. But I know people are always interested in paleo recipe resources, so I’m going to drop a few links here for some favorites that we’ve discovered. Most of these are totally being added to the meal rotation, even now that we’re done!


Paleo Pad Thai from Against All Grain
Paleo Chicken Pot Pie from Life Made Full
Paleo Chicken Fingers from The Healthy Foodie
Roast Chicken Soup with Vegetables from Against All Grain
Sweet Potato Buns from Predominantly Paleo
Fresh Balsamic Crockpot Chicken from Paleo Fresh
Buffalo Chicken Salad from PaleOMG
Foolproof Homemade Paleo Mayo from The Healthy Foodie
Sweet Smoky BBQ Sauce from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen

As of this morning’s weigh in, I was officially done. Today, I’ve had: my usual smoothie for a post-workout breakfast; a small handful of cashews for a mid-morning snack, veggies and hummus for lunch (hummus is not paleo, I missed it so much! but it’s also not bad for you, so… rock on!) with just a few pita chips (loved, but they tasted saltier than I remember!); and a small box of raisins. Tonight, though, we are having some pasta and meat sauce with a veggie for dinner, and I plan to indulge in a little bit of ice cream. Everything in moderation, right? At least I didn’t run out this morning and get a donut. One of the guys at the gym asked me if I had a cheeseburger stashed in my purse for after weigh-in. Noooo, but not a bad idea. :)

So I’m still trying to be good, but also celebrating being FREEEEEEEE! Happy Monday, my friends.

 

I had every intention of getting this post up last week, but last week was crazy busy around here as I continued my quest to redecorate our master bathroom. AND we are still in the midst of our paleo nutrition challenge (6 days left, but who’s counting?!). Oh, and I filled out a bajillion forms for kindergarten registration last Tuesday, Nora started swim lessons AND we had valentines to tackle last week, too. So yeah, crazy.

But I’m back with another installment of my Disney series. I figured that after the planning portion, the next logical thing to tackle is the travel itself. How did we get there? How did it go? How did we navigate the way? And most importantly, how was the flight with a 15-month-old toddler?!

As I mentioned in my planning post, we traveled from Sunday to Sunday. Our flight out of Buffalo was at a reasonable morning hour—9:35 a.m. We still had to get up and get out of the house early, but it wasn’t THAT early.

One of the major decisions we made regarding travel was to be willing to pay a little extra (if needed) for direct flights. We didn’t want to spend half a day getting down there, or try to keep Vivienne busy in an airport for any longer than we already had to. Avoiding a layover was really appealing. With the direct flight, our flight time was about 2 hours and 45 minutes, which isn’t horrible, but isn’t a cake walk with a small child, either.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to park in economy parking, take the shuttle with all of our baggage and other crap, check bags, get through the hell that is security with kids, and get to our gate. Nora was a champ. Vivienne started throwing fits as soon as we were inside of the airport. It’s like she knew we were about to confine her to a flying metal box for three hours. All she wanted to do was toddle around. I had to carry her kicking and screaming from the ticket counter, and I’m pretty sure she was flipping out as I carried her through security, too. At that point, the TSA agents were just like, OMG we don’t care if you have liquids, just gooooooo. Our ear drums! Take her away.

We flew Southwest on the way down, and JetBlue on the way back up. That’s not typical, of course, but it was the only way we could get direct flights both ways (the returning Southwest direct flight was already sold out by the time we booked), and it saved us a few dollars, too. Thankfully, both of these airlines have free checked bag allowances for each ticketed passenger, so we checked three full-sized suitcases—one for me, one for Michael, and one that the girls shared. Even then it was a tight fit to pack everything we all needed for a week! Michael, Nora and I also carried backpacks, and we had a small diaper bag full of, well, diapers and wipes, plus small toys, books, and other distractions for Vivienne.

Another big debate prior to our trip was what to do about a stroller. We contemplated bringing our structured backpack carrier (Osprey Poco Premium) for Vivienne to cart her around the airport that way, but then we realized we would be losing the luggage space of having one of us carry a full-sized backpack of our own. And then, of course, there was the debate about what we would use while we were on Disney property. We considered—for only a brief time—bringing our own double jogging stroller from home. But then we came to our senses and realized what a pain that would be to get into the airport, checked and/or through security, etc. and we nixed that idea quickly. We also considered bringing our single all-terrain stroller—a Bumbleride Indie—so that we could utilize the glider board for Nora to ride on. But the Indie, although not enormous, is not my idea of a “travel stroller,” so we decided against that as well.

We ended up bringing our lightweight “umbrella” type stroller for travel; it’s a Chicco Liteway. We’ve traveled with it many times before with Nora, so we knew it would work well. The only disadvantage was that Nora had to walk the entire time, and there can be a lot of walking—maybe more than we sometimes realize!—in airports. Especially in Orlando, which is really spread out. It didn’t help that after we landed, we initially went in the wrong direction and walked really far out of our way and then had to backtrack. She complained a little about her legs being tired, her backpack being heavy, etc. but she powered through when she needed to.

{Definitely showing off her Magic Band with this pose. She was thrilled to finally be allowed to put it on once we were in the Orlando airport!}

We ended up finding the Disney Welcome Center and we were swiftly “checked in” with our Magic Bands and whisked aboard a Disney Magical Express (the big buses that take you to and from the airport and your resort) to take us to Coronado Springs. It took maybe half an hour on the bus to get to the resort, but it was smooth sailing.

For our time at Disney, having Nora walk all over God’s creation in the parks was just NOT going to work. We knew this in advance. We rented a double stroller from Kingdom Strollers—a really nice City Mini GT Double—for the duration of our trip. We made the reservation and paid for it well in advance, and it was available for us to pick up at our hotel (at the bell hop) on the day of our arrival. The fee was reasonable, it was convenient to pick up and drop off, and it was a great stroller for getting both kids around in the parks. Although it would ALWAYS be better to be able to do the parks without a stroller at all (don’t have to worry about maneuvering in and out of crowds, parking it, etc.), this thing was our lifeline for the week. It was nice to have the storage underneath. The seat backs fully reclined, which was GREAT for Vivienne taking naps, which she did EVERY DAY. I didn’t know if we would ever achieve stroller naps with her, but we did, and it was lovely. :) And Nora spent a lot of time sitting in her side of it, too, taking a rest from the walking. It was also easy to fold and unfold to carry it on and off the Disney buses.

Kingdom Strollers was good to work with. We didn’t have any trouble at all with the stroller itself; it was clean, it was functional, it was well-equipped with a mini cooler and rain cover (which sadly, we needed to use multiple times—so glad we had it!). We also opted to order and pay for in advance a case of bottled water to be delivered with the stroller. Unfortunately, the water was not there when we went to pick up the stroller the day we arrived. I had to call them and get it straightened out, and it was kind of a pain. It was worth it, though, to have the case of water. Between it and the few waters we got in the parks, it lasted us the whole week. Anyway, even with the whole water snafu, I would still rent from Kingdom Strollers again.

Back to the flights themselves. Nora is at an age when she is completely happy sitting with the iPad and snacks for hours. If we really need to distract her, iPad it is. Easy. With Vivienne, we exhausted our entire bag of tricks—toys, books, straws, snacks, an old iPhone, iPad, diaper changes, etc.—in the course of the first 90 minutes of flight. After that, it was all about survival. At about the 2-hour mark, Vivienne was clearly overtired and started to flip out. I’m talking full blown screaming fest; she could not be calmed down. I forced her into a lying down position in my arms and “shhhh-ed” in her ear, rubbing her face with a lovey.

Eventually, she succumbed to the fatigue and passed out in my lap. Thank goodness. This was something else I would’ve bet she would never do—sleep in my lap (she’s just not a snuggler)—but she did! So, if you have a similar baby and you’re worried… there’s hope. :) All told, she probably only cried for 5-10 minutes (not bad, actually) and then she slept in my arms for the remainder of the flight. On the way home, it was pretty much the exact same scenario except that we exhausted our bag of tricks even more quickly, she was even MORE overtired, and she fought sleep for a little longer, but slept a little longer, too.

Our flight home left Orlando at 8:00 a.m. and woof. That was rough. The Disney Magical Express picked us up at 5:15 a.m. in front of the lobby, if that’s any indication. You don’t dictate that, by the way—Disney collects your flight information and schedules your pick-up time for you in order to get you to the airport in time. Good thing, too, because we found that the Orlando airport was crowded and slow-going, even that early on a Sunday morning. It took FOREVER—over an hour—to wait in line to check our baggage and then wait in line for security. It’s a good way to torture parents with small children after a week in Disney, I can tell you that. Anyway, if we had been left to our own devices for getting to the airport, I don’t know if we would’ve necessarily left ourselves enough time. So, listen to Disney. They know.

We had to wake our babies up before the sun on our departure morning. I felt so bad! Vivienne was in a deep, deep sleep and it was hard to disturb her. Poor kids. When we landed back in Buffalo and packed the kids into the car for the drive home, they were both sleeping within minutes.

I know I’m kind of jumping around a bit, but when we first arrived at the Orlando airport, it was clear that it was MUCH warmer than at home! In fact, the temperature was in the 80s, and we could feel it as soon as we got off the plane, even though we were in an air-conditioned airport. I also noticed that Vivienne was burning up (she actually had a fever, poor kid) so while Michael ran to the restroom, I actually stripped her right at the gate and changed her into shorts and a t-shirt. So that’s another tip—consider packing a quick change of clothes in your carry-on. I wore layers (I had a fleece on, but with a tank top underneath, and jeans) so I just took off my fleece and was fine.

Once we made it to our resort, it was around lunch time. We checked in and our room was not ready yet since it was early. So we went to the bell hop and had them hang onto all of our suitcases. Before we handed them over, I pulled out a change of clothes and a bathing suit for Nora and changed her into the outfit. Michael got his swim trunks out, too. I also changed into sandals myself, since it was HOT out! By this time, we were starving, so we went to an on-site quick service restaurant for lunch.

We didn’t plan anything for our first day, even though we were arriving early, and I think that was a good decision. It allowed us to take our time settling in. Plus, with the car ride, the airports, the flight, the bus ride—I think we had already had enough excitement for one day!

After lunch, we explored the property a bit, found the pool, and Nora and Michael went for a swim while I walked Vivienne in circles in the stroller to get her to nap again. The poor girl was still feverish and had no appetite (unusual for her). The above picture makes me tear up a little. Nora was SO.EXCITED. just to be there. We hadn’t even started the really fun stuff yet! And here is sick Vivienne… :( 

But if you’re going to be sick and snoozing, poolside on an 80+ degree day in Orlando is not a bad place to do that!

All told, the travel went smoothly. While we were gone, Buffalo got that crazy, record-breaking snowfall (7 feet. In November. SEVEN FEET!) so we were afraid of what we would be coming back to. We didn’t even have our snow brush in the car yet, and what if we had to dig the van out of 7 feet of snow when we got home?! But thankfully, the airport got barely a dusting. Weather is weird, y’all.

 

It’s been almost three months since our trip to Disney World, but I’m just now getting to a point where I can sit down and sift through all of our photos, and think about the lessons learned from the whole experience. All told, we had a great time, and it was something that was definitely special to Nora. She talks about it often, and mentions going back—which we’ll do, but probably not for at least a couple of years.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to tackle these posts, the sharing of photos, etc. And I figured out a few different categories, or topics, that I want to focus on and I think it’ll make all of this a little easier to digest, and hopefully a little more informational than the typical “vacation recap” posts.

So, where to start? How about with the planning?

We weren’t originally planning to go to Disney until our youngest child was 3-4 years old. But last year, Nora really started to get into the Disney magic—in large part due to Frozen. She LOVES all of the princesses, LOVES Anna and Elsa. And I kept hearing from some parents and teachers that this magic can be short-lived. Like many other parts of a child’s development, it’s a phase. They’re into it, then they’re not anymore. And if I’m being honest, Nora is ALREADY not into them as much as she used to be. She still really likes them and it’s not that I don’t think she would have enjoyed herself if she was a bit older, but Michael and I started to talk about it and we decided we really wanted to embrace the stage she was in and take her at age 4. Because she still BELIEVES and it’s all wonderful. We ended up running into some unexpected challenges with fears, but it doesn’t change my position about taking her—it was our expectations that needed to be adjusted and managed.

Vivienne’s age made us nervous; don’t get me wrong. At the time of our trip, she was going to be 15 months old and we were definitely sweating a bit about that. And now that we’re on the other side of it, I’ll say that it wasn’t easy. There were challenging parts with Vivienne because she was old enough to want to walk around by herself, but too young to walk in any particular direction, hold our hands for an extended period of time, and generally just reason with. She spent A LOT of time in the stroller. A LOT, A LOT. And thankfully, she was mostly cool about that. There was a lot for her to look at. But age of your children at the time of your trip is obviously a huge consideration. We took a risk and it worked out, but I honestly don’t know if it would have if she had been ANY older than 15 months. The moment we got home, it seemed like her sense of independence suddenly exploded even more and I could not imagine trying to confine her to a stroller for such extended periods of time right now. It stresses me out just to think about it.

Once we decided we were going to do this whole Disney World thing, I turned to experts—friends who have been to Disney many, many times. We knew we wanted to do a trip in the fall (October or November) and my friend, Kim, informed me that we’d likely be there during Disney’s “free dining” promotion, which was a nice added perk. However, at the time we booked—which turned out to be late April 2014 for a November 2014 trip—the free dining promo had not yet been released/announced. Kim advised me to book it anyway, and that we could call on the day the dining promo was announced to have them update our reservation with the promotional discount.

Sure enough, in early May, Disney announced the free dining promotion for the fall, and I was able to call on that same day and update the reservation. It knocked just about $1,000 off of our original reservation costs, which is not insignificant. I plan to dedicate a whole post to dining details, so if you’re curious to know more about this whole thing, stay tuned for that soon. Disney also offers other types of promotions throughout the year, and they are generally the same year after year, so definitely look into it if you’re in the midst of your own planning. You can still book your trip ASAP, but just have the reservation adjusted as soon as the promotion is officially released.

So, we knew free dining was likely coming from the beginning of the planning process, but one of the more difficult decisions was where to stay. From what I’ve read and been told, I don’t think you can REALLY go wrong with any of the Disney resorts. But we liked the look and feel of the moderate resorts (they have value, moderate, and deluxe) over the value resorts, and we couldn’t justify the cost of the deluxe resorts for this trip. When it comes to hotels, we’ve never been tremendously picky—we like a clean, comfortable place to sleep, and that’s about all we ask for.

On this trip, we also wanted to make sure that transportation to the parks was convenient—which thanks to the Disney buses, it is, pretty much wherever you stay—and that the hotel had a decent pool. We were hopeful that even though the weather could go either way in November (swimming versus non-swimming temps), we might have a chance to spend a day or two “resting” away from the parks, enjoying the pool and hotel grounds. Kim recommended Coronado Springs, so after checking it out, we went for it.

The other thing to consider was length of stay. I knew that with small children, running a go-go-go type of vacation could be dangerous to all of our mental sanities. We decided that we’d go for a week—Sunday to Sunday due to work travel I had planned leading up to our vacation—but that we’d plan to only spend four days in the parks. On the “off” days, we’d stay by the pool, nap in the hotel, visit Downtown Disney, etc. You know, relax.

So at first, we planned to only buy 4-day park passes. I mentioned this plan to Kim and she gently suggested that we consider getting 6-day passes instead. The cost difference was pretty negligible all things considered—it was only $63 more TOTAL for all of us to get 6-day park passes instead of 4-day park passes. Kim’s reasoning was that this would give us the most flexibility. If there was a park we wanted to revisit, or if there was one that we wanted to go and spend just a few hours at on one of our “off” days, we would have the option. We got the regular (non-hopper) passes because we figured that it’s not that easy to “hop” parks, and we were unlikely to go through all of that effort with two small kids in tow. Once we were in a park for the day, we were okay sticking to that same park, so there was no reason for us to pay extra to hop.

This whole 4-day vs. 6-day park passes thing was probably the best advice that Kim gave me, because I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t have those two extra days of passes. Long story short—more to come on this later–we had pretty dreadful weather (IT WAS COLD!! Really cold), so spending a day or two hanging out by the pool was not in the cards for us. We ended up going to the parks every.single.day (with the exception of our arrival and departure days) because honestly, what else were we going to do at Disney if not the pool?

Once we were booked, Disney made it pretty easy to keep track of all of the “next steps.” They sent a personalized booklet with a customized magnet for our fridge with all of the important dates on it—like when to start booking dining reservations, when to book FastPasses, when the final payment was due, etc.

That was another nice thing—you don’t have to pay for it all at once if you can’t or don’t want to! Book your vacation, put down a deposit (can be as little as a few hundred dollars) and then periodically sign into your My Disney Experience account and make payments toward the balance when you can. No minimum payments, no interest. Just pay as you can and/or want to. Also, it’s all 100% refundable up until 45 days before your trip, so if you’re planning really far out and then end up needing to cancel your trip for some reason, you’re not out any money (at least from Disney. Airfare is obviously a different story). You have to have the trip paid off in full with Disney at the 45-day mark, too.

Making dining (at 180 days out) and FastPass+ reservations (at 60 days out) was honestly kind of stressful for me, but I’ll get more into that in later posts.

We also opted to pay for the Memory Maker package. I think it was around $100. With it, you get unlimited photos from Disney photographers in the parks. Any time there is a photographer anywhere, you can have your photo taken and then you’ll get to download all of the digital files. We had our photos taken randomly in the parks, at character meet-and-greets, at some of the restaurants, etc. and it was worthwhile to have the package, we thought. The Memory Maker even includes the photos that are sometimes taken of you while you’re on some of the rides.

Picking the specific dates for our trip—we traveled November 16-23, as I mentioned, Sunday to Sunday—was actually mostly beyond our control. We had a lot of family plans and things going on in October, I had work travel at both the end of October and the second week of November, there was Halloween in there (which we wanted to be home for). So it pretty much left us with only the week before Thanksgiving as an option. However, if you have more flexibility in your dates, another thing you might want to consider is consulting a reliable Disney crowd calendar. The predicted crowds for our dates were low, which was nice. Once on our trips and in the parks, they still seemed relatively crowded to us, but we also don’t have much to compare it to. *shrug* It’s Disney. Crowds are part of the experience.

We ended up booking flights later in May, so less than a month after booking our trip, and about six months out from our travel dates. We did it early because we have limited direct flights to Orlando available to us from where we live, and we wanted to take advantage of them. Some of them were already sold out by the time we booked!

So, budget. I know a lot of people want to know about budget. A Disney vacation can range tremendously in price based on the resort level, length of stay, dining choices, spending money at the parks, etc. I debated about whether to share a cost breakdown here, since I don’t want it to come off the wrong way. But I hope that by breaking down the expenses we incurred on our vacation, it can help others in knowing what to expect to spend for a similar trip. Once we were on property, we paid for EVERYTHING with our Magic Bands (the bracelets Disney sends you that serve as your hotel room key, park passes, FastPasses, method of payment, etc.). On the day we checked out from our hotel, we received an email summary of every purchase we made, and the total amount spent (the balance was charged to our credit card, which they had on file). It made it easy to add up out-of-pocket expenses during the trip, which was interesting, since that’s not something we typically add up over the course of our vacations!

Anyway, here we go. Cost breakdown for a trip to Disney from New York in November 2014, staying at a moderate resort (Coronado Springs), 7 days and 7 nights total, 6 days spent in the parks. Two adults, one child (age 4), and one infant (whose trip was free due to her age):

$2,623 – Resort, park passes, Memory Maker, dining plan (which was free due to a fall Disney promotion)
$873 – Roundtrip airfare
$509 – Out-of-pocket expenses during the trip (lunch on first day, tips/gratuity for all table service meals (six of them), alcoholic drinks, souvenirs, games, etc.)
= $4,005 TOTAL

Is Disney the most economical vacation you can take? No. But I have to say—I thought that $4,000 was not bad for a 7-day Disney trip for a family of four. Granted, Vivienne was completely free (you don’t pay for children under 3), and she won’t be the next time we go, so there will be added expenses in the future. But this was for a moderate resort, so obviously you can save money if you go for one of the value resorts instead.

Leading up to the trip, I got a lot of questions from people about whether Nora knew about it or not. We actually never even thought about surprising her on the day of or anything like that. And although those surprises are really fun, the building anticipation as we got closer and closer was really fun, too! We even had a Mickey Mouse paper chain going on to countdown for the last few weeks. :)

I think that sums up the planning and thought process behind everything leading up to our trip. Next, I think I’ll tackle the travel itself. With the start of some actual trip PICTURES! More to come!

 

We had Nora’s preschool parent-teacher conference yesterday. Michael and I walked into her empty classroom and took a seat across from her teacher, in the tiny blue chairs at the too-short tables. Twenty minutes dedicated to hearing someone else’s evaluation of our girl.

It went really well. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but it turned out that the teachers had been evaluating Nora in several areas over the last several weeks, making notes about her in each category.

We heard about how sweet she is. Independent, able to do most everything on her own except for needing a little help getting into and out of the princess dresses. :) Exhibits a preference for a lot of the manipulative play activities, like the dollhouse, puzzles, coloring, tracing. An observer. Reserved, but willingly jumps in to play with others if they invite her to. Shy, but participates fully in all of the group singing, poem recitation, learned hand motions, etc. A great listener. Follows directions and easily transitions from one thing to another when it’s time. Receptive to the lessons. LOVES the projects. Plays most often with Juliana, Mackenna and Jillian, and could probably benefit from having a few play dates with one or more of them outside of school. 

In the area of speech, her teacher did point out that she has some pretty obvious pronunciation issues, so she recommends speech therapy. I was not surprised, as even we have a difficult time understanding some of her words sometimes. I’m happy to get her services, eager even, because I know it can be frustrating to her at times. She’s astonishingly smart about it, though. If we don’t understand what she’s saying, she finds another way to tell us by giving us clues.

An example: We were in the car last week and she was saying something to me, I thought she was saying, “Wheel.” When I asked her if that’s what she was saying, she said, “No, Mommy. You know… IN THE SEA?! LIKE A DOLPHIN?!” Whale. Duh, Mommy. But to my credit, I was close. :)

Anyway, I’m a little pissed off at myself with the speech thing because I feel like I should’ve been advocating for her sooner. We had her evaluated shortly before she turned two because she had so few words. At that time, they determined that she was delayed but only mildly, not by enough to qualify for services. They encouraged us and told us not to worry, that she’d catch up. In the months that followed, she had a major word explosion so it seemed that they were right. I didn’t give it much more thought until the last six months or so, when I started to feel like she was markedly harder to understand than her peers. But we have a couple of friends whose kids go to the same preschool (different classes, but in some instances, same teacher) and one of their sons was recommended for speech services in October. It gave me a false sense of security about the situation because I figured that if her son was getting flagged by our teacher, we would’ve been notified if she believed there was an issue with Nora, too. Apparently not so.

Live and learn, I suppose. I’m going through the process of getting her started down that path now.

The teacher went on to tell us that Nora’s doing really great with her identification of letters, something I’ve been noticing lately, too. She’s working hard on learning to identify more numbers—she’s got 1-10 down, but needs more work on the others. She can count to 30 completely on her own, but can go to as high as 100 with prompting at each new “decade”—40, 50, 60, and so on. She understands the pattern of each, which is apparently good.

She showed us Nora’s drawings, which was another area of assessment. They were instructed to draw a self portrait, and Nora’s made my heart happy. The teacher pointed out the level of detail (eyelashes, fingers, purple sneakers, etc.) and deemed it “really good.” LOL. It’s too cute not to share:

Last night, when I showed Nora, she pointed out another detail we had all missed—the fact that she had been wearing her Frozen shirt that day. “But I didn’t have enough room to draw both Anna and Elsa on my shirt, so this is just Elsa.” Yep, there’s a miniature stick-figure person on the big stick-figure’s shirt. I DIE.

All told, it was a solid “report card.” It seems she is well on track for kindergarten in September.

Right?

Hold up, now. Not so fast.

Backing up… I always assumed Nora would go to kindergarten when she turned 5. Her birthday is September 11, the cutoff birthday here is December 1. I knew, of course, that it depends on the child and we would for sure consider other options if something unexpected came up in preschool. But barring any big problems, why wouldn’t she go?

It wasn’t until Nora’s 4-year well child visit to the pediatrician in September that we were introduced to the concept of redshirting. Our pediatrician didn’t call it this, but she asked about our plans for kindergarten. When we casually told her that we expected Nora to go next year as long as preschool went well, she paused for a moment and said, “I urge you to think about it more. Don’t decide until next summer. Because here’s the thing: MOST parents with children with fall birthdays are now holding them back. So Nora would be going to school with some children who are a full year older than her.”

I was dumbfounded. MOST parents are doing this? How are we just now hearing about this? And… Nora’s birthday is in early September. We’re not talking about a November birthday here. *My* birthday is in mid-August and I was always pretty young for my class; I never really thought twice about it. Because you go to kindergarten when you’re five. And by the way, Vivienne’s birthday is in early August… will this even be a topic of discussion when she becomes eligible for kindergarten? Will people even MENTION the idea of holding her back? I’m guessing not. And if that is indeed the case… do the 5-6 weeks between Vivienne’s birthday and Nora’s birthday REALLY make a difference?!

We left feeling like our pediatrician might be a little crazy. We love her, but what?

And then I started hearing it from other sources. That “most” parents are holding fall babies back and giving them an extra year. There was suddenly all of this external pressure to hold her back. And for no real reason except for the date of her birth.

I’ve since learned that this is called “redshirting.” It’s a trend—the practice of holding children back and starting them late to kindergarten so that they will have academic, social, and physical (sports) advantages as they progress through school.

I’m going to come right out and say: I think redshirting is bullshit.

Now, before anyone gets angry at me, I understand that in many areas of the country, the kindergarten cutoff birth dates are much earlier, so it might seem ridiculous to even consider sending Nora to kindergarten with a September birthday! And that’s fine, but that’s not the way it is here in New York. And just because you may have an earlier cutoff doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with redshirting, right? If your kindergarten cutoff birthday is August 1, I’m guessing that in some areas, parents of May, June, and July babies are also being faced with this lunacy.

I ALSO understand that it depends on the child. I absolutely get it. My own mother opted to hold my brothers back a year (they have an October birthday) because 1) they were active, busy little kids, 2) they are boys, and 3) they are twins, which apparently puts them at a disadvantage in and of itself. With those three strikes, my mom said the decision was easy. So, if you have a child you’ve decided to hold back for one reason or another—good for you. Honestly, you know your kid better than anybody and I’m sure your decision is a good one.

What I take issue with is redshirting as a trend. I take issue with it being “just something that you do” now.

I take issue with the fact that I sat through an overwhelmingly positive parent-teacher conference with a report on my daughter that gave us every reason to believe that she is excelling. And then, at the end, when I reminded the teacher that we’re still planning to send her to kindergarten in the fall, we suddenly got the “An extra year really does give a lot of kids an advantage” talk. Say what? You just got through telling us how wonderfully she’s doing.

Nora’s shy. She ALWAYS has been. But so were Michael and I. We STILL are. So I have a hard time understanding how giving her an extra year in preschool is going to supposedly “fix” the shyness. We can’t fix a personality trait—it’s who she is. And now that we know that the speech challenges are a real thing, I’m fairly confident they could be related. Once she knows people can understand her better, perhaps it’ll give her a boost of confidence to come out of her shell a little more quickly than is typical for her. The funny thing is that when I read about marks of social maturity or readiness for kindergarten, none of them have to do with being shy.

And the whole “she’ll be among the youngest in her class” argument… so?? Someone has to be. Whether it’s the kid with the September birthday or the kid with the July birthday, SOMEONE is going to be the youngest. I don’t think that being the youngest damns a child to academic and social failure. Nor do I think it even presents a true disadvantage. The whole topic of redshirting is hugely controversial, but a lot of the research—I’ve read quite a bit of it—seems to indicate that there is no real advantage to doing it.

I’ve periodically lost sleep over this debate the past several months. Michael and I have had countless conversations about it. We’ve discussed it with numerous friends and family. It’s a difficult decision. But what weighs on my mind most is what is right for MY CHILD, and I don’t see the need for the unnecessary outside pressures about redshirting her simply because it is “what most parents do.” It’s putting an enormous amount of additional stress onto our shoulders and it’s crap.

I also think that the “most parents are doing it” thing we’ve been hearing is an exaggeration. I’ve since learned of many parents who are planning to send their “young 5s” children next year. I wish someone could show me statistics—local ones!—since it seems to vary so much from region to region and state to state. It’s my understanding that there are parts of the country where redshirting has not caught on at all.

Overall, I believe it’s a slippery slope. Those of us with children with fall birthdays start holding our kids back, then the parents with children with summer birthdays will start getting antsy that now their children are the youngest. Then they’ll start holding their kids back. Then it’ll be the spring birthdays. And then what? We won’t send our kids to kindergarten until they’re seven?

To redshirt or not to redshirt? I don’t think there is a “right” or a “wrong” answer for Nora. I’m starting to believe that she’ll be fine no matter what we decide.

At one point during this whole debate the past few months, I had a moment of thinking, “Keep her little. What’s the rush? She doesn’t need to go yet.” Because I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the argument before landing where I am currently. Then I realized that by not sending her to kindergarten, I’m not keeping her little. She’ll still be 5, and then she’ll still be 6. The only thing I’m buying by holding her back is an extra year of A TEENAGER at home. And do we really want that? LOL.

So, parents: All this to say, please reconsider holding your kids back for no reason except for the date of their birth. Because really, what are we trying to accomplish? It’s OKAY to be the youngest. Consider the societal impact on what it is that we’re doing with this redshirting business. Make the decision with only your child and his/her abilities in mind; don’t worry so much about how he/she compares to his peers. Let’s have confidence in our kids, their teachers, and ourselves as parents.

Hand them a green shirt instead.