Life, Death, and Disney

It has taken me a year to finally blog our trip to Disneyworld. Okay, a little more than a year. It’s not that I was procrastinating exactly. It’s just that this particular post (and trip, and the events leading up to it) took a lot out of me. Not because I snapped hundreds of photos, and not because life seemed to jump into hyperdrive right before we left with a new job, a new schedule, a bunch of new obligations and the normal chaos that seems to define our lives.

I guess I just needed some time to process it all, to let the trip and what it meant to us really sink in.

Allow me rewind a bit.

My mother-in-law, Diane, first started talking about Disneyworld shortly after Cadence was born. She wanted to do something for the grandkids, something special that they would always remember. Rich and Diane insisted that they would prefer to make the trip sooner than later, before they felt too old and tired to spend a week running around the happiest place on earth with the kiddos.

We agreed on the spring/summer of 2013. Cadence would be both potty trained and old enough to remember the trip, and TJ and Tyler would still be young enough to have a blast and enjoy the experience. Almost immediately after we called and gave her the go ahead, Diane started planning. She enlisted the help of her childhood friend, Cheryl, who had visited Disneyworld so many times that she knows all the ins and outs of planning a trip and getting the most out of a Disney vacation.

On June 10, 2012, we received an email from Diane that the trip was booked, followed shortly by an official confirmation.

You should have received an email from Disney, please forward it to me – I started a file.  180 days from May 19 I can book a food plan.  I’ll talk to you more about Disney when you come!!

Love,

Diane

Steven, Cadence, and I headed to New York shortly after. Steven was a groomsman in our buddy Gary’s wedding, and we planned an extra long trip so we could enjoy some quality time with our friends and family. With my sister Kassie’s wedding just a few short weeks later, we’d damn near drained our bank accounts to fly from one side of the country to another for the trips. We stressed over the expense, but had a great time in spite of it. Looking back now, we’re so very thankful that we did.

On July 27, Diane went into the hospital for surgery on her bladder. It was a routine surgery, supposed to be an in-and-out procedure. Cadence and I had already gone ahead to Arizona to prep for Kassie’s wedding, since I was the wedding photographer. Steven headed to Omaha to catch a red eye flight after work. His brother, Keith, called to tell him that the surgery went well. Steven still remembers the seat he was sitting in when he got the call that Diane was doing well and should be on the road to recovery.

Saturday, July 28 was a blur of wedding activity. We left the reception in Tucson at 11:30 pm, drove to Momma Dawn and Mark’s house in Coolidge to pack our bags and catch a couple hours sleep before heading to the airport to catch the 6:00 a.m. flight home.

Sunday, July 29, sleep-deprived and dragging, we flew back home to Lincoln. Steven called and talked to his Mom. She was feeling pretty good. She was in bed, doctors orders, taking it easy while she recovered from the procedure.

Monday, July 30, Steven talked to his Mom again. We sat on the porch swing after the call, watching Cadence play in the front yard. He said she seemed good, but sounded really tired.

Tuesday, July 31, I’d just dropped Cadence off for her Tuesday morning preschool. At the time she was going two days a week while I still worked from home freelancing. Back at the house, I showered, brewed myself a cup of coffee, and sat down to write for a bit while I had the house to myself. Steven texted…

Come get me.

I texted back.

Sure babe. Is everything okay? Are you sick?

A few moments passed.

COME GET ME NOW.

Something was wrong. I suddenly felt like I needed to puke. Thinking maybe Stevie was sick or experiencing a sudden colitis flare up, I grabbed my shoes and the van keys and headed out the door. I was turning onto Holdrege Street when my phone rang.

“Hey babe. Are you okay? What’s wr—”

On the other end of the line, I could hear him sobbing.

“Oh my god, she’s dead. My mother dead! Jesus Christ, are you coming? Please?!”

“Yes! I’m coming, I’m almost there. Oh my God! What happened?”

“My dad just called. I don’t…I don’t know. Please just come get me.”

“I’ll be there in two minutes.”

I squeezed the steering wheel so tightly that I’m actually surprised I didn’t pull it right off the steering column.

By the time I turned into the parking lot, I was shaking so hard that anyone who saw me would have assumed I was having a seizure. I saw my husband standing next to his car, using it to hold himself upright. I pulled in close, shifted into park, and tumbled out the door. Steven and I stood in the parking lot of Varner Hall, clinging to each other and crying. If it weren’t for Steven squeezing me so tightly, I might have thought that it was just a bad dream.

Two hours later, we had our flights booked. And the next day, we were heading back to New York for a funeral.

The next few days (and weeks) were a blur.

I don’t know when Disney was mentioned again. I have a vague memory of it being brought up in the days following Diane’s funeral, when we were all still relatively numb with pain. Steven’s and my knee-jerk reactions were that we couldn’t possibly make the trip without Diane. It just wouldn’t be the same without her there. But Rich insisted. Diane wouldn’t have wanted us to cancel after all the time she’d spent planning and making arrangements. She would have wanted us to go, to spend time together as a family, and to enjoy every last minute of it.

We agreed to go, but I have to confess that our hearts really weren’t in it.

As the months passed, Cheryl took over our planning. If it weren’t for her, I’m not sure how we would have managed. She made our meal reservations, booking us tables in the restaurants that Diane had chosen before she passed. She took our flight information and made sure we received our bag tags for our luggage. She wrote out long emails filled with tips and tricks to help us navigate from our hotel to the parks and find the attractions that the kids might most like to see.

I wish I could say that I was getting excited as the trip drew nearer, but each email and each automated message from the resort that arrived in my inbox stung because it was just another reminder that Diane would not be there with us.

In April 2013, I started a new job, returning to full-time employment for the first time since Cadence had been born. Call it luck or fate or God reaching down to help me clear my mind and gain a little perspective–one of my first assignments at my new job was to cover an event in a little town called Marceline, Missouri…the boyhood home of none other than Walt Disney.

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I’m not sure I even have the words to adequately explain what happened to me that day in Marceline, so I will leave it at this…whatever magic young Walt Disney discovered there–a magic that inspired him to create what has become known as “the happiest place on earth” complete with a grand entrance that is modeled after the quiet Main Street of this small Midwestern town–I tell you folks, that magic is still alive in every building, street, and human being that calls Marceline home.

I left Marceline that day exhausted, yet energized, and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that something very special was waiting for us at Disneyworld.

At home, Steven and I finally started talking about the trip that was only two weeks away. We even starting to look forward to it a little. We bought a travel guide to look through, and bought a kid’s guide for Cadence, full of pictures and park maps and plenty of autograph pages so she could collect the signatures of her favorite characters during our visit. She was giddy with excitement, and we decided that our only goal on the trip was to make it as magical as possible for our little girl. (Oh, and to go on the Star Wars rides at least once for my Star Wars loving husband).

For the first time since losing Diane, we began to look forward to the trip.

For anyone who has never been to a Disney park, believe me when I tell you, it is truly the trip of a lifetime. It’s expensive, no doubt, but you’re not just paying for a decent room to crash in and a couple days spent wandering around any old theme park. You’re paying for an all-inclusive immersion into the very best parts and most magical moments of your childhood. From the moment you step off the plane in Orlando, the adventure begins.

You follow signs bearing those familiar mouse ears to your very own section of the airport where a bus is waiting. You don’t have to worry about your luggage or finding a cab or renting a car. You sit back, relax, and watch cartoons and videos that introduce you to all the amenities of the parks on the way to your hotel.  Like an exclusive VIP, you are delivered swiftly and comfortably to the front door of your hotel.

We stayed at the Pop Century Resort, just a short bus ride away from all the parks in Disneyworld. We checked in and stopped by our room quickly to freshen up before heading to meet Rich, John, Michele, TJ and Tyler at Epcot for our first family dinner. We noticed the message light blinking and pressed it. Cadence giggled and squealed and clapped her hands together in delight as she heard a message from Mickey and Donald and Goofy welcoming us to our room.

She was hooked. We all were. And we headed out to meet up with the rest of our crew.

For the rest of the week, the rest of the world disappeared. We rode rides, saw shows, walked miles, and loved every minute of it. Our itinerary and dinner reservations took us to restaurants the Romanos had visited when they took a family vacation to Disneyworld back when Steven, Michele, Mike, Greg, and Keith were kids.

At 3, we weren’t sure exactly what Cadence would be most interested in doing while we were at the parks, but it became quickly apparent that she was enthralled with all the larger than life cartoon characters and princes and princesses that she could talk to and hug and get autographs from.

“You sign my book?” she implored, handing her travel guide over after hugging every character we bumped into (and hunted down) in the parks. “You sign my book, pwease?”

And now, a whole year later, I think we’re finally ready to share our trip with all of you. I captured all of our memories and the photos we took into a book. Here’s how it turned out. Enjoy. We sure did.

Thank you to Cheryl for all the hard work you did with the planning.

Thank you to Rich for insisting that we go, and for sharing the magic with us.

Thank you to Michele and John and TJ and Tyler for having an awesome time and making so many great memories with us.

Thank you to Diane for making it all possible and for being there with us, every step of the way.

And to all the Disney family, those amazing people who spend their days in the hot sun, dressed up in costumes and making the world magical for every man, woman, and child who walks through those Disney gates–thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to and hug and sign the book of one very excited little girl. Thank you for making the magic real. And thank you for helping us all heal a little from our loss in the process.

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back cover

Another Year Goes By

The clock keeps ticking, and in just 2 hours and 4 minutes, it will be 2014.

Seriously, how did this happen?

2012 was a helluva year for us. We ran ourselves to the point of exhaustion, worked too much, traveled from the northeast to the west to the southwest and back east again. And in the midst of it all, we lost Stevie’s mom. By the time the summer ended, we just wanted the year to be over.

When 2013 began, we were optimistic, simply because it wasn’t 2012 any longer. We knew that it couldn’t possibly get any worse. And we were right. Things looked up for us this year. Cadence started (and LOVES) full-time preschool. I got a new job and have been absolutely swimming in freelance work. Steve started taking classes and is looking forward to diving into more programming. We took an amazing family vacation to Disney and had a blast. We have been saving. And we’re starting to feel comfortable.

After the long hard road we traveled in 2o12, we feel pretty good about where 2013 has taken us. And we’re looking forward to where 2014 will lead.

We’re moving in the right direction, and we’re in it together. If you ask me, it’s a pretty good place to be.

And while I don’t really believe in making “resolutions” per say, I do have one major goal that I intend to accomplish in 2014, and I hope that you’ll all come along for the ride…

Ater reuniting with my birth family in 2002, I knew that the very first book I would write would be the memoir of my adoption and reunion and all the tumultuous years in between. I started writing the story in 2008 and have yet to finish it. This year, I pulled the half-written manuscript out of my desk drawer and started writing again. In the next few weeks, this blog will be undergoing a major renovation, and part of that will include a space for me to share excerpts from the story as I finally bring the project to a close. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me on the Facebook page I created for my upcoming memoir, In a Sea of Strangers.

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Whatever the new year brings, I know it will be one helluva ride. And I don’t know about all of you, but I’m looking forward to it.

Merry Christmas 2013!

It was a quiet day at home, just the four of us, and we made the most of it. Hope you all enjoyed the day as well! Merry Christmas!

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Elf on the Shelf 2013 – Day 25

Somehow, today just didn’t seem like Christmas Eve. Maybe because the holidays just sort of snuck up on us this year. Maybe because it’s the first holiday we’ve celebrated since I’ve been back to work and we’ve all been so busy. And maybe because it’s the first holiday that it will be just us. Whatever the reason, I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that tomorrow is Christmas, and that we’re just a few days shy of welcoming 2014.

Time is flying, and I’m not sure I like it.

Today we spent making our last minute preparations for Christmas, which was mainly making sure we had some homemade cookies to leave out for Santa. Steven and I were thinking chocolate chip, the time-tested favorite, but Cadence requested frosted sugar cookies, the kind she could decorate with sprinkles. So, we made both.

In the midst of the cookie making, the doorbell rang. Steven had run out to the bank and I was still in my pajama pants, but at least I’d had a cup of coffee and combed my hair, or I might have scared the mailman right off the porch. He had two boxes and a pile of mail. I thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas as he went on his way.

Now, had I not been so preoccupied with wondering what Cadence was up to, left in the kitchen alone with a counter full of cookie ingredients, I might have noticed Electra taking more than just a passing interest in the box that Stevie’s sister Michele sent. Thinking that it was likely just some Christmas gifts that needed to be placed under the tree, I set both boxes aside and hurried back to the kitchen to finish the cookies.

Ten minutes later, I sent Cadence to the bathroom to wash her hands for the 17th time (kid has a bad habit of licking her fingers when she bakes). I heard her stop in the hallway, and then she hollered…

“Mom! Electra’s eating a box!”

I dropped the spatula in the bowl of cookie dough and ran. The hallway was littered with bits of blue plastic and wet, half-chewed cardboard. When I rounded the corner to the living room, I saw that one whole corner of a box had been chewed out, and what appeared to be a large, blue plastic bag protruding from the gaping hole. Then, I saw Electra, the food whore, with  an entire egg bagel in her mouth. And now that she knew she was caught, she was apparently attempting to swallow the damn thing whole.

“Hey!” I yelled, grabbing her by the scruff of the neck with one hand and grabbing the bagel with the other. She gave a disgusted sigh and tried to pull away. I caught her in a headlock, pried her jaw open just enough to wrench the soggy bagel free…well 2/3 of the bagel anyway. She promptly swallowed the other 1/3 and made a mad dash to the box for more, but I got there first, grabbed the box, and took it to the kitchen to assess the damage.

Inside, I found a Christmas gift for Cadence, two boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts K-cups coffee (score!!) and five fresh egg bagels wrapped in blue Ziploc baggies.

“Ooooh, Electra! Stevie is either going to be super impressed with the fact that you have a taste for New York egg bagels, or he’s going to be super pissed that you stole one of ’em!” I said. Electra just licked her chops and stared up me, looking forlorn that she didn’t get a chance to finish her breakfast.

A few minutes later, Steven returned. He shook his head sadly when he saw the damage, and didn’t waste anytime toasting one of the remaining bagels and having himself a little breakfast. Electra sat at his feet, waiting for him to drop a bit.

After the excitement wound down, it was time to finish some cookies. Cadence and I spent the afternoon and part of the evening baking and decorating. We took a break to head to church for the Christmas Eve service, and then Steven ran out to get us some Chinese food for dinner. We wound down the evening watching some Christmas cartoons and talking about Santa. Cadence picked out cookies for his plate and I poured him a glass of milk, and then we tucked a very excited kiddo in bed and called it a night.

We’re just hoping she sleeps past 6:00. 😉

Here are a few photos from our chaotic day:

Cosette gets us motivated to do some baking by making sure the supplies are all gathered and ready first thing in the morning…

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And then this short break is brought to you by our dog, the food whore…

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And I know most people would agree that Cadence is my Mini-Me. Our baby and early childhood photos are nearly indistinguishable. But, I tell you, this girl is her daddy’s personality clone. And obviously the ability to make such stellar goofy faces is genetic…

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And Cadence showed off some artistic flair putting the finishing touches on the cookies tonight. And after a short sugar rush, it was time to leave Santa a plate and head to bed.

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Elf on the Shelf 2013 – Day 24

Somewhere, deep down, I think we all have a little superhero in us. It’s the part that starts to whisper and nudge when something isn’t right. It’s that part that takes over when something happens and shit suddenly gets real. It’s that part that keeps us going, even when we’re certain that we can’t.

Once, my adventurous daughter (then age 2) decided to dive right in the swimming pool, and promptly sank straight to the bottom. I managed to hurdle a chair, jump in the water, and pull her out before she even had a chance to swallow a mouthful.

And just a few short weeks ago, I was driving down a dark Kansas highway when the headlights suddenly illuminated a large deer standing directly in the middle of my lane. I’d been cruising along for almost an hour with no cars in sight, yet my brain and my body seemed to immediately shift to auto-pilot the minute I saw those hooves in the headlights. My foot came off the gas and eased onto the brake. My eyes momentarily darted to the rearview mirror. My hands tightened as I gave the steering wheel a quick flick left, then right, and the car responded with precision, jumping into the left lane and missing the big buck by a few bare inches. It took several moments for my heart to stop pounding, and in those few moments I felt both vulnerable and invincible.

I think, sometimes, that superhero in us (that instinct or intuition, if you will) gets drowned out by all the noise we allow to cloud our brains. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough or not smart enough. We tell ourselves we don’t deserve any better. We tell ourselves it’s not worth it to take a stand, that it’s never going to change. We tell ourselves that we can’t, and then we don’t. We tell ourselves we shouldn’t, and then we won’t. We tell ourselves a whole line of bullshit just because it’s easier not to care than to actually give a damn.

If you ask me, we all need to tap into that superhero a little more often. We need to speak out when we know something is wrong. We need to support others who are too afraid to stand up for themselves. We need to do the things we know are right, even if those things are scary or difficult. We need to do the things we know are right, simply because they are the right things to do.

Last night, Cosette tapped into her inner superhero. And even though we don’t quite know what demons she was fighting, we woke this morning and we were impressed all the same.

Go get ’em, girl.

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Elf on the Shelf 2013 – Day 23

Life is all about what you do with the hand you’re dealt. Let’s face it, sometimes you manage to draw some really shitty cards, but you just never knew what’s coming next. So, you gotta keep playing. And if you’ve got some good friends beside you, you might even have a little fun.

Both Cadence and Cosette woke this morning, feeling a little better so what better way to celebrate and spend a Sunday than learning to play a little UNO?

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And wouldn’t you know, our little card shark caught on quick and kicked Daddy’s butt in her very first game. Yeah, that’s our girl. 🙂

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