Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Coming Full Circle

When I was in 5th grade, I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I was obsessed with Judy Blume and became equally obsessed in writing my own young adult novel.  I began writing first drafts of first chapters of various books, never progressing beyond that.  After a couple of years, I gave up and moved onto poetry, mainly focusing on my junior high crush at the time who wanted nothing to do with me.

By 9th grade, it was clear none of my books were ever going to be completed, and my poetry wasn't all that great (and by then, my crush was over).  I moved onto politics, became obsessed with the 1992 presidential elections, and ultimately convinced myself that I should go into the legal field.

Yada yada yada, now I'm in my late 30's, a retired lawyer at home with three kids, contemplating what I eventually want to do with my life.  Continue staying home full time? Focus on volunteering? Go back to a full time job?  Do something completely different?  What I do know, that I didn't back in the 90's, is that I don't want to go back to the legal field.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When the World Becomes Scary

I was living in London on April 20, 1999 when the Columbine shooting happened.  It was all over the London tabloids.  And I remember it not primarily for the horror of it all, though that's of course its legacy.  I remember it because it's the first time that a world event scared me.

Perhaps I was more naive than most, but at age 20, I was impervious to the news.  It flowed off of me.  Back then, I was young and indestructible and everything in the news happened to "other" people.  I had come from a protected midwest city and gone to a protected college town and finally to London, a place, notwithstanding its peppered history, that was a safe haven among the plethora of other places to study abroad as a college student.

And maybe it's because I had been living for a few months in a place where guns were actually illegal, but Columbine scared me.  I actually had nightmares about returning to the United States and being gunned down.  It wasn't the first of my irrational fears, and it certainly wouldn't be the last, but it left a mark on me.  These innocent suburban American high school students weren't immune to harm, and neither was I.

Two years later I was living in London again on 9/11.  I was at the LSE library, searching for jobs, when I came across a curious news story on the internet.  The World Trade Centers were on fire.  I turned to the person sitting at the computer next to me, a stranger, and told him that planes were crashing into buildings in New York.  He thought I was crazy and changed seats.  That night, scared as to what was going on in the world and at my mother's recommendation, I avoided the tube and took the bus home, adding 45 minutes to my journey.

That night I was harassed by friends and family urging me to come home.  Come home to what?  I thought.  How do you know home is safe?  How do you know London is not safe?  Where is safe? The whole world seemed like a scary place that day.

I made the decision that night that I was going to stay in London.  And in doing so, I would have to set my fear aside and just come what may.  It was a release of control uncharacteristic of me at the time, but one of emotional survival.  I needed to live my life, and so I did.  I rode the tube, I frequented tourist destinations, and when I went to Egypt that spring, against the urging of loved ones, I did so with the same attitude.  It's not that I was oblivious to risk, it's just that I weighed it and then moved on.  That old adage of the most dangerous part of your travels is your drive to the airport?  It became my mantra.  I felt fear, but did it anyway, and it paid out in spades.  My years in London were some of the best of my life, and my trip to Egypt was fantastic.  I went home to live in Manhattan, work in Times Square, and ultimately move to Washington, DC.  Not exactly a path of the terrorist risk-averse, but it's where life has taken me.  When I hear of a terrorist attack, I take a minute to feel the fear go through me, to reason with myself, to mourn, and to move on.  Life is scary, the world is scary, and we can either live our life constantly aware of that fact, or we can just live.  I try my hardest to do the latter.

But my resolve was put to the test on March 22 - the day of the Brussels bombings.

Friday, March 11, 2016

European Adventures

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a world traveler.

Nothing extreme, mind you - I wasn't a solo backpacker criss-crossing the globe and becoming a bartender at random cities that struck my fancy (though I did fantasize about it).  Instead, I was a more intense version of a college student with a Eurail pass.  I lived in England in my early 20's and I explored all of Europe, many times over, and then I added in a bit of Egypt, Southeast Asia, and Australia.  When I wasn't traveling, I was researching and planning my next trip.  It was my passion, my hobby, my avocation, and seeing the world - at least part of it - made me feel humble and free.  

Slowly but surely, adulthood crept in, and instead of traveling internationally for months at a time, my trips took the form of week long beach vacations, visits to family, and Disney World expeditions.  It's not that I don't appreciate or enjoy these holidays, but they are for relaxation and fun, instead of discovery.  At times, when I would really think about it, my lack of ability to travel the way I used to would depress me, or leave me feeling trapped.  But I would quickly remind myself that those days are over.  My life, now, is my kids, and that's okay and wonderful and someday I will travel again, if I even want to by the point I am able.  

Then last year, I went to London for a long weekend without the kids.  It was my first time abroad in nearly five years, and it absolutely invigorated me.  Being there - in my old stomping ground, so far away from home - reminded me of who I had been before motherhood had taken over me.  It was like a breath of fresh air, and I returned home determined to not let it go so long ever again.  It was a first step in a journey of reclaiming me again, and one that is ongoing.

But what about the kids?  Though London for a weekend was wonderful, I yearned to do a longer trip where I could actually get over the jet lag.  And who is going to watch my three kids for 10+ days?  And could I really be without them that long anyway?  

There's only one solution - take them with us.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Stay at Home Mom Burnout

Burnout is a thing.  

People talk a lot about career burn out - about losing enthusiasm, drive, and motivation.  What people don't talk about a lot is mom burn out.  And I think I have it.  

I've been a stay at home mom for nearly 5 years now.  For those five years, I have devoted pretty much my everything to my kids.  All my time, my energy, my body.  And really, isn't that what a mother is supposed to do?  Particularly when a mother's job, on a daily basis, is to be a stay at home mother?  I mean, what else is it that I'm supposed to do?  

Sure, I have done some work on the side.  I do see friends regularly.  A year or so ago I started exercising regularly and it's now become a part of my daily routine.  But for the most part, I am all mom, all the time - I eat, sleep, and breathe motherhood.  

I'm burnt out.  

It was brought to my attention the other day that I have lost the joy in parenting.  What a sad, horrible, pathetic acknowledgement, but it's true.  I wake up tired.  I loathe the morning routine of getting the kids up and packed for school, battling through teeth brushing, hair brushing, and wardrobe conflicts.  I go through the motions of taking my youngest to playgroup or to the gym daycare and feed him lunch and put him down for a nap, which he only sometimes takes.  And then around 3:30, I pick my two older kids up from school with a sigh and a hint of dread, knowing that shortly I'll be making dinner, dealing with combat of getting them to eat dinner, cleaning up after dinner, and then starting on the bedtime routine that is not quite, but almost, as tedious as the morning routine.  And then I will do whatever work I need to do, fold laundry, watch junk television, and pray I can sleep through the night without interruption to start the whole thing over the next day.

I hate admitting this apathy, because the truth is, I LOVE my kids.  I love them more than anything.  I am in awe of them and proud of them and think they are pretty much the most awesome human beings on the planet.  So reconciling these two conflicting emotions - burnout, and love, is a weird thing.  And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

When It Comes to Shoveling or Childcare, Shoveling Wins.

We had been homebound for over 48 hours.  The snow had come down for a full 24, leaving 30+ inches in its wake.  We had tried to keep up with the shoveling - going out every few inches to clear, but it got ahead of us before long.  So on Sunday afternoon, when the time came to shovel, it was daunting.



I like to think that my husband and I have an "equal" marriage, in that we share household duties. But when it comes to shoveling, we've always been old fashioned.  He does the manual labor.  I do the childcare.  And the children and I watch from the window cheering Daddy on.

But not this time.

This time was different.

It didn't start off different, mind you.  When the snow started falling on Friday, we were actually all kind of excited about it.  The boys and I bundled up and went outside as soon as the snow started coming down.  I mean, just look how happy everyone is in the cute little two inch accumulation.  I couldn't stop snapping photos of all the joy.




But then.... the whining started.  In fact, it started before our bliss in the snow.  Much like a trip to the neighborhood pool in the summer, the prep for going outside lasted twice as long as the actual excursion itself.  I was channeling A Christmas Story as I bundled the kids up, and they screamed in horror as they had to wear (gasp) snow pants!  And boots!  And something that's not a t-shirt!  Once they got outside, they enjoyed the snow for a few brief minutes until their litany of complaints were revealed - their hands were cold.  There was snow touching their pants.  The snow angel was being covered by falling snow.  One kid hit another with a snowball.  Crying ensued.  Retaliation took place.  More crying ensures.  And it was in that moment, on hour 1 of Snowzilla, that I made a conscious decision to abandon my January diet and bring back the alcohol.

I remember being snowbound during "Snowmageddon" back in 2010.  We had one child at that time - Braden was about 15 months old.  Sure, we were bored.  We were restless.  But we were calm.  We were at peace.

Such was not the case this past weekend.

The kids woke at 5:30 am on Saturday.  (Colin decided that would be the morning he would crawl out of his crib for the first time, by the way.).  I had a mild headache from the reintroduction of alcohol, and yet I had grand plans for the day.  We would break the day up into segments!  Karaoke hour!  Snow play hour!  Baking hour!  Art project hour!  Reading hour!  I'm not going to lie, I had anxiety about how we would pass the day, or most likely, days of being stuck in the house.

It was as if the kids could smell my fear.  Or perhaps the snow was giving off some weird energy - you know the kind that makes animals act all crazy when a weather front moves in?  Whatever it was, the kids were off the rails.  And while it isn't that rare that our house is engulfed by chaos, it isn't so often that we are homebound and jailed within its four walls.  With no possible escape.  For God knows how long.

Activity plans were abandoned, and the electronics were brought out.  Oh, and so were these, at 10 am 11am, ahem, noon:


Last Saturday was a long, long day.

But then, when Sunday came, it became clear that that would be another long day. And the next day too.  And the next.  Because the DC area pretty much SUCKS at clearing snow in the easiest of circumstances.  And with 30 inches of snow?  We were looking at a string of days to be homebound.

So when the time came to shovel, I was the first to volunteer.  I wouldn't even call it volunteering.  I would call it insisting.

I suited up.  I booted up.  I listened to my running mix and got myself pumped.  I brought with me a dirty martini, in a coffee thermos.  And I shoveled the shit out of that driveway.



It took me about 2 and a half hours.  During that time, my husband cooked dinner, fed the kids, and prepared them for bed.  I, on the other hand, finished said dirty martini, listened to awesome music, got in a great work out, and was one with nature.  The whole thing was incredibly relaxing. Especially given the alternative.

The Sunday night shoveling gave me a re-boot, and it's a good thing, because I needed it.  We were eventually freed from our home on Monday nights, but now, five days later, the roads are still horrific.  The public schools in our area have been closed all week.  And there is SO MUCH SNOW EVERYWHERE.



We are all looking forward to a weekend with no accumulation.  But if and when it comes again, I'll be ready with my shovel.  And my dirty martini in a thermos.




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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Schooling a "Seasoned" Mom

There was a week this past October that was particularly shitty for me.  First, my husband had a seizure while jogging.  A few days later, my grandmother died. Notwithstanding these events, I was holding it together surprisingly well.

Then, two days later, I got a call from my kids' school.  Casey, my 5 year old, had bitten a classmate.  And with that, I went over the edge.  The tears, the exhaustion, it all caught up with me.

I picked Casey and his big brother Braden up from school that afternoon and I was forcing myself to be calm.  Casey happily skipped into the car, finding it shockingly easy to forget the day's events, which included a talking to in the principal's office.

Once the boys had secured their seat belts, I pulled over in the school parking lot.  Casey, I said, Do you have something to tell me?  

Casey lowered his head and confessed.  I proceeded to calmly spell out his consequences - how he would be getting no dessert, no iPad privileges, no TV shows, and how he could never, ever, ever do this again, and how he needs to use his words, and blah blah blah, and all of a sudden I hear crying coming from the backseat and I look back, and it's not Casey.  It's Braden.  The 7 year old. Who has nothing to do with this incident.

Stop being mean to Casey!  Braden yelled.  You're such a mean mommy.  

Yeah, you are a mean mommy!  Casey echoed.

The insults were flung at me like a chorus - loud and with resolve.  I can't exactly recall what was said, because at a point I stopped listening.  I was about to defend myself - to put my kids back in their place, to yell at them at the preposterousness of the fact that I was the one who was the bad guy in this scenario, but I couldn't summon the energy.  I was done.  Done.  Done.  Done with my week.  Done with my kids.  Done with managing the day to day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Recurring Dream and a Plea for Support

Throughout my life, I've had several recurring dreams, most of which are pathetically typical.  The loose tooth dream, the I am enrolled in a college course I forgot to attend dream, the plane crashing dream (in which I never die).  But I've also had another recurring dream for the past two or so decades that is unique to me - it's one where I have a conversation with Elliott.

Elliott is my first cousin - my dad's sister's son.  We have always been very close with my aunt and her family, and have spent summers in Cape Cod with her since before I can remember.  She had kids later in life, so when she had her first adopted son, I was ten years old.  In an irony that is not all too rare, when she adopted her first son, she was actually pregnant with her second.  And approximately six months later, her second son, Elliott, came.

I was in love with both boys.  I was at the age where I was just beginning to feel maternal, and confident and cocky enough to "take care of them."  I changed diapers, I gave bottles, and I held them.  I remember my sister and I fighting vigorously over who got to hold the "bubba" first.

My sister and I with Bubba #1, David.  Check out those glasses!

Thankfully, there were two, so my sister and I could hand off.  I have vivid, clear memories of holding my cousin Elliott, the younger one.  He was so smiley, so happy, and made such good eye contact.  He was such a joyful baby.

Elliott at 6 months - happy, smiling, and looking right at me.
Thirty years later, I am haunted by these memories.  Because in a mere few years from the above photo being taken, Elliott wouldn't make eye contact anymore.  At age 3, he was diagnosed as autistic.

I was young, so I don't remember the details, but I do remember my dad telling me that they thought Elliott might be deaf, because he wasn't talking.  They were going to do some testing, and take him to doctors.  And some time after that, he received the devastating diagnosis.  I didn't really understand what that meant - back then, autism wasn't a mainstream diagnosis that one encountered, or worried about.  And really, if you have never seen an autistic person, how can you really know what it means?  For me, I learned about autism by being with Elliott, year after year.

At first it wasn't completely obvious.  Lots of kids don't talk, and lots of kids have tantrums.  But as Elliott got older, the diagnosis of autism began to take form.  He learned to talk, but would not engage in conversation.  He would not look anyone in the eye.  He would have complete meltdowns over the most random of things - bananas, cold water, loud noises.  As he grew taller and got acne and his voice grew deeper, his mental state lagged.  While his contemporaries were moving on to girls and friends and sports, Elliott still loved playing with toys and watching Barney.  And in any event, he had no interest in friends or girls.  As Elliott likes to say, he prefers a "party of one."  And now - at the age of 25 - he hasn't changed much.  The toys, the shows, the tantrums - the epic tantrums - they've all remained.

I can't even begin to imagine the struggles my aunt has gone through to raise Elliott and give him all of the care that he needs.  There are no breaks, no respites and no end ever in sight.  Elliott requires constant care and supervision, and my aunt has devoted her life to making sure he receives only the best.  She has endured a divorce, a lawsuit against the state to get Elliott the care he is entitled to, and countless aides/teachers/therapists in and out of her home on a constant basis for the last quarter of a century; not to mention the hundreds of thousands she has spent on his therapy and care.  Her life revolves around Elliott - plain and simple.

But through it all, she loves him more than life itself.  And so does our family.  Some of our favorite all time stories are ones we call "Elliotisms."  Ones where he would pick food off a stranger's plate at a restaurant, where he would walk past kids on the dock in the pond and push them off (!), where he would blow out other people's birthday candles (including mine!), and where he would eat 10 Dunkin Donuts in one sitting.  We've all learned the lesson that if you don't laugh, you'll cry.  And Elliott can be pretty hysterical and charming.

The amazing thing about Elliott is that there is more to him than meets the eye.  He is smart - crazy smart, in that weird savant kind of way (give him a date, he'll give you a day of the week).  He is emotional - he used to be obsessed with weddings, and took home a copy of my wedding video and watched it over and over again.  And whenever I see him, he hugs me.  Mostly out of obligation - he has been taught how to be polite and how to mimic social customs, but I also know he cares about me and feels comfortable in my presence.  For Elliott, that's a small circle, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

And then there's the recurring dream... The one where Elliott and I have a conversation.  I never can recollect what the conversation is about, so I don't think it's ever been something super deep.  But that feeling of able to connect with him - to talk to him, to make eye contact him, to understand him... I do yearn for that.  So I suppose that's why I have dreamed about him so often, for so long.

As my aunt gets older, the inevitable questions arise.  What will become of Elliott when my aunt is gone?  I won't even get into detail about the pathetic state of services for adults with autism, but suffice it to say they don't exist.  And so, as my aunt has done for all of Elliott's life, she is taking things into her own hands.

A couple of years ago, my aunt founded the Greengard Center for Autism, in an effort to address the needs of autistic adults.  Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the center offers a day program (and soon to be residential program) for young adults with autism to receive ongoing education, access to recreation, a social community, and opportunities to find meaningful work.

My aunt has recently leased a property for the center, but it is in desperate need of renovations. She has started a Go Fund Me campaign to help cover some of the costs.

I've always made it a point not to use my blogs as a means to plea for solicitations, for whatever cause, but for this I need to make an exception.  This may be a small center, in Portsmouth New Hampshire, for a handful of autistic adults.  But what it stands for is so much more - autistic adults need services, assistance, and support.  And now, the autism epidemic is coming to a head.  All of those children diagnosed in the past 25 years - 1 in 68 (1 in every 42 boys) - they will all become adults.  As a community, and as a society, it's our job to ensure they are taken care of - because their parents will not be here forever to take care of them.  My aunt's hope and dream is that this center will serve as a model for other communities across the country (and world).

Look, the world is crap these days.  ISIS and guns and a fascist Republican presidential hopeful. But if you are willing, a donation to this campaign - no matter how small- will make a real difference.

Elliott, my aunt, and my whole family thank you!


My aunt and Elliott, at our house this past Thanksgiving.

Here's the link to the Go Fund Me Page - https://www.gofundme.com/greengardcenter

Update: Thank you so much for your generous donations!  My family and I are truly humbled.  In an effort to ramp things up, the person in the DC area who donates the most gets a night out for cocktails with me (drinks on me!).  You can email me at butidohavealawdegree@gmail.com with your donation amount and email address.  AND THANK YOU!!!

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Friday, December 4, 2015

My Greatest Indulgence

When I was considering whether or not to have a third child, I viewed it as a bit presumptuous.  Like asking for too much.  I already had two amazing, healthy children that I loved more than anything - was it too bold to ask for one more?  Was I being too indulgent?

I didn't think that way when considering my first two kids.  I supposed that's because I always knew I would have two children - for no real reason, really, other than the fact that that is what I just always viewed as "normal."   Considering a third seemed like a grand deviation - a rejection of the nuclear 2 sibling family with which I was brought up in, and with what I had always envisioned for myself.

But then there's that saying that every woman knows when her quiver is full, and part of me knew that mine just wasn't.  Ultimately there came a time, when my second was around 2 years old, that I felt ready.  I knew someone was missing.  I just didn't know that that person would be a blonde haired, blue eyed boy named Colin.  Who just turned 2 years old.


From the moment I set my eyes on him, I knew that I had not in fact been presumptuous.  This baby was not asking for too much.  He was not just a bonus.  He was his own person, meant to be my child.  I knew upon meeting him that my life would never again be complete without him, and that he filled a huge gaping hole that I never even knew existed.

Hanging out with him these past two years has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.

It's been an experience distinct from my years as a mother prior to him arriving.  The fact is, I'm a different mom to Colin than I was to his older brothers - in good and bad ways.  Like the quintessential third child, I don't take as many pictures, I have yet to complete his baby book, and I really couldn't tell you when he got his first tooth or took his first step.  But in a weird way, this is refreshing - I don't do these things because I've learned the important lesson that memorializing a moment isn't as important as experiencing it.  And so instead of documenting his days, I enjoy his days - present in each one, having also learned the lesson that time goes by painfully fast.  

I am incredibly laid back, sometimes to a fault.  I don't sweat it if Colin doesn't eat his vegetables or misses a nap, and when he takes a tumble I don't gasp in panic.  He can eat dirt or sand or paper products without me being overly concerned.  When I picked him up from the gym childcare last week, I didn't lose my shit when I realized he was drinking a bottle of someone else's breast milk. And if he wakes up in the middle of the night, I don't freak out about bringing him to our bed and creating bad habits.  I relish the time I get to rock him to sleep, for I know our time for this is short.

Colin doesn't get as much attention as his older brothers did at his age, but as a result he is incredibly independent.  He roams freely throughout the house, and at times I actually can't find him (something that would have made me pass out with my first child).  Generally I find him playing with trains in the basement, trying on his brothers' clothing, or in his room, reading a book.

Photo courtesy of Darcy Troutman Photography
Photo courtesy of Darcy Troutman Photography
Of course, I do harbor some third child guilt.  When we have mornings free, I tend to go to the gym and put him in the childcare, rather than take him to the park.  His life revolves around our lives - hanging out during the older boys' activities, or tagging along with me on errands - rather than the reverse, as it had been particularly with my first born.  The fact that his birthday blog post is three weeks late is indicative of how his needs tend to take the backseat to the demands of his grade school brothers, and my hectic life.

For his birthday a few weeks ago, I decided to make the day all about him.  After we dropped his brothers off at school, we went to Turtle Park - a park I used to take my oldest to almost daily when he was a toddler.  I don't think Colin had ever been there before.

We had a wonderful day- just him and I.







A few days later, we had a birthday party.  It was smaller than the 2nd birthday parties we had for his two older brothers - by this time, we had learned our lesson regarding 2 year old birthday parties (because what 2 year old has friends and what 2 year old is ever going to remember?).  But in many ways, it was more special.  We celebrated with cousins and aunts and uncles and close friends.  We celebrated Colin.


As a parent I still haven't figured out how much of my kids' personalities are nature or nurture, but all I can say is that this boy is the happiest kid I have ever met.  He is always smiling, always giggling, always enjoying life.  I mean, the kid cracks up laughing every time he sees a bird.  Every. single. time.

The notion that we might have stopped at 2 seems inconceivable, and would have been tragic. Because this boy brings joy to anyone and everyone around him.  Especially me.

Photo courtesy of Darcy Troutman Photography
I am head over heels in love with this third baby of mine - this baby we never thought we would have, but were destined to.  I can't wait to see who he's going to be.

Happy 2nd birthday, my baby boy.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

To Run

This past weekend I ran a half marathon.

It isn't so odd to hear that these days.  It seems anyone and everyone has hopped on the marathon band wagon.  Young people, old people, skinny people, heavy people....  everyone and their mother has run a marathon (sometimes together).

But for me, this was a really, really big deal.

Running a marathon (or a half of one) used to be something I joked about whilst tipsy over cocktails. Yeah, lets run a marathon!  I would proclaim, full well knowing it wasn't true and finding the whole thing a bit humorous.  Running a long distance was not something I was interested in doing, and certainly not something I would enjoy.  Besides, isn't it arbitrary?  13.1 miles, 26.2 miles - why? Why not just run a mile or two and call it a day?  It seemed cultish almost - why engage in an activity that hurts your joints and your knees and makes you exhausted?  Surely there are better ways to spend one's time.

But then something weird happened last spring.  I was starting to get into shape, while at the same time going through an existential crisis of sorts.  We had moved into a new house.  My baby wasn't so much a baby anymore, and we knew there were no more kids to come.  For the first time in a long time, I started to think about myself again and who I was and what I wanted to do when I grow up.  I also was not getting any younger, and for the first time in my life I was starting to see it - in gray hairs, in fine lines, in sheer exhaustion.

I needed to shake things up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lawyers are the Best Disney World Planners

Last month we took yet another trip to Disney World.  We are those people.  We go to far too often, and yes, we even went prior to having children.  It's fake and commercial and overpriced and lacking in culture and we all absolutely love it.


I've been going to Disney World every year or two for my whole life, so I know how it all works.  We used to book our flights and hotels with short notice and do little to no planning (my mom was known to book a Disney trip the day before - literally).  But in recent years, due in large part to the expansion of the hotels and the advent of the the smart phone and the internet and all that other stuff they call "technology," it isn't so easy to just hope on a plane, go to Disney World, and actually have a good time.  

Now, months of planning are involved.  People book their dining reservations 180 days in advance. Really.  They do.  I know this because I have waited until 9am 180 days in advance (instead of staying up until midnight), and I still was not able to book dinner at Be Our Guest restaurant.  People also book up to 3 rides per day up to 60 days in advance - this is called a fast pass where you get a certain time slot to go on a ride of your choosing.  This means that two months before your vacation, you have to decide what park you want to go to, and where exactly you want to be at a given time, on a certain day.  The popular rides are booked up immediately.  And if you don't have a fast pass, by noon the ride lines are exorbitant - at the time I am writing this (at 1:30pm on Thursday), the line for the Toy Story Ride at Hollywood Studios is 105 minutes (the Disney app updates wait times every minute or so).  And the hotels are a whole other story - if you want to stay onsite (especially on the monorail), good luck booking last minute during a popular time.

If you don't pre-plan, and you just show up at Disney World with no game plan or strategy, your time there will suck.  You will wait in line for food, for rides, and sweat in 90+ degree heat and high humidity.  You will be trapped by a parade coming down Main Street as you are trying to leave, you will walk needless miles from ride to ride, you will wait for what seems like an eternity for the transportation buses, and you will judge people like me that say it's the happiest place on earth.  

I am not one to brag, but here it is - I rock at planning Disney vacations.  And though part of it stems from my many trips there over the years, the other part comes from an unlikely source - my law degree.  

People often ask if I "use" my law degree at all in my non-practicing life.  To debate with people, to analyze scholarly articles, to negotiate with service providers.  The answer is no.  I hate talking politics, I prefer reading People magazine, and I tend to avoid confrontation.  But for Disney planning?  Hell yeah, I use the skills I learned from being a lawyer.  This is discussed in sections 1, 2, and 3, infra.


 
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