Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Disney Quest


Well, we did it. The Holy Grail of parentdom. That's right. We hit Disney World. Orlando. Stayed at the Nickelodeon Hotel. Drove a minivan with a DVD player. And played nothing but Looney Toons DVDs, too. Oh, we did the kid thing all right.

Now I want my BMW 325i.

Because I deserve it. And I saw a really nice one in Palm Beach, which is where we went after Orlando to visit Mike's dad. And, quite frankly, considering the breadth of luxury vehicles cruising around that town (Bentleys in assorted colors, Jags on every block--convertible or not, your choice--your basic Rolls Royces) I think a four-door Beemer is pretty low-key of me. And, can I just say, there's nothing like checking out Bentleys and Rolls' while driving a Pontiac minivan with two kids who are trying to spit on each other. Class-saaay.

But, back to Orlando. We checked into the Nick Hotel at about 1:30 in the morning. Because we chose to fly out of Newark at 8:30 at night, landing us in the land of Mickey around 11 p.m. Then we went to the Alamo counter for about an hour to get our minivan. Good thing I pre-registered online for the van.

Mike, aka Mellow Yellow, was ready to jump the counter and either punch the computer keys or punch the clerk, I'm not sure which. Anything to make it go faster. Then I remembered a key pearl of wisdom my mother once told me after spending a couple of months in the Sunshine State--don't try to make them move faster in Florida; they'll only get ticked off and shift into reverse. I think I witnessed just that.

Ryan napped on the plane, so he was revved when we got on the minivan. He wanted us to dig out a DVD from our luggage, so he could get in some quality Bugs Bunny time in the 20 minute ride to the hotel. Cara, of course, didn't nap. Not even a disco nap. Yet she was wired. She'd waited for this trip for years. See, she was the one who begged for a baby brother or sister when she was 3. She got us to agree to it when she was 4. Ryan was born when she was 5. And we told her she wasn't seeing Disney until he was potty trained, was done with naps and didn't need a stroller. Well, at least he's potty trained....


We spent the first day in Orlando at the Nick Hotel. The kids were LOVING IT. Two resort-style pools (bars at each one for the grown-ups). One had two-story tube slides that lead right into the pool, jacuzzis, rope-pulls that dumped water on the kids heads. The other had a beach-style wade-in area that led to a huge pool and a huge slide/spray/climbing apparatus. After a couple hours of playing, Ryan took a snooze. His demand.

That night, we went to Downtown Disney where we had one of the three good meals we ate in Orlando. We were there for five days. I don't know what the deal is with Disney, but they really need to outsource to better food services. Their coffee: Nescafe. I thought that went out of business circa 1972. Seriously. I hadn't tasted coffee that bad since I made a cup of Folger's instant and mistakenly used only half the required amount. Talk about awful. And this is what Disney was selling. I swear, Starbucks should mount a takeover. I mean, if there's a time when parents need a high-octane cup o' joe, it's at friggin' Disney. Let's get real, people!

So, the first good meal was at Fulton Crab at Downtown Disney. The second good meal was at the Palio restaurant at the Swan resort, which we walked to on another night from the Disney Boardwalk. And the last good food we had was at the Epcot World Showcase places--a Morrocan sandwich, real coffee, German hotdog. Unfortunately, we had wasted our appetites on the cafeteria type garbage they sell at the Electric Umbrella food place in Epcot's main area. The only food worse than that was the gruel served up at Disney MGM Studio's fake drive-in restaurant. Barf-o-rama. Anyone who reads this column knows my hatred of all things chain (except my beloved Starbucks), but TGI Fridays could move in at Disney and there would be a lot of happier campers. We, the Salfinos, wouldn't be ecstatic, necessarily....but happier.


But, leave it to us to go to Disney and care about food. Let's talk rides.

Splash Mountain: Awesome. Cara and Mike sat in the front seat and got completely and totally drenched. We're talking squeezing-water-out-of-the-shirts wet. Mike's-shorts-were-still-wet-when-we-left-the-park-hours-later wet. I bought Cara a T-shirt and sweatpants. (Note: Do NOT put wet clothes in a Disney bag, leave the bag with the other souvenirs for remainder of the vacation, and then open bag upon returning home. I'm surprised those clothes didn't crawl home on their own.)

Thunder Mountain: Awesome. Ryan screamed "Yeah, baby!" the whole time.

Pirates of the Carribean: Eh. A ride.

Alladin's Magic Carpet: Jokingly short.

Space Mountain: I screamed so much I couldn't scream anymore. Super awesome. Since Ryan was too short to ride, he stayed to the side with me while Mike and Cara went for a ride. Then, when they got off, Cara got right back on with me. Space Mountain back-to-back. Insane.

Jungle Cruise: Fun. The guide had a bunch of good, corny jokes.

Haunted Mansion: Scary for Ryan, cool for the rest of us.

Buzz Lightyear: Surprisingly fun. Really.

Stitch: Suuuuuuucked.

The other parks:


I didn't do Mission: Mars because Ryan was too short and the whole "Warning: this ride could just about kill you" kind of scared me off. When Mike and Cara came out, she looked shaky and Mike looked like he was going to upchuck a woodchuck chuck.

Soarin' Over California: Super fun. But this was me before we went on it, "We've been to California. We've flown in a plane over California. Why should we bother with this ride?" And then I loved it. Typical.

Test Track: When you see you're going 65 mph with no roof over your head and no brakes, it's pretty wild. Totally dug it. But the guy next to me was a real wuss. (Not Mike this time; some other guy.)

Disney MGM:

Indiana Jones: Okay, I have heard that making a movie can be pretty boring; it's just people sitting around the set all day waiting for something to happen. SO WHY RE-CREATE THE EXPERIENCE?!?

Now the real deals:

Rockin' Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith. TOH-HO-HO-TALLY ROCKS OUT! Again, Ryan was too short so Cara did it back to back with Mike and then with me. She wasn't doing too well after that. But the ride is awesome.

And finally, the Tower of Terror. Cara was too freaked to do that one two times in a row. So Mike and Cara went, and then I went on my own while they stayed with Ry. I got so freaked I grabbed the arm of the woman next to me! Nothing like it! Feeling like you're in a falling elevator and SEEING THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING AS YOU'RE FALLING. It rocked.

Now, I'll admit: I haven't been on anything scarier than the Big Bird rollercoaster at Sesame Park in years. So maybe I'm a sucker. But the rides were fun. And I figured what could happen? Disney wouldn't let a ride go sailing off the tracks so they could get a billion dollar lawsuit slapped against them. Right?

Still sound like a sucker, huh?

--Catherine Schetting Salfino


Friday, November 11, 2005

Random Thoughts

--Did you ever think you'd have to explain to a kid that a case of tissues should not be used as a step stool? True, a tissue box originates from wood, but it's now just flimsy cardboard that will be crushed when stepped on. And re-forming the tissue box shape in the middle of an allergy attack just so I can get the pop-up Kleenex to work properly just doesn't seem right.

--Did you ever think it would be necessary to get a flashlight, mash your head to the floor and look under every radiator cover in the house to find a) a lost library book or b) a Leapster video game? Which is what I found myself doing twice in one week. With a 50% recovery rate. I'm ready to check the deli drawer of the refrigerator for Cara's book....

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It's Hamster Time! (Don't Touch That!)

Can I just say that a hamster never really struck me as much of a pet, nevermind a pet that could be spoiled!

Yet, somehow, our hamster is just that. How, you ask, can a hamster be spoiled? Well, I respond, just go to any pet superstore and check out the hamster offerings. And then imagine my son in that same aisle, pulling one thing off the shelf after another, in an attempt to get something for Cara's little Luv-bee, the hamster. A hamster that is virtually ignored by Cara, and adored by Ryan. Hence the three hamster wheels, the hamster tunnel/climber, the yogurt chip treats, the berry-flavored treat, the "burger" vegetable treats. I could go on, but I'm scaring myself.

We were heading out to go to a park Sunday, when Ryan pointed out that Luv-bee needed a new hamster ball, which, if you've never seen one, is a plastic ball with air vents that you put the hamster in so it can roll around your house. If you just let the hamster run without the safety of the ball,
a) you could step on it;
b) it could burrow into the back of your sofa and set up camp for a year or so, living happily on the popcorn remnants left by the bereft children who are too woeful to care where the popcorn falls (or they're too busy watching Jimmy Neutron to care...whichever.)

Little Luv-bee (whose name and spelling were bestowed by Cara) needed a new ball because the first one got a crack in it from someone (Cara) trying to tighten the lid by turning it the wrong way. The righty-tighty rule is lost on some people.

Anyway, we go to NJ Pets, and in Hamster Area Number One, which is loaded with hamster houses, hamster bedding, hamster hay, and hamsters, Ryan and Cara came up with the idea of buying Luv-bee a new playground replete with tunnels, climbing contraptions, and an attached Extreme Wheel. For $70.

"It's cheaper to let her run loose in the bathroom with the door shut. Forget it," I said. "Let's just get the ball and get out of here so we can go to the park."

Now, mind you, it was 3:30 when we got there. We had stopped at a couple of open houses in town, just to see what we either couldn't afford or what we wouldn't buy if our lives depended on it. That killed some time.

So there we were in NJ Pets petting people's dogs, looking at the ferrets, arguing the merits of luxe hamster playgrounds, when I realized the clouds were getting that pinkish gold getting-ready-for-the-sun-to-set look. We didn't have time for any more fooling around.

Before I could leave with the new ball, Ryan bolted for Hamster Area Number Two. Here, is where the 10 brands of yogurt chips, 15 brands of berry treats, assorted vegetable treats, hollowed limbs, huts, wood chew toys, brushes, sand baths, bed cushioning and more was available for the pampered hampster. In fact, that's the name of the new store we're opening. We'll be reaching a neglected consumer that requires a higher level of service.

After, as usual, saying no to the 32 or so items Ryan and Cara tried to get me to buy, including a new goldfish, which has nothing to do with hamsters but what the heck?, we finally got to the check out line. Where Ryan got bummed when I wouldn't let him get a doggie key chain, and Cara hopefully held up a Scottish Terrier doormat, which I was desperately trying not to emulate.

Finally, we busted loose and headed to the park, one we'd never been to before but had heard good things about. It's a cool place with lots of wood climbing equipment, swings, a bouncing rubber bridge, a wooden plank bridge, a tire climber, a tire tunnel.

"Luv-bee would love it here!" Ryan yelled.

Don't even tempt me....

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Screaming Meemies

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Halloween is a season, a major holiday -- and it isn't getting its due respect.

People take off for both Thanksgiving and the day after. Same with Christmas. Who's taking off for Halloween and the day after? I think it's time parents nationwide come together and demand a national day of rest after exhausting ourselves in the name of a big sugar quest.

Ryan's seasonal Halloween parties kicked off last Thursday with a party at his kindergroup, which is separate from his kindergarten. Then, Friday, he had a nighttime Halloween dance at his regular school.

Cara: HE'S going to a dance at night? No fair! They're all midgets at his school! Why does he get a dance at all, and we get nothing?!

These were all valid points, that, as usual, I didn't have counterpoints or answers to. Ryan's school is for kids in kindergarten through third grade. The fourth through eighth graders on our side of town go to Cara's school. What can I say--Ryan's school PTA is more inspired? They're still energetic? Their spirit hasn't been drained yet? I don't know.

But they threw a kick-butt party replete with a deejay, an Elvis impersonator, snacks, games, hand tattoos, goody bags. Afterward, Ryan said, with a good amount of exhaustion in his voice, "I had a blast." Soon to be followed by, "I'm hot. I want my costume off." No matter that we were in the middle of the sidewalk. I told him he had to be a Storm Trooper until we got home. "I'm a Clone Trooper. And I'm thirsty, too. Can we stop for a water bottle?" We live four minutes from his school. Come on!

Cara meanwhile went with Mike and his cousin Dave to the Chiller Theater expo. Even though she's a huge Harry Potter fan, I thought this event would be too creepy for her. Think biker bar meets gore fest, and that's what I remember of the people that attended the show when I went about a dozen years ago. She was into it, though. She got some vintage creepy comic books and cookies that looked like severed fingers, so she stopped begrudging Ryan his dance party.

The next day we went to my brother Joe's Halloween party. He and his wife Jen rented a moonbounce and a cotton candy machine for the kids, none of whom went barf-o-rama after that combo, either. Cara wore her Corpse Bride costume to the party, and changed in and out of it into jeans every time she wanted to go on the moonbounce. She didn't want to rip the costume -- even though it's a dress that's purposely shredded on the bottom. The party was also educational because one of my nephews broke down the difference between Clone Trooper and Storm Trooper, and some other trooper that is just like a Storm Trooper but is blue. Hey, at least I stopped calling Ryan a Storm Trooper. After about 6 1/2 hours, we decided to roll out while the costumes were still intact.

On Sunday, we went to the New York Botanical Garden with my friend Barbara and her daughter Alex for its Haunted Halloween Walk. It was more fantastical than scary, with creatures dancing among the trees to the sounds of a flute or ancient drums. The kids got to wear their costumes again, too, so they dug it. It was all very arty, which wasn't lost on Ryan.

Ry (about half-way through the walk): I'm thirsty. And I want chips.

At the end of the walk, the Garden had set up snack tents. Barbara offered to buy Ryan a water bottle and chips. He accepted the water bottle, but the chips weren't the kind he's used to getting in the Garden Cafe. He wasn't about to eat Baked Lays! He wanted Miss Vickie's gourmet chips! Like Mike, who will drive 10 miles for a good bagel, and 20 miles for good pizza rather than eat "some crap," Ryan held out for the real deal.

Of course, that meant we had to hear him talk about the chips while on line for the shuttle, while ON the shuttle, while walking back from the Children's Garden. I think Barbara wanted to bean him with a fantastical club.

Monday -- Halloween Day -- was a blur. (Read the following like the coke-fueled, pre-bust scene in "Goodfellas.") Ryan wore his costume to school because he had a class party first thing in the morning. As one of the class moms, I got to make goody bags that morning for 16 kids, and then attend the party at 10 to hand out the food and drinks. After class, we drove home to begin carving pumpkins. Forty-five minutes later, I had to pick up Cara--so she could change into her costume. Both kids had Halloween parades. I made them lunch and then we went to Cara's shindig. Twenty-five minutes later, we bolted for Ryan's school parade, then home to continue carving pumpkins. After Cara came home, the real Halloween fun kicked in. Cara, Ryan, his buddy Andrew and I went with Alex, Barbara and a bunch of their friends to trick-or-treat. Then Ryan's friend James joined us. After three blocks, the group split up. A few blocks later, Cara was ready for me to drive her back to Alex. Ryan and Andrew continued on with James and his dad. Meanwhile, I phoned Barbara to get her twenty, dropped Cara off, and then got Ryan and Andrew who by then were at James' house. We emptied Ryan's and Andrew's 10-pound goody bags so they could carry on with empty bags. I put Andrew's candy and the boys in the car, tracked down Alex, Barbara and Cara, and got them in the car. Then we all trick-or-treated down Andrew's street, which has 30 houses that were all candy jackpots. Andrew and Alex were wiped out, but Cara and Ryan's "never say die" attitude was contagious. If there was a doorbell to be rung, they were ringin' it. The kids had about 17 pounds of candy each. (Being good conscientious parents, Mike and I will make sure we eat most of Cara and Ryan's.)

Finally, we dropped Andrew off at his house, Barbara & Alex back at their's, and convened at my friend Annie's, where a pizza & beer party was in full swing. Thank God. It was 7 o'clock. I'd had no lunch, and a fun-size M&Ms wasn't cutting it. Despite tight parking, I found a space directly in front of Annie's house. Why? Because I knew what was coming and was determined to head it off.

Cara: Can we trick-or-treat our way home?

Like I said, a national day of recovery must be mandated....

--Catherine Schetting Salfino