Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say


There’s something about traveling – especially to a place that caters to families – that tends to bring us all together… in a fashion, anyway. Last week, after returning Fenwick for Advanced Training, we headed down to Florida for a Disney Cruise followed by a day at Universal Studios.  Both adventures were generally excellent — and both reinforced something that we’ve been telling our girls for years:

Families are families. We say the same stuff.

Don’t all Caribbean pirates drink smoothies in light-up cups?

This realization/reinforcement started a good number of years ago, while visiting Disney World, when we heard another family utter one of the parental phrases that Nick and I use in our own house (I honestly can’t remember which phrase it was, but imagine something along the lines of “Leave your sister alone” or “I don’t like your tone” or “We don’t put glitter on the dog” [wait – is that just our family?]).

The moment our girls heard these words, their heads whipped toward us with incredulity. “Wait. You mean other families say that too?” Which led to our asserting that Families are families. We say the same stuff.

This was especially true at theme parks (big and small) and family-friendly destinations – from the Rainforest Cafe to the Mall of America to baseball stadiums. These phrases seem to coalesce and crystalize in places like Florida, where half of the state is dedicated to families riding roller coasters and taking photos with adults in animal costumes.

The more we paid attention, the more we noticed the same basic admonishments and sentences being uttered over and over again. Race didn’t matter; we saw people of every skin tone saying these things. There was no religious divide; we heard families wearing crucifixes, hijabs, and yarmulkes making these statements. Different cultures meant different accents (or languages), but the basic gist remained the same. Socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, family size, political bent, and milk-or-dark-chocolate preference similarly played no role.

We got to Diagon Alley early enough to see it nearly empty in the morning…

IMG_6861… and then found ourselves amongst the final visitors that night, too, so we saw it nearly empty again. Quite magical, indeed!

After listening long enough, we decided to start keeping track of what we heard. Eventually, the items on the list began to repeat… So we figured we’d conducted enough of a social experiment to share our findings with y’all.

If you and your family take a vacation – whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or a staycation – one of the adults in your group is all but certain to speak (or yell. Or hiss. Or growl) at least one of these phrases during your sojourn.


And so, without further ado (and in no particular order), we bring you:
Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

  1. “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”
  2. “If you don’t knock it off, we’ll leave and you’ll have to walk home.”
  3. “You really don’t have your sunglasses? REALLY? Okay, fine. No. We’ll wait.
  4. “You’re not allowed to touch him and he’s not allowed to touch you.”
  5. “That is not a toy.”
  6. “If you don’t stop, we’ll go right back to the hotel.”
  7. “We didn’t come all this way just to sit in our hotel room.”
  8. “What do you say?”
  9. “Don’t touch that.”
  10. “Do you see any other little girls behaving this way?”
  11. “Hands to selves.”
  12. “This is your last warning.”
  13. “We are just looking. We aren’t buying anything.”
  14. “We already bought you three things yesterday.”
  15. “Do you have any idea how much that costs?”
  16. “When it’s your own money, then you can buy one.”
  17. Excuse. Me.”
  18. “Do they sell alcohol in here?”
  19. “Don’t hang on that.”

    I’m just now noticing Nick’s left hand on Ella’s arm… probably to separate her and Annie and prevent them from destroying the statue.
    Why, yes, I did come in first in the Disney music trivia contest – and, yes, I did choose to wear my Winner medallion to dinner. Thank you for noticing.

  20. “Sit down.”
  21. “Get up!”
  22. “Just keep walking.”
  23. “Please be still!”
  24. “You need to move!”
  25. “One… Two…” (Alternately: “Un… deux…”, “Uno… dos…” and “Eins… zwei…”)
  26. “Don’t eat that.”
  27. “You need to take at least three more bites.”
  28. “There’s a trash can right over there.
  29. “Can you hold it?”
  30. “You just went.”
  31. “Why didn’t you think of that before we got in line?”
  32. NOW.
  33. “Where’s the bar?”
  34. “Leave. Him. Alone.”
  35. “Be quiet.”
  36. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
  37. “I’m not going to say it again.”
  38. “I know. Everyone is hot.
  39. “This is the Happiest Place On Earth! WE SHOULD BE HAPPY!”


Ahhh, vacations with kids. SO RELAXING.

By the time we all get home, though, and the luggage is put away and the clothes are in the wash and we’ve bathed ourselves in Purell and we’re finally kicking back with a glass or a cup, you can bet at least one adult can be found saying…

40. Can’t wait to do it again.



It Doesn’t Get Any Easier

It’s been eight hours since we said goodbye to Fenwick and returned him to CCI for Advanced Training. It still feels pretty miserable. It will for a while.

This, we knew. Since Fenwick was the fourth puppy we’ve raised for CCI – and, thus, the fourth to whom we’ve said farewell, holding our broken hearts delicately in our hands while reminding ourselves of why our heartbreak is so very worth it – we knew that this part would suckfen turn in6
Fen was super patient during the matriculation/graduation ceremony.

After four times through, we knew what to expect (more or less. All dogs have their own awesome personalities and quirks – like, for example, pooping next to the candles in Target…). We were prepared for the early sleepless nights and razor sharp teeth. We’ve got the moving-of-the-dog-gates down to a science. We were psyched for Fenwick to bond with our CCI release dog, Langston.
fen sleeps on lang

Side note: we were not psyched for Fenwick to bond with our Old Man Dog, Joey, because in his 13 years of life, Joey has bonded with exactly nobody… But, hey. Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks.
Three dogs… one bed. Somehow, the math works.

We were ready to answer the gazillions of questions that we get asked when we’re out in public, to smile when toddlers run up to Fen before their parents could stop them, to hear strangers’ stories about their own dogs. (Those are my favorites, truly.) We were prepared to love this dog with everything in us for seventeen months and then tearfully return him to be loved by the incredible CCI trainers, knowing that our fragile hearts would slowly fuse back together again with the hope that he could change someone’s life.

What we were not prepared for was one of our daughters falling equally in love with this dog… nor for her heartbreak when he had to be turned in.

From practically Day One, Annie and Fenwick took a shine to one another. fenwick arrives13
fenwick plays

Wherever Annie went, Fenwick would follow. Sometimes, he’d try to get her to play with him. Other times, he’d simply curl up at her feet and wait for her to finish whatever she was doing. Either way, he just wanted to be near her.

The feeling was mutual.
annie and fenwick


In addition to wanting to hang out with Fenwick, Annie wanted to help. Sure, Ella could be counted on to feed Fen in a pinch, to go for walks with us, or to give him some gigantic hugs… but it was Annie who really felt that assisting with Fenwick was her responsibility, one that she was proud to have.

She brushed him and helped bathe him. She fed him and worked with him on his commands in the living room. She came to obedience class with me and gladly took Fen’s leash when we went for hikes. If I asked the girls if they’d like to take the pup with us to a store or restaurant, it was Annie who piped up, “Yes!” first and Annie who asked to take his leash and guide him.

At the grocery store…

fenwick with annie at the y
… and the YMCA.

All of this time together made them the best of buds. Sometimes, upon hearing something unusual in another room, I’d discover that Annie had her head close to Fenwick’s and was sharing secrets with him. When they didn’t know I was looking, I’d catch them loving on one another, full stop.
fenwick and annie cuddle
Bedtime kisses…
… and kitchen kisses.

Over the last month or so, Annie had requested that Fenwick sleep in her room (we’re required by CCI to have the dogs sleep in one of our rooms at night; we were happy to oblige). Every night, Fenwick would eagerly trot into Annie’s bedroom and curl up on his dog bed, at the foot of Annie’s bunk.

And every night, when I’d check on her several hours later and let Fenwick out one last time, I’d find him on her bed, curled into her as tightly as he could.IMG_3825

When I say that Fen and Nini were the best of buddies – I mean it. Which made his return today more difficult than I’d ever imagined.

It’s one thing to break your own heart, knowing it’s for a greater good. It’s another to show your children how to survive a broken heart – how, sometimes, sadness is not only okay but necessary in order to achieve joy in the end. It’s another thing entirely to realize that your own child’s heart is breaking. No matter how important the “lesson” is, no matter how much good you believe you’re doing… seeing your babe’s anguish as she struggles to let go of something she adores – knowing there’s nothing you can do to make it better or speed along her recovery beyond acknowledging how much it hurts – is really just awful.

Even when you’re doing the right things, parenting can be so damned hard.

Matriculation and graduation went just as they should today. Fenwick was cool as a cucumber throughout the 90 minute ceremony. Annie walked him across the stage when we got our certificate. We awwwed over the ridiculous cuteness of the other dogs and cried tears of the most joyful joy as we saw the current graduating class be placed with the dogs who were providing them with new hope, new dreams, new lives.

As one of the commencement speakers said, today was (their) independence day.
It’s hard not to feel pretty inspired and awesome after hearing that.fen turn in5
How can you not just melt into a puddle when you see dogs like this during a graduation ceremony? YOU CANNOT. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.

With graduation over, we took Fen back to the CCI campus, allowing him some time to meet a few of the other matriculating dogs and run amok with them in the huge outdoor play space.

I hope he’s already made a buddy and isn’t lonely tonight.
fen turn in3

All too soon, it was time to formally turn him in. We gathered to bid him farewell and give him one last hug, lingering for a while as we whispered “Good luck!” and “We’ll miss you!” and “I love you, you goofball!” in his ear.
fen turn in2
Ella giving Fender Bender one final smoosh.

Annie was the last to join. She was hesitating… wanting to stretch the moment as long as possible, to maybe avoid having to say goodbye at all. When, at last, we could wait no longer, she took her turn.
I will never forget that moment.fen turn in

Like all of our other CCI dogs, Fenwick jauntily made his way down the hall and out of sight, eager for his next adventure, never looking back. I wish we could feel the same.

As I wrote when we turned in Jambi (our last CCI pup):

We do this because, when all is said and done, that’s really why we’re on this planet in the first place: to love, to laugh, to learn, to find joy, to spread joy, and to help out whenever we can. Sometimes, doing so is easy. Other times, helping those in need is really, really hard. Giving back a dog that we’ve grown to love is miserable – but that doesn’t make it not worth doing. On the contrary, sometimes, the more difficult something is, the greater the return.

I know, through her relationship with Fen, our Nini has already received her return. I know – I hope – some day, she will be grateful for all of these opportunities to change lives… not to mention the opportunity to get to know these wonderful dogs.

I just wish there was a way to help her heart heal a little faster in the meantime.

We love you, Fenwick. Go make that difference!
(Just not in the candle aisle again, please. Thanks.)

fen turn in4



Grease: Live Is The Word

We all have Those Movies: the ones we obsessively watch whenever we catch them on TV, no matter how many times we’ve seen them or who needs dinner. Grease is one of Those Movies for me.

I don’t remember when I first saw Grease; by high school, I’d memorized it. There was – and remains – little about it that I didn’t positively adore, from Sandy’s accent to Danny’s cool, sideways smile; Rizzo’s knock-you-dead-with-one-look glances; the outfits, the dancing…

Oh. And the music. THE MUSIC! I put “Summer Nights” and “We Go Together” on mix tapes. When I was feeling particularly dramatic, I’d theatrically walk around our yard and belt out “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (no joke). Last spring, when I announced to friends via Facebook that I would love to have a lip sync battle party, I even recorded myself lip syncing to “Hopelessly Devoted To You.” (Nope, no video here; you’ll just have to imagine the awesomeness.)
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.55.33 PM

Grease isn’t just the word, yo. Grease is my jam.

So I was both excited and apprehensive for Fox’s Grease: Live, which aired last night. I thought it would be neat to see it in a new format, but I was also nervous they’d screw it up – and, not only would it pale in comparison to the original, it would just be a mess.

Still, Grease is Grease, so there was no choice but to watch.

I’ll just cut to the chase: It. Was. Fantastic.
More than that – it was sort of mind-blowing.

I might even have liked it more than the movie.

I won’t officially “review” it (you’re welcome) – if you head to Google, there are dozens of those. I will say I was insanely jealous of the studio audience; I loved the tongue-in-cheek/inside-joke references; seeing Didi Conn and Barry Pearl don their original Pink Lady and T-Bird jackets was pure nostalgic glee; Boyz II Men made me ridiculously happy; the cast’s diversity was just stupendous; and I thought “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” were knocked out of the park.

It wasn’t perfection, of course. Some so-so acting, singing that didn’t compare to the original, sound/technical glitches. I saw them, sure.

Overall, though, those were such small “issues” that I hardly noticed.
What I DID notice was how utterly spectacular the production was. The sets were so clever, the girls and I marveled over them during commercial breaks. The costume changes were imaginative and lightning fast; we were floored. The choreography and cinematography were SO DAMNED GOOD, especially for the finale.

This Yahoo review sums that part up perfectly:

This ten-minute sequence included complex, expertly executed choreography, set changes, costume changes, crowd work, the presence of American military (?), DRONE FOOTAGE, curtain calls, and was possibly one of the more rousing TV celebrations ever filmed. And they did it LIVE. Again, the scope and ambition on display were only outdone by the sincere emotions onscreen, and the incredible effect it had on me as a viewer.

The LIVE aspect of this cannot be overstated. We were continually astonished by the breadth and depth of the production, saying aloud, “How did they DO that??” It was SO big, SO creative, SO daring. Knowing that it was live – that anything could happen – added the perfect element of nervous excitement (you’ve gotta admit – seeing that golf cart nearly bite it at the end was pretty wild).

And that, I think, is the first reason why this production resonated with me: it was beyond anything I’d ever imagined on television. We were watching something extraordinary; history being made. Whereas so much of what makes modern media great is, well, its modernness – 3D and CGI and other technical stuff – Grease: Live was made spectacular simply through imagination, hard work, ridiculous planning and precision and practice, and a go-for-broke attitude, all part of director Tommy Kail’s tremendous vision. When I showed Nick my favorite scenes, I wasn’t raving about the special effects or the actors’ Emmy-worthy performances; instead, I showed him the finale and “Freddy My Love” so he could see how impressive the sets and staging were. (He was duly impressed.)

Which brings me to my second reason for so thoroughly loving this show: it was a spectacle. As I’ve said before, I’m big on ceremony. I love pomp and circumstance and pageantry and huge, sappy gestures. Whether it’s the Olympics, the Tonys, the Super Bowl, Presidential inaugurations, soldier homecomings, “We Are The World”, or a flashmob wedding proposal — the more people who come together to joyfully celebrate something, the more I am ALL IN.
Would you look how excited these guys were when they finished? How can you not love that??

Grease: Live also contained one of my favorite forms of entertainment: a peek behind the scenes. When I was a little girl and lucky enough to go to Broadway shows, my mom made sure we sat in the front row of the balcony so she could point out the marks on stage and we could see the orchestra, the actors behind the curtains, etc. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Likewise, I got such a thrill glimpsing the cameras on Grease:Live, watching Vanessa Hudgens take a group selfie, and seeing how Keke Palmer’s ultra-fast costume change happened. For me, those details don’t take away from the effectiveness or power of the production; they add to it. In this case, they helped fuel my belief that we were witnessing one helluva television feat.

The final reason why Grease: Live really hit home for me was completely unexpected: watching it with my girls was just the best. I hadn’t planned for us to watch it together; at 9 and 11, they’re too young for the material of the original, and I assumed the same would be true here. But then I read that Fox changed some of the racier lyrics (ditching “sh*t” and “p*ssy” is probably wise when it comes to prime time) and they were aiming for a “family friendly” show, so I decided to give it a go.

(Fox and I must disagree on what constitutes “family friendly” because the broken condom and Rizzo’s pregnancy scare were still in last night’s production [this isn’t a problem or a complaint – they’re integral to the plot line; I just wouldn’t normally choose to show Ella and Annie a story where multiple sexual partners play a critical role], so my girls saw a slightly censored version…)

At first, they weren’t enthusiastic. “Why do we have to watch this stupid musical?” I told them to give it a few minutes; then they could go elsewhere.

They never moved.

By the time I sent them to bed with an hour remaining in the broadcast, they were absolutely hooked, with Ella yelling, “THANK GOD!” when I told her I was recording it and they could see the rest tomorrow.

It wasn’t just that they liked it; these are kids who think watching America’s Funniest Home Videos on YouTube is quality entertainment, so I take their “approval” with a grain of salt. No, they felt it; they got it. Ella understood the show’s humor immediately and was “in” on all the jokes, which was such a hoot. (Her raised eyebrows when Principal McGee announced she was “looking for a place to build a bomb shelter with enough room for almost everyone” were priceless. “ALMOST everyone??”)

Annie was so into Sandy and Danny, so rooting for them. “But Mom! He didn’t want to dance with Cha Cha! HE STILL LIKES SANDY. Omg, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THEM??” It was hilarious and sweet and fantastic.

Also unexpectedly, I found myself thinking about the musical’s message. Turns out, it’s kinda awful (I mean, the underlying “moral is: Change your appearance and give up your values to get a man, right?!). And yet, as I found myself analyzing the plot and the characters in ways I hadn’t before, I discovered why I liked the story so much all those years ago.

Kids! They make you do the darndest things.

Plus, there was still the music. Even if the vocals were lackluster at times  – and tremendous at others – the songs remain the same. They’re infectious and timeless. Sharing all of it with Annie and Ella was, in a word, wonderful.

Since I don’t remember the first time I saw the movie Grease, I don’t know if I experienced similar euphoria upon watching it. Maybe I did. Or maybe it just grew on me; hard to say. I don’t know how Grease: Live will hold up over time. Perhaps I’ll be just as awed by it in ten years. Or perhaps this feeling will fade and I’ll discover the production doesn’t carry its weight; its success was in the spectacle.

Either way, I doubt I’ll forget how it felt last night to be a part of it, to sing along, to watch my girls joining in the celebration.

Grease was definitely the way we were feeling.