Friday, October 5, 2018

Cruising with Disney- Part 2

This post is a continuation of my comprehensive review of our latest Disney Cruise.  Part 1 can be found here if you care to read. 
I will continue reviewing each of the main categories and at the end of the post, I'll write about whatever wasn't "perfect", because even Disney makes mistakes... 
* The Staterooms: We stayed in an ocean view family suite, big enough for the 5 of us and pretty spacious by cruise ship standards. The room had a queen size bed, a bunk and a wall bed and it fit all of us pretty comfortably.  There was a large porthole window (pictured below) and a double sink bathroom divided into a shower-sink and a toilet-sink combos; this was genius because it allowed for more comfort as well. Our stateroom was located on deck 7. It was perfect. 

* Castaway Cay: Our cruise had two stops, one at Nassau, Bahamas (which I won't even address) and another one at Disney's private island "Castaway Cay".  This private island is located in the Bahamas and is basically paradise; it is such a beautiful place with crystalline blue waters and tons to do.  We had such a great time at this place and the girls even went snorkeling. The beach experience is much more enjoyable when it's done Disney style; there are tons of beach chairs and umbrellas, bars, restaurants, characters, sailboats, water slides... you name, it's there.  I would probably make this the only stop for a 3 day cruise and make it longer as well.  Such a great time!

* The Overall Experience: If you're a Disney lover, this is definitely the cruise for you.  It is slightly more expensive than other cruises (we paid $3000 for a family of 5) but it is so worth it. The customer service is beyond compare and (almost) everything is done right. The overall experience is incredible and we will be sure to cruise with them again! I am so thankful for a great time and feel so blessed to be able to take my kids on these fun vacations. 

What wasn't "perfect" about the Disney cruise?
Even though the list of "issues" is short, it is worth noting in order to be objective:
  • Halloween Activities were poorly planned: There was a trick or treat event through the ship and it was very poorly organized.  There were tons of kids asking for candy and only a few stations with very few staff passing it out. The activity was scheduled to last 30 minutes and it was so chaotic that people were starting to become hostile. I would suggest either scrapping the activity all together or having at least 5 times as much candy. 
  • The constant "up selling" was a buzz killer:  I get it, Disney is in the business of making money but the up selling throughout the cruise is a bit extreme. I feel like people pay enough money to go on these cruises so I don't see the need to constantly pressure people to spend even more. 
  • Some Youth Counselors are not cut out for that job: I had a couple of run ins with youth counselors who didn't seem to like kids.  They had issues with the fact that Oliver needed to be escorted to the bathroom and many seemed annoyed at the amount of children at the clubs.  I believe that type of job should go to people who genuinely love kids and crowds. 
  • Family Karaoke Night was a bomb: Some of the members in our party attempted to sing at karaoke night only to be told there was not enough time.  The event is scheduled to last 30 minutes but it is not properly organized; they let everyone sign up to sing without regards for time and when the 30 minutes run out... too bad!  I think there should be someone "policing" the sign ups a bit better so that everyone gets a chance or at least is told that they likely won't have time to sing their song.  I sat through excruciatingly painful singing voices (some sang more than one song) only to be disappointed when members of my party didn't get to have a turn. Terrible planning. 
  • Pool deck floors: the pool deck floors are horrible quality; they got scorchingly hot and were extremely slippery, both which are safety hazards.  I know there are paving materials that are much better for this type of setting; ones that don't get hot and are anti slippery.  I think Disney ships should feature better pool decks to avoid people slipping and falling or getting their feet burned. 
  • Safety protocol for some events is not up to code:  speaking of safety.. one of the members of our party was a firefighter and she couldn't help but notice the fact that during some events like the firework show, there were several code violations such as emergency exits being blocked and not enough entry/exit points for such large crowds.  Considering the Disney Dream has a capacity for 4000 people, these things should be looked at seriously to avoid any tragedies. 
With all that said, we still enjoyed cruising with Disney and will most definitely do it again.  Reserving your cruise 12-18 months ahead of time will represent significant savings and will also make planning much easier. I cannot wait to do it again!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Cruising with Disney- Part 1

To celebrate Oliver's 3rd birthday, we recently went on our 3rd Disney Cruise; it was a short 3-day cruise out of Port Canaveral on the Disney Dream ship and everyone had such an amazing time. 
It's not secret that I am a huge Disney fan and I thoroughly enjoy everything they make and this cruise wasn't the exception but in an effort to be an objective reviewer I will point out details about different categories of our trip. 

* The Ship: As I already stated this time we sailed on the Disney Dream (we had previously been on the Disney Wonder, which is smaller). The ship is very well maintained and very easy to navigate. It features several bars and lounges, an adult area with a pool and adult only bar, two family pools with a clear water tube/slide, a splash pad for younger children, a sports area with mini golf and a fenced in basketball court, a movie theater, a stage theater and three major restaurants besides a large buffet area and quick food service area.  It also has several shops, ice cream stations, a nursery and several kids' clubs for all ages. There are plenty of restrooms around the ship and every detail is well thought out.  The ship is usually decorated depending on the season and cruises have themes; this time a year is "Halloween on the High Seas" so there's Halloween decor all around and it's all as cute as ever! The kids got to dress up and they chose an "Inside Out" ensemble, which they totally rocked (pictured below)

* The Food: During the day, there is a huge buffet area that opens until 3pm as well as several quick food service areas that remain open all day. The food variety is great and the quality is mostly good.  For dinner, there is a restaurant rotation assigned to each guest and noted on the "Key to the World" card; it consists of a combination of letters where each one represents the first letter of the name of the restaurant you are scheduled to have dinner each night. You are to follow that rotation throughout the cruise to ensure you're dining at the right place.  There are two seating times (6:15pm and 8:15pm), which you get to choose when making your reservation. Dinner is always the best part of the day because the food is incredible; with endless options and a very tasty menu you are bound to find your favorite meal. I enjoyed incredible steaks, fish and a variety of my favorite foods and dessert. Yum!

* Entertainment: Disney is in the business of entertainment and they sure know how to do it well. On this cruise there were several featured shows ("Beauty and the Beast" and "Believe" were the main ones) as well as endless character greetings, dance parties and random music acts throughout. 
There are also tons of activities each day, all of which can be easily found on your daily "Cruise Navigator" page or even on the Disney Cruise app (will talk more about the app later). 
"Pirates in the Caribbean" night is a big one on the cruise; everyone gets Mickey pirate bandanas and dresses up as pirates (this is totally optional). Then there is a pirate show on the main pool deck and fireworks at sea, which make for great experience for everyone on board. There is never a dull moment on a Disney Cruise. 

...this post is to be continued.....

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

He's 3!

My handsome, sweet and amazing little boy is turning 3 years old today and life with him has been such a fun ride!
Oliver completely turned our lives around and even though I do a great deal of complaining, I wouldn't have it any other way because he is such a blessing to us and so much fun to be around.
He amazes us every day with his brightness, his love and his overall amazing personality and sense of humor.
At this time, Oliver is ALMOST fully potty trained (he still has poo accidents throughout the week), he knows about 70% of the alphabet, knows the lyrics to some of his favorite songs and is very involved in all our family affairs, often helping me with cooking, grocery shopping and even laundry and cleaning...he's quite the charmer!
Aside from turning 3 today, this is also "weaning week" since I plan to be done with breastfeeding in the next few days; we have reached an amazing milestone in this department and I am really proud to have made it this far!
Oliver's favorite TV show is "Masha and the Bear", which he first started watching in Russian until we noticed he was watching it in a language that wasn't English.. ha ha.. He loves dancing, singing, jumping and running around; he's such a ball of energy and seriously gives me a run for my money!
His favorite toys are animal figurines by Schleich, which I seriously recommend to anyone who has kids this age, they are the best; he takes his animals very serious and I love watching him play with them at all times.
He recently started attending his sisters' school and even though he didn't instantly love it, I'd say he's doing pretty well since his class only has 8 children and his teachers are absolutely loving. Oliver is so loved by everyone around him and I feel so lucky to have him in our lives and the fact that he is surrounded by so many wonderful people.
This year we will celebrate his birthday by taking him on a 3-night Disney cruise; he is so excited to go on it and keeps telling everyone he's going on the "Mickey boat"; I can't wait to see his sweet face when we're actually on the will be the best!
Oliver we love you so much and we wish you the best of birthdays.  Thanks for being who you are and for being so loving; your random "I love yous" always make my days and you give the best hugs and kisses.  I feel so lucky to be your mother and I can only hope that we can make you as happy as you make us! I thank God every day for choosing me for you! Happy 3rd birthday, little man!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Homework or "home punishment"? Why I think homework does more harm than good!

**Disclaimer: this is an opinion piece and while I do refer to some published studies and well known authors throughout my post, it is based solely on my personal experience with homework**
I recently attended a school open house packed with lots of "useful" information and when the subject of homework came up, the presenter said "homework is checked for completion and not for accuracy".. mmm.. excuse me?  You mean to tell me that my kid is "wasting" two hours a day on homework so someone can mark it "complete"?  Talk about busy work to get a check mark!
I have always had mixed feelings about homework and have spent a great deal of time doing thorough research about the effects of homework on children of all ages and while you might be tempted to think that I'm one of those bitter moms whose kids struggle with homework and that's why I might hate it, that is certainly not the case, my kids are actually rocking school and rarely ever complain about homework.  My views on homework have certainly changed through the years as I see my children growing up and developing study habits that don't necessarily come from doing homework every night, hence this post...
One of my all time favorite authors is Alfie Kohn, who famously writes about human behavior, parenting and education; he believes (as do I) in constructivism in which the learner makes meaning rather than absorb information; where things are taught in context and for a purpose....key word PURPOSE!  Kohn published an interesting book titled "The Homework Myth", where he points out that there is no research that fully supports that assigning homework of any kind or any amount is ever beneficial to children in elementary school... I happen to agree!  While I do believe that some sort of activity that promotes discipline is necessary, I don't believe that homework is such activity.
I have seen my girls (6th and 4th grade) come home from school exhausted only to sit for another hour (or two!) to do pointless homework...things like making a rainbow with spelling words, or doing a word search of 50+ words and doing math worksheets that are completely unrelated to what they're being taught in class... really?  I find it idiotic to a point for a child to have to do this mundane, non productive activities after she has spent 8+ hours in a classroom supposedly learning.  Some people would argue that homework is a great way of reinforcing what was taught..but if reinforcing is so necessary then it leads me to question whether or not the material was taught correctly. And then I go back to the "homework will be checked for completion but not for accuracy" idea, so if that's indeed the case, how can a teacher know that the student actually learned what she was supposed to?
I clearly remember one instance back when Olivia was in 3rd grade and struggling with a Math lesson; as I was helping her do her homework I suggested she discuss it with her teacher to make sure she was doing it right, to what she quickly replied "oh, my teacher doesn't have time for that!"... surprised, I replied "what do you mean?" and she went on to explain that her teacher never really checked the homework, and when she did and something was wrong, she never explained it because she was simply "too busy" making sure everyone had DONE their homework! That memory still blows my mind and the sad part is that I have many other similar what's the point?
Many studies suggest that homework in elementary school is completely pointless because for young children time is better spent by playing outside, getting involved in sports, having dinner with family, making friends with their neighbors, playing an instrument, why are our elementary children "punished" with unsurmountable amounts of homework that do nothing but promote negative feelings towards school in general? If you want your child to develop good habits and foster discipline, why not get her involved in a sport? why not encourage her to read books that would spark her interest and actually expand her vocabulary? why not plan an educational and fun family outing that would strengthen family ties? I can think of so many other ways to promote discipline and stimulate children to be better and do better and homework is NOT one of those ways.
And don't get me wrong, I get that some kids do need to complete exercises that are repetitive in nature and knowledge needs to be drilled into their brains, but I don't believe ALL children need that, therefore the ones that don't, end up being "punished" with homework, a learning method that I consider completely obsolete and unproductive.
My sister is a 1st grade teacher and her case for homework is that it can be a way to measure the involvement of parents in their children's education, I happen to disagree with that assessment, because the idea that a parent is "involved" simply because they make it a point to "force" their children to do pointless homework doesn't make sense to me.  My own mother never did homework with me and I like to believe that she was rather involved in my education and my life in general, so the point becomes mutt with my own experience. I must also point out that I attended schools that had mostly "no homework" policies and I consider myself a well rounded and disciplined individual regardless of whether or not homework was part of my academic life (it wasn't, by the way!)
There are other studies that suggest that the amount of homework given should vary by grade, with an average of 10 minutes per grade (so a child in 2nd grade would get 20 minutes, a child in 3rd grade would get 30 and so on)... I find that pointless too.. why try to fill a time quota just to meet the requirement of giving that child homework regardless of her needs?
I know that this homework topic is very controversial and there are powerful and insightful studies on both sides of the argument, however I stand by the idea that homework (especially the mindless, pointless, repetitive kind of homework) does more harm than good; it makes the children exhausted, it shortens their time to do other more productive and enriching activities, it fosters negative feelings towards school, it affects family dynamics and keeps them occupied but not stimulated.  I wish all teachers and school administrators came together to look at ways to improve the system, I wish they all took notes from other more successful educational systems around the world such as the one in Finland where students score significantly higher in aptitude tests and key areas such as reading and math.  And while I don't suggest that some kind of educational activity shouldn't be part of a student's daily routine, I do believe that the kind of homework kids get these days isn't very beneficial in the long run.

Lastly, I'd like to share this article titled "Is too much homework bad for kid's health?", which explores the negative consequences of excessive homework on kids' mental health and suggests that the quality of the homework assignment is key and definitely way more important than the quantity.

What are your thoughts on homework? How much time does your kid spend doing homework on a daily basis?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Terrible 2s and......horrible 3s?

I'll admit it, as a mom I always want to think my kids are the best behaved, the smartest, the kindest, etc.. you get the point, moms want to believe their kids are perfect...or at least pretend they are, right?  If your answer is "no" then you're probably from another planet... mmm.. just kidding.. or am I? LOL!
Raising kids had been a fairly "easy" and attainable task until life threw a curve ball and sent us Oliver; to say that I struggled with the reality of an "unplanned" baby would be an understatement, but if you've read my blog before you probably already knew that... having a 3rd baby was very, very, VERY hard for me both physically and emotionally. 
Even though I love my boy more than words can say, a part of me just wasn't ready for him and I still question whether I am cut out for this "mom of three" thing... I guess God thinks I'm a real badass! 
It's pretty common to hear people talk about the "Terrible 2s", which is a stage in which toddlers struggle between their reliance on adults and their need for independence; it is said that most kids around the age of 2 will start to be rebellious and hard to deal with.. 
I'll be honest and say that I was pretty lucky with my girls when they were that age; they were pretty good about listening, avoiding meltdowns and following directions overall... I was truly blessed!
When I had Oliver, I'd always hear moms saying "oh! boys are so much worse, you'll see", so I was naturally bracing myself for some hell.. But 2 came and went (he'll be 3 in 9 days) and besides the potty training ordeal, Oliver has been basically an "angel" up to now.  He never tried to climb out of his crib, doesn't do public tantrums, doesn't throw food, doesn't climb on things and even though there has been the occasional school biting and scratching, he has never really been trouble...until now!
I won't say that he is bad because that certainly isn't the case, but he's definitely giving us a run for our money with how hyper and needy he has become in the past few this the start of the "Horrible 3s? why doesn't anybody talk about what's to come after the "terrible 2s"? In my experience, the 3s have been more challenging than the 2s could ever be.  Not only are children way more agile by the time they hit 3, but they are also more aware of their environment, have more knowledge overall, a more extensive vocabulary and way more argumentative power and an undeniable persuasion capability. 
Oliver isn't even 3 yet and he already thinks he's the boss of everyone.  He is becoming increasingly more defiant and demanding and way too opinionated for my liking; I'm definitely afraid of what the 3s have in store for us.  
I'd like to know if I'm the only mother of a 3 year old who thinks this age is worse than the previous one.. or is it always the case that kids just get more difficult with age? (LOL!).  I'd like to know how I can tame this little rebellious boy of mine without hindering his desire to express himself and discover the world.  I find it very difficult sometimes to balance my motherly authority and my children's freedom of expression.  Do you struggle with this too?  Where do you draw the line?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Life is not a "Popularity Contest"...but how do you teach that?

A few days ago as I picked up the kids from school I noticed Gaby had been crying; she seemed to have freshly shed tears in her eyes and her demeanor was sad, so it was obvious to me that something was up.  As much as I talk to my children, I also try to give them space so I waited until she felt like telling me about her affliction. She told me about a girl in her class, who she considered a close friend, that had invited a few girls to her house after school to celebrate her birthday but didn't invite her.  Gaby was surprised that most of her close friends had been invited but she had been left out and that made her very upset. Even though I felt sad, I quickly mentioned her own birthday celebration and how she had to select just a few people since it was just a small get together. While my response seemed to do the trick, there was one comment made by Gaby that really struck a nerve. She said "I wasn't invited because I am not popular!"..mmm.. what??!  I'd be lying if I said that thought didn't bug actually mortified me.  Isn't it too early for my 9 year old to feel that way? How can I tell her she's wrong when she might be right?

Fast forward a few days and Olivia comes home saying all 6th graders had been invited to run for class representative within the school's student council. She was excited at the prospect of running a "political campaign" but assured me that she was only doing it for the fun of it because she "knew" only the "popular kids" had a chance of winning. At the risk of trivializing her feelings, I told her that 6th grade student council wasn't really a big deal but the fact that the word "popular" came up again really annoyed me and made me concerned.  

After giving it some thought and even trying to remember what it was like when I was in school, I realized that the fact that life often feels like a "popularity contest" is undeniable and the constant competition harms children and adults all the same.  I clearly remember many occasions when I have felt excluded by people who I consider friends; the sting I have felt when I log on Facebook only to see school moms doing wine nights or play dates where neither my kids or I have been invited or even considered prospective guests, maybe because we're not "popular"? or maybe we're not THAT important to be part of a group?
So if as adults sometimes we have a hard time dealing with rejection and often feel this looming popularity contest happening pretty much every day, how can we expect kids to deal well with all those feelings? How can we teach them to be themselves and work towards self actualization rather than acceptance?

The other day one of Olivia's good friends, who happens to be one of the most beautiful girls I know, made a comment to me that went something like "my smile is so ugly!" and she went on to talk about how uncomfortable she felt smiling in pictures because she didn't feel she looked pretty enough. Her comment shocked me because #1 her smile is clearly amazing and #2 she is incredibly concerned about her looks because she believe she doesn't measure up to the standards society sets up. This conversation got me thinking about how there is a constant need for acceptance among children and in the process many of them lose their essence and forget who they are or why they do what they do. 
I've heard of kids in school being bullied because they are too tall, or too fat, or too short, or too thin, or too studious or maybe too lazy. I've heard my kids referring to some cliques as the "popular kids" and I see it in moms too, every day.... I hate how everyone is constantly trying to outdo one another, to impress everyone, to be liked at all times... it's exhausting... it really is! 

So I want to teach my children that they are not in this world to impress anyone, that they won't always be liked by everyone and that even though it feels like it at times, life is NOT a popularity contest and they have to be that change agent if they want to see a difference.  I hope God gives me the wisdom to make my children understand that they are unique and incredible and their only concern should be to be the best human being they possibly can be, without minding popularity or trying to outdo people at all times. 
I want that pretty young girl to know that her smile is amazing and she should be proud to show it in every picture.  I want Gaby to understand that if she doesn't get invited to someone's house, she's still awesome and that doesn't mean she's not liked. I want Olivia to run for student council simply because she believes in herself whether she wins or not and to always have the resilience to do it again every time she feels like it. 

Life is too short to get hung up on that invitation you didn't get or that race you didn't win! I am happy to be who I am and how I am and I want my children to learn that...the sooner the better! :)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Back to School 2018-2019

'Tis the season for "Back to School" craziness, the time when kids get back to their routine and parents try to get it (and keep it) together again!
Between uniforms, school supplies, lunches and school open houses, I am usually exhausted by the time the first day of school rolls around...this year was no exception and Olivia starting middle school added an extra layer of stress to the mix.  
This year we also decided to switch schools for Oliver and we registered them at the girls' school; after a year of picking them up at different places and different times, we figured it'd be much easier to centralize everything so fingers crossed it was the right move for our family. 
The girls were excited to go back to school for the most part but they weren't too happy about waking up at 6am to get ready or lugging things around; I also wasn't too happy about making school lunches and looking at a million calendars on a daily basis but I guess it was time so we have to focus on the task at hand. 

Olivia was incredibly excited to start 6th grade; for some reason the prospect of switching classes and having multiple teachers really excites her.  On top of it, she now gets to wear her "big girl" uniform so that's the cherry on top.  She looks so grown up already.. I can't believe she's only 11! Good luck in middle school, Olivia!

Gaby is starting the 4th grade and she is looking forward to befriending the new kids in her class; she is the kind of girl that does everything in her power to make the newbies feel welcome so I am sure she will take it upon herself to make sure everyone is happy, especially the new kids. 
She was a little sad that her best friend ended up in the other class and there were some tears shed when the class lists came out, but I am sure it's nothing a few playdates can't fix and she knows her friends will always be friends even if they're in different classrooms. Can't wait to see what you learn in 4th grade, Gaby!

On the first day we were able to walk Oliver to his classroom and the whole drop off was a hot mess; as excited as he was to be his new school, when he realized he wouldn't be in the same classroom as his sisters he lost it and started screaming and holding on to us for dear life.  Being a third time mom I was kind of expecting it but it was still bittersweet to leave him with tears in his eyes.  Of course when I picked him up he was happy and had even made a couple of friends which he already knew on a first name basis! Go Oliver!  There are only 8 kids in his class (4 boys, 4 girls) for 2 teachers so I guess that makes things a little "easier".... or so I hope. 
In the potty training department, he had a couple of poo accidents but the teachers didn't seem fazed at all and one day one of them even told me that all 8 kids in the class had pooped their pants simultaneously (what!?)... I'm just glad my kid wasn't alone, I guess! LOL! 

All in all we all had a great first week and the kids are so happy to be back in school and with their friends again. As a mother, I am looking forward to seeing them thrive and learn new things. I love when they come home from school excited to tell me about their day and when they wake up happy in the morning full of hope and joy; this is what I live for!
I pray that God remains in my children and that the Holy Spirit continues to light their path to wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord!
God Bless my children and all the kids going back to school this season! May this be another wonderful year in the life of our family!