Now before you are left to believe that this trip was a complete write-off, I will spend some of this posting focusing on the fun attractions we got to see.
Within "The Folder" were our e-ticket passes to Sea World and Busch Gardens. When purchased in combination, there is a significant savings AND you get their length of stay benefits! This means that you can return as many times as you wish over the course of fourteen days. Naturally, given the costs, the goal was to spend at least two days at each park.
Not anticipating the extent of our "arriving adventure," I had planned for Friday to be Sea World afternoon day. This would give us the opportunity to rest and get settled in Friday morning, grocery shop, and start the first steps in making Ethan's food (boil soup bones, roast chickens, make stock, etc...). I was still high-strung, frustrated that the weather was soooo freezing cold, that our "heated pool" that we paid for was not heated at all (but later rectified) and that Anika was now exhibiting high fevers and a hoarse voice. Great.
How's this for being a sympathetic mother... when Melina was sick just prior to leaving, do you know what "instinct" showed its ugly face? Not a mothering one of "oh dear child of mine, lie down and get some rest." Oh no, it was "for crying out loud! I did NOT put all this work into this to have it RUINED! We are going on that trip whether I have to drag you on a gurney or not!"
Yes, loving maternal instincts, I know. Oh wait, what was that? The doorbell ringing? Ah yes, someone at the door (hopefully not CFS) because I think I just received Worst-Mom-Of-The-Year Award... again!
Anyways... this "maternal instinct" reared its ugly face yet again when Anika spiked a high fever and could barely speak that Friday morning. ARGH!!! "WE ARE GOING TO SEA WORLD, FEVERS OR NOT!!"
Isn't this fun, kids?
Okay, diaper bag... check. Diapers for Ethan & Sivana... check. Change of clothes for Sivana... check. Hooter Hider & Moby Wrap baby carrier... check. Hats, sweaters... check. Ethan's snacks... check. E-tickets... check. GPS... check! Kids layered in long-sleeved shirts & sweaters... check! Good walking shoes... check! Alright, folks, we're ready to go!
I cannot believe how HUGE these attractions are... and that's just the parking lots!!! After our hike to the main doors, we stood in line patiently (is that possible with small children) and finally made our way to the ticket window. "Ah Ma'am, these are e-ticket passes... you need to go to those gates over there."
Thankfully "those gates" had no line ups and after a quick "bag check" (and by quick, I mean a couple of minutes going through diaper bags, small cooler bag for Ethan, and purses), we were through the main gates and in a whole new world... or rather, Sea World!
Where to begin? The teenage girls made their way to the Manta roller coaster ride while Duane and I perused with the little ones. Turtles, flamingos, sharks, penguins... on and on we went. And at every main building, strollers had to be left behind... so much fun... NOT!
With so much to see, the kids were quite happy. We all met up to see one of several shows hosted by Sea World. This one was a Cirque-du-Soleil type of show which truly mesmerized the kids (okay, and us adults) but freaked the bejeebers out of Sivana! Thankfully it was so loud that no one could hear her screams. I did my best to cover her ears while nursing her in the dark theatre.
Thirty minutes later, the teenagers made another getaway to bigger and better things while Duane and I made our way with the little ones to the kids' play area. There we would find some kids rides but other than the merry-go-round, our poor Ethan would devastatingly be turned away at all the other rides. THAT sucked!
Then came time for the Shamu show of killer whales... truly breathtaking! We all met up for that one and were also mesmerized by the relationship between the trainers and these massive mammals! When little Baby Shamu came out with his mama and played around her as she performed her tricks, I was surprised at the tears rolling down my cheeks!
Please tell me I am not the only person out there who cried at the Shamu show! Please?
Melina, of course, honed in on this "cheesy mom" moment and said "Mom? Are you seriously crying?" and then lovingly whipped up her camera and snapped a picture of me. Thanks kiddo. I suppose I deserve it after my lack of sympathy for her health the day before! Darn that poetic justice! Short of sobbing like a baby, the show wrapped up and I pulled myself together. Duane shook his head and muttered something along the lines of "...hormones..." I let that one slide. Okay, I was distracted trying to find kleenex in my purse.
As we were walking out, Melina and Loreena were adamant that I try the Manta roller coaster. I have NEVER been on a roller coaster except for the little dinky one at Tinkertown in Winnipeg which is designed for small children and really only gives you a reason to visit a chiropractor! I would LOVE to try a roller coaster but am also well aware that just WATCHING my kids on swings can make me nauseous some days! But the excitement got the better of me and I asked Duane if he felt comfortable staying in the kiddie area with all three kids while Loreena, Melina and I rode the Manta.
It was thirty minutes away from park closing so we ran like the dickens for ten minutes straight (not a good idea when you are overweight and out of shape). We make it on the ride... I managed a combination of laughing hysterically and screaming like a little girl... got off the ride... continued giggling incessantly while running like mad for another ten minutes back to the kiddie area. My back hurt but I just figured it was due to the unnatural positions I tried nursing Sivana during the eight hours of travelling the day before and/or due to the roller coaster we just rode.
We got back to the kiddie section and I saw Anika wrapped up like a mummy in the Moby Wrap. What the heck?
"She peed her pants in the sand box."
Crap... I did NOT pack extra pants and panties for Anika. Why did I NOT over-think THAT one??
The park was now closed and we began our LONG thirty minute walk (and waddle) to the main gates followed by ten minutes of walking back to our rental vehicle. Needless to say, we all collapsed when we got home! We gladly welcomed Sabbath that night and soaked in the "rest" time all of Saturday.
Sunday was scheduled to be a full day at Busch Gardens. We had to leave at 8:00 a.m. to arrive at park opening for 9:00 a.m. Yes, an hour drive to Tampa Bay but supposedly it is worth it! Melina and Loreena were super pumped about the major roller coasters they wanted to ride and despite still feeling exhausted, we hit the hay feeling excited about Sunday's itinerary.
I had a fitful sleep that night... tossing and turning. I was starting to limp before going to bed and hoped that some rest would help. By four in the morning, I was in such excruciating pain, I yelped for Duane when I tried moving. Startled, he woke up and asked what was wrong. I seriously could not move my left leg! The pain was shooting so hard I kept yelping unintentionally, got mad at myself because I did not want to wake the kids up, then tried moving again only to yelp some more. Finally, Duane helped me out of bed and the tears just started pouring! What had I done?? I would rather go through all four labours again PLUS my c-section before going through that pain!
I knew it was bad when Duane braced himself... I could feel the light getting dimmer as I suddenly felt the need to vomit. Oh no! Duane said he watched all the colour drain from my face as I turned every shade of green! Thankfully I did not throw up nor did I faint but I did sleep the rest of the night propped on the couch yelping any time I would try moving like a dog with Turrets!
Remember the lack of sympathy for my children when they were sick and the unyielding determination to NOT have this trip ruined? Guess who would end up ruining it in the end?? Oh the irony... the sheer irony of it all.
Sunday morning, the teenagers woke up realizing it was long past our scheduled time of departure for Busch Gardens. They saw me on the couch, looked at Duane and asked "What's going on?"
"Mom put her back out and can't walk... we're staying home today."
Of course, the over-thinking part of me starts thinking how can we still make the most of this trip with me in a wheelchair... and goodness gracious me, how on EARTH will we manage the travelling back home? Every time my leg moves, the pain shoots through me like fourth of July fireworks! But surely this could still turn out okay, right? Tuesday was scheduled to be "stay home" day so I prayed and hoped that just swapping those two days would give my body the chance to heal!
It was such a long day for me! A whole day on a couch... yuk! Duane was stuck with EVERYTHING. Thanks to the fact that I am lactating, I was at least able to contribute by feeding Sivana. Thankfully we found the switch to run the hot tub and learned the hard way that it takes two hours to heat it up. We cranked it that whole day and any time I could, I sat in there with the jets blasting at my lower back. Another day came and went with absolutely no improvement to my back... great. Just great.
And then Ethan's little prayer... "God, can you fix mommy's back? (moment of silence as though waiting for an answer) Okay. Thanks. Yep, mommy. God'll fix your back." On that precious note, we said goodnight and I spent another night sleeping fitfully on the couch. The next morning started early as we dropped off the teenagers at our friends' villa at Walt Disney World so they could spend a day at the Hollywood Studios Theme Park. Duane and I would be returning to Sea World with the little ones for more shows and attractions. If all would go well...
I was able to stand unassisted and could put some weight on my left leg again... oh thank you, God! Maybe I could just limp the whole day at Sea World! Would you believe that by the time we had breakfast, drove to Sea World and walked through those gates, I was walking as though nothing had ever happened???
This time we were equipped with a change of pants and panties for Anika and ready to face whatever challenges the day dared to throw our way! Thankfully, it was a PERFECT day and quite frankly, the INCREDIBLE Dolphin Show was worth the price of admission alone! Truly spectacular. No, I did not cry this time. Okay, maybe one tear but that was it! These mammals are so majestic! Thank you God for miraculous healing and an a day free of calamities!
The teenagers ended up having a blast and the evening was spent with our friends who chaperoned the girls that day. The weather was getting better with every passing day. The villa was beginning to feel like "home"... man, this whole "holiday" thing was really starting to feel good... finally!
The next day was Busch Gardens and the day started off with my excitement to see... ORANGE TREES!!! Sadly, that was probably what I was looking forward to the most in coming to Florida... I just wanted to see fresh oranges growing on trees and to pick some by hand! And there they were! Right along the highway!
"Duane, pull over! I want to just pick a few!"
"Are you kidding me, hon?"
"What? There's no 'keep out' sign or anything! Surely anyone can just pick a few?"
"Hon, people here carry guns... even under their car seat! They don't need signs cuz they can just SHOOT YOU!"
So we did not pull over to pick oranges and I vowed that I was NOT leaving Florida until we found some fresh oranges to pick, whether that meant getting shot at or not!
Busch Gardens was a huge hit. You definitely need at least two full days to make the most of seeing everything, if not more! They had a FANTASTIC kids playland themed around Sesame Street. It far outshines Winnipeg's Tinkertown! Tree houses, water log rides, mini-roller coaster and Big Bird walking around! They had a little outdoor theatre where the kids got to watch a live performance of Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Abby Cadaby and Zoe. So much fun!
Another day come and gone without too many hitches. Before the end of it, Duane and I asked the teenage girls to watch the three little ones while we ran to ride ONE roller coaster together. This one in particular climbs 200 feet up and drops you straight down at 90 degrees for those 200 feet! Not once, but twice. Duane and I ran and stood in line. Thankfully the line up was not too bad. As we got closer, the crazy giggles started kicking in. Finally, we were the next ones to board the coaster when suddenly, the gates shut and the riders who just came back from their thrill ride are not being let off...
A crew member was talking on his cell phone and before we knew it, some maintenance guy shows up. Duane and I looked at each other like "this doesn't look good!" The poor people were finally let off and the technician was working on one of the seats. I am beginning to question whether I want to go on this ride at all anymore... but the fact that we are the NEXT ones keeps me standing there. Finally, Duane convinced me to walk away... "But Duane, guaranteed the minute we're back down those stairs, they're gonna let people on again! I just know it!"
We left anyways and sure enough... sigh.
When we got back home, the weather was just so beautiful we decided to go for a family walk and explore the whole area. I jokingly starting clicking my tongue saying I was using sonar to detect the nearest orange tree. Anytime we needed to make a turn, I would use this "sonar" and say "... this way!"
Well, I was just trying to be funny... but would you believe I led our crew out to a field and there at the end of this field were a couple of straggler orange trees, overgrown and all alone, with... wait for it... FRESH ORANGES???
We filled the bottom of Sivana's stroller and enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice for the next two days! Oh it was sooooooooooo good! You know, this whole holiday stuff was turning out to be FANTASTIC! I was even beginning to forget the ordeal of getting there and looking forward to doing this again someday much the same as I seem to forget labour and the last few months of pregnancy and tell myself "we could do this again!"
Oh selective memory is grand, isn't it?
That night at bath time, the kids were exhausted from a full day away from the villa. Poor Ethan cannot seem to poop if we are away from "home" and his discomfort was prevalent in the form of flatulence! In the tub, this was apparently quite hilarious for Anika and Ethan. Duane slipped out to turn the hot tub on while I was on the phone... the sound of the kids laughing hysterically in their bath... when suddenly there came a blood curdling scream from the bathroom. Our prim and proper Anika yells "DADDY!!! ESSAN POOPED!!!" followed by continued screams and cries "GET IT OUT!!!"
The teenagers run in, not to rescue the kids, but to assess the "comical" scene and run out of the bathroom laughing hysterically. Duane and I try not to do the same as we watch Anika and Ethan cowering in the corner of the tub with a very "messy" scene quickly making its way to their huddled corner!
I take the kids out while Duane uses a yogurt container to scoop Ethan's daily "backup" into the toilet. We have been trying to warm Ethan up to the idea of toilet training to no avail but somehow, watching daddy put his poop IN the toilet had him rather intrigued. Duane explained to him "Ethan, poop goes in the toilet... not the bathtub, okay?"
The next day, we finally enjoyed a family swim in the pool. When it was time to get out, we stripped Ethan and Anika down to their bare bums while Duane and I quickly got dressed in our own room. We were discussing the next day's plans when Duane suddenly remembered "Ethan is bare bum!" He ran out to get a diaper on him, laid him down and noticed a bit of poop on his bum (yes... we speak far too much of poop in our home... but with three kids in diapers, it just seems to be everywhere!).
Somewhat panicked (yes, even for Duane), he asked, "Ethan.... did you do a poop?"
"Ethan.... WHERE did you poop??" (I am thinking to myself... where on earth do I start looking?)
"In the toilet!"
"No, Ethan, WHERE did YOU poop?"
"IN THE TOILET!"
"Ethan, can you show daddy WHERE you pooped?"
Sure enough, Ethan led Duane to the toilet where a few remnants of toilet paper remained. Could it be?? For real? Oh dear Lord, let it be so! After a thorough search of the villa, it would appear that our big boy climbed up on the toilet and pooped!!! (A skill that has NOT been repeated since!).
So finally after a tumultuous journey to Florida and a few initial glitches, it would be safe to conclude that our time there would indeed be quite wonderful. Lots of laughs, lots of crying (parents included... okay, ME included), a bit of shopping, TONS of walking, orange-picking, hot-tub-soaking and other great moments that have now seared themselves into the pages of my life book. A book whose very existence would be threatened by the journey of trying to come back home!!!
Oh dear God almighty... buckle up because things are about to get bumpy!