Sunday, July 27, 2014

A viral epidemic affecting parents everywhere. You might have it and not even know!

There is a rampant viral illness out there and it affects millions of parents every day.  Most of them don't even know they have it!  There is a good chance, if you are a parent, you have it.  The symptoms are few and subtle, but very, very dangerous.  In fact, it can be deadly.

Unlike most viral illnesses and progressive diseases, this one is very unpredictable.  It's a powerful illness that doesn't affect the physical body of the parent, but is a mental illness of sorts.  It rarely has physical effects on the parent.  It instead, directly vectors to their children.  Their children suffer the horrible effects of this disease.  Yes.  Their children.

What is this viral illness infecting the brains of parents everywhere?  It's called 'Perfect Parentitis' known to those who have been successfully treated for it as the 'it can't happen to me (or my child') disease'.

Symptoms include the following:

  1. A misguided belief that bad things only happen to other people or 'bad' parents.  That 'it' can't or won't happen to you or your child.  Otherwise knows as self-proclaimed immunity.
  2. A belief that you are a 'perfect' or 'good' parent, therefore none of those horrific tragedies you hear or read about could ever possibly happen to your child.
  3. An almost uncontrollable desire to preach your perfect parenting to anyone who will listen, usually by judging parents whose children have been injured or killed in horribly tragic but preventable accidents.  Often on social media sites where a news story has been shared in an attempt to educate others so that particular type of tragedy doesn't happen to another child.
  4. Self-righteous judgement of others for their 'bad' parenting, followed by a lengthy explanation of how you are a good parent because that would never happen to you, usually with the words, "I would never ___________."
  5. The repeated use of mantras like these, often proclaimed on social media with sanctimonious conviction (which are also impossibilities in reality):  "I'm always with my child", "I don't need to _____, because I'm always right there", "MY child never does __________ so I don't have to ______",  "My child knows not to do___________", "I don't understand how ___________, could happen.  I'd never __________", "I'm a good driver".  And many, many more like these.

There is only one cure.  Unlike other diseases and illnesses, it's a cure no one actually wants to get. The only known cure is the serious injury or death of your child.

Yes.  You read that right.  The only known cure is that the very thing you pride yourself on, your perfect parenting, your 'I never would do_________' and "That would never happen to me because..." preaching.  Your parenting superiority complex is only cured when YOUR child, the one that you never let out of your sight, the one that you love SO much that you'd never forget them, take your eyes off of them, lose them, or whatever it is that you do so perfectly that other 'bad' parents simply don't do, falls victim to an accident.

If you are lucky, your child won't suffer a serious injury. Some have the most deadly form of the virus, and they pay for it with their child's life.

Luckily, there is treatment.  It's called education.

It's a long term treatment plan that includes ongoing follow up treatment of pro-active accident prevention in and around your home for the safety of your children.  This education is often provided by good parents who have lost their child to a horrible, tragic, preventable accident.  Parents who carry such guilt and pain over the loss of their child that they share their story, they bare their soul, they lay it all out there, so that YOUR CHILD CAN BE SAFE.  So you don't have to bury your child, ever. Parents like me.

If your child is lucky, once you realize you suffer from perfect parentitis, you'll seek immediate treatment.  You will come down off your high horse of parenting superiority and realize it's impossible to be with your child every single second. That parenting is not 'easy'.  You'll realize that ignorance is NOT bliss.  You will realize that while you can't protect your child from everything, there are many, simple, inexpensive things you can do to make your home, car, play spaces and environment safer for your children.  You learn that spending money on things that make your child safer is money much better spent than on that daily specialty coffee drink.  You learn that things that inconvenience you are worth it when the potential consequence is the injury or loss of your child.  You learn to admit you don't know everything and need to seek to learn that which you don't know.

Instead of pointing the finger at others and choosing to believe their child was injured or killed as a result of their ignorance or 'bad' parenting (and berating them for it), you will realize you are just like them.  That 'it' could happen to your child, too.  You will realize that the very thing which you are criticizing them for, *could* happen to you or your child, too.

Because you love your children as much as the next parent, and yes, as much as the parent who didn't know about the danger or made a horrible, tragic, mistake that led to the injury or death of their child, you will take action to prevent these type of accidents to your child.  You will learn from the horrible mistakes and tragedies of others.  You will take their advice and change the way you do things.  You will seek further education.  You will desire to make your child's environment as safe as you can because actions speak louder than words.  They also work a hell of a lot better at keeping kids safe.

So where can you find this treatment?

  1. Take a parenting or child safety class
  2. Hire a professional childproofer.  Child proofing is WAY more than outlet plugs and cabinet latches.  They will point out dangers you didn't even know existed and provide solutions.  Check out the International Association for Child Safety
  3. Learn CPR and First Aid.  Make sure everyone who cares for your child knows how to do CPR and basic first aid.  Have a first aid kit in your home and car. 
  4. Take time to explore Web sites like Safe Kids, the CPSC, and Meghan's Hope and the Meghan's Hope Facebook Page.  Educate yourself and everyone who cares for your child.
Remember, treatment is not curative.  It's lifelong.  As you learn of new dangers and new safety recommendations and options, you must apply them.  Reading about childproofing is not the same as actually taking the time to fully child proof.  Thinking you *know* to check the back seat of the car before you get out every time does not mean you won't forget one day.

For example, securing only the dresser in your child's bedroom does not protect them from the danger of falling furniture.  You must secure ALL furniture and ALL TV's.  Or moving a child to a belt positioning or regular booster seat before they are tall enough and cognitively mature enough to sit upright, with the shoulder belt in the appropriate place, ALL the time, either because they want to get out of the car seat with a 5 point harness or because you *think* they will be 'fine', is dancing with danger.  It's all fine.  Until you get hit by another car and your child is ejected because they were in a seat that did not fulfill it's purpose, all because it was 'easier' for you and your child.  Do you want to live with that?  

A word on 'bad' parents

Are there 'bad' parents?  Yes.  Absolutely.  But they are few and far between.  Bad parents intentionally and willfully neglect or abuse their children.  

The vast majority of parents whose children die in tragic accidents are not bad parents.  They are good parents who are uneducated about certain dangers or dangerously disbelieving about the severity of the risk of the danger to their child.  They may have had perfect parentitis. They didn't believe 'it' could happen to them.  They might have been overprotective and vigilant and not even have known about 'it' until it happened to them.  They did not willfully or intentionally try to hurt their child. In fact, they often *thought* they had done everything right.  They are probably just like you.  Go look in the mirror. YOU are that parent. 

It is my greatest hope that parents everywhere learn about perfect parentitis and seek immediate treatment.  It is my hope that you share the news about this epidemic viral illness with parents you know, so we can together, educate and safe lives.  Perhaps we will turn the treatment into a new cure. A cure where no child ever has to suffer injury or death because of their parent's inability or unwillingness to change for their greater good.  

The change begins with you. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Adventure on the high seas: Cruise in Review on The Allure of the Seas

I have just returned from a wonderfully relaxing family cruise vacation.   As I sit on the floor at the airport (so annoyed Ft. Lauderdale airport is under construction with no where to sit outside of security), I am jolted back to reality.  But before I go there...

We left Friday, June 29th for Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a mini pre-cruise vacation.  This was in part to take advantage of lower airfare (which is also why we are at the airport all day today) as our cruise was 4th of July week and airfare was higher.  

This meant that Thursday was a living hell. Why is it that the day before and the day after one takes a vacation are the most stressful?  I worked a full day, had scheduled a mani-pedi to force me to have pretty toes and nails (it would never have happened otherwise), and even pre-packed the kids the night before. Still, there was so much to do to prepare beyond packing my bags.  I didn't get to bed until 1:45 am and my alarm went off at 5:30.  

We were blessed with summer traffic on the way to the airport which was delightful, especially considering it was Friday morning commute time!  We had a leisurely but reasonable wait before our flight.  We were traveling with another family and we met at the airport.  

When we arrived in Florida, we took a cab to our hotel and were able to check right in.  First order of business?  Lunch and then the beach! 

We stayed at the Ft. Lauderdale Hilton Beach. I highly recommend it.  The beach was such a treat!  The water warm and the sand blissfully warm and soft on my feet.  We also had some leisure time at the pool on the 6th floor.  There was plenty to do in the area and a good number of eating establishments within walking distance.  We found a lovely open air pub style eatery and to our delight, no bugs!  Eating outside at home is no fun due to mosquitoes and other pesky flying creatures. 

The next day we had a lovely tour of the inter-coastal waterway by water taxi. We saw some crazy fancy houses and yachts, found a delicious Italian eatery and a Coldstone Creamery for dessert!  We also found the cruise port and got a glimpse at the sister of our cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas in port!  Later that evening, we saw her sailing away from our hotel balcony!  Stunning!  

We spent the evening at a local dueling piano bar that had an early child friendly show. They enjoyed the sing along antics but were somewhat embarrassed by their parents' enthusiastic singing at times.  :-)

Sunday dawned gorgeous.  Our cruise vacation was beginning today!  We had breakfast, packed our things, and caught a taxi to the cruise port.  Royal Caribbean has the cruise check in and embarkation process down to an amazingly exact science.  We dropped our bags with a porter and they magically appeared in our room before dinner.  Check in was smooth and we didn't have to wait very long in line at all.  We were issued our sea pass cards, had our embarkation photo taken and we boarded the biggest cruise ship in the world about 4.5 hours before she sailed.  To say my boys were excited would be an understatement. After they picked their jaws up off the floor, they noticed the soccer game was playing in the Champagne bar and that's where they went.  We did a quick exploration of the Royal Promenade which was the floor we entered on.  We also visited guest services to take care of a few things and then collected the boys and explored the ship. 

About an hour after we boarded we were allowed to our staterooms.  We had a deluxe ocean view balcony room and the kids had an interior cabin across from us.  We dropped our backpacks and got some lunch at the Park Cafe in the Central Park area of the ship. It was one of my favorite areas. Quiet and serene, open to the sky above and with real plants and trees, it is where many of the specialty restaurants and a few of the stores on board are located.  There is comfy seating, benches, and of course, a bar.  No shortage of bars on this ship!  One even 'floats' between decks!  In fact there are many events that you can get a free drink or two at if you partake of such things.  The captain's welcome party, the Crown and Anchor club party, art shows/auctions, and more.  The drink of the day is also less expensive than other mixed drinks.  

The ship itself is divided into 'neighborhoods'.  She is 17 stories high and holds 6200+ passengers plus over 2000 crew.  The ship was at capacity for our sailing.  She is alluring indeed.  

The front of the ship holds the 2 deck Amber Theater which is where most of the major shows were held like "Chicago", which was fantastic, "Blue Planet" which was good but nothing spectacular, and also served as the venue for some meet and greets and a departure lounge. Also at the front of the ship is the bridge of course, and the Solarium - an over 16 only serene spot with plenty of seating, stunning views, 2 hot tubs and a pool.  It is also the location of a restaurant during the day that has the best selection for vegetarians on the ship and is converted to the Samba Grill at night.  Also at night, the Solarium becomes a dance club or a lovely place to sit under the stars while protected from the wind on the upper decks by the glass. 

The rear of the ship holds the 3 deck dining room where breakfast is served daily and lunch on sea days as well as the 2 formal dinner seatings.  At the very rear of the ship on deck 6 is the Aqua Theater where there are high diving shows, dance lessons, Dreamworks productions and other events throughout the week.  The rock climbing walls are also located here.  

The Aqua Theater and Dazzles dance lounge overlook the Boardwalk area from opposite ends. This is an area reminiscent of a beach-side boardwalk with a lighthouse bar, cotton candy, a carousel (!), ice cream and candy shops, a play space for toddlers, child oriented stores and activities like Pets at Sea (like Build a Bear), and Johnny Rockets.  There is also a hot dog stand and a doughnut shoppe!  There are Boardwalk view balcony rooms as well.

The solarium hot tub

a cantilevered hot tub.  Awesome! 

One of the pools with a hot tub in the background

24 hour pizza on the Promenade

There is a CAROUSEL on the ship!

Central Park
a rehearsal at the Aqua Theater
Our balcony
The rear of the Boardwalk/Aqua Theater at sunrise
The Bow and Stern English Pub
Boleros Latin Dance Lounge
On Air - Karaoke and game show mecca
Ice skating rink!  Also, site for Quest and some other larger events
Comedy Club
Add caption
Royal Promenade

Main dining room from our table on the 2nd of 3 le

mini golf!
In the middle of the ship on deck 5 is the Promenade. Here is where the 'street parties' happen, some dance classes, and is the main street of the ship. There are promenade view staterooms if you wish to always keep an eye on the action.  Many bars, shops, and smaller eateries like Sorrentos Pizza, a cafe, Starbucks, and the Cupcake Shop are here.  

Some of our favorites here were the Schooner Bar where an outstanding pianist/singer was every night and was also a great site for daily trivia contests.  The Bow and Stern English pub was a favorite of our friends with a guitarist who was fantastic.  On Air was the karaoke and game show hot spot and was also a popular soccer viewing venue.  Outside of On Air was a NYC style ticker displaying soccer scores, cruise info and an occasional happy birthday or anniversary message.   One of our favorite dance venues, Boleros, was also here.  We gave that dance floor a work out with some fellow dance friends we met along the way.

Also on deck 5 was a running track.  As a runner, I loved the fact the track was not on an upper deck where it tends to be very windy and very crowded.  The track had motivational messages and it was only 2.25 laps to run a mile!  There was also an on board spa and fitness center but I did not partake of the services so I cannot comment other than to say spa services are crazy expensive compared to the equivalent on land and probably not nearly as 'good'. 

Professional photographers are all over the ship but set up on and around the Promenade most nights for formal portraits.They do a great job but the photos are outrageously priced!  They print most of the photos to entice you to buy and then throw them all away if you don't. You can view the photos digitally and order digital images to print yourself (what we do) so there is no need to be so wasteful!  They put together a cruise in review DVD that you can purchase for $30. This is unique to your sail dates and is much improved over the one we received  our last cruise.  It starts with a documentary about the ship and how she was built, gives a tour of the different neighborhoods and lounges with snippets of current cruisers enjoying themselves. Brief glimpses of the actual shows and performances held on board your specific cruise as well.  If you happened to be captured on video, you'll definitely want a copy!  We were 'caught' learning the flash mob dance!  The photo shop/studio is on the 6th deck, above the Promenade. 

The ship has many entertainment options.  From the Broadway show "Chicago", to ice skating, boogie boarding and surfing on the flow rider, rock climbing, mini golf, a zip line, several pools and hot tubs, comedy shows, a high diving show, and "Blue Planet" a contemporary singing and dancing show with aerial acrobatics.  There is also a 24 hour casino, 24 hour dining options, and games and classes for everyone.  

For those who enjoy music for listening or dancing, there is the Schooner piano bar, Bow and Stern pub with acoustic guitarist/singer, Boleros Latin dance lounge, Blaze - a night club, Dazzles, which is a 2 deck lounge, and Jazz on 4 which is an intimate jazz club and the Viking Crown Lounge which is an upscale lounge on deck 17. All have either live music or a DJ and the opportunity to dance although the dance floors are terrible. They are much too small and for serious dancers, very difficult to dance on.  The advertised ballroom dance events were on small floors made of glass or tile and if more than 3 couples were dancing, it was very crowded!  Royal's smaller ships reportedly have bigger dance floors the smaller the ships get!  This was one of the most disappointing aspects for us since we love to dance.  Fellow ballroom/Latin dancers agreed with us. 

One of the most amazing things about our cruise was the Headliner Show.  We were fortunate to see Mo5aic, a 5 man acapella group who soared to fame on America's Got Talent. They were SOOOOOO amazingly good!  Even our boys enjoyed it.  If you ever have the chance to listen to or see them, you should! We saw some of them enjoying the other shows and ports of call with their families.

There is something for everyone on this ship!  Several pools, tons of eating venues included in your cruise or specialty dining for an additional fee, shops, entertainment, sporting events, dancing, music and game shows, trivia and contests abound.  Favorites like Love and Marriage and Quest (an adult scavenger hunt) are must sees and tons of fun to participate in.  You can be as casual or as fancy as you like. With 2 official formal nights, if you want to get all gussied up, you can (and should!).  If you are a shopper, they have shopping talks with coupons for discounts, 'inside' info on the best places to shop, where to get free things, and prizes as well as a channel on the TV dedicated to shopping in each port of call. 

Our teen (15) really enjoyed the teen only area. They have their own lounge, video games, night club and 'bar'.  Activities are facilitated by the staff. They had teen only events at the pool, hot tub and night clubs as well.  We hardly saw him after the 2nd day!  The kids program Adventure Ocean gets rave reviews.  There is a basketball court, ping pong, and an arcade! 

My soccer fans also enjoyed that RC was celebrating the FIFA World Cup with all the games televised in room, on the huge jumbotrons at the Aqua Theater and at On Air.  Both boys got to play soccer/futsal at sea on the sports court (basketball court).

Three full sea days on this cruise allowed us a decent amount of time to take advantage of all the ship had to offer.  Our first port of call were Labadee, Haiti, the ship's private island where we floated on beach mats, sampled Labadoozies (with ample 'medicine', AKA rum), and the boys zip lined, jet skied, rode the dragon coaster and we all parasailed.  It was a long, fun, day in the sun. 

Next, it was on to Jamaica, where our travel mates did some river white water rafting and we just shopped a bit.  I *might* have some new jewelry now...

Our last port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. Here we did a catamaran snorkel and beach tour. We had about a 45 minute snorkel at a reef that was OK, but not spectacular. Then we sailed to a beach where there was an inflatable ocean park, paddle boards, sea kayaks, floating mats, and lounge chairs for 90 minutes. The kids exhausted themselves in the sun and water. On the sail back to the ship, we partied on the deck with some line dancing, margaritas, and island music. It was a fun way to spend the morning. Then it was a mad dash back to the ship for the soccer games of the day! 

Our ship is on the left.  Her sister (2 classes down in size) the Navigator of the Seas is on the right! 

Snorkeling boys

water rocker?


Yes, you can line dance on a catamaran
We very much enjoyed our excursions.

Despite her enormous size, we never really felt as if the ship was crowded.  With so much to do and thoughtful scheduling of shows, dinner seatings, and activities, you would never know you shared the ship with 6000 other passengers!  Even disembarking was controlled as they assign you numbers for your luggage which is waiting for you in the customs terminal.  Lounges were set up in different venues of the ship where you waited for your number group to be called as everyone had to be out of their rooms by 8:30 am.  If you try to leave before your number is called, your bags will not be there yet.  They get everyone off the ship between 6:30 am and about 10:30 am.  Getting through customs was quick and easy and even though the line was long, it moved surprisingly quickly. 

They turn the ship around remarkably fast as the next cruise passengers begin boarding at 12:30 and she sails at 5 pm.

It was a wonderful week of family fun.  A nice balance of family time and adult relaxation time.  It was not as relaxing as you might think with so much going on but seeing my boys have a wonderful time exploring, trying new things, and really having fun made my heart sing.  Having the week to share with good friends made the adult time more fun, too!  It was a nice chance for my husband and I to reconnect, too.  In fact, we booked our next cruise, this time without the kids.  :-)  Another Caribbean itinerary.  We're planning Alaska for the one after that, but that trip requires at least 2 weeks, so it's going to be a few years before we can do that one.  I think it will be worth the wait!

If you've never cruised, I highly recommend it.  It's a tremendous value when you break it down.  The Allure is significantly more expensive than the smaller (but still huge) ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet, but Royal treats their passengers well.  We are Crown and Anchor members and loyal to the brand.  I just can't believe it took me so long to try cruising!  The kids loved it and want to go again.  The ship is safe for the older kids to roam and for younger kids to be safe in the care of Adventure Ocean staff so parents can have some grown up time day or night!  It's an all inclusive (mostly - specialty restaurants, alcohol, and excursions are extra, as are souvenirs) resort that goes to more than one country/island! How can you beat that?

I am grateful to the lovely Allure of the Seas.  She gave me a gift that will last a lifetime.  Memories of a wonderful vacation and new experiences with my family.

I can't wait to cruise again!
The view from our balcony on sea days