All posts by The Dad

Disney Tips for Beginners

The Wife and I went to Disney World for our honeymoon and we’ve gone every year since we started having children. I’m sure that over the course of this blog, I’ll end up trying to pass along tips we’ve gleaned from our experiences. For now, while I’m thinking of it, let me throw out some basic tips for anyone who hasn’t been in a while or hasn’t taken children before.

MAGIC BANDS. If you haven’t been to the land of the Mouse in the past five years or so, then you probably have never heard of Magic Bands or FastPass+. Learning about them is essential, as these bracelets can serve as your admission ticket, act as your room key if staying at a Disney resort, and replace the Photopass cards. They’re keyed to your fingerprint so you can’t swap them around, and the RFID chips in them are used to track everyone’s movements inside the parks to help Disney’s number crunchers calculate wait times and traffic patterns. Most importantly to you, they are connected to your FastPasses.

The way it used to be, many of the rides offered “fast passes” in the form of a kiosk that printed out tickets. The tickets were good for an hour window sometime later that day and let you go through the Fast Pass line, which was shorter than the regular line. It kept the lines shorter and let people plan their experience a little. We liked being able to look around and say, “Hey, the wait for Peter Pan is an hour, but It’s A Small World across the way is only a 15-minute wait. We can get Peter Pan fast passes for a couple of hours from now, ride Small World, grab a bite, and then go through the short line for Peter Pan.”

That has all been replaced by FP+, which demands that you get online and schedule your three daily fast passes in advance. That information is stored on your Magic Band, which gets scanned (twice!) to let you in the Fast Pass line. In theory, you can use Disney’s app to schedule or re-schedule your passes that day, in the park. In practice, the app can be frustratingly buggy at times, and you’ll find wi-fi and cell reception are quite poor inside the parks. Even if everything worked for you, you’d find all the good rides had been booked up by people who planned their vacations nine months ago. We liked to be a little more spontaneous than that, but setting up your fast passes ahead of time is just how it works now. Give yourself some room between your scheduled rides for potty breaks and doing other things through the “stand-by” line.

All of the above, you can glean from readily available sources, such as Disney itself. My tip is this: the Magic Bands are not just good for one trip only. They’ll give you new ones every trip, but the old ones continue to work. So hang on to them if you think you’ll need spares in the future (maybe because your kids like to play with them or take them off and on or are otherwise likely to lose some). Also, if you want to be paranoid, keep in mind that the RFID chip inside could be storing all of the personal information you gave Disney, right down to your fingerprint.

RIDER SWAP. Let’s say you and your spouse both want to ride Space Mountain, but your six-month-old obviously can’t go along. What do you do? You could take turns, with one of you staying behind with junior while the other rides. The stand-by line has a wait time of 30 minutes — not too bad for a popular ride, but your dinner reservation (or your next Fast Pass window, or junior’s nap time, or whatever) is in an hour and a half, so if that line gets any longer, the second person may not be able to go. You could be a gentleman and let your wife go first, or try to bargain and see if she’ll do that “only on your birthday” thing if you don’t get your turn, or you can say to the attendant, “We need a rider swap.”

Presenting your too-small-for-the-ride child while saying those magic words gets you a ticket that let’s the second rider go through the Fast Pass line, without being restricted to a specific time. They used to be good for the rest of the day. The ones we’ve gotten on this trip, though, are saying they’re good for the rest of the month!

They work for rides you already have a Fast Pass for, too. If you’re lucky, all parties can get on the ride within the Fast Pass window and you’ll have the rider swap ticket to use again later. This is not taking advantage of the system; leveraging your rider swaps is what makes enjoying the rides even possible when you have an infant along. Savvy practitioners will note that you don’t have to make all your party’s Fast Passes for the same thing — if you get a Fast Pass for ride A, your partner can get one for ride B, and with rider swaps the two of you can go on both rides.

It’s not unusual for us to have rider-swap passes left over at the end of the day. If they’re still valid, we try to give them to strangers (once we make sure they will actually be able to use them) and throw a little Disney magic their way.

ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS. When the Wife and I went to Disney World for our honeymoon, we were able to go everywhere and do everything, all at our own pace. Going with small children, on the other hand, limits what you’ll be able to handle and the key to not being frustrated is to understand that from the outset. I could devote a whole post just to this, but for now I’ll keep it short. With a single infant in a stroller, you only have to factor in time to feed and change the baby. We’ve found that a good, full day at a park, without making ourselves miserable, means that we can expect to make our Fast Pass selections, and maybe do one other thing, which might be a ride with a short line, but could also be a parade or fireworks show. Even so, on this trip, with two toddlers and a newborn, we had several days where we would get to the park late in the morning, see one show or do one ride, eat lunch, and then need to leave for a nap; we probably could have rushed back for an evening fireworks show but usually decided not to push ourselves.

GO IN THE OFF-SEASON. If Sun Tzu were writing a Disney planning guide, this would be his advice for winning the battle before it’s even fought. If you’re able to, plan your vacation for the slow times in the winter, when there aren’t big holidays or events. Of course, Disney has been hard at work making sure there is no “off-season” by manufacturing events for themselves. So check to make sure there’s not a marathon, food and wine festival, Star Wars weekend, or other such hootenanny going on if you’re looking for low crowd numbers. In general, though, winter means fewer people, which means shorter lines for everything. Also, Florida is hot as balls, even in the spring and autumn; it’ll still be warm enough in December and January to go swimming.

Evil Baby

Sometimes when we are out with our infant people will ask, “Is he a good baby?” How do they expect me to answer this? “No, he’s awful! Just last week he had three blow-out diapers and took the car without our permission! That gas station condom machine owes me a refund!”

What they really mean, I think, is “Does he sleep through the night or does he cry a lot?” But why does that make him good? And if he does cry a lot, that makes him not good, right? As in bad? Is there an old wives’ tale that fussy babies are more susceptible to the dark side of the force?

I’m no scientist, but I don’t think infants don’t cry just for the heck of it. How else are they supposed to get their needs met? Sure, it sucks for his parents if it happens to be 3am when he’s hungry or his tummy hurts, but it’s not like he was saving up his problems for when mommy and daddy are asleep.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure he chuckled when he peed on me last week…


Now that we have three children in carseats, the family van requires some arranging. The trick is putting three carseats across the middle. Sure, we could install one in the rear. RU did a brief stint back there when little Z first came alone (which was only, like, 4 weeks ago). But that won’t do for a long trip when we’ll need to pass food and things back to her, and we’ll need to lay the rear seats flat for cargo room. Getting in there to buckle her is a real pain, anyway.

We drive a 2011 Toyota Sienna, with no frills. There are two middle seats with a removable “8th seat” that can be fixed between them. It is too small for an adult human to really fit on — half your ass must be perched on one of the adjacent seats — and the back must be reclined at the same angle as the seat it’s attached to. Which is pretty far back when you have a car seat installed there. In case you can’t tell, I’ve had to endure squeezing between the two girls there when transporting another adult.

We have Z in a Chicco bucket behind the driver and Me-Too in a rear-facing Britax behind the passenger seat. I’ve managed to fit RU’s forward-facing Britax booster in the space between them, but it only works if all the seats are in alignment because RU’s must actually rest on the sides of the two seats adjacent to it. The 8th “seat” is too narrow. The contours of the seat it hooks up to would push RU’s carseat over at an angle without another one to balance it out. It’s got a real solid, tight install (I love the seat belt install mechanism on this thing; actually easier than a latch install), so I’m not worried about safety. In an ideal world, I’d be able to slide Z and RU’s arrangement up and Me-Too’s seat further back, so the two sisters can’t reach each other.

In moments of harmony, it is good to have RU in the middle to put Z’s pacifier back in his mouth when he gets fussy or to pass Me-Too’s food back to her. Mostly, however, it’s all “Ow! Ow! Me-Too is bothering me!” And, “Keep your hands to yourselves! RU, stop touching Me-Too!” And, “Are you sure that one of them won’t install on the roof?”

To The Tune of “Happy”

It might seem crazy to go about this way,
But I thought we should work before the girls could play.
It was almost sunset when we hit the park.
And the girls ran around in the growing dark.
Because I’m Daddy
Don’t know what else to call it and Target’s never heard of Chux
Because I’m Daddy
So we roamed around to get hangers and then just said “Shucks”
Because I’m Daddy
As soon as we reach the van, RU has to go to the loo
Because I’m Daddy
If this sounds familiar, then you might be a daddy, too.
We pull up to the UPS store and there’s a line.
But “Let it go” comes on so I say “That’s fine.”
When it’s over, we get out and go inside.
And the girls act so bad I just wanna hide.
Here’s why:

(That’s all I got before Me-Too decided she was big enough to go down the fireman’s pole instead of the slide, causing me to smash my shins real hard against a piece of playground equipment while trying to prevent her destruction. I’ll leave finishing it as an exercise for you, Dear Reader.)

The Force is confusing with this one

In case you haven’t heard, there is another Star Wars movie coming out, Real Soon Now, with more on the way. As you may also be aware, this is because Star Wars is now owned by Disney, and they are doubtless hard at work imagineering new theme park rides and features. I bring this up because we will soon be taking a vacation to Walt Disney World (a frequent destination of ours) and our oldest, RU, will meet the height requirement for the Star Tours ride. This is because she’s freakishly tall. She’s not quite 4 years old yet and wears size 5 or 6 clothes. So even though she’s tall enough, she may not really be old enough to handle it; the ride can be herky-jerky beyond her roller coaster experience, and the content might be scary for her. Or not. Either way, it’s brought up the idea that she might be old enough to watch the films. Maybe doing so would help prepare her for the ride, or at least put it into context.

Thus, I would like to discuss one of the most important considerations a parent in the 21st century faces: When and how to show your children the Star Wars. Seriously. My oldest child may be under 4, but I’ve puzzled over this question since Episode I came out in 1999. Which I guess says a lot about me.

I was born the year Star Wars* came out and have no memory of seeing it for the first time. In my mind, I just have always seen Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back is something I know I saw when I was very, very young — I would have been almost 3 when it hit theaters — but it’s more the memory of a memory. By the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was old enough to anticipate it and be excited about it, and being able to appreciate it like that made a huge difference. These movies were important to me and a whole generation of kids (and by “these movies” I mean just the original trilogy <sigh>). Naturally, I want to make sure that RU, Me-Too, and Z have the best first experience possible. And it turns out, that requires a little forethought.

First, are they going to be old enough to “get” it, to get involved in the story and not just have it wash over them? I think that might be true for RU by now, but just barely. I could hold this back a couple of years to let Me-Too mature to the point that she could get it, too, but I don’t have the patience for Z (sorry, buddy). Hm, perhaps I should wait a year between each movie. Let them rematch what they’ve already seen but make ‘em wait for the next one like the rest of us had to.

Sure, whenever you expose your kids to entertainment like this, you also need to make sure the content is suitable for them. All of the Star Wars films except Revenge of the Sith are rated PG, and I think the original trilogy is pretty tame by today’s standards. Well, the violence and foul language are pretty mild and I can only think of three kisses all three films combined (and one of those is between a brother and a sister — though the characters don’t know that yet, so it’s kinda gross if you think of it), but there are some scenes that might be emotionally intense. The Internet Movie Database has a Parents Guide for the series. All I know is, I must have seen the first two movies before I was 3 years old and I’m pretty sure they didn’t mess me up. RU can be a bit more sensitive, though, so there’s another reason for me to hold off for a while. As Emperor Palpatine showed us, if you are patient enough, young fools will fall into your trap with little effort.

Once you deem them ready to appreciate the greatest science fiction/fantasy myth of all time, which version will you show them? Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference to some people, but I find that all the junk added to the Special Edition versions only clutters up the frame. And that musical number added to the scene in Jabba’s Palace? Ack, don’t get me started. Wait, I’ve already started, haven’t I? Okay, it was totally gratuitous, uninteresting, and screwed up the mood and pacing. Like most all the other changes Lucas made when he started monkeying around with them again. The little things that got altered to the original films after the prequels came out might make all six films more consistent… but bringing the original films more in line with the other three steaming piles of disappointment doesn’t involve changing them for the better.

The sad part is that the alterations done for the Special Editions are considered to be the standard version now. If you go buy Star Wars on Blu-ray, you won’t see Han shoot first**. Fortunately for me, I have the first DVD releases that included the original versions — the ones where the effects haven’t been cleaned up and you can see the matte lines. Personally, I’d rather have matte lines than CGI effects that are now a decade and a half old. Still, it’d be nice if there was a middle ground, a version where the original special effects were touched up and the frames restored but none of the extra crap was added. Fortunately, there is! Harmy’s Despecialized Editions, put together by someone with vastly more patience and free time than anyone I know. My sources tell me it’s as close as you can get to reproducing in cleaned-up HD what Star Wars looked like when it first hit the theaters.

Having obtained copies of the series, in whatever your version of choice is, you will then need to decide what order to show them in. If you’ve never thought about this question, the answer may seem obvious. They’re numbered, after all. But if you’ve seen the films — both the original trilogy and the prequels — then it shouldn’t take much consideration to realize how that order can be problematic. The prequels are all about Anakin Skywalker’s tragic fall towards the Dark Side, which completely undercuts the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back when [SPOILER ALERT] Darth Vader tells Luke that he is Luke’s father. If you can somehow manage to not have that surprise ruined for you, it’s one of the most shocking reveals in cinema, especially if you’re a kid. People post YouTube videos of their children watching that scene for the first time and having the doors blown off their reality. And, really, making sure my child is able to fully enjoy and appreciate that moment is my guidepost for how to handle all this. If she’s not totally floored when she sees that, I’ll feel like I haven’t done my job.

So much for watching them in numbered order. However, strict chronological order has it’s own problems, the biggest one being that Return of the Jedi is the conclusion of both Luke and Anakin’s stories. It’s clearly the best film to end on. Strictly sticking to the order they were released in means ending with Episode III, which would just be a huge downer.

Fortunately, there’s a brilliant solution: watch the films in Machete Order. You can read all about it here. The trick — and it’s a real stroke of genius — is to watch Episode IV and V, then jump to Episodes II and III, treating the prequels like an extended flashback. You finish up with Episode VI. As a bonus, it turns out you can skip Episode I entirely, which is good because while I do think that hardship builds character, that would be overdoing it. (And if you need a reminder because you haven’t seen it since 1999, here’s a 70-minute long critique of Episode I that explains how truly terrible it is in hilariously painstaking detail.)

You know, all this is sounding like too much work for me to accomplish before our trip. The more I think about it, the more I think I should wait. If RU wants to go on the ride, it’s not that big a deal. Odds are, she’s not really ready for that, anyway.

One last note. I heard of a guy who had sat his young son down to watch the Star Wars movies and they’d gotten to that scene. The guy is just watching his kid watch the show, waiting to see the reaction. When [SPOILER ALERT] Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s father, the guy’s kid just turns to him and says, “Oh, it’s just like with Buzz Lightyear and Zerg.” So… yeah, my kids aren’t going to be watching Toy Story 2 until after they’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back.

*Yes, Star Wars, not Episode IV, not anything else. The box on the VHS tape said “Star Wars,” the listing in the TV Guide when it came on cable was “Star Wars,” and for twenty years even the most pedantic nerd would have rolled his eyes at you if you’d constantly referred to it as “A New Hope.”

**I hope you can appreciate, dear reader, the degree of restraint I am showing by letting that lie when I could passionately fill another few paragraphs on that hateful revision alone. Let me just say that everything George Lucas has done to the Star Wars films since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983 has been to make the series simultaneously dumber and less interesting. And I plan to have “Han Shot First” put on my tombstone. It might confuse some people about the nature of my passing, but I’m okay with that, too.

Update: I’ve added ads below for the DVD versions that I, myself, have, which include the original theatrical release versions of the films. Yes, they are frighteningly expensive now; if I find cheaper options through Amazon, I’ll update these links. If you purchase them by following the links from this site, I do receive remuneration. 

Elimination Communication

I started 2015 off right this morning by getting a stream of baby pee right in my face while changing my son’s diaper. Happy New Year! Well, to be honest, he didn’t really get me right in my face, he just zapped my shoulder until I could get my hand in the way. But he’ll only be a month old tomorrow; I’m sure his aim will improve.

Little Z is our first boy. I’ve done this before with two girls, and I gotta tell you: boys are different. You’re shocked, I know. In our house, Mom handles the feeding of babies while my responsibility happens at the other end; she’s input, I’m output. In his thirty days on this earth, I’m pretty sure Z has peed on me more times than either of his sisters managed to do. And, yes, I am aware of the trick where you undo the diaper but keep it in front of him as a shield until he unleashes his high-pressure terror weapon, then change his diaper normally. That’s not a trick I can employ because we use Elimination Communication.

Elimination Communication (or EC) is, basically, a potty training method that you can use with babies. We started using it with our girls, RU and Me-Too, as soon as they were born and they’ve both been potty trained since they were 18 months old. Our method is to hold the baby over the potty and make a “running water” noise — a consistent cue is essential — until he either goes or it becomes clear he’s not going to. You do this whenever you’re changing a diaper and, if you’re really on the ball (meaning this is your first child), you try to also take the baby potty any time they would naturally need to go, like after eating or just waking up. Babies don’t like to poop themselves any more than the rest of us (Me-Too hated having a wet diaper), so it’s more like you’re just giving them an alternative than trying to teach them a trick.

It’s worked really well for us. Me-Too still has accidents — she only has the bladder size and attention span of a 22-month-old, after all — and still sleeps in a diaper, but the only things keeping her from taking herself to the bathroom totally independently is that she has to climb the toilet in order to sit on it (not easy with your pants around your ankles) and can’t be trusted around toilet paper. Wiping one’s self does take longer to master, but, when you think about it, that’s a lot less instinctive than simply not crapping or urinating on yourself. That’s really what’s going on when your infant pees when you start to change them — do you prefer to start peeing before or after you pull your pants down?

We have a sporty little red Baby Bjorn potty I keep in the diaper changing area so I can minimize the transition time. Back when we were a one-baby family, and even for a few months into Baby 2, we would carry it around when traveling and set up a little changing-station-away-from-home. I even whipped it out for RU once on a car trip so she could go on the side of the road. By now, if the baby redecorates the hotel room’s carpet while I’m trying to carry him from the bed to the bathroom, we just throw a towel down and try to walk around it. The more you practice EC, the more both you and your kid will get the hang of it. You’ll notice the signs that they need to go (Z kicks his legs), and if they can help it, they’ll try to wait until you give them the signal. But babies are still just babies, and accidents happen.

Which brings us back to this morning and how boys are different than girls.

In practice, Elimination Communication goes something like this: Z has just finished nursing and is going to need to go. Odds are, he needs changing anyway, since you’ve been in the car or you’ve been sleeping or let’s be honest you’re not going to catch them all and he’s still going to have lots of dirty diapers. So you take him to the changing table (which, in our case, is a crib with one side removed, since you never cleaned off the actual changing table in the other room) which has your wipes, fresh diapers, and the little potty all arranged just so, because, like field-stripping your rifle, changing your son is something you occasionally have to be able to do in the dark, blindfolded, with one hand. Ideally, you’d whip the diaper off and get him directly on the potty, exposing yourself and the surrounding environment to potential hazard for less than two seconds. But, yes, he already had a poopy mess in there. Before you start trying to hold him, you want to clean him up. Not that you won’t get poop on your hands today at some point, but, you know, you don’t want to just embrace it. With the diaper off, the clock is ticking, and you have no idea how much time is on it. But you know what it’s ticking down to. The wipes come out in a clump of two or three stuck together. It’s up to you whether you shake them apart (you’re using your other hand to keep his feet out of the mess) or just use the whole wad and be wasteful but you’d better have thought of this eventuality ahead of time because pausing to consider it may result in disaster. Now that you’ve got him clean (or clean enough for this phase of the operation) you can get him onto the potty, where it’s okay for nature to take its course. With the girls, you just picked them up sat them on the thing, facing you, holding them under the arms. But you don’t want your boy facing you. No, you only make that mistake once. And when little Z’s legs touch the cold potty he just gets upset and can’t go with the process, so you have to hold him up by the thighs, facing away from you, anyway. Turning him around and getting a proper grip on him adds an extra second to the transition time — and once you’re holding him like that, he may not wait for the cue and decide to start right away. But if you’re not already holding a spewing fire hose, you can settle him over the potty, make sure everything is pointed away from anything valuable and/or alive and say “Psssssssssss” into his ear until he pees right over the splash guard at the front of the potty. Maybe you shouldn’t have put the changing area so close to those drapes. Then you just have to put him back down and get a new diaper on — quickly since he can fool you and go again, just ask that men’s room in the Culver’s — and you’re done.

So is it worth the effort, since there are easier, less potentially messy ways to change a baby? Honestly, if you have a baby, you’re going to get peed on, sooner or later, no matter what. If you have a baby boy, anything and anyone within three yards might get peed on. Even with the girls, when I’ve been lazy and thought they’d already done all their business in the diaper and I could just whip a new one and some wipes out of the bag and take care of them right where I was, I’ve ended up having to catch poo in my hand. When you’re a parent, you’ll do it, too. You can’t avoid mess, and with a little extra effort (and a lot of willpower to be consistent about it, even in the middle of the night), you can have a child potty trained before the age of two.

Z seems to be a fast learner and is already catching on. Even when he doesn’t go, I can feel that he’s trying to. He gets it right far more often than not. Hopefully, as he grows his talents will branch out beyond just urinating and defecating at a skill beyond his years. But for now, I can occasionally impress my friends and co-workers by declaring that my month-old baby boy can go in the toilet with almost as much accuracy as his old man.