Matter of Heart
I might have been just as excited as the kids, because I was up before the alarm to watch our first sunrise aboard the Disney Dream. A massive funnel cloud on the horizon was fascinating to watch as a storm brewed on one side while a pink sun rose on another.
The massive ship slowed and gracefully backed into Castaway Cay (Disney’s own private island) without so much as a lurch. At first glance, it looks like a pristine deserted beach. But apparently a couple hundred Disney employees reside on the island just to accommodate the passengers that pull into port for a day’s time. The ship docked about 7:00am and disembarked another several hundred employees who transformed the quiet beach into a tropical paradise with brightly colored umbrellas, BBQ buffet restaurants, live music band equipment and characters decked out for dance parties well before passengers were allowed off the ship to explore the island.
When princess Evie woke up, there was a special surprise from her best friend Maggie waiting to be opened – a beautiful “puffed sleeved” Cinderella dress. The other girls also had Disney princess gowns laid out by their “lady in waiting” (aka mom!) and a personal invitation from the princesses was awaiting them and received with squeals of delight!
We donned our dresses and descended the grand staircases (trains flowing behind and hands clasped in anticipation) and made our way to the grand atrium where the princesses were holding court.
Oh the look in Gigi’s eyes when they appeared waving and welcoming her!!
Its been a 3-year wait for this wish to come true, but honestly, the timing could not have been more perfect! A year earlier and Gigi would have been too young to remember it, and life would still have revolved around a necessary nap time. A year later and Abi for sure would have been out of the princess stage. This girl of mine – she is the most mature 13-year-old I know, yet still loves all things girly and wanted a Jasmine costume for the cruise. Of course this momma was happy to oblige and have 5 girls all dolled up in princess pretties! We’ve decided Abi might have a promising career as a Disney Princess!! She is a magnet for kids and could pull of the homecoming queen wave and pinky-up curtsies!
The princess conversations were hilarious! Snow white invited the girls to come visit her at her home “through the black forest and past the seven waterfalls, then mine is the little cottage in the clearing!”. And Cinderella didnt understand Evie when she said she flew on an airplane to get there. “Whats an airplane? I always take a carriage everywhere I go!”
The girls left practicing their waltz, wave and talking with their pinkies up like Snow White.
When we got to the Frozen gathering on the other side of the ship, we were early for our princess appointment. However, because Evie was a wish kid, they whisked her to the front of the line and gave her an extended period to talk to Elsa and Anna. Anna acted completely baffled that Gigi had a matching dress….and I must say, Britain’s Elsa braid was more authentic than the actual Elsa’s 🙂
Then it was off to dine alfresco at Cabanas. Breakfast buffet with Mickey shaped waffles (and all the toppings) and an extensive variety of pastries, eggs, breakfast meats, crepes, yogurts and fresh fruits to choose from. A lovely view from the balcony of the ship looking out over Castaway Cay….all well and good until a squad of seagulls started dive-bombing our plates!
We hit the Aquaduck after breakfast during the non-peak-time while most of the other cruisers were on the island. This is the massive waterside aboard the ship, that swings out over the ocean and then covers the length of the ship, twice! There was one little duck who was seriously upset that she wasn’t tall enough! Seemed like the perfect time to offer a concession prize – soft serve ice cream available 24 hours a day onboard. Who cares that is just past breakfast time!? We’re on the vacation of a lifetime!!
We disembarked for a lovely afternoon on Castaway. We were so busy having fun, we totally forgot to stop for lunch and hit the BBQ buffet (not to worry….no one was below the recommended calorie count ever on the cruise!) White sugary beaches. Emerald blue water. A majestic view of the ship. And a little shade offered by a towering palm tree for this poor guy who couldn’t go in the water due to the cast on his arm (theres another story – shattered his wrist and had to have surgery last week….not the best timing!)
Before dinner time, we hit up the pool (and the ice cream machine) again just in time to watch a movie starting at the dive-in-movie.
The ship cast off again and we returned to our stateroom to dress for the evening activities. There was a note again at our door with tickets for our Wish Kid for an excursion planned for the next day….and a platter of chocolate covered strawberries!!
Another fabulous show, and then it was dinner at the Royal Palace with the servers all dressed in their Prince Charming dress coats looking very dapper and complimenting the romantic decor of the restaurant that has mosaics of scenes from some of Disney’s traditional and classic love stories.
When we told Gigi she needed to drink water too so she wouldn’t get dehydrated after all the time in the sun, she mastered this skill so she didnt have to slow down guzzling her Shirley Temple.
I was paranoid about the kids clubs before boarded the ship, but my friend Sarah who is a weathered cruiser, and the impressive system for security for the kids, quickly put my mind at ease. The place is awesome and so, so safe with tracking devices on each child and in our case, an older sister who is always looking out for a younger one. We let the girls go to the club for about 45 minutes after finishing dinner. Sure enough, when I came to pick them up after the allotted time, Gigi burst into tears because she didnt want to leave. Apparently dancing with tinker belle is more fun than bedtime!
And just like that, the clock struck twelve and the fairy tale dissolved into a million beautiful memories. It was truly, a Dream Come True. All the magic and wonder and fantasy and flair reflected in our daughters eyes as she soaked up every minute of her long-awaited Wish Trip, left us with memories we will cherish for a lifetime! Im going to have a ton of back-logged blogging to do after this summer, but wanted to get this out while its fresh and I still have sand in my shoes….and pixie dust too!
The day before the trip, we met Evie’s wish coordinator to go over details and itinerary. Miss Dana treated us to a frozen yogurt fiesta. Good thing we hadn’t had time for lunch while running around like crazy all day because we needed some serious appetites to tackle this yogurt bar! I was absolutely blown away by the Make A Wish organization and their attention to detail. They thoroughly arranged everything to make it relaxing for the whole family.
The night before the cruise, I painted 100 little fingers and toes so the girls would be all “glitzed” up for meeting the princesses. Sometime after we all went to sleep, a little Mickey Magic delivered new Micky/Minnie outfits for the girls to travel in. 6 little eager-beavers had no trouble jumping out of bed at dark-thirty to catch the shuttle to the airport.
After a short flight into Orlando, we caught the Disney Dream Shuttle for a 45 minute ride to Port Canaveral. The Disney difference starts with their employees….even our bus driver was a hoot telling the kids to watch out the window for Mickey who drives the truck that holds all the luggage. And warning that sometimes Goofy drives…and then the luggage gets lost 🙂
We boarded into the grand atrium welcomed with finesse by an applauding row of Disney cast members announcing our family’s name as we waltzed into the fantasy….
We oriented ourselves to the ship, grabbed some pizza from the buffet on deck, and joined the throngs for the mandatory fire drill. Then it was off to check out the kids clubs and explore the vast vessel and stroll the decks as the sun got low. It took us a little while to get our “sea legs”. No nausea, but just a general sense of “wooziness” for about 24 hours until our equilibrium balanced! Bad weather unfortunately rained out the deck launch party, but the night held enough magic to make up for it….
We had a late dinner seating which meant that every night there was a full-blown Disney musical proaction in the elaborately adorned theater before we continued on to a dinner seating that started after our kids normal bedtime! Thats perhaps what I loved most about the whole experience….being an irresponsible fun parent who for a few magical days could say “yes” to almost anything. Late bedtimes. Unlimited ice cream. And swimming in mermaid tails.
The theatre productions every night were phenomenal!! However, I watched less of the show than of the kids on the seats to my left. My childrens eyes lit up with wonder and awe at the special effects and singing along to classic Disney songs. Hundreds of thousands of iridescent bubbles raining down during the Little Mermaid scene with the girls grasping to capture the magic in their hands – priceless! The special effects. The glitter and glitz. The gleam in their eyes. It was pure magic!
We bumped into the ship captain on our way to dinner….Mickey himself was greeting guests and Gigi couldn’t WAIT to give him a hug (but was a little perturbed that he wouldn’t talk to her!)
I made a quick stop at Guest Services to see about arranging to get tickets to the Princess Meet & Greet. Amazingly, after only a couple hours since boarding, all the slots had already been filled up. Eeek!!! This was something Evie had been talking about for months – meeting all the princesses!! But, Miss Nicky who worked in Guest Services knew Evie was a wish kid, and said she’d try to work some magic. Sure enough, by bedtime that night, she’d already delivered tickets not only to meet Cinderella, Snow White and Belle, but had arranged a separate meet up with the Frozen cast as well!! We were told there were 31 Wish families on the ship. Such a humbling experience to see these other kids who also look healthy and happy, and yet know they have each fought such difficult battles and endured heartache!
The dining experience on the cruise was amazing!! Each table gets their own “serving staff”. We had two guys, one from Romania and one from Thailand who were our personal caretakers at mealtime. They rotated with us each night to a different dining room so they knew our drink preferences and always had a “Shirley Temple” waiting for Gigi even before she sat down. They were a fantastic team and our kids loved them. In addition to great service, they kept the kids enthralled with stories, magic tricks, card tricks….and mickey shaped catsup creations on their plate. Tristan has learned all kinds of new slight-of-hand tricks he’s been practicing.
Look at that laughter!! That’s the real deal!!
My only second thought about the cruise is having used the iPhone for most of my pictures instead of my Nikon. My intention was to be more “present in the moment” and not always asking the kids to re-stage things for that perfect shot on my good camera. We got the genuine expressions and I relaxed not messing with settings and shutter speeds….but the photographer in me is so annoyed by grainy iPhone shots:)
When we arrived back in the room, Cinderella (who has a very helpful fairy-godmother) had left “Cinderella pajamas” for the little girls all laid out on the bed. The turn down service had also left chocolate on each pillow and towel creations shaped like Arielle’s crab Sebastian….where else can you eat chocolate right before bed!?
After all the other kids fell asleep watching the Disney channel, Abi and I snuck out and decorated the magnetic stateroom door….an invitation for other cruisers to sign a star and leave a message for our Wish Kid for her scrapbook. We got dozens and dozens of stars from all over the world….what a fun keepsake to take home.
Good thing everyone was so thoroughly exhausted, because all the sugar and hype and anticipation would have made it hard to sleep, but everyone drifted off lulled by the gently rocking ship, dreaming about the adventures to come tomorrow when we would land on Disney’s own private island in the Bahamas!!
It was the hardest thing Ive ever had to do, handing you over to the anesthesiologist for your heart surgery. Watching them walk down the long corridor wheeling you away from me. I can still hear the echo of the steps of the team of doctors in that stark, white hallway…..leaving me to wonder if I’d ever have you breathing in my arms again. There is an emotional pain that pierces so deeply that there are physical symptoms. I don’t know if I could have stood on my own feet without your daddy there to support me.
I wanted to sit alone in the dim silence of the waiting room. I felt out of it. Like I was living in a bad dream I couldn’t wake myself from. But daddy knew I needed to escape the walls of the hospital that were closing in on us. We tried to stomach breakfast. Hominy Grill in Charleston. I picked at grits but couldn’t stomach anything. We wandered aimlessly through Target. Daddy bought you a little teddy-bear. Something that could stay with you at nights when we had to leave you alone at the hospital.
We drove together, your daddy and I, hands clasped so tightly. Tears. Silence. Exhaling prayers with every breath. I carried your little hat in my coat pocket all day. It smelled like you. It was my “security blanket” to hold onto when my hands ached to hold you.
Every couple hours, our pager would go off….an update from the physicians assistant. We knew dozens and dozens of people praying and we felt the support of so many carrying us through the endless hours. The wait, knowing you were on bypass was excruciating. Would Dr. Bradley be able to repair your tiny strawberry-sized heart and reattach angel-hair arteries? Would your weary heart function after a repair requiring it to do what it wasn’t designed for? Would your little warring heart have the strength to beat again? Would we have the strength for what was ahead…..whatever that was?
We were siting on the pier in huge swings overlooking a beautiful expanse of water when the page came through we’d been waiting for. “We’re closing her up…..she should be finished in an hour” Thank you Jesus!! We rushed back to the hospital and waited in the PCICU waiting room watching the seconds tick by on the clock. A nurse came and called us into a consultation room. When Dr. Bradley walked into the room, my heart sank. His eyes were completely bloodshot and I had this wave of nausea sweet over me – certain that something had gone wrong. Only later did I realize that the tremendous strain I saw in his eyes was only that of a man who had spent 8 hours in tedious work. A man of few words, he offered gentle assurance that everything had gone well.
The nurse took time preparing us for what we would see when we finally got to go back with you. She explained about the effects of trauma and that you’d be puffy and heavily sedated for a good while longer. She detailed what all the lines and wires were for and told us not to be alarmed by the drainage tubes. She told us they had been able to close your chest (which was a big praise, because for some babies, they have to wait to close the chest until the swelling goes down a couple days later). She warned us it would be hard to see you….and it was…..but nothing has ever been more beautiful than seeing you my dear……alive and fighting! We struggled to find even an inch of your body that didnt have probes or attachments, just so we could touch you.
That day was awful…..and beautiful at the same time. We were far from in the clear, but our girl now had a chance for survival with a heart that was no longer broken. Heart surgery was the first painful step in a very long road to being a healthy baby.
And so my child, we celebrate today. We celebrate your “heart-iversary” with cake.
Because we like cake.
And because you’ve earned it!! Because we’ve been blessed with 84 months of miracles and memories. Because you have been the bravest, strongest, most grace-infused child I’ve ever known. Because we’ve had 2,567 beautiful sunrises that we’ve thanked God for your life. Happy Heart-iversary my love!! May you continue to grow in grace and beauty and knowledge of Gods hand so evident on your life. May you bring glory to Him all of your days!