Burritos

I found the greatest product and thought some of you might be interested in it. It is a lycra bed sheet, but my family calls it a burrito. Quinn’s OT sent me a link to it because he loves OT swings and tools made out of similar materials and thought he might like it.

She. Was. Right.

Photo of Quinn in bed. He is under a sheet that is wrapped around his mattress. There is a cat on the floor by the side of his bed.

Quinn gave me the okay to post this photo because he thinks this might help other people. Also because you can see his cat who sleeps with him every night.

Basically, the sheet is a tube top for your mattress. When no one is under it, it lies completely flat, so when there is someone in it, it gives constant pressure, but it isn’t too hot or too heavy. It is a brilliant product.

Jack was immediately jealous so I got one for him too.

Jack under his black burrito sheet, pulled up to his chin. He has a huge grin on his face.

Jack looks a tiny bit happy, doesn’t he?

I love these. My kids love these. It totally fills a space in our home that was much needed. They come in lots of colors and, at $25 for twin size, it’s totally reasonable. I do have to say that when Jack’s came, it reeked of cigarette smoke, which makes me think that someone makes these in a smoking house. It was kinda gross. I just washed it before I put it on his bed and it’s 100% fine, but, still, kinda ick. You can always Google “lycra bed sheets” and find other places that sell them.

Sweet dreams!

Noise Dysregulation and Running Regulation

Saturday evening started out rough for me.

Our neighbors had a party and we could hear their music in our house. And I know that people are allowed to have parties. And even though I think that after you reach a certain age, you are supposed to have parties where the music only lives inside your own house, I know that people have parties with loud music.

Unfortunately, music seeping into my house from the outside is one of my biggest sensory nightmares. It completely dysregulates me. I have to wear headphones with my own music blasting, but I still can’t do much that is functional. I get agitated and stressed and a rock drops into my chest and I have to escape.

It’s pretty horrible, honestly.

Fortunately, on Saturday, I had someplace to go.

I had signed up for an 8K race that started at 8:45 at night. I was an early arrival thanks to my fleeing the house, but at least I had plenty of time to decompress.

The bummer of the whole thing, however, is that I had absolutely no desire to run five miles, especially after my rough early evening. Adding to that is the fact that running has been really tough for me lately. There are a lot of reasons for that, chief among them being that I barely ran at all in May and June because of everything that was going on in my life. In addition, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is damn hot out there. And humid. And generally horrible.

Saturday night was cool and dry though. And two of my running friends who were running the race also met me at there. They are super fun to be with and by 8:45, I was relaxed again.

Sadly, I still didn’t want to run five miles.

Happily, I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter, as I was lined up in the race corral wearing a number and my running shoes, plus my friends probably would have been confused if I’d just sat on the ground instead of moving forward.

So move forward I did.

Step step step step/breath. Step step step step/breath.

I started to run and with each quartet of steps and each breath, I felt better. My body loosened and relaxed and I settled in for the next hour of steps and breathing. Because when you really look at it, that’s all running is—steps and breathing.

As it turns out, everything I needed after getting away from my house that night was steps and breathing.

I returned to my house late Saturday night, happy, tired, and (thank god) to a neighbor who had turned off his music.

It Was EXACTLY Like the National Treasure Movies Except Not at All

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting my family to the National Archives for a family day event and a pre-opening coffee with a curator to celebrate their “Making Their Mark: Stories through Signatures” exhibit.

Immediately upon receipt of said email, I realized that (a) I had never dragged my kids through that particular institution and (b) I should rectify that immediately. Also, (c) I’d never been and I really wanted to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights in person.

Our morning at the Archives came around this past Saturday and I was prepared. Museum-type spaces can be tough for my kiddos, particularly Quinn, so I made sure to not use the m-word and I pulled out the other heavy gun I had in my arsenal: I reminded them about the National Archives scenes from the National Treasure movies.

That did the trick.

We arrived to find juice and pastries as well as curator Jennifer Johnson, who gave us a personal tour through the Making Their Mark exhibit, which she had curated. It was really cool. The exhibit is all about signatures, from athletes signing sports memorabilia to Benedict Arnold’s oath of allegiance to a display of pens used by presidents to sign bills into law.

It was even more interesting than I thought it would be. There was a patent application filed by Michael Jackson, a letter from Johnny Cash to Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon’s FBI application, and any number of other fascinating documents and items. All three of my kids were also really interested, which is notable because there are not a lot of things that my three kids are all into.

The backs of my three kids looking at a display of 50 pens in a frame.

One of my favorites was this display of pens that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used to sign bills into law.

One of the exhibits was a full-size door that members of a home builders association sent to President Reagan to draw attention to their economic troubles. Jack took a look at the door, listened to the curator explain that it featured signatures on one side and the address on the other, and said, “Excuse me? Excuse me? I think the president was all, ‘What the bleep is this door doing in my mailbox!'”

Yep. That’s Team Stimey, keeping it classy across the generations.

In my defense, at least Jack says “bleep” instead of actual curse words.

The part of the exhibit that might have captured my kids’ attention more than any other was the auto-signing machine that was set up near the exit. This particular machine auto-signed John Hancock’s signature.

Jack carefully watching the mechanism of an auto-signing machine. There is a pen attached via a mechanism that follows the grooves in a disc that guides the signature.

Jack might have been more interested in the mechanics of the machine than the result.

We still had a few minutes before the Archives opened to the public so the curator took us to the Rotunda where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. I may have majorly geeked out there. This may also be the place where I was reprimanded by a guard.

There are no photos allowed in the Archives (barring special permission on a private tour in certain areas), so I’ll give you this image provided to me.

Photo of the Rotunda where there are murals of the founding fathers on the walls and six pages of documents, each in their own case: the Declaration, the Constitution (4 pages), and the Bill of Rights.

It was incredibly cool to see these documents close up. The Bill of Rights is my favorite.

I asked the curator how accurate the National Treasure depiction of the National Archives was and she told me that even though none of the filming was done there, it was actually pretty close. It is here that I might have to admit to you that my kids love those films and that we own DVD copies of both of them.

I am so ashamed.

Anywho, from there, we headed to the public Family Day activities that were taking place adjacent to the Making Their Mark exhibit. There were all kinds of good activities for all ages.

Jack standing at a white board where he is matching photos of and quotes by presidents to their pictures.

Jack matched presidential photos to their quotes and names. He may have needed some help to complete said process.

Sam using a template of John Adams' signature to make his own version.

Sam recreated John Adams’ signature.

Quinn slumped in a chair with a grumpy look on his face.

And Quinn sighed loudly and often.

There were crafts in another room, but the real treasure was the room set up with fountain and quill pens where my kids all learned how to write and draw using a pot of ink. Sam took approximately sixteen years to write a letter to each member of the family and Quinn and Jack drew their cats.

Quinn smiling and holding up an ink drawing of his cat Oreo.

This is a remarkably accurate representation of Oreo. I certainly wasn’t that good with the quill pen.

I was even retweeted by the @USNatArchives, which was also a kind of geeky high for me.

Screenshot of a tweet from the National Archives. The photo is of Jack looking sort of exhausted, patiently filling in his drawing of a cat with blank ink from a quill pen. The tweet says, "RT @Stimey: Drawing a picture of a black cat with a quill pen is hard work. #signatures @USNatArchives"

My kids are adept at cat drawings.

I feel very lucky that my family was invited to this event. As I say, I’ve been wanting to take my kids to the National Archives for a long time and this was the best possible way to have a first visit.

That said, your family can visit this exhibit too. The Making Their Mark exhibit is open through January 5, 2015.There will be more Making Their Mark Family Days on July 18 and December 30. There will be Constitution-in-Action Family Learning Labs on April 15, July 10, July 23, and July 29. For more information about these events, as well as others, go to archivesfoundation.org.

*****

In other news, Jack’s special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, is still soliciting donations for their big fundraiser coming up in May. Thank you so much to Sarah Elizabeth, Laura, my friend Heather and her family, and my young friends Katie and Brooke (and their terrific parents) for their donations. You can make your own donation online.

Advocacy and the Hockey Helmet

Jack is skating for the Montgomery Cheetahs again this year, which is awesome. He’s had some really great practices and also some iffy practices and then there was that one really memorable practice that was going so terribly until one of the mentors and one of the older Cheetah players teamed up to create an individual little drill that made Jack laugh so much and skate so hard. That practice reminded me why I love this team so much. There was so much good in those moments—for all three of those kiddos.

Things like that are why I continue to get up at 6:30 am every Saturday morning to take Jack to practice. See, I am not a morning person and I would really like to sleep in until 8 on Saturdays. Even so, I like to watch Jack skate even more and (semi) happily pry my eyes open at the crack of dawn at the start of every weekend.

All of this is to let you know that me getting Jack to hockey on time on a Saturday is a whole thing in and of itself.

Last Saturday, I had Jack in the locker room, all suited up, which is no small feat considering the amount of padding that is required to play hockey. As I was tying his skates, I handed him his helmet and told him to put it on, which he did. Then he promptly started screaming and took it off.

Now, although almost all of Jack’s gear is hand-me-down donated gear from the Cheetah equipment locker, I decided this fall that his head was very important, so I actually took him to a hockey store in August and got him fitted for a helmet, which I bought at full price and which Jack has been wearing all season so far. But even though he had worn it for many weeks, this day it was not to be.

“IT HURRRRRTS!” he yelled.

“Just put it on, Jack, and it will be fine in a minute,” I told him. I figured that once he got it settled on and positioned his ears and stuff, he’d be okay. Because that helmet is fine. He’s worn it all season and it is fine.

The helmet was not fine.

I tried so hard to get him to wear that helmet. I took it off and put it back on, but once his big fat tears started rolling down his cheeks, I knew our morning was not going to go as well as it had started.

I sat there with Jack as 7:45 came and went. He had the helmet on. He was fully dressed for hockey. My mother was visiting and was excited to see him skate. I had managed to get all three of us up, dressed, and to the rink on time. The very last thing I wanted to do was take off Jack’s gear and take him home.

But.

But I am teaching Jack to stand up for himself. I am teaching him to advocate for himself. I want him to be able to tell people when something hurts. I want him to be able to look a tough situation in the face, say “this is not okay,” and make people listen to him.

I can’t do that if *I* don’t listen to him.

The fastest way to undermine that lesson I’m trying to teach would be to disregard it when it was inconvenient to adhere to it.

I took a couple of moments to sit and breathe and watch Jack. Then I took the helmet off of his head and, even though I was frustrated and annoyed and mad and I’m sure Jack could see or sense that, I hugged and kissed him and told him to take off his gear.

We left the rink and went straight to the equipment locker so we could find a bigger helmet. I was still annoyed as hell, but I wanted Jack to know that I was proud of him for sticking up for himself even if he had upset me, so as we were stopped at a red light, I turned around, held his hand, and I told him explicitly that I was glad that he had done what he had done. I told him that if someone is doing something that makes him hurt that he should say no and that is what he did and I was proud of him for it.

Then I turned around and quietly seethed in the front seat.

When we got to the equipment locker, we proceeded to take part in the three bears version of hockey helmet fitting: This one is too big. This one is too little. This one makes me scream in pain.

Then, after a few minutes of this, Jack said, “I don’t need a different helmet. My old helmet fits fine.” Then he let me put it on him and he was all, “See? Perfect.”

Cue outer calm face and interior freak out.

We eventually determined that the helmet is usually okay, but that today it wasn’t. I get that. I understand why one week he could wear it with no problem but the next week it could be intolerable. I know it is the same head and same helmet, but sometimes it is just not the same sensation.

I ended up picking up a larger helmet to bring home with us. When Jack objected, asking why I would get another helmet when his is already perfect, I told him that I would adjust them both to where we could find one that works for him. I told him that we could put both helmets in his bag so if he has another week where his original (safer, newer, better fitted) helmet is too much for him, we will have a backup.

You should have seen the look on his face when I said that. It was sweet and calm and happy. He looked like he felt understood. We fist bumped and I said, “We’re a team, right?” and he smiled as he nodded and said yes.

Then, suddenly, our morning was all right again.

Halloween Hoops

We should talk about Halloween. Mostly because I have the cat for it.

Black cat Ruby in front of a pumpkin

Actually, I have two Halloween cats, but only Ruby was interested in the pumpkins.

God, Halloween. I have grown to hate Halloween. It used to be awesome because my sister’s birthday is on Halloween, but ever since I don’t live in the same place as her, it is less fun. Now it is just this whole stressful, expensive, sugar-filled, sensory nightmare.

I was talking to a friend of mine and we decided it would just be so much easier if we let our kids go on a candy-buying spree and then locked the doors and stayed home and ate candy all day on Halloween.

But no, you’re not allowed to do that. There are all these little hoops that you have to jump through, some of which Team Stimey accomplishes better than others.

Hoop one: Pumpkins

Pumpkin carving is awesome, right? Except every kid has to have their own pumpkin, but they are too young to go about whacking at a pumpkin with a butcher knife, so what really happens is that Alex and I end up taking orders from our kids about how exactly they want a perfect six-point star for a left eye and a square for the right. And this comes after we have to scoop out the insides because…ick, pumpkins are slimy and smelly and the children couldn’t possibly be asked to put their delicate little hands inside there.

Sam carving a pumpkin while holding his nose closed.

Honestly, it was kind of impressive that Sam even agreed to be in the same room with the pumpkins.

Sam holding his jack o' lantern.

It was totally worth it though, because he took knife in hand and carved his pumpkin entirely by himself for the first time. I LOVE it.

Hoop two: Getting the costume to school

This only applies if your costume is bulky.

Quinn in a Minecraft Steve head.

Quinn’s was bulky, but hilarious, so it was okay. I laughed every time I saw him. Also, it is apparently difficult to walk with a box on your head.

Jack’s school makes their costumes in the classroom, so I didn’t have to lift a finger for him. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

Hoop three: School parties

Ugh. I think the only people who have a harder time than parents with school Halloween parties are the poor teachers who have to supervise them. Of course, kids love them.

Well. Most kids.

Sam is in middle school now, so he didn’t have a Halloween party at school, but Jack and Quinn both had theirs at exactly the same time. I wanted to go to both, but that ended up not working out, what with my not actually being two people.

My wonderful friend who has a daughter in Jack’s class took photos of him, so I can show you his costume before I launch into the story of Quinn’s party.

Jack hamming it up in his Halloween parade

Jack has enough joy to spread around. I like that about him.

Then there is Quinn. Quinn is afraid of many things. Halloween is a really tough time of year for him. He so badly wanted to go to his class party and get all the treats there, but he was absolutely terrified at the idea of walking in the costume parade—even with a box on his head to obscure his vision.

Quinn and I hung out in his classroom while the rest of the school marched around the halls. We spent our time drawing cats.

Quinn holding a drawing of a cat.

For example…

I gotta tell you, Quinn has a tough life. I’m not being sarcastic. I have a ton of sensory issues, so I understand a lot of what he goes through, but he is really intense. He must be on edge all day long waiting for the next assault.

Quinn peeking in the classroom window from the hall.

A kid at a different table opened up a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, sending Quinn running out to the hall, where he stayed until I made him come back inside. He was uncomfortable even being around that student after he was done eating the chips. It was as if he sensed little chip-dust particles floating around him.

Quinn must be on guard at all times—for sensory stressors, for things that scare him, for things that make him gag and throw up (e.g. chip dust). It makes sense that he can be so irritable. I’d be irate too if I had to be so entirely vigilant all the time.

Hoop four: Costumes

I usually try to not spend too much money on costumes. Sometimes we make them, sometimes we cobble them together out of stuff we have, sometimes I buy them, one memorable year I had someone sew one, and this year I threw a million dollars at Amazon and had them send me two insanely expensive boxes for Quinn and Jack to wear.

Quinn as Steve, Jack as a creeper.

They were both extremely happy and extremely cute about the whole thing.

Hoop five: Handing out candy

Here’s something: Phish always plays a much-anticipated show on Halloween, which means that Alex is always gone. This means that I get to take my kids trick or treating by myself at the same time as I hand out candy at home. This usually entails me putting out a bowl of candy and hoping teenagers don’t take it all before we get home. (See above comment about not actually being two people.)

This year, Sam stayed home and gave out candy. He was so adorable about it. He took his responsibility very seriously. He also totally channeled me later in the evening when we still had a ton of candy left and he started shoveling handfuls of it in trick-or-treater’s bags.

Sam handing out Halloween candy

And he didn’t even get kidnapped from our house, which was my primary concern in letting him stay home and answer the door at night—something I expressly refuse to let him do when he stays home alone.

Hoop the last: Trick or treating, a.k.a. Kill me now

I can’t even. I mean…I just can’t.

Usually trick or treating is exhausting. My kids all run in a million directions and I end up shouting at them to stick together and they don’t and it is a whole thing, but they usually have a really good time. Except when they don’t. Like when Quinn sees a costume that scares him and he can’t relax because he is working so hard to avoid seeing it again.

This year was a perfect storm of nightmare. My kids and I were heading out of the house to meet our neighbors who we were going to trick or treat with when my cell phone rang. It was my insurance people looking to take a statement on my car break-in. I was all, “I can talk to you and walk my kids up the street,” because, yeah, evidently I’ve never met my kids before.

I was almost done talking to the woman on the phone when we ran into our neighbors. Jack ran up to his friend and hugged her. Quinn’s friend, who, incidentally, was wearing a mask that Quinn found terrifying, came up behind him and said, “Boo!” (He didn’t know Quinn was scared of the mask and was just trying to hang out with his pal.)

Quinn lost it.

He shrieked, turned around and ran home.

I made a quick Sophie’s Choice, decided Jack would be fine with his friend, and ran home after Quinn, hanging up on a disoriented insurance agent as I searched for Quinn, whom I eventually found trembling under his bed.

After that it was me (and the neighbors) juggling my sobbing kid and the neighbor’s sobbing kid and finding Jack and trying to convince Quinn that there weren’t terrible things around every corner, because he really did want to trick or treat and even if he didn’t I had to FIND JACK, and thank God for the people who had pets in their living rooms because petting animals finally made Quinn relax a little, but the neighbor kid never recovered and went home and never came back out and dear fucking God, I’m just glad that I have an entire year before Halloween comes again.

Also, it rained.

So. Happy birthday to my sister. Can’t wait until next year! The end.

So, About That “Adventure Golf”

Team Stimey’s outing today was probably ill-advised.

Kids on golf course with giant letters that read "HELP"

Yep. That about sums it up.

I had a doctor’s appointment and had told my kids that we were going to mini golf afterward. That was my first mistake—never tell your kids ahead of time that you’re going to do something until you are actually in the car doing the thing.

Related: Mistake Two—never take your kids to a doctor’s appointment with you.

I should have known that things were going to go badly when, after the doctor’s appointment, on the way to the pharmacy to drop off my prescription, Quinn started insisting that mini golf was actually called “poopy golf” and that every single person in the world knew it was called poopy golf and, “I don’t give a crap that you are screaming in protest at the top of your lungs and the high pitch of your range, Jack, I will continue to insist that mini golf is commonly referred to as poopy golf until Mom drives this car into an abutment.”

Or words to that effect.

See, Quinn doesn’t love mini golf and was not excited that I found this really exciting new adventure golf course in Virginia. (Mistake Three—adding a long drive to a non-preferred activity. Honestly, it’s like someone handed me these three kids yesterday. Such rookie mistakes.) This argument was raging as we waited in the drive-through pharmacy line, leading the pharmacy tech to raise her eyebrows and mutter, “Having fun?” when she opened the window to hear the cacophony outside.

The situation was not aided by Day Two of Braces, which was going less well than Day One. Sam’s teeth were hurting him, regardless of the pain meds I’d fed him earlier in the day. We stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch where Jack refused to sit at a table with Quinn at first and then Sam took six years to eat a cheeseburger that I had to rip into 16 tiny pieces for him.

Oh, we were a motherfucking scene.

Today was also the day that Sam learned that Jolly Ranchers are off the table for the next 15 to 18 months, triggering an extended rending of garments and shouting of, “WHY? WHHHHYYYY?!?! WHY DOES EVERYTHING I LOVE TURN TO SHIT?” or, again, words to that effect.

We were off to a great start. Onward to poopy golf.

Now, here’s the thing about the mini golf: Quinn often has fun at mini golf, even if he doesn’t make it all the way through the course, which is fine with me. Jack LOVES mini golf. Sam is amenable to pleased with mini golf. That is why I suggested this outing in the first place. I figured that once Quinn saw that this golf course was far more interesting than your typical mini golf course, that he would be totally excited.

The passports the cashier gave us to trade in for golf balls and clubs were promising, and the bamboo and prop-lined path that led us there was even better. Even though it was hot, I thought that we might get through this thing with smiles on our faces.

Jack with the map on the back of the passport.

Jack was all in.

Sadly, right there at the golf ball pick-up station was a giant fake spider in a cage.

Quinn is mortally afraid of spiders. Even fake ones.

Cue screaming.

Follow that with more screaming. Add some flailing. Then maybe a touch of shrieking. Then a request for a green golf club, NOT a pink one, fuck you very much.

Honestly, Quinn probably could have handled any one of the following hurdles—(a) heat, (b) mini golf, or (c) giant plastic bugs—but there is no way on this planet that he was going to be able to handle all of them.

There were several things I could have worried about here. I could have thought about the $40 it had cost to get the four of us on this golf course (I did think about that a little). I could have thought about the groups on both sides of us that were staring (I didn’t think about that much at all). I could have thought about Sam and Jack and how excited they were to golf this course now that they’d seen it.

I did a lot of thinking about that.

It wouldn’t have been fair to yank them off the course and I couldn’t leave them alone, so Quinn and I tried to make the best of it. Once we got a couple of holes in, Quinn started to relax. Sam and Jack stayed ahead of us and warned me if there was anything coming up that might scare Quinn. (There were only a couple more things—some more spiders and these terrifying scarab-looking things spread all over a hissing box.)

Quinn calmed down and was even able to golf a little bit.

Quinn wading in a mini golf water hazard

And do some wading.

We never bother to take score and, unless it’s a hole-in-one, we don’t even count strokes. This is a good thing because Sam managed to hit his ball out of bounds on probably half of the holes.

Sam holding a golf ball over his head.

Found it! Again!

Our lack of precision made our trip through all 18 holes pretty fast, which was good. I have already promised Quinn that we never, ever, ever have to go back, but I would highly recommend this golf course to anyone who lives near Herndon and isn’t completely phobic, which I am starting to understand that Quinn is.

Sam and Jack had a blast, except for when Jack made a tomb door slide closed and shut Sam inside. Sam was less delighted about that than anything else.

Regardless, we all arrived home safe and sound—and full of ice cream that I fed them to end our trip on a high note. I find that almost all of Team Stimey’s outings are better with ice cream at the end. Thank God that ice cream is still on Sam’s orthodontist-approved list.

After all of that (plus a trip to the hardware store and the pharmacy again), I let my kids sit and play video games for the rest of the day. I can only do so much. Hell, they can only do so much. Now I’m off to think of an outing for tomorrow. I think we might go to the pet store, where the furriest thing we see will not be a giant fake spider, but rather a kitten.

That might be just the thing.

The Day After Hersheypark, We Went to a Place Known Only as…Chocolate World

Maybe I’ll start this post with what some members of Team Stimey (Okay, fine. Me.) chanted on our way from the car to the building that houses Chocolate World.

“Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We’re going to Chocolate World!”

Repeat.

It’s too bad no one was excited.

Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We're going to Chocolate World!

Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We’re going to Chocolate World!

I just learned about Chocolate World within the last few months. It immediately went to the top of my “must visit” list. Because…Chocolate. World.

Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We're going to Chocolate World!

Chocolate World! Chocolate World! We’re going to Chocolate World!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect there. I knew the basics because I’d talked to a friend who had been there before, but all I really knew was that there was chocolate—like, free samples of chocolate.

Where to find that chocolate, however, was not immediately apparent.

We walked into the building and I didn’t even know what to do. All I could see was people. There was no chocolate. There was no obvious place to go. There was just a mass of people and big signs with pictures and dollar amounts next to them.

That’s when I stopped chanting. My eyes widened and I may have turned around and around in tiny circles until Alex assessed the situation and determined that we had to stand in the long line and decide how much money we wanted to give the people at the front desk based on the icons that represented Chocolate World’s various attractions.

This was the most coherent sign in the whole place.

This was the most coherent sign in the whole place.

I ended up leaving Alex to decide what we should do and took my kids over to an empty queue that claimed to be a free attraction. Kids could pretend to be assembly line workers, then you had the option of buying a box of Hershey’s Kisses that theoretically came off the assembly line.

Only in America will you find small children standing in line to pretend to work on a factory assembly line.

Foreshadowing: Quinn is not wearing his hat.

Only in America will you find small children standing in line to pretend to work on a factory assembly line.

I was all, “We are just doing the assembly line. I am NOT buying you any Hershey’s Kisses.”

Guess how many boxes of Hershey’s Kisses I bought? (That’s rhetorical. We all know that I bought three.)

After our short but expensive excursion to the pretend factory floor, I forced all my children to sit down against a wall as we waited for Alex. I don’t remember what I did to annoy Alex when he showed back up. Maybe I rolled my eyes at one of the attractions he’d chosen for us or I complained about having to corral the munchkins by myself.

He promptly put me in my place with a disbelieving look and the response of, “Yeah, I just stood in the longest line for the worst ride ever.”

He was right. I immediately readjusted my attitude.

He was right. I immediately readjusted my attitude.

Chocolate World has one truly free attraction, which is a little ride that takes you through how Hershey’s chocolate is made. Said ride ends with free chocolate. Said ride, however, starts with a long line in a packed hallway. Eventually we made it to the ride and were able to break loose from the masses of humanity.

Don't they all look happy and relaxed?

Don’t they all look happy and relaxed?

Fortunately, the ride calmed everyone down and we followed it up with the 4D movie they have, which calmed everyone down even more. There is nothing like an hour in a couple of dark rooms to chill out my family. Phew.

I'm not saying the movie is going to win any Oscars, but it made my kids laugh and that is all I ask.

I’m not saying the movie is going to win any Oscars, but it made my kids laugh and that is all I ask.

We exited the theater through the gift shop (of course), where we found the world’s biggest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Peanut butter cups are Quinn’s favorites. I don’t think even he could manage to eat two half-pound versions of them though.

Sadly, we will never know if he could consume a pound of peanut butter cups, as we left the package in the store.

Sadly, we will never know if he could consume a pound of peanut butter cups, as even we decided not to buy them.

From there, we took another trip through the free ride and then headed to the chocolate tasting experience. It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that we tasted chocolates there. It also probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that all five of us had fun tasting chocolate. Chocolate World was starting to look like a great choice for my family.

We just had one more activity before we headed back to the hotel. We were going to do the make-your-own-chocolate-bar activity where you decide what you want in a chocolate bar, watch the Hershey’s machines actually make it, decorate the wrapper yourself, then go home with your very own candy bar.

This particular activity is the main reason we went to Chocolate World. Sam has a teacher who really loves chocolate and he wanted to make a chocolate bar for her. (She also gave us discount coupons for Hersheypark that saved us a ton of money, so it seemed like an excellent trade to buy her a candy bar.) Everybody was excited to make their candy bar. All three of my kids had been talking about it all weekend.

There was one snag. (There is always a snag.) I knew this was coming and I had talked to Quinn about it ahead of time. He’d seemed okay with it in theory, but when it came down to go-time, he freaked out completely.

That snag? Because there was actual food being produced in front of us, we all had to wear aprons and hairnets.

Happily Sam and Jack were more than happy to wear their hairnets.

Happily Sam and Jack were more than happy to wear their hairnets. I was more than happy to take their photograph in said hairnets.

The screaming. Oh, God, the screaming. I still hear it in my dreams.

Quinn could not handle the hairnet. He tried. He tried so hard. He completely lost it. It was rough. I managed to help him calm down enough to watch his chocolate bar get made (he didn’t have to wear the hairnet when making his recipe or designing his package) and we skipped out on the last part of the production process, choosing instead to play Minecraft on the iPad and let Alex, Sam, and Jack pick up our chocolate bars.

Then we were done. We’d pushed everyone far enough. We had a bag full of chocolate. We had just enough time to squeeze in a quick swim at the hotel before our late checkout. It was time to leave the land of chocolate.

We wandered back to the car, Jack telling random people on the way, “You can make your own chocolate bar in there!”

So. Chocolate World. I would call it a success. My kids really enjoyed being there. You know, with the exception of Quinn and the hair nets. We won’t be visiting any other food production facilities in the next several years, that is for sure.

This brings us to the conclusion of Team Stimey’s Memorial Day visit to the Land of Chocolate and Screaming. Although if I’m going to be honest, most of our outings involve chocolate and screaming, so perhaps I should say that this is the end of our visit to the Land of Chocolate and Screaming in Pennsylvania.

I guess if there were one thing I wanted to impart about our weekend, which was both fantastic and extremely challenging, is that I love going on adventures with my family. It is never smooth sailing, but it is always rewarding.

My family exasperates me like nothing else, but those moments when they make me laugh (and there are a lot of them), those moments when they laugh (and there are a lot of them), those moments when they overcome things that are difficult for them, those moments when we experience something new together, those moments when we get to be ourselves with each other—those moments are what make my life worthwhile.

So, yes, our trip to the Land of Chocolate and Screaming in Pennsylvania (a.k.a. Hersheypark and Chocolate World), were not perfect. But I wouldn’t trade those two day for anything in the world.