Travel Tips with Kids – Berlin

Berlin! We visited this autumn but I’m including links for places suggested to us – both those we saw, and those we’ll have to visit another time.

Dome of the Reichstag – ticket link: VISIT HERE. Tickets come available online about 8 weeks in advance, they are free but you need to book them and they can go fast. There is also a multi step process to book – initial email, confirmation, provide names/DOB, then final email that acts as the ticket. Make sure you get that final email or you’ll show up and not be allowed in. There was security to get through, and we had to provide photo ID (with birthdate!) for each person, and a crazy double lock door to enter… then up an elevator that we were crammed in (that was odd) but then you’re on the roof – and it’s amazing! You can walk around on the roof a bit, then you can walk inside the glass dome and up the spiral ramp to the top for an even more epic view. It was gorgeous, and a great way to start our Berlin adventure. It’s also the block next to Brandenburg gate.

Brandenburg Gate: We watched a video about this before we came, and as we walked up I told them about some of my memories of being in Berlin right after the wall came down. I thought it was really neat, but it was less significant for the kids. 🙂 It is a block away from the memorial below…

Berlin Memorial to Murdered Jews Continue reading “Travel Tips with Kids – Berlin”

Travel Tips with Kids – Getting Around London (from a Non-Londoner)

It can take a bit of adjustment, but the London public transport system is fantastic. (Okay, so I’m comparing it to some cities where we did not have positive impressions of their undergrounds, but still – it’s relatively clean, well organized, and you can find attendants!) 🙂

There are options for visitor passes (Travelcards), but we’ve always found the Oyster card to be a better deal for us for kids. (For adults we use contactless – Apple watch, iPhone, or any credit or debit card set up for contactless works.) Here are some links to see all they have to offer: Continue reading “Travel Tips with Kids – Getting Around London (from a Non-Londoner)”

Travel Tips with Kids – London/Harry Potter

* Disclaimer, you need an entire day to see the WB Studio Tour. The studio is on the outskirts of London, you can take the underground out to Euston but then switch to the overground to get to Watford Junction (about 40 minutes from central London), then hop off and catch the shuttle bus (every 20 minutes, takes 15 minutes, does have a fee and I cannot remember if they take cards or you need cash.) Make a day for that if you’ve got any hardcore fans with you! They do have family tickets, which can save you a bit. The shop at the end of the tour is HUGE, and if you arrive early you can go in there to browse. You are given a set “tour” time that’s not flexible, but once you get past that initial bit then you are free to explore the rest, which is self guided, until they close. (They said they do have people stay for the entire day and they have to kick them out at closing.) Continue reading “Travel Tips with Kids – London/Harry Potter”

Travel Tips with Kids – Germany (Bavaria)

Because I lived in Ansbach for four years as a kid we focused around that area when we made our visit in 2017, but there’s so much to explore every direction! We rented an AirBnB house in a tiny village that was central to most of the spots we wanted to visit – it was a lovely house and a sweet, friendly little town. There wasn’t a grocery store in town, but you’ll need to rent a car in this area and there are shops in the nearby towns. We spent a few days in three different spots (Heidelberg, Salzburg, Ansbach area) but Bavaria won their hearts so we plan to return there in spring 2019 for some more exploring.

By far the kids’ favorite part was the swimbads, we found one in each place we stayed. Second was the hauptstrasses in the various cities/towns, and stopping to get pretzels and treats at the bakeries. Third was the residences and castles. Here are some links of the various spots they’re saying they loved best:

Ansbach Residence & be sure to visit the Orangerie gardens, too.

Aquella – My local swimbad as a kid!

Nurnburg Castle – Despite living nearby for years, I’ve not actually visited this spot yet!

Wurzburg Residence (I’ve not taken the kids there yet, but I loved it and went several times as a kid and will take them next trip.)

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Our kids could happily have spent all day long wandering this town! They loved walking through the walls and market square, and there’s a playground with a great view and good picnic spot just outside the walls.

Berchestgaden Salt Mines – Buy your tickets online in advance! And if you’re coming from Germany you’ll go through the edge of Austria – buy your road pass for the tolls at a gas station in advance or you’ll get a fine as soon as you cross onto the Austrian roads.

Salzburg if you’re already down that far south, it’s a lovely city for walking around and there are spots to picnic in the garden if you’re a Sound of Music Fan. 🙂

Herren Chiemsee Island & Residence – Between the ferry ride, horse drawn carriage ride up to the palace, gorgeous fountains & palace tour, this day was magical!

Because Miracles Happen

During our stay in the NICU we would try to be there when the team rounded on Ben. The nurse would give report and the doctors would all discuss the plans and the respiratory therapists had notes about how he was doing on the ventilator. We, of course, were always full of questions about how Ben was doing, what the next step was, how were things going forward so we could get this boy home to us as soon as he was ready.

We would be daily reminded by them that in the NICU it’s always baby steps – tiny, tiny baby steps. Two steps forward, one (or two!) steps back. They didn’t want us to focus on his homecoming, they wanted us to focus on the fact that he had taken 10ccs in his feeding tube or that his chest x-ray looked incrementally better or that his culture had finally come back clear. There’s not a lot of planning in the NICU – it’s mostly about day to day survival. In a place where miracles are being desperately prayed for and there are too many days filled with tears and complications, it’s literally life or death. You can’t plan a lot in the NICU.

But I’m a planner – it’s how I cope, creating contingency plans and learning about our options and researching. It’s how I can feel some control over the areas I can influence, helping me better let go of the things I cannot change. I’m a mom – these are my babies. I plan.

Plus, I have six babies – planning is key to making it through the chaos. 🙂 Continue reading “Because Miracles Happen”

THANK YOU!

Ben’s story by Janet St. James aired on Wednesday at 10pm. There are been several ads running for the story on the radio and television so we were getting messages all day long from family and friends hearing it! Then the emails began… and they have not stopped. 🙂

This is the original video.

When we woke up we were greeted by an inbox flooded with emails, Ben’s Wish List page on Facebook had gone from a hundred or so Likes to several hundred (and now thousands), and there were a ton of personal messages for us as well. The entire day we were getting more, and the ones that made me laugh were friends and family literally across the nation saying, “I just saw you on the front page of CNN!” or “Why are you on the front of USA Today?” or “You’re on the news in California!” It was spreading near and far!

This is the follow up when Janet brought us into the studios to share what the reaction had been.

SO, we’ve not caught up! We woke up Thursday to such a tidal wave of support that while we’ve done our best to read every single email, we’ve not been able to answer them all yet! It may take awhile, and we really apologize. I like to have messages answered quickly so knowing I cannot possibly respond to everyone right away makes me antsy. But for some reason these six kids of mine still want me to feed them and play with them and thus, the emails and messages wait. 😉

Please know in the meantime that we have treasured every single one of you taking the time to write and share your support, suggestions, inspiration, and generosity. Words are failing us because while we knew we lived in a great community, while we treasure our fantastic village of people, we hadn’t anticipated Ben’s story being shared so far and so wide. (The messages from abroad began Friday morning!) We’ve been warned, multiple times, that we should avoid reading any comments on websites with our story because often there are internet trolls being hurtful. While I’ve not even seen all the websites on which the story was shared, the comments I have read are all kind and loving and incredible.

We think our kids are pretty fantastic, of course. We believe Ben’s story is miraculous, but we had never, ever imagined that sharing his wish list would lead to this.

There are amazing things in the works and we will be sharing them along the way. I promise we WILL catch up with the inbox and in the meantime, if you have sent something and we have not responded yet but you feel it’s time sensitive then PLEASE feel free to send it again to heidi@thadenpierce.org as that’s the best way to catch me.

Also, we will be updating Ben’s Wish List as they are fulfilled. For some of his wishes we’ve been sent a couple opportunities and we’re trying to make sure that everyone is told THANK YOU, but that we’re not accidentally duplicating efforts when everyone is being so generous. I apologize that the page is not updated yet – until I finish the inbox I’m not sure what the status is for some things. If you’ve sent a message to help with one of Ben’s wishes please know how grateful we are, and we promise we will respond ASAP!

Water Tower Tour!

untitled (1 of 1)I admit that touring a water tower struck me as possibly the weirdest of Ben’s wishes. A water tower?? Huh?? But apparently to a nine year old that was fascinating, we just had no idea how we could make that happen. Water towers tend to be surrounded by locked fences, and we weren’t sure that they routinely host field trips! So you can imagine our surprise when we were contacted by Jennifer at the Mustang Special Utility District and she was offering Ben a tour!

10247452_667290473317254_929674998488827510_nWe drove out one afternoon to check out the office and the kids saw how the water levels are reported for each tower to the central office. They had lots of questions and were fascinated by the map. I think J, our five year old, wins for most entertaining inquiries! They also gave the kids some really fun goodies – I snitched one of those flashlights for my doula bag, and the cooler bags and cups are being used constantly. (Who knew utility districts had such fun swag, right?? Frisbies??) Then we drove down the road to the water tower itself – and it was huge, and I tried to NOT think about the fact that we were standing inside a water tower under this massive amount of water. The kids had lots more questions and they thought the echoing tower was way too much fun and Ben learned lots about how it all works.

PaperJennifer & the Mustang folks had learned about us through the Denton Record Chronicle article in February and they invited the paper to come back out for a follow up story. Though I admit we were really surprised to see the kids made the front page again! Both stories were really sweet & well done and we’re always happy to share Ben’s amazing story. He’s a pretty fantastic kid, and he’s grateful that so many people have been helping make his wishes come true – however funny and random they may be! Thank you to John and David for the great article and you can read it here, see some more photos, and read J’s funny questions about the towers. Thank you to Jennifer for providing all of these photos in the gallery, and thank you to all the folks at Mustang SUD!

Dreaming of Paris

I don’t usually remember my dreams, but last month I woke up with one so vivid it still feels real – and I still tear up when I remember it.

I was sitting on the steps of Sacré-Cœur with Ben and we were eating chocolate croissants and the sun was low enough in the sky that it was the golden hour, when everything seems magical and glowing. As I looked at him I spread my arm out across the city and said, “Ben, this is Paris!” He had that smile on his face, the one that’s ear to ear – when he’s so excited he’s practically quivering with happiness. In my dream I cried, because I was so happy that he could see Paris, that he could fall in love with this beautiful place. He could see it.

When I woke up I told Kit about it, and I said, “We’re taking them to Paris.” I don’t know how or when, but we are going to Paris and I’m going to sit on those steps and we’re going to eat croissants and this is going to happen. Just you wait and see… 🙂

Update here.

The Other Kidlets

1497702_559165470845033_1916757537_nTo answer some questions and concerns we’ve been asked about regarding the other kids, seeing as we got an iPad for one child and not the other five.

We have six kids. With very few exceptions, it’s rare that all of the kids get all the same treats. They are use to this, and they’re (usually) happy for each other even if they don’t receive the same things. Preparation for life! Plus they are all fantastic (with the exception of the three year old dictator) about sharing – they are incredibly generous and big hearted kids.

Our online life currently has lots of Ben related posts, which makes it look like he’s constantly the center of attention. There’s been a lot going on with him lately and thus the skewed view of things. In real life Ben’s #3 out of six kids – he’s just one of the gang. Each of the kids has times when they are singled out and get some extra special attention, but I really do think it all balances out. The older kids let us know when they could use some extra one-on-one time from a parent, the little kids make it known clearly on a daily basis when they want attention! And we work hard to make sure that they do get all their needs – and some of their wants – all met and they feel loved in whatever their love language may be.

Oh, and none of the kids are online so they aren’t seeing all these posts about Ben anyway! They just know that Ben has a vision challenge and we’re all working through how to best support him.

Because Ben’s vision news is recent he is getting a lot of attention and support right now. He’s created his wish list of trips and experiences he wants, but these are activities that ALL of the kids can participate in – not just Ben. We didn’t take only Ben to Harry Potter world or the Apple store, he’ll not be the only kid going when we visit the mountains or the beach or science museum. These trips are fantastic opportunities for all of the kids and they’re enjoying them a lot.

We’ve asked the other kids to tell us about THEIR wish list – where they they would like to go, what they want to try. C wants to ice skate, Mo and E want to visit a restaurant kitchen (they love cooking.) We’ll be working on the sibling wish list. Everyone involved in making Ben’s wishes come true has also gone out of their way to make ALL the kids feel special. That fills me with even more gratitude, that they know siblings of kids with special needs may often have to sacrifice a lot.

Also – Ben has a special need, but we have three other kids all receiving various types of therapy and services with their own special needs and challenges. In fact our littlest, Livy, is the only child who has NOT received therapy for some type of concern! Ben’s is an obvious physical challenge and we’ve asked his permission and he’s comfortable with us sharing his story. The other kids’ challenges are less visible and some have asked us to NOT discuss them online at all. We’re respecting their privacy. On any given day one child or another may need some extra attention, and we rotate through which kid is most worrying us day to day. 🙂

Because really, we’ve got a whole list of diagnosis that we’ve unfortunately had to face. We don’t want any of the kids to ever feel labeled or limited by these disabilities. I’m happy to talk with people about these in real life and answer questions, we’re just not disclosing them widely.

Ben is our super hero and we’re so proud of how he’s eager to tackle any hurdle and learn all he can. But we’re equally proud of our other kids – some are facing some really, really hard and overwhelming special needs that have caused a lot of tears for them and for us. One in particular these days is struggling hard and we’re constantly seeking inspiration for how to better help that child, too. Because of the circumstances that little one has asked us to not disclose any details at this point in time, though someday hopefully we can share that story, too.

Anyway, rest assured that Ben’s just one of the gang in real life and all of the children are equally adored and/or neglected depending on how crazy the day is going!