Dubai Bucket List: Go Off-Roading In The Desert

Our Dubai departure lingers somewhere in the horizon, so close yet so far away.

In anticipation of leaving Dubai in ‘X number’ of months, we have started the task of checking items off of our “Dubai Bucket List” – things that we MUST experience before leaving Dubai!img_9968

My personal list includes off-roading in the desert, holding a falcon, and riding a camel. I also have to ride the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. We have yet to take a frame-worthy family photo in front of the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, so we have to do that too. And I really want to take Micah to Yas Waterworld in Abu Dhabi and the Mattel Play Town, so he can fulfill my childhood dream of meeting Barney. 🙂

It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that we must visit all of the Dubai Parks. They’re the whole reason why we’re out here! We already had a sneak peek of Lego Land and Bollywood Parks, but they weren’t fully finished yet. Now that both parks are open to the public, we need to go back to experience it all. I need to properly cry over everything that Anthony has designed. 🙂 Experiencing the Dubai Parks is by far the most important thing to me, and if that’s all I do the rest of my time here, I’ll be happy.

However, that’s not the case for us!img_9995 Over the weekend, we checked our first item off my list —  we went off-roading in the desert!

Anthony’s gone several times, but Micah and I have always stayed home. So when Off-Road Zone, an auto body shop that specializes in Jeeps, announced their first off-road event of the season, we decided that NOW was the time to ‘check’ our desert adventure off our list.

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Part of the 97 car convoy through the desert

This was an ideal time to go because Off-Road Zone hired several Jeeps to lead and trail our group. These professional off-roaders provided assistance and guidance, so I felt safe bringing Micah along knowing that we had 100+ cars around us to help – just in case. After our off-road excursion, we were treated to a BBQ dinner under the stars! It sounded like the perfect adventurous day out.

Our trip took a while to get started because there were sooooo many cars (mostly Jeeps, of course 😉 ). I had never experienced it before, but the camaraderie among Jeep drivers is something pretty special. Everyone was very cordial and patient with one another, and they kept giving high-fives to Micah, the “Little Jeeper” as they called him. Micah had many conversations with people that went something like this:

img_0074Person  -“Do you love Jeeps?”

Micah – “Yes! I love Jeeps!”

Person – “Are you going to get a Jeep when you grow up so you can get all the girls?”

Micah – “….. Yes?!”

Um, EXCUSE me? 😯 In that case, Micah’s only allowed to drive scooters for the rest of his life.  But our little guy had a blast, whooping and cheering with happiness whenever we went up and over dunes. I admit that I was a little nervous, because I got REALLY seasick when we went on a yacht a few months ago, so I dreaded this mysterious motion sickness kicking in again. Thankfully, I was fine. Whew!

The most stressful part of the trip occurred when we accidentally mixed in with the intermediate off-road group. We got stuck several times, but then we were rescued and taken back to the beginner’s group and it was all smooth sailing after that. It was way easier to relax, enjoy the bumpy sand dunes, and appreciate the special kind of beauty surrounding us.

Just LOOK how close we got to these camels! One sassy camel even crossed in the middle of our convoy, taking his time cause he knew that accidentally hitting him would cost the driver a hefty fine (thousands of dollars!). Camels own the road / desert / sand / everything.

 

(Random aside: camel milk chocolate has a weird tang to it).

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I thought about jumping on one of these camels to knock out 2 bucket list items in one trip, but then realized that I would probably get arrested or something, so decided not to. ;D

I think that many people come to Dubai with the intention of visiting the desert. If not for the off-roading experience, then for simply taking in the view of the seemingly endless sandy terrain. It was a different kind of beauty, for sure.

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Overall, our off-roading trip was an unforgettable experience. Anthony took fantastic care of us, and I would definitely do it again. You can’t visit Dubai and not visit the desert. It’s like going to California and not going to the beach! 😛

Before leaving Dubai, I knew that I just had to visit the desert and appreciate its sandy splendor.

So we did it.

Check!

 

 

(P.S. If you’d like to follow my blog and have any new posts delivered straight to your email inbox, please click the “Follow” button at the top/right of this post. Thank you!)

 

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A Sneak Peek at Legoland Dubai

Not only is today Halloween, but Legoland Dubai has finally risen brick-by-brick from its desert landscape to open to the public! A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to Legoland’s soft opening just for employees and their families. I’ve never been to any other Legoland, so I can’t compare it to anything, but I can say with confidence that Legoland Dubai is amazing!

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Legoland Dubai is part of the groundbreaking project Dubai Parks & Resorts, which includes a cluster of 3 theme parks (Motion Gate, Bollywood Parks, and Legoland) and 1 water park (Legoland Waterpark), a waterfront shopping area called Riverland, and a Polynesian-style resort called Lapita. Whew! My husband is part of the creative team, designing everything from trash cans to light posts to his new expertise – food and vendor carts! 🙂 We’ve been here over 2 years, and it’s amazing to see how everything is coming together after all this time. img_9727

I loved all of the random Lego sculptures throughout the park, whether they were huge ones like these sports-playing giraffes, or smaller Lego people on the sidewalks.

When we got there, I was so excited to see a costumed Lego guy standing there greeting people. I always wanted to take a photo with one, but Micah was terrified. -_- Guess I’ll have to get my photo with Lego Man next time. The sacrifices that we make for our children. Doesn’t he know that Mama desperately NEEDS a photo with the big, walking Lego person?

Anyway, the crowning jewel of Legoland is definitely the indoor (and beautifully air-conditioned, might I add) domed building called MINILAND. It has Lego sculptures of dozens of buildings in Dubai and other Middle Eastern landmarks. The sculptures were so immaculate and intricately detailed that it was hard to remember that they’re actually Legos! The website points out that it’s the FIRST indoor and air-conditioned MINILAND out of all of their parks, which makes sense since it’s built in the middle of the desert. 😀

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Sheikh Zayed Mosque made entirely out of Legos!

Legoland Dubai targets kids from ages 2 – 12, so you know that you’re not spending an exorbitant amount of money just for your kid to go on a couple of lame rides. Not at THIS Legoland! When we went, there were only a handful of rides open, but they were the ideal thrill level for my 4-year-old. img_9718We went on this gear-themed ride that was basically like the teacups at Disneyland, and a plane ride that was basically Disneyland’s Dumbo ride.  Not complaining! Micah had a blast and that’s all that matters.

Besides these two rides, there were a couple of 4D immersive experiences and several Lego building stations that were open, but we didn’t try them out. We walked around the entire park, checking out everything that was in progress and wishing that it was October 31st already so we could experience it all!
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As for Legoland’s food, we ate at the park’s Fried Chicken Co., and honestly I wouldn’t bother with it again. Maybe they’re still working out the kinks, but they continuously told my husband that his food was coming, only to make him wait 20 minutes before they said they were out of the chicken that he ordered. -_- The food was pretty terrible, typical overpriced amusement park fare. When we go back, I would bring my own snacks or find a place to eat outside the park in Riverland (also open now!) or the Outlet Village down the road.

Even though we were able to only get a taste of Legoland Dubai, we are definitely going to go back to try out everything. You know it’s a good sign when you’re impressed with a park that has only a fraction of the entertainment open at the time. 😉

If you live in Dubai or are visiting with your kids, Legoland Dubai at Dubai Parks & Resorts is a definite MUST DO.

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The biggest Lego store in the Middle East (Don’t know how many there are to compare lol)

 

KidZania at the Dubai Mall

Y U NO GUY says it best.

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Kidzania has to be one of the coolest places ever! WHY isn’t it in America? WHY did I have to travel across the world in order to discover such an amazing place for kids? There are Kidzania’s all over the world from London to Cairo to Tokyo. And BONUS: the franchise was founded by a Mexican guy. ^_^

Our Kidzania is located in the Dubai Mall, and it’s basically a huge city that’s run by kids. Children can earn money (called “Kidzos”) for doing various jobs (over 80 to choose from). You can also spend Kidzos to participate in different activities, like performing karaoke in a “club” or painting a mural.

At the Kidzania Beauty Salon, a child could either earn Kidzos money working as a makeup artist, hair stylist, or nail artist, or spend their hard-earned Kidzos as a customer and get their makeup, hair, or nails done.

20160322_130214At the gas station, Kids could choose to be a ‘car mechanic’ or gas station attendant to earn money, or pay to ride their car around a track (because drivers need to pay money for their gas, right?).

Here’s an example of how the activities were described:

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See the wide range of jobs that are available?

There were SO MANY JOBS- UPS delivery person, police officer, firefighter,20160322_133017 radio DJ, dentist, painter, paramedic (the kids got to drive around in an ambulance! so cute), grocery store clerk, journalist (whoop whoop!), museum archivist, model, business entrepreneur, chef, construction worker – just to name a few! I loved that kids could be able to dabble in anything that they wanted and, hopefully, gain an appreciation for how hard everyone works to maintain a city.

The “Kidzos” that kids earned can then be spent to purchase real toys available at Kidzania. And these aren’t cheap Chuck E. Cheese plastic. They’re legit toys courtesy of “The Best Toy Store In The World” – Hamley’s!

Parents can also spend real money for food and drinks for their kids, but with a fun, Kidzania twist. Like at McDonald’s, parents pay real money for a Happy Meal, but then their child can suit up, head behind the counter, and make their own! There’s a little Ski20160322_133031pper with his hat, gloves, and apron putting together his own Happy Meal in the photo on the right.

There’s also a pizza place where parents pay real money to give their child the opportunity to prepare and bake their own pizza. A milkshake factory allows kids to prep their own smoothie or milkshake too! Unfortunately, the Coca Cola Factory was closed when we went, but kids are able to enter the bottling factory to help bottle their own soda.

Play times are separated into two separate 6-hour blocks – the morning session (10 am to 4 pm) and the evening session (5 pm – 11 pm). Families can easily spend the entire 6-hour schedule here, and it’s a definite MUST DO for all Dubai kids, whether visitors or residents.

Hidden in the Kidzania website, it says “Kidzania United States” is a future location, but there’s no info where it is or when it’s opening…

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, I HOPE IT’S IN CALIFORNIA!!!

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What I’ll Miss About Dubai

We’re only days away from going back to California, and although I couldn’t be happier to go home, there are a few things that I’ll miss about Dubai, my home for the past 7 months.

The Dubai Mall

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I know there are malls in Southern California, but there’s nothing like the Dubai Mall. It’s the biggest mall in the world, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by it anymore. It feels almost homey to me; I think because when we first moved to Dubai, we only lived 1 Metro stop away from it, so Micah and I were at the mall at least twice a week since that was the only place I really felt comfortable going as a newcomer to Dubai.

I just love all of the stores, especially the gigantic bookstore, the Virgin Megastore (Yay!), and the huge toy stores. There are upscale boutiques (Dior Kids, anyone?), yet more budget-friendly places like the maze-like Daiso superstore stocked with tons of cheap goods imported from Japan. I love the adorable Pinocchio World store where you can buy wooden cuckoo clocks or other cute trinkets. There’s cuisine from all over the world, and even though I haven’t been too adventurous yet with trying different food, I appreciate that the opportunity is there!

I love that if you need a break from shopping, you can see a real dinosaur skeleton and the world’s largest aquarium.

I’m still fascinated that the call to prayer plays over the loudspeakers of the entire mall, but everyone just goes about their business. It’s something that happens multiple times a day and nobody makes a big deal out of it – it’s just life.

 

Our Neighborhood

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We live only a few streets away from a shopping center that has a grocery store, a bookstore, a pizza place, a pharmacy, a hair salon, and a Marble Slab Creamery & All-American Cookie Co. (to name a few of the stores).  It’s great to be able to live within walking distance of so many helpful places, but even better is the walk over there. There’s a path that winds around a lake with fountains. There are tons of trees and greenery, with birds singing and calling to each other all around you. I enjoy seeing the crew of stray cats lazing about in the grass, being fed by other people in the neighborhood. It’s not an outrageous amount of cats, maybe around 8 so far, but I’m a total cat person, so I love it! Micah likes to meow to them too.

Sometimes after dinner, we walk down to treat ourselves to some ice cream, and Anthony & I talk about our days while Micah relaxes in his stroller and enjoys the scenery… I’ll miss that.

The Sights
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I still marvel at the sights of the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab. I remember what awe I felt seeing the Burj Khalifa for the first time, just a gigantic tower glistening in the night. Micah loves “the sparkles” that light up the Burj Khalifa, and sometimes he mistakingly calls it “the Eiffel Tower.” 🙂 IMG_4760

We also live very close to the Burj Al Arab, and, again, I can’t help but stare at this incredible building whenever I see it.

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I’m only leaving for a few months, but I know that there will come a day where I will never see these buildings again.

Until then, I’ll stare at and appreciate them.

My Husband

More than anything, I’ll miss Anthony.

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We talked about it over and over, reminding ourselves that the sacrifice of not being together for almost four months is worth it. It breaks my heart that we won’t be together for three really important days: Father’s Day, his birthday (July 10), and our first wedding anniversary (August 9). We’ll have a lifetime of these moments together though so that’s what we focus on. And we certainly know that things can be worse and people have been put in far more serious predicaments. We’re fortunate that this is just a temporary separation in a very safe and happy situation… I’ll be home with our family and Anthony will be working hard doing what he loves to do.

But I’m worried about Micah.

Micah is so attached to his daddy, asking about him while he’s at work and running down the hall to meet him when he gets home. Whenever Anthony sits on the couch, Micah runs to sit in his lap. Micah always requests, “Let’s play Batman, Daddy! Let’s get the bad guys!” He sits in Anthony’s lap and draws on his tablet – our future little 3D artist!

Anthony & Micah have so much fun together.

They’re best buddies.

I hope this separation isn’t too hard on the two loves of my life.

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Shopping Drama in Aisle 3

From trying to stay one step ahead of the killer floor cleaning machine, to being baffled at price discrepancies, shopping is always a grand adventure in Dubai.

First, let’s cover the basics. Check out some of these products with Arabic writing! I still get so excited when I see this stuff in stores. 🙂

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Laughing Cow cheese

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When Micah wore diapers! :D

When Micah wore diapers! 😀

How cute is this? It says "Nappy Cream" :)
How cute is this? It says “Nappy Cream” 🙂

In terms of price differences from the US to Dubai, here are a few prices from various shopping trips:

  • 20-pack of Slow Melt Popsicles – 27.95 AED about $7.63
  • Small bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos (at home, they cost 99 cents) – 2.00 AED about $0.54
  • Box of Duncan Hines brownie mix – 12.95 AED about $3.53
  • 6-pack of Coca Cola – 9.00 AED about $2.45
  • Can of Tesco pinto beans – 4.95 AED about $1.35
  • Pack of tortillas – 14.95 AED about $3.66
  • Can of refried beans – 6.95 AED about $1.89
  • Coffeemate French Vanilla creamer – 20 AED about $5.45

These prices are from places like the French ‘hypermarket’ Carrefour located at Mall of the Emirates. Carrefour is like a huge Super Wal-Mart. They sell everything from groceries to furniture to clothing to toys to electronics.  Some of these prices are also from an Australian supermarket called Choithram’s. We live in walking distance from a Choithram’s, so we do a lot of our shopping there. It’s a much smaller location, so we pick up only the basics from there. I would compare that atmosphere to Ralph’s! For our big grocery shopping trips, we go to Carrefour, Géant at Ibn Battuta Mall, or the very fancy, and adorably named, Spinney’s. If I had to choose my favorite place to shop for groceries it would be anywhere but Carrefour. 😀 It’s always so crowded!

Here are some more scenes from a shopping trip to Carrefour.

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They have a person there who drives around all day on this floor cleaning mobile. He owns the aisles, so you better move out of his way cause he honks until you move! Behind the little car, you can see the floor squeegee that wipes up all of the soap and water that he leaves behind. This just adds another layer of annoyance to my typical Carrefour shopping experience. It’s very rare for me to have a good time when I shop there. And I LOVE grocery shopping. -_-

Up close and personal with the floor cleaner!
Up close and personal with the floor cleaner!
at Carrefour, you have to purchase your cigarettes from a separate shopping area.
at Carrefour, you have to purchase your cigarettes from a separate shopping area.
Shopping at Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates
Shopping at Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates

On another Debbie Downer note, I have to say that my biggest pet peeve about shopping in Dubai (maybe even about living in Dubai in general) is that the price tags are wrong way too many times! And back in California, if the price tag is wrong, then the customer is always right and receives the price marked on the tag. Store employees always try to keep customers happy. However, over here, cashiers just brush me off when I show them the prices ring up wrong and are more expensive.

Like today I bought a lotion gift set and it rang up 10 dirhams more than it should have. When I told the cashier, she just shrugged, “Oh, just ignore that, Madame.” And she peeled the sticker off in front of me. Um, no, I’m NOT going to ignore that you’re charging me more for something that clearly has a different price! (╹◡╹)凸

A few months ago, I walked out of a Sephora because I was so angry that they treated me like I was stupid when I tried to explain that they were charging me over $20 more for a mascara. The price tag was clearly marked, and they rang it up wrong and argued with ME about it!  ಠ_ಠ Ridiculous!

I’m not trying to be a snobby shopper, but I think if the cashiers at least tried to show some sort of apologetic attitude, then I’d be more understanding. Yeah, everyone makes mistakes! I understand that people work long hours and are tired. Things happen and prices get marked wrong. But don’t look at me like I’m an idiot when I point out a mistake and then don’t even try to double-check your end to see if it was the store’s mistake! Ugh, that kind of customer service just drives me crazy!

I haven’t had a good Dubai blog rant, and I think I’m still riled up from my experience today when I bought my lotion set.

All in all, nothing has happened yet that has made me want to swear off of shopping in Dubai forever. The malls are amazing, and most of the people there are very helpful to us. There is nothing like the shopping experiences in Dubai, and I’m looking forward to buying lots of things for our family and friends to bring home with us next month! 😀

Underwater Birthday

On Thursday, April 2nd, we celebrated Micah’s 3rd birthday. ❤

We originally planned on going down to Wild Wadi Water Park, but, of course, we woke up to a huge sand storm that took over the city.

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So, that destroyed our water park birthday plans!

Instead, we took a taxi down to the Dubai Mall to finally visit the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. I wanted to go right when it opened at 10 am but that didn’t end up working out and we got there at around 2 pm. If we had followed my initial plan of starting off Micah’s birthday celebration early, I know that our trip would have turned out way better than it ultimately did…

Anyone who goes to the Dubai Mall can see the aquarium (sort of difficult to hide one of the biggest aquariums in the world), but you must stay behind a barrier. Those who pay for admission can go right up next to the glass and give sass eyes to those who didn’t pay.  (╯◕_◕)╯

The view behind the rope:

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The view up close to the aquarium:

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But touching the glass isn’t the only thing that your admission pays for (about $22 per adult). Your ticket for the Dubai Aquarium pays for the walkthrough tunnel and entrance to the Underwater Zoo that was 2 stories upstairs (annoying, but whatever). Right before you even walk through the tunnel, they have you take a photo in front of a green screen where they digitally add in the aquarium in the background.

That was weird.

They print your glossy, 8×10, digitally enhanced photo out to try to entice you to purchase one, or put it on a mug or mousepad as a souvenir.

As for the walkthrough tunnel itself, my first impression was that it was CROWDED. All of the restaurants that we’ve gone to allow customers to leave their strollers at the front, but here we couldn’t do that. It was difficult to maneuver Micah’s stroller around the crowd of people who really didn’t care to accommodate you, but I tried to stay positive for Micah and his birthday celebration.

Despite the crowds, it was amazing to be so up close to the hundreds of fish and dozens of sharks and manta rays… I felt like Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.”  🙂 Even though the light was dim, I was able to snap a few incredible pictures, like this one with Micah and Anthony getting up close and personal with a sting ray!

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The walkthrough tunnel wasn’t that long and it took us about fifteen – twenty minutes to go through it. After that, you make your way up to the Underwater Zoo and find even more sea creatures to photograph and learn about.

Check out these horrifying huge monster crabs! Yuck.

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There were also otters that were surrounded by too many tourists, adorable, energetic penguins, and some kind of exotic fish that I couldn’t even see cause so many people were crowded around it… Yeah, did I mention it was CROWDED? There was a big sassy octopus and lots of fish (of course). There were turtles and fluorescent jellyfish (not in the same tank 😀 ). The main attraction was King Croc, basically a really really big ass crocodile. Obviously I didn’t a good photo of it either. :/ But I’m not bitter!

All in all, Micah is content to just be part of the spectators watching the huge aquarium behind the roped barrier a few feet away, so I’m not sure if we’ll do this again… For visitors, unless you go right in the morning when it opens, I would say to pass on this experience and just view the aquarium from the outside!

At the end of the day, when we got home and Micah finished opening his dozens of birthday gifts and blew out the candles on his cake, I knew that he had a wonderful day. Even though Micah’s third birthday didn’t turn out the way that I hoped, seeing his smile at the end of it all made me realize that he’s my #1 concern in life, and if he’s happy, then I should be happy… and no amount of crowds or scary crabs can change that. 🙂

Happy birthday to my favorite person ever. 

(。♥‿♥。)

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A Scary Halloween Tale

You guys won’t believe what happened to us on Halloween.

OK, perhaps I’m being a tad dramatic. I’ll first reassure everyone that my family & I are all safe and sound but our egos are a little bruised. 🙂

I was looking forward to Halloween for weeks, ever since we reserved Micah’s spot for a trick-or-treating event at the Dubai Mall. We bought Micah a simple vampire costume, and he was definitely the cutest little blood sucker I’ve ever seen:

IMG_4001We arrived at the Caboodle children’s store right at 4 pm and Micah immediately settled in playing with their toys, painting a mask, and decorating his treat bag. Things were hectic because there was lots of people there and the strange store manager kept singing off-key with his karaoke machine, but Micah looked like he was enjoying himself, so we were fine.

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After the employees performed a few awkwardly choreographed dances (and the manager kept on regaling us with his ‘stellar’ singing voice), it was finally Micah’s group’s turn to trick-or-treat around the mall.

The first store we go to is an expensive children’s clothing store, and Micah immediately moves away from the group to hide behind a clothing rack. “What’s his deal?” I wonder, and when he finally walks back over to me I realize what his deal was. Or, actually, I could SMELL what his deal was. I quickly whispered to Anthony that we had to find a bathroom to change Micah’s diaper and then we left the group to go take care of business.

I grabbed Micah’s hand as we walked and when he lets go I look down at my hand and I see stuff on it… let’s just say, it isn’t chocolate. Upon closer examination, the contents of Micah’s diaper exploded onto himself – his back, his adorable little vampire costume, his hands, his little white pin-striped pants. Disaster. I take Micah into the bathroom and of course the changing table is occupied, so I had to clean him up in front of the entire women’s restroom and the watchful eyes of one very nosy little boy waiting for his mom. We were stared at a lot, but one woman actually handed me paper towels to help me out, bless her soul.

We did rejoin the group again but missed probably half of the 10 or so stores that were giving out treats.

In the end, we ended up throwing away Micah’s Halloween costume and his fancy pants. They were destroyed, and we don’t have a washer/dryer at the moment to clean them anyway. I brought Micah a change of clothes and he ended up wearing his Batman shirt for the rest of the party.

It certainly made for a memorable Halloween, albeit one that will probably make Micah blush with shame every time he hears it.

Hopefully everyone out there has a wonderful Halloween, and may you have more treats than poop exploding out of your child’s diaper! 😀