Better Than Perfect

Better Than Perfect

Last night, my four-year-old asked me if she could show me several toys she had gathered in a basket. That was the entire activity. She pulled out each toy, one by one. First up, a little pink parrot. 

“This is my parrot. It’s pink.” Ah. 

“This is an earring. It’s yours but I took it.” 

“This is a watch. It’s red. So I guess it’s a red watch.”

Powerful stuff. 

We did this for the better part of an hour, with her showcasing her found items like Vanna White while I ooh’d and ahhh’d over each one until she was satisfied I fully appreciated their value. After we had gone through the basket a few times, I told her I needed to take care of some things – putting dinner away, returning some emails to a client, and starting our bedtime routine. She asked if we could play afterwards, and I broke the news that the bedtime routine actually involved her going to bed, which was as shocking to her this night as it has been every night this year. 

“But we NEVER play together, Mom! That’s not fair!”

I instantly froze. Was I focusing too much on housework and ignoring my kids? Was I being a Martha instead of a Mary, and missing what was happening today in front of me just so I could prepare for tomorrow? Was I sending my daughter the message that dishes were more important to me than she was?

My husband, recognizing the deer-in-the-headlights look in my eyes, intervened. He reminded my daughter of all the time we had spent together today, all the fun we’d had outside and inside and playing princesses and Barbies and, most recently, the game where I watched her pull toys and stolen objects out of a basket. She groused a little more, but eventually consented to the evil bedtime routine and even agreed to put on pajamas, which is not an easy victory to come by in this house. 

As I finished the work I wanted to do, I thought about how grown up my kids had become. They will start kindergarten and Pre-K this year, and from there it will only be a short jump to middle school, and then high school, and then, and then, and then… I thought about that saying people have, that you only get 18 summers with your kids before they’re grown and off to a new adventure. I thought about my daughter, and of the ways we had played together today and every day, and the fun we’d had all summer long. Some days were busy – a day at Disney, visiting grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, swim lessons and camps and VBS. Some days were lazy, and no one was dressed until lunchtime, and we didn’t go any farther than the back yard, and we watched too much TV.

You only get 18 summers with your kids. 

But does every day of each of those summers need to be perfect? 

When I think back to my summers as a kid, I remember the fun stuff – trips to Disney, days at the beach, and all the fun that comes with it. I know my parents put a ton of care into the fun vacations and the big moments, and I cherish those memories. The big moments mean a lot, and are probably just as important to the parents as they are to the kids. 

But as much as I loved those things, they aren’t the first things that come to mind when I think of my childhood. The most powerful memories, the ones that stick out the most with vivid detail, are of the little things: Stacking our couch cushions really high and then jumping on top of them while my dad helped and my mom doled out the inevitable Band-Aids; the day we got a new swing set in the back yard; going to my grandparents’ house every Sunday for lunch; trying to convince my brother that our parents had found him at the side of the road and that’s why he was the only lefty in the family; the nights my sister let me sleep in the top bunk even though it was hers. It is the dozens, probably hundreds, of tiny moments that I look back on now, and that I think of when I am creating memories for my own children. 

I heard a phrase recently that has stuck with me: Done is better than perfect.

At first, I didn’t like it. By its own definition, perfect is better. It’s perfect. Done can’t be better. (It actually reminded me of a phrase from Paw Patrol: Do your best and forget the rest! That sounds really encouraging, until you realize the firedog is saying it and that he’s the one responsible for saving your life.)

Perfect is better. Until it isn’t. 

In my daughter’s mind, the amount of time we had spent playing together wasn’t perfect – because, for her, the only perfect thing would be if the playing never stopped, except for small breaks in which I would be allowed to get her applesauce. We would play all day and all night every day of the week and it would never be enough, because she’s four, and that’s how four-year-olds think. 

In my own mind, I could look back at a long list of necessary chores and start to feel the guilt over doing them instead of playing with my children all day long. I could pick and pick at our fun day until I had torn it to shreds, ignoring all of the joy we’d experienced as a family and only remembering the parts where I was less than perfect. My Pre-K daughter, who has a promising career as a mind ninja, had me questioning whether I was focusing on the wrong things, worrying about the wrong stuff. 

But here’s the thing – eventually, somebody has to do the dishes. A time will come when we have to go to bed. Someone has to sweep the floors before the EPA condemns the house. These things aren’t used as a means of ignoring my children, but as a means of fulfilling my role in my household. (I will take this opportunity to let you know that my husband is the one who actually cleaned up dinner and dishes last night, because he is rad that way.) There will come a point in the day where I do need to wash some clothes if I want any of us to have clean underwear tomorrow. I also work outside my home, and I’ve discovered others tend to get a smidgen annoyed if you stop returning their calls or emails for days.

Likewise, my kids need me to play with them. They need me to get off my phone and look into their eyes when I answer their questions. They need me to watch them do a flip on the couch for the fortieth time. They need me to be the snack keeper, the answer looker upper, the book reader, and, apparently, the third Transformer. They need me to be their parent and love them each day.

I can’t accomplish 100% of my work and play with my kids 100% of the time. It isn’t possible. I would have to be two people – two perfect people. And I am only one imperfect person. 

And that, my fellow parent, is why done is better than perfect. 

If my goal is perfection, I am doomed before I start. I am an imperfect mother, wife, friend, daughter, coworker, and everything in between. This isn’t meant to be self-deprecating; just truthful. The list of perfect people who have walked this earth is limited to Jesus. When I set out to be perfect, I am certain to fail. 

But when I focus on getting done what I can – not always very well, and maybe downright terribly – and when I focus on the One who is perfect, and who redeems my imperfections each and every day, I suddenly find that life is a little more manageable. 

See, I thought that “done is better than perfect” was just an excuse for laziness. But it’s actually an opportunity for me to understand my limitations and focus on the things that I have been called to do. 

“Done is better than perfect” really means that you need balance in every part of your life. Not just some parts. Not just the parts you think people can see. Not just the parts you feel guilty about. Every part. It means that some nights we stay up late to play and some nights we’re in bed early because Mommy and Daddy are tired. It means keeping up with my own work, and taking time for myself, and being there for my kids, and being there for my husband.

Yesterday, my daughter and I rode a magic carpet, ate lollipops, helped some princesses find their sisters, and ran around in circles while my son chased us with his Batman toy (which I made the mistake of calling a doll earlier, and I am still very, very sorry, Joshua). After dinner, I braided her hair, showed her some videos of her swimming, and she topped it all off with the toy showcase extravaganza. 

Because we were at home most of the day, I also managed to get some work done that I had been putting off – scrubbing my floors clean of a Mystery Substance that was now large enough to have its own zip code, putting away a pack of Pull-ups that had taken up semi-permanent residence on my kitchen counter, and finally remembering to actually start the load of clothes waiting in my washer instead of adding “just one more thing.”

Before you’re too impressed with me, I need you to know that I also managed to catch up on one or twelve episodes of my “stories,” as Daniel would call them. 

I could have played with my kids more. I could have gotten more work done. I will always be able to find fault with the way I manage my time.

But done is better than perfect. 

It’s actually good for kids to learn to play on their own – they have to use their imaginations, which is a vital skill, and it fosters independence. It’s good for children to learn about boundaries, and that while they are very much loved, sometimes things aren’t about them. It’s healthy for a child to see a parent as their own separate entity. I think it’s great for my children to see their father and mother working hard, both in and out of our home, and leading a family. It’s important for children to learn about being content and not getting another toy or a trip to McDonald’s.

It’s also good to realize that, oftentimes, dishes aren’t more important than snuggles. Going to bed late in the summer probably won’t hurt anyone.  A study that I just recently made up shows that, in our house, the seventeenth round of Spiderman And Snow White Meet Some Ponies is actually the best round. You can always start the washer tomorrow if it means you get to play tag for an extra few minutes with your soon-to-be kindergartner. McDonald’s doesn’t have to happen every day, but a little treat goes a long way. Playing dress-up is actually pretty fun, and it turns out it doesn’t take very long to button a dinosaur costume – and the resulting dinosaur is downright adorable. 

Do you see? I finally learned, all the way at the end of our fifth and sixth summers, that it is okay that I hadn’t planned out every minute and made each day unforgettable. It is okay that, some nights, I went to bed early, because I was just exhausted. It’s okay that, on more than a few occasions, I left a pot to “soak overnight” (we all know what that means) and helped my kids make paper airplanes instead. It’s okay that we spent money on trips and fun days, and it’s okay that the other days were spent at home. It’s okay that I asked my kids to play quietly while I got on the phone with my boss. It’s okay that I asked my boss to move a phone call because my kids needed me.

It’s okay that the little moments were as important as the big ones. It’s okay. It’s done, and I did it the best way I could – imperfectly. 

When we start to think, even for a moment, that we can be perfect, we immediately stumble. We are looking to ourselves to do a job that can only be completed by Christ. But when we recognize our imperfections, and strive to do the best our limited selves can do, we find that the perfect moments we’d been waiting for were there all along.

You only get 18 summers with your kids. Don’t spend them looking for perfection so often that you miss the messy days right in front you. 

Done is better than perfect. 

Sunglasses

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The Case For Nudity

The Case For Nudity

Most people know we do a special feeding program for our son, where we puree or chop food and serve it to him through a series of prompts and spoons that can only be ordered on Amazon.

But while all the pureeing and the Amazon Priming and the meticulous measuring of chicken nuggets can be frustrating and difficult, the hardest part of this whole process is something else entirely. It has nothing to do with the food or the feeding protocol. It has to do with my face.

A big part of this feeding program is the way we are – and aren’t – allowed to respond to Josh during a meal. We are to give positive reinforcement and to ignore all negative behavior (unless he is going to hurt himself or someone else). So when he, gee, I don’t know, flings a spoon full of blueberries at my face, I can say nothing. I can do nothing. I can’t glare at him or use my Angry Eyes. I can only sit there, blueberries drying in my eyelashes, while my little fruit flinger laughs hysterically. And then I get to tell him good job for not throwing blueberries the next time.

But the thing about Josh is that, above almost all else, he is very, very observant. It’s hard to sneak things past him, even if you never talk about it in front of him. It took him about 12 minutes into the first session to figure out that I wasn’t going to say anything when he acted like a hooligan.

So what happened next really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

One fateful day – let’s call it a Wednesday – I was feeding Joshua his bites at the Marcus Autism Center during our initial eight-week run. So he and I were in a room on one side of a two-way mirror, and our feeding therapist and the program coordinator were on the other side. We couldn’t see them, but they could see us. And they got an eyeful.

Josh had been going through what we’ll call a rebellious stage – the aforementioned berry launching, for instance, was one of his new behaviors during feeding therapy. I thought we’d reached the height of his abilities, but I learned a lesson that day that I have learned many times over since – you should never, ever underestimate Joshua.

As I picked up the next spoon to give to Josh, I noticed he was reaching for his shoes. I said nothing as he used his impossibly long reach to remove his shoe. And I said nothing as it went sailing over my head.

A sock soon followed. Then the other shoe and sock. I was irritated that he wasn’t listening and was afraid I’d show it, so I purposely avoided eye contact with him. But out of the corner of my eye, I could he was delighted with himself – and he wasn’t finished.

Ignoring my prompts to eat the next bite, Josh giggled uncontrollably as he began the next phase of stripping: Removing his shirt. He had been able to do that for several months, but he was laughing so hard that it took a minute.

There were, in theory, protocols for things like this. After a few seconds of zero attention being paid to him, he was supposed to acquiesce to my requests and take his bite so he could get his reward. But the joy of nudity was more powerful than any reward I could offer.

I was at a loss. The experts on the other side of the mirror said nothing, I suspect due to laughing uncontrollably. Not that I could blame them – I was now afraid to look at Josh not because I was irritated but because I was fighting the urge to burst into giggles myself.

The shirt was off and had been tossed at my face. I removed it, folded it, and set it next to me. After taking a calming breath and trying to think of something sad, I picked up the spoon for the third time, turned to Joshua, and told him to take his bite.

His only response was to wriggle himself out of the seatbelt in his high chair (ironically, we were participating in this feeding program because he was so small and underweight) and begin removing his pants. Those took a little longer, because he was fighting to take them off inch by inch beneath the seatbelt and tray. But no one ever said Josh was a quitter, and soon the pants joined their brethren in the act of flying through the air like a magnificent, baseball-patterned rocket ship.

We were at a standstill. I could barely breathe from trying to contain my laughter, and Joshua was giggling so hard he couldn’t sit up straight.

Finally, mercifully, our 40 minute feeding session was over. Josh was working on removing the tabs on his diaper, and I was Googling whether you could get a hernia from holding in hysterical laughter for half an hour.

The therapists came in, did not acknowledge the nudity, and told me they would see us at our next session in 50 minutes. They were extremely professional as they handed me Joshua’s socks and shoes. And they maintained their cool demeanor when Josh was finally successful at taking off his diaper.

I re-diapered the giggling maniac, marched him down the hall, and into the private room we’d been assigned for nap time. As I told him to stand still so I could put his shirt on for the second time that day, he smiled at me.

“Mommy?” he said, still smiling.

“Yes?”

“I’m hungry.”

And then I swear he winked.

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An Open Letter to My Children

An Open Letter to My Children

Kids…I love you. I think you know that. And I think you also know that I often seem to express my love in odd ways – like fussing at you for moving too slowly in the mornings or getting on to you for spilling your juice. I want to do better. I want to show my love in better ways. I always start out with the best intentions.

Every morning, I pray for you. I pray for your safety, for the little things I know you struggle with, for you to have a great day. I pray to have patience and to let the little things go. I pray for reminders that you are only this little for a short while, and that I should cherish these moments. I pray that today is the day I manage my frustration with no – okay, maybe just a few – mistakes.

And every night, I pray for forgiveness of my failure to achieve all of these things. Or, just as often, my failure to achieve any of these things.

If you want the truth, I’ll go ahead and give it to you: Parenting you is hard. Not because you’re bad kids and not because I don’t love you.

If I could let you take a brief tour of my mind, you might understand. It’s like a bag of cats in there – neglected household chores competing for attention with overdue bills are swirling around, usually surrounded by a revolving schedule of school activities, work commitments, therapy goals, and doctor’s appointments. Sprinkled around you’ll find anxiety over my own stuff – money and work and marriage; worry that I am forgetting something important; fear that today is the day I say something to you that ruins your life forever. Look left and right while you’re in there and you’ll see two of me arguing with each other – one convinced that tough love was the right call; the other certain that a gentler approach would have yielded more understanding.

And that’s just the first layer.

Keep digging, and you’ll see doubt. So much doubt. It claims its own special section of my mind, plaguing me with the fear that I have messed up one too many times. I yelled too much, I didn’t forgive quickly enough, I didn’t give you the attention you so desperately needed. And then, of course, there’s the doubt that I was too soft and now you won’t understand consequences, that I forgave you instantly and you didn’t learn from it, and that so much attention has caused you to totally rely on me for validation.

There are about 12 more layers to go after that.

I don’t present this to you as an excuse, as the saying goes, but an explanation. An explanation of why you throwing one more ball at me when I am already juggling 17 is just enough to send me over the edge. An explanation of why I love to hear you sing, but at this moment, hearing one more sound is the absolute last thing I need. An explanation of how I can love you so much and want to be alone for just a few minutes.

But if I am asking you to understand my mind, then it’s only fair that I work to understand yours. Your anxieties and fears and joys and excitement might be a little less defined, but are no less valid. I know that your need to sit right next to me, thigh to thigh, at all times is not borne from a desire to annoy, but a desire for closeness. Your continued requests for another snack are likely not a cleverly designed plot to keep me from working, but a need that you cannot meet for yourself and therefore have found the one person who can help you in that moment. And when I do not respond, you can only assume I am not paying attention, or can’t hear you. And so you ask again. And again. You know I will get frustrated, but you can’t help yourself.

Should you learn to be patient? Yes. Should I learn to be patient? Yes.

So, kids, we have to decide – whose needs are greater? Who wins?

The answer is neither of us. Neither of us wins, because neither of us is perfect. You know better than to push your sibling. I know better than to expect two preschool-aged children to get along like adults. We both know better, but we don’t do better.

And, so, today, like many other days, I have prayed for patience. And, today, like many other days, God has given me multiple opportunities to practice. But I think tomorrow I will pray for something else. I will pray for the ability to get out of the way and let God work through me, to erase my imperfections and give you the mom you need. I will pray for each of you to practice the kindness and love that we have so often talked about – and I will pray you find an example of those things through me.

In short, dear kiddos, I will try my hardest. I am a fallen person in a fallen world, and my best will be full of mistakes. I will ask you to try your hardest, which will also be full of mistakes. I will yell at you again. You will make eye contact with me as you deliberately crumble a fistful of Goldfish crackers into the couch. We are human, you and I, and that means perfection is not in our future.

No, not perfection. But if we both agree to focus less on ourselves and more on what God has called each of us to do, I think we can achieve grace for each other’s flaws, forgiveness of each other’s wrongs, and enough love to cover every inevitable mistake.

I will offer to read this to you, and you will say okay. I will get frustrated at your inability to sit still. You will get bored of listening to your mother read her own blog to you. We will argue.

And then we will make up.

Love you always,

Mommy

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On Your Fifth Birthday

On Your Fifth Birthday

Happy fifth birthday, buddy! You are already five years old… it’s hard to believe. Which is funny, because when you’re a parent, you’ll see that some days drag so slowly you think they’ll never end, and some days pass so fast you can’t remember they happened. And, somehow, enough days passed for you to be five!

Every year with you is more and more fun, and this year has been no exception. You learned a lot of new words this year – you like to tell me you’re “SO disappointed,” how “delighted” you are, and when you feel “very frustrated.” You still haven’t mastered your R and L sounds, so it’s ridiculously adorable to hear you say big words in such a little voice. Sometimes you try to correct Jenna and teach her a new word – it rarely (maybe never) works, but I like to hear you try.

You’ve spent probably 75% of this year dressed as someone else – Captain America, a dinosaur, Spiderman, Marshall, and sometimes a costume of your own creation. You love to dress up and play pretend. And you do not break character for anything. You make those British guards look like party animals. Sometimes, when you’re a puppy, it’s really tricky, because you’ll only answer to your puppy name, which I don’t know, and which you won’t tell me because “puppies don’t talk.” Except to say that one sentence.

Superheroes have been one of your favorite things this year. Every morning you hopefully ask me if it’s raining so you can wear your Batman raincoat. When you wear it, you have me put the “hoodie” up so you can run around singing, “Nah, nah, nah, nahhhhh, BATMANNNNNNNN!” over and over again.

This year was a tough one for you, medically speaking. You did bites at the Marcus Center, which was hard, but you did it. You gained inches and pounds and ate your weight in pureed food. I was (and am) really proud of the way you handled yourself during those sessions. We had some rough moments, which I may or may not find funny in five more years, but you gave it your all. And you’re still giving it your all each time we do the bites.

We also discovered that you were dealing with some other issues – namely, the issue where your blood sugar would plummet when you were sick! That was a fun surprise. We are still unraveling parts of that mystery, but you held up like a champ through tests, blood draws, and – the worst part – no Paw Patrol movies. It wasn’t fun, but you rarely complained. You are tough stuff, my friend.

We won’t talk about the two broken legs. Back to back. In summer.

I love watching you make new friends. You’ve become part of a little group at school, all of you kids who love building blocks and playing pretend. You could be friends with anyone. You could be friends with a sheet of paper. But I love to see you form these special bonds as you grow.

You’re so big now. So. big. What you lack in weight you make up for in literally everything else. You feel big feelings, you imagine big ideas, and you have a big smile. You love being big, and I know you’re holding strong to your goal of growing higher than the ceiling so we have to get you a giant house.

You’re also silly in big ways. You love to “trick” people, either by sneaking up on them or telling them something outrageous in such a serious tone that they actually start to believe you. You love mischief, and while it is often your sister who gets caught doing the actual mischief, I have a feeling she is only following orders from a certain five-year-old mastermind. I’m on to you, dude.

The other remarkable thing about this year is that you started to notice some of the differences between you and your friends and classmates – and you didn’t care. When you asked me why your school bus is so small, I answered you as best I could, by telling you everyone is assigned a bus that fits them perfectly, and held my breath while I waited for your answer. In your typical cheerful manner, you just said, “Oh!” and then went back to being Batman for a while. You don’t care about your differences. And they’ve made you more compassionate for others who are different, too.

Speaking of the bus… your morning bus driver recently told me that you sing songs for the entire ride. Paw Patrol, Batman, Robocar Poli, Little Einsteins – you sing it all at the top of your lungs, giving everyone a brief but exciting concert five days a week. On the way home, you chatter away, telling the driver and the aide about your day, about what you saw, who you saw, who you didn’t see, things you would like to see, something you think you saw but can’t remember, etc., etc., etc. X infinity. You love to talk, and if you don’t know the other person well, it makes no difference to you.

I could go on for pages and pages. I could talk about how funny you are. I could talk about how much I love to listen to you play. I could tell you how hard it is not to laugh when you study your reflection in the mirror until your “haircut” is perfect. I could tell you that even though I thought I was going to Italy, I wound up in Holland, and it’s a better trip than I could have ever planned.

What I will tell you is that I love you. And I’m proud of you. And you are FIVE today!

Love you always,

Mommy

Snacking in Front of Your Children: A How-to

Snacking in Front of Your Children: A How-to

There is a phenomenon in the universe known as Toddler Ear (known in some regions as Child Ear or I SAID COME HERE Ear). This a seemingly universal condition in which your child appears to be unable to hear directions or requests, such as, “Don’t lick each other,” “Let’s hurry and get ready for school,” “Put these toys away,” and anything whispered in what I call the Church Voice.

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Princess Kate knows what I’m talking about.

But the other unique aspect to this phenomenon is that while your children remain unable to hear your continued pleas to put on some clothes, they can hear the rustle of a chip bag or candy bar wrapper, sometimes from two floors away. Scientists aren’t sure of all the mechanisms of this condition. But they do know it’s spreading rapidly among children ages one to 17.

There is no cure. But through careful study, several trial experiments, and a persistent desire for chocolate, I believe I have found a way to manage the condition to a degree where some of your food might actually enter your mouth. It won’t be easy. But we are #SnackStrong.

Step One: Prepare

You think you are quiet enough with that package of m&ms. You think your kids can’t possibly hear you from your room. You are wrong. Step One involves more planning than it took to buy your first house. You will need the following: One (1) snack of your choice (or several; I don’t judge); one (1) decoy bag (grocery bag, empty box of tampons); one (1) child’s TV show for background noise and distraction; and one (1) decoy snack – celery, carrot sticks, and quinoa are all great ideas to start (This item is optional but highly recommended). The last thing you need is a burning desire to succeed.

Step Two: Set the Scene

Choose your snacking place well. You want a place that isn’t too well-lit, near-ish the TV, but not so close you get sucked into the plot of My Little Pony and fail to guard your precious cargo. You don’t want to be too far from the kids, because as soon as they notice your absence, they will seek you – and they will find you. Before you set up, place your snack into your decoy bag. Then, once you’re sure you’re ready, walk nonchalantly to your chosen spot. Do not – do not – remove your snack from the decoy bag. Place it casually beside you, behind a pillow or your decoy snack.

Step Three: Take the Plunge

Begin to eat your snack quietly. Only take a few chips/Skittles/brownie pieces at a time – snacking when your kids are awake means sacrifice, so soldier up and restrain yourself. If your kids look around to identify the sound of rustling paper or plastic, do not move. Leave your hands where they are. Maintain eye contact with your child and do not speak unless you are spoken to. If they ask what you are eating, hold up your decoy bag and say vitamins, kale, or dirt. If they don’t buy it and ask to see the contents, ABORT THE MISSION. Tell them you just remembered the oven is on and you have to check on it. Walk away and try again another day.

If, however, they do not pursue the line of snack questioning, you are free to resume your snacking after a few moments of silence have passed. Eat as much you desire, while being mindful that the silence will only last for so long.

Step Four: Cover Your Tracks

All of your carefully crafted plans will be for nothing if your kids catch you throwing away the wrapper or placing the rest of your Doritos back in the cabinet behind the fancy plates you never use. If your snack bag is empty, keep the wrapper inside the decoy bag and throw it all away in the trash. If your decoy bag is reusable, take it to the trash can and dump your snack bag into the trash, and immediately cover it with other trash.

If you’re saving the rest of your snack for a rainy day, leave the snack inside the decoy bag and put it away swiftly in the hiding place of your choosing. Do not look back; do not stop to answer questions. Move quickly if you want your snack to survive.

Other tips: 

*Fill your husband in on the plan so he doesn’t come home and ask you where the Muffin Bites are.

*Change out your decoy bag after every few uses so your offspring will not become suspicious.

*Don’t be afraid to offer your kids their own snack before you start eating to add another layer of crunching to cover your own.

You have your orders. Good luck, and may your snacks taste like an Oreo while containing the calories of an ice chip.