Our Kids Aren’t Going Back to School: And We Couldn’t Be Happier

Happy Wednesday!

How is everyone on day 38 of the social distancing situation (in Florida, anyway)? Honestly speaking, I have to say I am impressed with my own handling of this situation. I thought for certain that by now I’d be a mess. I figured my patience would have exited the building weeks ago, I’d be overwhelmed and uptight, and my attitude would suck.

It doesn’t. I’m thriving. And, I think that it’s because our kids are thriving. All the things that I thought they’d miss aren’t having nearly the effect on them that I thought they’d have. We spend so much time running them from this activity to that activity to this practice from that practice to this and that and everything in between, and our kids haven’t asked once about their extracurricular activities or mentioned missing them; but, they have repeatedly said how much they love being home in the evenings and playing games, and having family dinners, and taking walks.

You know what else they comment about missing? Their friends. They miss their friends in class. They miss their teachers. They miss their grandparents. The twins miss giving their teacher a hug in the morning when they get to her class (she’s one of the loveliest people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting, so we get that). They all miss things like their art classes in school, and their media time, and their PE time. They miss connection. They don’t miss being busy. What a thing to process, right?

Governor DeSantis made the announcement Saturday afternoon that our schools would continue to remain closed the rest of the school year. What was initially a month-long closing turned into six weeks, and we were meant to go back at the beginning of May. Now we are out until August; and they will return to school going into seventh, fourth, and first grades. Some parents are really upset by this. I’ll be honest; there was a time when I would have been downright furious.

My husband and I both work from home – not because of COVID-19 but because I’ve worked for myself for 12 years and my husband has been working home for his company for almost four years now – and having the kids home on school breaks and summer is hard on our schedules. Mine a little less so since my schedule is my doing – not that I like it interrupted.

But, we’ve created a new schedule having them home, and we – sit down for this one – like it. The kids like it. We like it. We like having them home. They can be over-the-top and annoying at times – Monday was a rough day for us with the kids. But, I think they’ve been 95% pretty good about this (with the cute exception of the fact that Ava and Carter seem to butt heads more than ever right now). They’ve adapted well, and I’m glad they aren’t going back. Why? Well, for a few reasons.

The Transition Period

The worst thing about a schedule change is the transition period. When school was first closed, it wasn’t so bad because we were only a week away from spring break, and we were traveling the weekend it was announced, so we came home tired and exhausted and we had three little ones with birthdays. We welcomed the extra week. Then, it was spring break. That worked out for us, too. But, the week after was the first week of distance learning, and that’s a transition week. We had two free weeks and then we had to find a new schedule doing something we’ve never done before, and we all had to adapt. That was a stressful week. But, the following week was better. The third week was even better. Week four, which we are in now, is a seamless and organized machine.

The transition of going back to school at the beginning of May for all of three weeks would have been a mess, in my opinion. Transitioning back to a school schedule that involves a 6 am wakeup for our oldest, transitioning back to the classroom after more than six weeks away; I could see the mess from a mile away. Everyone would be tired and cranky, they’d have to learn to readjust – this wasn’t a week off for spring break, after all. They’d have to learn to readjust to a school schedule, and they’d all be cranky and tired for the week. For what? For three weeks? Then, we’d have to readjust to a new summer schedule? It’s a lot of change and adjustment in the span of two months, and kids – especially the Raiford kids – thrive on routine and structure. It’s too much to ask them to make so many confusing changes.

The Fear

Right now, our kids aren’t worried about the virus. Why should they be? They are safe at home with their mom and dad having fun. They are swimming every weekend, they are busy having fun, they are loving family walks and tending to their new little garden Craig helped them plant. They are having more takeout than ever from their favorite restaurants, they are getting so much time outside to play, and the weather is gorgeous. They have unlimited access to Amazon to order new games and toys and crafts, and they’ve been taking full advantage of that. They’re loving this, and they feel safe at home. But, imagine the fear of going back to school right now when part of the world is still shut down, and so many people have so many different opinions. Their friends would have things to say, they would be fearful, and it wouldn’t help. I’m glad they don’t have to face that fear and that they get to stay home with us and feel safe and comfortable.

We’d Miss Them

Who are we?! In all seriousness, the person who will have the hardest time when they go back to school in August is myself. I like having them here. I like being able to leave my phone in the master bedroom and not look at it all day long if I don’t want to – I can’t do that when they’re at school because what if they call and something has happened? I like knowing that they are safe all day long and never worrying when I see the school’s name scroll across my screen. There are so many horrible things in the world that might happen, but our kids aren’t there, and I’m not worried anymore. I love having them home where I know they are safe. That’s everything to me. And, I can tell you that I’ll have anxiety and panic a bit when I no longer have them in my protective custody again.

We like distance learning. I’d even go out on a limb and tell you that homeschool wouldn’t be out of the question for us if the kids would be willing to do it. I think Ava would, and would excel at doing it. But, I know Addison, Charlotte, and Carter would never go for it being the social butterflies and school-lovers that they are. Ava, on the other hand, is me. She doesn’t care for people she doesn’t hand pick, and she only wants to socialize with those she loves and respects. She’d be a hermit if we let her – which is exactly how I am.

This Time is Really Nice

I know that this is not a nice time for so many people in the world right now, and my heart aches for those who aren’t able to work, who are ill, who have lost a loved one, who are struggling financially and who aren’t sure what tomorrow brings. My heart hurts. I don’t want to look past that or make it seem that I am ambivalent in any capacity. However, I am thoroughly enjoying this time. I love the slow days, the new schedule, the time that we are getting to spend with our kids. We are finally NOT busy, and we needed it. We needed more movie nights and more Friday night date nights in the to-go parking spots at our favorite restaurants versus Fridays spent packing to travel every single weekend for a month, stay home for a weekend, and repeat (But, OMG do I miss travel and the places and trips we are no longer taking because we just don’t know when we even can anymore). We needed more sleep until 8 am weekdays, more time to make creative pancakes, go for a run, and focus on school work for only a few hours versus all day. We needed less nights where we are out until 8 pm, tired, hungry, and cranky when we get home. We needed more time with people we love rather than people who drain us.

We needed more game nights. We needed more family dinners around the tables. One night a week wasn’t enough for that. We need to slow down, and we needed to continue this a little longer. The days are getting longer, the nights are still cool and beautiful, and we are finally living our best life free of all the things that stress us out and make us rigid and inflexible and tired. Our kids are doing so well, and so are we with having them home.

It’s simple. Simple, as it turns out, is quite nice. Don’t take that for granted. I hope you are all enjoying your time as much as we are. We’ve had five uninterrupted weeks with our kids, and we get another 16 weeks. That is, even if you’re struggling, a gift. Use it wisely.

Learning to Appreciate the Simple Life

Day 31 of social distancing.

It’s hard to believe it was only 32 days ago that our sweet twins turned 6 and we were waking up in one of our favorite hotels in Miami. We caught the sunrise over the ocean from our balcony before the babes woke up and made their way into our room. We played on the beach. We played in the pool. We drove home, bought a birthday cake, made them their favorite dinner, and we kissed them goodnight knowing that it was the last normal day any of us would have for a very long time.

It’s been four weeks, and travel is something we are all missing. I don’t think we’ve been home four weekends in years. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about being home. We love our home, and we are never sad to be here. But, we miss the adventure of travel. It makes us restless to be home all the time, and we are – quite frankly – saddened by the cancellation of every trip we have coming up. Our spring break trip. Our 15th wedding anniversary trip to St. Kitts and Nevis. A voyage on the Independence of the Seas with the kids the first week of June. Our annual Memorial Day weekend trip. Two weekends away with our best friends to cheer them on in their fitness competitions. A trip to Texas to see my grandmother, to name a few.

We miss travel.

But you know what we miss the most? Our parents.

We haven’t seen them since March 16; the day after social distancing began, our moms both came over to see the twins the day after their birthday and to see Ava the day before hers, and let me tell you how much these four babes miss their grandma and grandpa, their nana, and their far-away grandpa (because we can’t just book a flight and make our way to NC right now, either). They miss them SO MUCH, and it breaks my heart we cannot see them. This is the longest any of them has ever gone without seeing them in their lives, and that’s hard on them.

They ask every single day when they can see their grandparents again. And, every single day, we tell them we don’t know. They FaceTime, but it’s not the same. Carter is a big fan of his grandma and his nana, and all he wants is for grandma and nana to come over and give him a squeeze and stay the night because it’s more fun with them here than with us here (true story).

If there is one thing we’ve learned during social distancing, is that these kids are so fortunate to have grandparents who love them, and who they love so much in return. That’s been the hardest part.

Social distance learning is going well. The kids acclimated quickly to their new normal. Addison is amazing handling her own schedule and maintaining straight As. Ava is killing it with her work and her meetings. The twins are so excited about their zoom meeting every morning with their class, and they love their work. The hardest part was the first few days trying to teach them how to use zoom (what to touch, how to turn their camera and sound on when the meeting starts, how to avoid accidentally leaving the meeting). Now that they all know how to do this, they are on it every single day. We have no complaints there.

The kids have their moments. Charlotte and Addison are laid-back and happy all the time. Carter and Ava both have big opinions and big ideas, and they butt heads. They tend to get on one another’s nerves at least once a day, but we really can’t complain.

With their own work to do, it allows us to get our work done. I’m able to finish all my deadlines before lunch, and they’re able to have my attention in the afternoons. We are taking nightly family walks, swimming and playing all weekend, cooking fun meals, eating too many desserts (and going for VERY long runs to make up for those), jumping on the trampoline, playing cards, ordering a ton of Grubhub deliveries, watching movies, playing games, gardening, playing outside.

Ava’s teacher let her class know that their parents are probably struggling right now as they do their own jobs, take care of their kids, help their kids by becoming their new in-home teachers, and trying to keep everyone entertained, and asked that the kids help out a little more to make mom and dad’s lives easier, and I haven’t had to tell this kid to clean her dungeon since. She’s been doing dishes (I mean, we use the dishwasher, but this child is legit doing them by hand), helping make dinner, helping water flowers and keep things neat and orderly. She’s a dream come true.

The world shutting down has given us the chance to spend so much more time at home, and to spend so much more time together. It’s been sweet in that aspect. The world is filled with people who do too much, go too much, work themselves too hard, over-schedule themselves, and overcommit; and this has been an amazing way to get rid of the toxicity of ‘busy’ and of the things that don’t bring us joy, the people who drain us that we can’t avoid otherwise, and the things that simply aren’t enjoyable. I can’t speak for others, but I know that without all that ‘clutter’ in my own life, I feel so much more relaxed and so much happier. It’s good.

You don’t realize until you clear your schedule how much better life is without all the clutter that fills it. It’s easier to find the joy in life when the things that rob you of it are no longer part of your life. It’s easy to love life and to have it love you right back when time is standing almost still and there is no rush. “Busy” is no fun, and I sincerely hope that the world learns from this pandemic that a simple life is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to embrace.

There’s no rush. Where there wasn’t time before, now we can sit on the lanai or the front porch rockers or the couch on the deck and drink our morning coffee and watch the day begin. Where there wasn’t time before, now we can sit at the table outside and eat dinner and linger. Where there wasn’t time before, now we can stay up a little later with the kids rather than rushing them to bed so they aren’t exhausted the following day. Where there wasn’t time before, we now get to slow down and actually enjoy the little things in life – and it is good.

How are you all doing in the midst of this? There’s a lot of unknown, but my advice is to step away from the media and the news and focus on home. We are thankful each day we have a beautiful home with plenty of space for our large family, a big piece of property the kids can run around in, and that everyone in our neighborhood has large properties so that we can walk and run without worrying about being close to anyone else. Be thankful for those little things in your own life. It helps.

Distance Learning Week One: Helping Four Kids Relearn Learning

Happy Friday, and happy end of the first week of distance learning.

For most of us, anyway. We just began distance learning in Florida this week. This week marked the end of the kids’ 3rd week out of school since the state cancelled schools. It also marks the week that President Trump announced that the 15-day flatten the curve plan needed to be extended through at least April 30. Schools for our kids were initially closed through the 15th, but they are not closed through May 1. Honestly, I’m working on the assumption that schools will soon be cancelled for the rest of the school year.

This is a crushing blow for our kids for many reasons. Our oldest, Addison, is in 6th grade. She’s a new middle school student, and she enjoys her schedule and her friends and her teachers. Our 3rd-grader, Ava, has been waiting since Kindergarten to have her 3rd grade teacher this year. Mrs. S, as we will call her here, is the same teacher Addison had in 3rd grade – and she remains Addison’s favorite teacher of all time (which is HUGE because her fourth and fifth grade teachers were pretty amazing!). Ava has been looking forward every single year of her life (her words) to have Mrs. S., and she is crushed that she’s no longer going back to her class.

Carter and Charlotte are in kindergarten, and they have the most spectacular teacher imaginable. Mrs. B. is phenomenal, and we adore her. I cannot convey how highly we think of her, especially watching her work with the twins and their class via Zoom this week. She has the most confident, most powerful, yet sweetest voice when she teaches. She’s engaging and kind, and you cannot miss her love when she speaks to these kids. She’s using morning Zoom meetings each day to conduct her morning meetings, sight words, calendars, and so much more – and she’s killing it. The twins look forward to her ‘class’ every single morning. The fact that they don’t get to go back to her class is very difficult for them, and my heart hurts.

On that note, we are done with our first week of distance learning. I’m not a homeschool teacher. I’m not homeschooling. I’m moderating their distance learning – alongside my husband. Their teachers are doing the work – and they are doing a fabulous job of it. So far, it’s going really well. We’ve had our hiccups, but I thought I’d share how it’s going for us, what’s working, what’s not working, and how we’ve adjusted our schedules so that it works for our family in the hopes that our situation might help someone else.

1

Four Kids Learning at Home is a Lot

I’ll start out by saying that the most challenging aspect of distance learning is simply doing it with four kids. It’s a lot. They all have somewhere to ‘be’ on their iPads, all at different times, and all on their own schedule. Factor in my schedule and my husband’s, and we are a little frantic a few times a day.

3

Middle School Distance Learning – 6th grade

I’ll also point out that we are exceptionally thrilled our oldest, Addison, is so self-sufficient and good at what she does. She has an agenda she’s using to track her meetings, her due dates, work to be done, etc. She’s using her desk in her bedroom upstairs to do all of her work, and we honestly have no idea what’s up with her every day. She’s a straight A student, a self-starter, and she’s highly motivated. We don’t micromanage her. She tells us about her day over dinner, and she outlines her day at breakfast. She’s so organized and efficient – she is my child.

Addison’s schedule is time-consuming and difficult. She has six classes, and she zoom meets in each one almost every day. Some of them require a once a week zoom, some a daily zoom. Her 7th grade advanced math class meets daily on Zoom for an hour and 10 minutes (which, by the way, is longer than her actual math class when she’s at school) for a full lesson. She’s spending the bulk of her day at ‘school’ upstairs, and she’s handling it like a pro.

2

Third Grade Distance Learning

Ava is able to do things on her own, which is great. She needs us for things on occasion when her iPad mutes or does something that she cannot figure out during a meeting, but she’s good otherwise. She’s not yet started the full distance learning curriculum. That’s next week. She’ll have daily assignments to turn into her teacher, and they have a morning Zoom meeting to connect with one another. This week, she’s only required to do iReady for 90 minutes each day. Forty-five minutes for reading and the other 45 is math. She’s doing an awesome job!

10

Kindergarten Distance Learning

The twins’ schedule is similar to Ava’s. They have a morning zoom meeting every day that lasts approximately 45 minutes to an hour, and they love it. Their teacher is so, so good. They read sight words like they do in class, they talk about their day, they do so many things. Otherwise, their expectations this week are 90 minutes per day on iReady. Just like Ava, they’re doing 45 reading and 45 math each day. Their teacher is working on lessons that she can teach beginning soon, as well as additional work for them to complete soon. She’s also reading and posting stories for the kids.

***fun fact: Our elementary school’s SRO is doing fun videos on Facebook teaching them fun things like how to make and fly paper airplanes, and his wife -who teaches at a different elementary school – is reading stories on a daily basis on Facebook for the kids to listen to. It’s amazing.

Making it Work

To make this work in our household, we ended up buying the three little ones their own iPads. Addison has her own already, and they use their tablets for Zoom, but iReady does not support their Kindle Fire tablets. So, they each got a new iPad Pro (IMPORTANT: They got these iPads because iReady does not support the iPad minis because it only supports screens that are at least 9.7-inches diagonal, and the iPad 10.2 wasn’t available when we ordered, though it will work if you can find one that’s available soon enough).

***also important to note: If you do order an iPad pro, it must be the 11-inch. My 12.9-inch iPad Pro is not the brand-new model. It’s the one before this new 12.9 inch, and iReady works on it. However, iReady does NOT support the brand-new iPad Pro 12.9-inch. Be sure to order the 11-inch!

While we waited on new iPads to arrive, I had to adjust my schedule accordingly to let the kids use my iPad and my laptop – both items I need to work myself. I’ve worked from home for 12 years for myself, and I have a killer schedule, but giving up my electronics makes it impossible – especially when it’s for a total of 4.5 hours a day. That was a struggle, but we are much happier now!

3

Our New Schedule

I’ll preface this by saying that I work for myself, so I have a much more flexible schedule than my husband. He works for a company that requires him to work 8-5 each day. He’s been working from home for four years, but he’s not always available during the day when and if we need his help.

So, our new schedule had to be made to easily accommodate both of our schedules, four kids, and the desire to keep evenings free so we can have family time. Walks, dinner, movie night, card games, etc. Here’s how we are doing things.

  • Craig and I set our alarm for 6 am (this is actually sleeping in for us, so it’s nice) and get up. He makes coffee and brings me my laptop in bed so I can work until 7. I move to the lanai at 7 so that I can sit out and watch the sunset while I work until 7:30 when I go for a run.
  • 7:00 is breakfast for the kids
  • 7:30 I run and my husband sets up the first round of iReady for the three little ones. They do 30 minutes at this time
  • 8:00 free time for the kids, shower for me, work for Craig
  • 8:30 – second half hour of iReady for the little kids while I blow dry my hair and get ready
  • 9:30 – 10:15/10:30 – Kindergarten zoom meeting
  • 10-10:30ish – 3rd grade zoom meeting

I set up the twins in the main living area of the house so they both have a quiet place to do their meetings without their iPads conflicting with one another on the same meeting, but also so I can keep an eye/ear on them from my office. One is in the dining room, one is in the kitchen at the bar. Ava works on her meetings in her bedroom across the house.

  • 10:30 – snack and free time
  • 11 – 3rd and final half hour of iReady for the little ones (this one is the last 15 minutes of their math and the last 15 of their reading combined)
  • 11:30 – recess outside (this is a requirement because I like them to get fresh air and sunshine)
  • 12 – lunch
  • 12:30 play time/art time (we usually set up a folding table and tablecloths on the lanai and let them paint canvases or whatever they want to do, or they can play outside)
  • 1:30 – 3:00 – quiet time. We don’t care what they do, but they have to do it in their own rooms. They can read, play on their tablets, play with one another in whomever’s bedroom they want as long as the pocket door that separates the 3 little ones’ bedrooms downstairs from the main area of the house is closed and stays closed.
  • 3 pm – snack and play time
  • 5 pm – we shut down our office, make dinner, go for a walk, whatever
  • 7 pm – bath and bedtime

4

Little Helpful Things

Now that we are back in school, even if it is virtually, everyone has to get up and get dressed and ready for school in our house. It helps ALL of us to get up and get dressed and ready for the day. We had two weeks of sleeping late and wearing pajamas all day, but it was time to brush our hair and wear real clothes and makeup before noon (for me, anyway).

Craig works until 5 and helps when he can. He makes the kids breakfast every morning – they like his chocolate chip pancakes – and he also makes their lunch most days. Occasionally, he might be in the middle of a conference call and I do it, but he does it most days.

While the kids are doing their iReady and their conference calls, I make myself available to them, but I sit and work. I also work anytime I can during their play time, and their quiet time is my chance to finish things up so we can get a few things done around the house and spend the evenings together.

I’ve also made checklists. Each of the little kids has a folder with their daily schedule on it. They check off completed items as they go. It helps them see where they are and what they are doing, and it helps them feel more accomplished.

So far, so good. The kids’ teachers are making this as easy on us as possible. Attempting to accommodate a classroom filled with kids who have parents who have different careers and schedules is no easy task, but they are making it work. Now that we are all becoming  more familiar with zoom and everyone has their own new iPad, things are getting a bit easier around here. It’s been good.

How has distance learning been going for you?

10 Quotes and Verses to Help You When You Feel Out of Control

Day 12

Honestly, I have no idea what day we are on quarantine-wise. The official timeline for us was on March 16, so we are just sitting here 12 days in and really trying to make the most of a horrible situation. Family walks. Long runs. Lots of power yoga at home. Lots of FaceTime conversations and virtual happy hours. Happy hours on walks with the family. Lots of books, lots of work, lots of arts and crafts, lots of card games. Lots of take out. Lots of baking. Lots of swimming. Lots of playing outdoors. Lots of online shopping.

It’s day 12. This situation is one that’s still going to get worse before it gets better – and that’s just how it is. We are making the most of our time at home, but our new normal isn’t quite normal yet. Week one was all about being lazy and relaxing and embracing it because real life really does make us tired and we welcomed that ability to rest). Week two has all us rested and basically antsy. We are bored. We are such an active family that it’s hard for us not to have a trip to go on or a place to visit or the ability to go to the gym or have fun or do anything.

We are handling it all right, but we have our moments.

That said, I’m not here to share with you any hints or tips or sales or tricks or whatever (though Lilly Pulitzer is offering 30 percent of certain items through today – and that never happens outside of the APS twice a year…so get on that).

I just wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes and verses that might help. I know that I go back and forth appreciating this time with our babies and my handsome husband and worrying about every single thing. Our sweet Ava was diagnosed with asthma when she was 15 months. She hasn’t had an episode in which she’s needed her inhaler in so long that we almost forgot she had it until about six months ago when she had an asthma attack. I lay awake at night wondering if she’s immunocompromised and at risk. Same for Carter, our sweet little man with his one and done grand mal seizure 13 months ago. Does that make him immunocompromised? I don’t know, but I worry.

And when I worry, there are few things that make me feel calm. Number one, always, is my husband. He always knows when I’m stressed or upset, and he always knows how to make it right. The kiddos help, too. And so does reading a few of my favorite quotes and verses for strength and hard times. So, in case you need them.

  1. When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you are responding to what’s happening. That’s where the power is.
  2. God sometimes takes us into troubled waters not to drown us, but to cleanse us.
  3. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to control something that isn’t yours to control. Let go. Free yourself. Allow your mind and energy to focus on something positive…to build something beautiful. – Steve Maraboli
  4. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
  5. The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that’s coming. – Romans 8:18
  6. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. – Isaiah 43:2
  7. Do not grieve. For the joy of the Lord is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10
  8. May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. – Nelson Mandela
  9. Be still and know that I am with you. – Psalm 46:10
  10. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

This, too, shall pass. Let’s allow it to pass with grace.

Blessings in Disguise Amid A Global Pandemic: Find the Good

Day 5

Today marks the fifth day we’ve been in the midst of our social distancing operation. No school, no cheer practice, no gym.

Those are the big changes during the week. Otherwise, not much has changed. My husband and I both work from home and always have, so we aren’t adjusting to any new schedules or interruptions. The kids being home is not an interruption. We do this every summer, thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, and long weekend. All six of us are familiar with that change.

In actuality, our kids are at good ages. They entertain themselves with books, playing outside, playing with one another, playing with their tablets, and snacking every 8 to 9 minutes so they don’t starve to death. They play well together without too many disagreements. They don’t make too much of a mess, and they don’t interrupt us during our ‘scheduled’ hours. My day is flexible since I work for me. Craig’s is not since he works for someone else. He’s in our office from 8 am to 5 pm.

I like to be in the office before anyone is awake, coffee in hand, creativity at full force. It’s actually a lot easier for me to work when the kids are home because they get to sleep in, our nephew isn’t here to go to school with us, and we don’ have to get dressed and get out of the house by a certain time. Rather than putting my morning on hold at 8 am, I’m able to get up at 5, work until 9 or 10, and pretty much call it a day after that. I work out, hang with the kids, manage the household, etc.

I’m still in my office working off and on throughout the day, but only when I have the time and only because I want to get ahead and not because I need to be in here. It’s a really laid-back, relaxed, chill sort of vibe. That’s what I like about it. So, not much has changed during the day in our house. This is what we do during summer, Christmas, etc. The only difference is that we aren’t going out to lunch. We aren’t running out for breakfast. We aren’t going to the gym. We aren’t gong out to dinner.

The big problem is going to show up tonight when it’s Friday night and the kids want to know where we are going for dinner. We will still order something out and enjoy it at home (because we are doing every single thing to support our community and local businesses) but we won’t be going out. It’ll be even crazier tomorrow morning when they wake up and want to know if we are going to a party, or if we are going shopping, or if we can go away for the weekend, or why we aren’t going on our spring break trip. That’s what will rock their world in the least positive manner.

They have no problem at all being home during the weekend because we keep jam-packed weekends, and they love the rest and the relaxation the week brings. But, when the weekends are just as relaxed and laid back and no one leaves the house except to go outside or take a family walk around our neighborhood, what is there? The kids are going to lose it. I know this. They know this. We know this.

But, even in light of all the craziness that is going on, I am a firm believer that all things are a gift. All things, as bad and heartbreaking and horrible and life shattering as they may be, bring a gift of some sort to our lives. Even the darkest days and the most horrible losses bring with them the most beautiful gifts. Maybe not right now. Maybe not in the foreseeable future. Maybe not this weekend. But, eventually. Eventually, we see the gift. The positive change. The better outlook. The lesson. It’s all going to make us stronger and better – eventually.

So, while it’s hard to see that the COVID-19 social distancing world shut down pandemic from hell is going to one day show so many of us the gifts it brings amongst the chaos, I dare you to look for the good in this.

If you need help, I’ve got you.

Rest

We are overworked, overscheduled, over committed, over everything. Literally, we are so over everything in our house that we’ve all been counting down the days until it’s all done and over with. Now, we aren’t. We are all getting good nights of sleep. We are all rested and relaxed beause we are unhurried and we aren’t rushed. It’s nice.

Time

The gift of time is perhaps the most beautiful of all. It’s something you can’t get easily, and you never get it back when you lose it. We have it now. We have the time to get into the kitchen and create a new recipe with the kids. To take a family walk. To sit down and eat family dinners together. To watch that movie. To sleep in a bit. To read that book. To start writing that book. To call that friend. To organize things. We have time. Time with our family and our kids and our spouses. Time is the most precious gift.

Say Goodbye to Toxicity

Unfortunately, we all have a toxic person or two in our lives, and now is the perfect time for us to bid adieu to that asshole. We have to stay home. We have to distance ourselves. We have to do our part, and that means avoiding people. The more time that negative Nancy is out of our lives, the more peaceful they become. And, guess what? The world is not going to be close to the same on the other side of this, and that might make you feel good about making that a permanent change.

Getting Back to Basics

We are five days in, y’all; we haven’t even touched the surface of back to basics yet but life is about to get really, really basic. If it’s not already, it’s about to be. You’re back to cooking for yourself. You’re back to sending the kids outside to play and make up games and use their imagination. You’re about to be your own parent.

Learning With and About Our Kids

Listen, we can all be very honest here and admit that being homeschool teachers is not for all of us. I don’t want to teach. If I wanted to teach, I’d be an educator. I’m not. It’s not my jam. It’s not how I want to live my life, though I do have the utmost respect for those who do make education their life. Educators are very special people with very special gifts that I simply don’t have (like patience and people skills and really strong immune systems and patience. Did I say patience?).

But, the thing here is that we are all about to learn more about (and with) our kids. We are all about to see how our kids learn. What works for them. What doesn’t. How they respond, what the teacher was talking about. What frustrates and confuses, what motivates and inspires, what bores them to tears, and just how very little of what we learned growing up actually stuck with us as adults, and just how absolutely unintelligent we actually are as adults. But, the good news is that we get to know our kids better, and guess what? That’s about to make us all better people. We will come out of this better able to help our kids and help our kids’ teachers. We are about to become educated, and I’m not just talking about our kids.

More Adult Time

Oh yes. So our lunch time bedroom dates might be a little more difficult to mange with four kids home, but now we aren’t out late every night, so we get to go to bed earlier and enjoy that time. The kids aren’t waking up early, so we get to enjoy that time. You guys, we are all going to have a much better attitude about all the things by the time this is said and done – and maybe some people who are struggling will find their groove again. This is good, good news.

Healthier Living

That’s largely hypocritical to point out as we all shove our social distancing snacks down our throats in rapid stress-eating force, but you know what I mean. We are now cooking most meals from home, so we are automatically healthier. We are taking more family walks, playing more games outside with the kids, getting more sun, benefiting from those walks and baseball games in the yard. We are all going to be healthier and more energized before much longer.

Appreciation

You know those small things we all take for granted every single day? Date night? A quick trip to Nordstrom? Birthday parties? Family vacations? Packing up and heading to a favorite resort for the weekend? Yeah, those things we can’t do anymore? Guess what? We are all about to learn to appreciate the little things. And the big things. And the things in between. We are all about to appreciate every single little thing in lives a lot more than we did before.

I have a long list of a million more ways that I’ve seen this social distancing/quarantine situation become a blessing in disguise, but not all of the things I’ve seen are my stories to tell. So, I’ll leave it at that. This is a tragedy, and it’s terrifying, and it’s just unknown and uncertain, and it’s fostering a lot of fear. But it doesn’t mean there is not good. Look for it. Be it.

Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

1

I won’t start with my typical Happy Tuesday because I’m aware this is not a happy time for most. In fact, it’s a terrifying time for many. For those who are susceptible to COVID-19 – or the Corona Virus – such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. For parents who fear the concept of homeschooling their kids (because the good Lord knows I’m not qualified at ALL to homeschool kids), small business owners unsure of the future, hourly employees who work for tips whose jobs are shut down, kids who don’t fully understand the fear and panic around them.

Especially kids.

I’m going to avoid discussing adults as a whole because we all already know how I feel about the general population, but I’m happy to talk kids. I have four of my own. I was once one. I have a bevy of kids in and out my front door on a regular basis. I know kids. I listen when they talk to me. I listen when they’re talking to one another or my husband. I observe their body language, and I hear the fears they might not have the bravery to speak out loud.

Kids don’t know what’s going on. Sure, right now, they’re all happy that they have an extra bit of time off school, but we all know that this little bit of time might become months. It might become distance learning and virtual schooling and homeschooling. Soon, they’ll be bored of being home. They’ll want to know why vacation was cancelled. They’ll want to know why we can’t go to their favorite resort for the weekend, or their favorite restaurants for dinners and lunches, or why we can’t go to Hobby Lobby on Tuesday for art supplies, or why we can’t go to the movies or Hammer & Stain, or why we can’t go to church anymore.

If they’re not already asking questions, they will. The excitement of cancelled school and events and extracurriculars that result in late nights doing homework and early mornings and long weekends of travel to places they have no desire to visit and finally having some free time will lessen, and they’ll want to know what’s up. I won’t lie and pretend I’m not excited for all the free time right now. I won’t act like I’m upset that things have been cancelled and we have the opportunity to get back our time and control of our schedules, and that I no longer have to stress about how I’m going to accomplish my work with so many interruptions on any given day. I won’t pretend I’m sad that I actually had the time to sit down and write a blog post for the first time in months because my work day isn’t chopped up by getting kids ready, taking them to school, going to practices, traveling for events, picking them up from school, working on homework, etc.

Social distancing isn’t something I’m unhappy about. The reason behind it, well, that’s less than ideal. But, it’s reality right now. We are fresh off a weekend trip to Miami to celebrate the twins’ sixth birthday and Ava’s 9th birthday – and it was exactly what we needed. Of course, we were a day into our trip when we got word of school closings and Disney closings, two days before social distancing was introduced and cruises were cancelled, and home before cities and towns began shutting down their restaurants and bars and clubs and movie theaters.

We had the best weekend on the beach and by the pool. There were plenty of people out and about, but the sunshine and fresh ocean air and al fresco dining all weekend was exactly what we needed before heading home to a completely different reality. Instead of spending the evening of our return passed out .2 seconds after our heads hit the pillow at bedtime, we spent that time talking about how we will answer our kids’ questions and how we will handle things as they change and as we approach the unknown.

4

How will we answer the kids’ questions?

Honestly, but without inciting panic or fear. There’s no reason to hoard toilet paper or eggs, and we refuse to teach our children to approach life with a panicked mindset. We will be honest and open, but hopeful and concise. We will also answer them on a case by case basis. The twins’ questions will not be answered in the same manner as we’d answer them if it were Addison who asked. We will use common sense, but we will also maintain a level of honesty.

  • Talk honestly
  • Make sure they know the facts and the dangers
  • Remind them – again – of the importance of good hygiene
  • Encourage them to ask questions if they’re confused
  • Don’t let them watch media reports

How will we explain how life is changing?

Thankfully, there’s not much changing in the lives of the Raiford kids. I’ve worked from home their entire lives, so they don’t know any different there. Craig is approaching four years of working from home, so it’s their everyday life. Our everyday routine Monday-Friday will not change because of this, because I have my business to run and my husband has his job to do.

Weekends and evenings will be where the change is most noticeable. There won’t be any dinners out or any trips while we social distance for however long this is necessary. But, we will make life as sweet and comforting and familiar as possible by sticking to bedtime routines and everyday schedules. Kids love structure and routine – the Raiford kids LOVE structure and routine.

10

How will we make life less scary for the kids?

Easy – we will have fun. These are uncertain times, but we will certainly spend a lot more time outdoors playing games. Baseball and football in the yard. Bike rides. Family walks. Dinner on the deck. Sunsets on the front porch rocking chairs. Breakfast on the lanai. Roasting marshmallows around the fire pit. Playing on the kids’ playground equipment. Ava asked if we could pick some summer nights to lie on a blanket on the deck and watch the stars, so we’ll do that. Family movie nights. Family game nights. Family dinners around the table outside. Setting up their art station on the deck. Playing card games. Read books. Write stories. Write great-grandma letters and draw her pictures. Laugh a lot.

We may not be able to travel – and that might be hard on our kids who are accustomed to it and love it on a regular basis – but we can have our regularly scheduled fun. We’ve got this.

How will we get through this?

For one, we pray. Second, we stay home. Honestly, we don’t get nearly enough time home, and our kids often ask us if we can plan time to stay home and be lazy. Well, now we can. We can sleep later. Nap if we want. Relax a bit. Go unhurried. We can get creative in the kitchen trying new recipes for once since we usually don’t even have time to cook the ones we already know. We just spend quality time together, and we keep our attitudes in check.

What can I teach my kids during this time?

I’m not worried about math or science or ELA or whatever. I’m worried about the important life lessons our kids will get out of this. Such as learning to stay calm and cool in a scary situation. Learning to spread kindness instead of ugliness. Learning to give back. Want to teach your kids something important? Teach them to give to others.

  • Buy a gift card for the grocery store in which you’re shopping and give it to the person in line behind you
  • Buy gas for someone at the gas station
  • Send flowers so that someone’s day is brightened and so that a small business owner gets some revenue
  • Buy some gift cards to use late
  • Wipe down your shopping cart before you use it and again after you use it
  • Share your resources if you have them (I’m talking to you TP hoarders)
  • Buy dinner for another family who is picking up their to-go meal at your favorite restaurant
  • Way over-tip (I’m a fan of 50% or more)
  • Be kind
  • Keep your opinions to yourself
  • Be quiet if you can’t be helpful or nice – this also applies to pre-and-post social distancing, y’all.
  • Ask an elderly friend or neighbor if you can pick up their groceries and deliver them safely to their doorstep
  • Do what you can, even when you think you can’t

6

What if I’m scared?

Anyone who is not a little scared right now is a liar. It’s all right to be afraid. This is nothing we have ever encountered in our lives. It’s terrifying, and it’s uncertain, and many people are left fearful and desperate and feeling as if nothing will be okay.

It’s okay to be afraid. Look – approximately a week ago, we were planning our March Madness brackets and shopping for our spring break trips. A lot changed in that week. A lot can change this week. Keep that in mind. Anything can happen on any day – and that means there is always, always, always hope. It’s all right to be afraid, but don’t let that talk you out of also being hopeful.

I am SO happy to finally have the time to sit down and blog again, and I’m going to share a few posts a week. I’d like to keep them helpful and informative, but without being your news source. I just want to share what I know, what I’m familiar with a what applies. So, here’s to social distancing (or as I call it, my life because I like a handful of people and find the rest absolutely ridiculous) for the coming weeks, doing our best to help when possible, and staying safe.

 

January Positivity Challenge

Happy Thursday, loves!

We are nine whole days into a new year, a new decade, a new month. It’s a big deal if you let it be a big deal, though for many it’s not that big a deal. You don’t need a new year to change your life, but it’s helpful to some who are looking to make changes and aren’t certain how to get started.

Y’all know I’m not a fan of resolutions. I like goals. Goals are good. Goals are changeable. Goals are maneuverable. Goals make the world a much friendlier, much better place. Goals can be created, broken down, and made manageable, and then they can be expanded upon once they are reached. And while I certainly don’t think we need a new year to start a new list of goals, why not? It’s as good a time as any, and this year I want to try something new.

I think we should all challenge ourselves to become happier, more positive, and enjoy life more. That starts from the inside out. With that in mind, we still have 22 days left in January, and I want to issue you a challenge. Let’s improve ourselves one day at a time in a small way. I believe it was Jackie Kennedy who once said you should do something every single day that scares you or takes you outside of your comfort zone, so let’s.

If you’re not sure where to get started, I have some ideas for all of us. The best news is that each of these concepts can be taken, used now or later, and they can help you anytime you need it. Not just today.

  • Write down one thing every morning and every evening you are thankful for every single day for the rest of the month.
  • Take a 10-minute walk outdoors 3 times a week.
  • Ignore social media for one entire weekend. No cheating!
  • Pay for someone behind you in line at your favorite fast food restaurant or grab the check for someone at a restaurant – anonymously!
  • Smile at every single person you encounter for an entire day.
  • Provide one random act of kindness per week. It doesn’t matter who, what, when, or where you are or do.
  • Keep your promises to yourself. For example, if you promise yourself you’re going to the gym tomorrow, do it. Don’t break that promise no matter what happens. You will never regret the decision to go.
  • Cuddle your kids, nieces, nephews, spouse, grandmother, mom, dad, whomever you love.
  • Open the doors and windows for a few hours when the weather permits
  • Eat one meal outside every week.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or even wow-factor-esque about anything I just wrote down, but each of these things can help you change your mindset, your life, and your feelings from the inside out. Each of these things takes you into a different realm, a different place. Each one makes you take a moment to pause and reflect. Each one makes you spend a little bit of your time focused on things like the way you feel and the way you are living your life. Each one makes you pause, and each one can help you change the way you look at life. Let’s try it this month, and let’s look back at the end of the month and share what we did, how we did it, and what changes it’s made in our lives.

Intentional Living: Making 2020 A More Intentional Year

Happy Tuesday, loves!

Today marks the first day back to school for the kiddos after a two-week Christmas break, and I’m all mixed feelings and sad about it. On one hand, it’s so nice to get back to our really amazing routine, which includes no one coming into our office all day long asking for snacks or telling on a brother or a sister or wanting help with something innocuous.

On the other hand, it means that our house is empty save for the two of us all day. The quiet is nice because we do both work from home, and I’ve taken on a few new projects and clients that are taking up a significant chunk of my time (time I already do not have).

But, I already miss the slow days of Christmas break. We were very intentional this Christmas break, and that included cancelling all of our plans the last week of the break and staying home (okay, okay…we cancelled because I’ve had a headache since the 29th. It’s been off and on a migraine, and it’s been aggravated by four nights of absolutely not one minute of sleep, terrible allergies thanks to the fourteen inches of pollen we got that week, and also by the strep throat I was so lucky to catch. I spent the entire week in bed or on the couch with a blanket, a pillow, and my heating pad. I wrapped it around my neck hoping for some relief from the tension and the pain.

I’m happy to say that today I’m much better. My throat is 80 percent better. My allergies are better. And my headache has dulled to a constant throb that’s really only unbearable in the evenings and the early mornings. I’m trying to figure out when I have time to see my doctor about it, because I’m sure it’s not a good sign. I’m not ignoring it; I literally just didn’t have the energy to get up off the couch for nine days. I tried taking the kids bowling with friends one day, and that didn’t work out too well. I did a date night with my husband and our friends another night, but I was so low-energy and didn’t feel really present.

2

But, I digress. I really did enjoy the slow, intentional, beautiful time we spent doing nothing. I’m actually glad that I ended up sick and our travel plans were cancelled because my body obviously needed that time to rest. I needed unhurried days and lazy evenings. The kids needed it. My husband needed it. We all needed it. It was good for our souls, and I tried holding on to that as long as I could.

For the first time since the kids began going to school and we’ve been parents, I actually didn’t want to go back to the real world. I didn’t look forward to the kids going back to school (I always look forward to that). I don’t want to go back to waking up at 5 and working in bed to ease a bit of my stress and keep the day flowing. I don’t want to go back to Craig needing to have Addy to school so early, and to having an extra child in the house for two hours before I take the little ones to school at 9 every day. I don’t want to go back to only having one free night a week at home – and even that night is not free because that’s the night we have to get everyone’s homework done ahead of time since there just isn’t another night we can do it.

The late nights, the over-scheduled calendar, the early mornings; it’s killing us, and that’s not how we want to live 2020. 2019 was too much for us, and we aren’t doing that again. Here’s to a slower year, a more manageable schedule, and more time to simply be. When the kids are tired and asking to cancel plans and lay low, you know that it’s too much (don’t even get me started on my stress level). Here’s what I’d like to accomplish in 2020.

11

Get to A Place Where One Schedule Change Doesn’t Cause an Anxiety Attack

Anxiety. Have we talked about that? As a Type-A personality, I have a lot of it when I’m not in control of the schedule and how things are going in my life and the lives of my family. But, it’s been aggravated in the past few months to a point where my anxiety is often through the roof and more frequent than ever. Between the girls’ cheer schedule, Addison’s new school start and end times, and having all four kids in school with homework and excessive event schedules for the first time, I’m a wreck. I write more than 20,000 words a day for my clients, and I edit dozens of articles per day. My deadlines are daily, they are tight, and I have never missed one in more than 12 years of running my business.

And that’s why when one thing goes wrong or changes, it throws me totally off balance. I’m down to having approximately 4 hours a day to get all of this done. If someone gets sick or something comes up that requires my attention, I have fewer than that, and it’s killing me. This year, I’m looking to gain back my time and make it so that when something goes wrong or comes up at the last minute, I don’t have a literal anxiety attack wondering how I can rearrange things, get things done, not miss a deadline, and still be where I need to be. That’s my goal.

I also think that will put an end to my headaches (well, that and continuing to get my Botox injections) and ease some very heavy burdens. I must remember that I can do anything, but I cannot do everything. I forget that sometimes, and it’s caused my to put myself in a situation that I cannot control, and it’s had an ugly effect on my attitude, my patience, and my anxiety.

2

Travel Less

Honestly, you guys, I love to travel more than anything in the world, but we are just tired of packing and unpacking and repacking and doing it all over again. Significantly more than half our weekends last year were spent in hotels, which means more than half the weeks of last year, I spent an entire day packing. If you don’t have a family of six, I envy you (and my husband packs for himself, so I really only pack for five). It takes a solid day to organize outfits for all of us, to pack them, to check lists, to launder the twins’ and Ava’s blankets they sleep with, to remember the travel pillows, and the chargers, to get tablets all the way charged, to pack snacks for planes, and snacks for car rides, and to pack activities such as crayons and coloring books to take to restaurants.

It takes a full day – even when we are leaving for just a night or two. And this means I spend one day every travel week packing. That means I lose a full day of work. I’m already working ahead to make sure I get all my weekend deadlines handled before we leave, but it also means I’m spending Monday-Thursday also working ahead to get Friday’s work done and the following Monday’s work done on top of all the weekend stuff and my everyday stuff. It’s stressful. Those are the weeks that hurt me the most.

That’s why I’d like to travel a little less this year. I’d like to plan more intentional trips with a lot of meaning, extra time, and fewer quick weekends away. They are always fun, but they often bring me more stress than they do pleasure. It’s a lot.

3

Be More Present

If I learned one thing during Christmas break, it was that I love not having my phone on me. It’s hard for me to do that when the kids are at school.  I need it where I can see if a teacher is calling or texting me. I need it in case something happens to one of the kids and someone is trying to contact me. But, I also did a thing. I moved my social media apps to the last page on my phone, and I took all the other apps off that page. They are now by themselves. I cannot see if I have a notification, and it’s been glorious. I often use Instagram for work-related things, so I won’t get rid of that app, but I’m probably going to say farewell to Facebook this year. I just have to get into the habit of emailing/texting my grandmother and my father-in-law photos of the kids more frequently since I basically let Facebook do that for me. I’ve found myself only using it for months now to post things. I rarely scroll through and check anything out. I can’t even see most of my ‘friends’ stuff anymore since it’s turned into one giant add, a long list of ‘read this article,’ and all that jazz. There’s no point.

I like being disconnected. I like being out of the loop. I like being focused on my kids and my family. It’s good stuff, and it brings actual joy to my heart. My does not. It brings me frustration because I don’t get why people can’t spell or use proper grammar or avoid tying in all caps. It brings me annoyance when I actually see an article I want to read and it’s nothing but popups. It brings me aggravation when someone says something about something they posted on Facebook and I didn’t see it because I don’t see anything other than adds and long, long, long lists of posts from the last 2-3 people whose friend requests I accepted. What’s the actual point?

9

Unschedule

I’m not filling my calendar this year. I dislike looking at it and dreading the weekend because it’s so busy we don’t have time to relax or chill. I dislike always being busy. I want to be able to accept last minute invitations. I want to be able to have spontaneous fun. I want to be more in control and less obligated. I’m unscheduling us, so don’t be offended if I say no to your requests or invitations. I genuinely need more down time in my life, and saying no is the only way I’m getting it.

12

Be More Positive

So, maybe, potentially, possibly, I’m a little cranky when I’m tired and feeling unfulfilled. So, on that note, I’m working on being more positive. It’s not easy for me to be in a good mood when I’m overwhelmed, but I’m working on it. I’m going to seek the positivity in all things rather than see the negatives. I’m going to try and be as positive as I can, and I’m going to shower that shit onto everyone around me as often as possible.

Basically, in 2020, I’m taking back my life. I’ve given far too much of it to too many people, activities, events, things, stuff, whatever. I’m minimizing this year, and since I’ve never been a fan of ‘stuff,’ my new minimalist approach is not about stuff.

2020, I’m ready for you and all the beautiful, glorious more intentional moments you have to offer.

2020 Goals

Happy New Year!

It’s 2020 – the only 20/20 I’ve had in my life since I was like 9 and began wearing glasses. Some say it’s the year of clarity because of that, but I like to think everyday is a day of clarity if you open yourself up to it and really make the effort to see things for what they are. More importantly, though, how was everyone’s New Year? Did you go out and have a party? Did you do something fun and unexpected? Did you have a low-key New Year?

We are low-key NYE people. We’ve had our years of going out and partying, but we really enjoy the simple NYE events the most (fun fact – I have always, always been an early to bed early to rise kind of gal – even when I was a teen. I was always in bed before 9 pm and I am most definitely not ashamed of that. A girl needs her sleep).

This New Year’s Eve was a very low key one. It’s been unseasonably warm – is that a thing? Can it be unseasonably warm in Florida given that we don’t have actual seasons? I don’t know. Whatever – in Florida. Like, 80 degrees and downright hot and miserable and really obnoxious. I dislike it, most definitely because it brings the pollen. And, unfortunately, the older I get, the more the pollen makes me suffer.

It gives me a nasty sinus headache, and I cannot sleep. Fun fact – I haven’t slept more than 2-3 hours in five nights because of it. The good news is that I can ignore the headache during the day as it’s just a dull throb with medication. I was fine to host, so we had some of our favorite people and very best friends over for the evening. My husband is an amazing cook, and he put filets on the grill, made his famous smashed potatoes and roasted some of my favorite veggies.

It was fabulous. I had a decadent bottle of red wine, the kids had fun with some imaginative art projects and outside time, and we laughed – a lot. Even better, everyone was gone by 10 pm, we put the kids to bed, showered, and rang in the new year sleeping peacefully in our bed. It was amazing. I didn’t feel great on New Year’s Day, but I spent the day resting, and that was really good for me. Craig spent the day playing with the kids and having fun with them while I rested, and I am always appreciative of that when I’m not well. I know my body, I know when I need rest, and I know what happens if I ignore that need. It’s not good.

Now that the New Year is here, I’m just excited. I’m happy to put 2019 behind me (you can read about why I thought it was the best worst year ever here) and start fresh this year. It’s a big year for us in so many ways. My husband and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage this year. Our oldest daughter will celebrate her 12th birthday, which means that it’s her last birthday before she becomes a teenager. We have so many fun things planned. We have so many amazing adventures ahead. We have so much to look forward to and to be thankful for.

That said, it’s also a new year. That means it’s time for new goals. I already talked about how this is going to be the year of quality for us. Quality over quantity in every aspect of our lives. But, it’s not the only goal I’m going to make for myself this year – obviously. So, here we go (because if I don’t share, who will hold me accountable?).

10

  • Meal plan. For several reasons. Number one – because I am so tired of going to Publix 5-6 times a week because we don’t plan. We cannot go into that store without spending at least $100, and that’s on top of the big trip we take on Sundays for what we pretend is our ‘shopping for the week,’ knowing we will be back another 4-5 times. Do the math. It’s a gross waste. Number two – I’m tired of the “what do you want? I don’t know, what do you want,” conversation every night. Number three – we are already home for dinner so infrequently that we shouldn’t have to order take out because we can’t make a decision or we lack one little ingredient and can’t cook what we want when we are home. Number four – I love being organized and making lists, so I bought a meal planning calendar, and I want to use it. Five – we are healthy eaters regardless, but this will take things to the next level.
  • Find more patience. I’ll struggle with this, but I’m going to try. I’m not a people person, and it’s probably because I’m so impatient with them as a whole. It’s so easy not to be ignorant and ridiculous, yet I find myself wondering why it seems so hard for so many. Thus, my lack of patience. Being a mom of four also makes patience a thing, too, right?
  • Stop apologizing for being myself or not living up to other’s expectations. I say fuck a lot. I don’t have a lot of patience (though I’m working on that). I like what I like. I’m not easily impressed. I have strong opinions. I think wrong is wrong. I don’t have time for negativity. I think jealousy and insecurities are ugly and pointless. Some people just aren’t my type of people. I’m good with who I am, and I don’t need or want anyone’s approval – but I’m also no longer apologizing for my opinions and feelings.
  • Be more intentional. With my time, my energy, my words, and my focus.
  • Write a book. Fun fact – I wrote one in 2019, but I have this gut instinct that I’m meant to write something very specific, and I’m working on that now.
  • Tackle two of the last and biggest remodeling projects in our house. We bought our dream house in 2015, and we have two things left to do. I, however, am a Type-A perfectionist, and I’m good at putting them off because the idea of living in a construction zone with four kids while also working from home for a few weeks really gives me anxiety and makes me feel like I’m having a panic attack. But, we want them done, so we’re doing them and I’m going to suck it up and try not to be a raging nightmare bitch when my life feels like it’s out of control (fun fact – I’m an obsessive compulsive neat freak because I can control that, and I like control. I have four kids, so many things in life are totally and completely out of my control, but a clean house and great makeup are inside my realm of control. And I can be a little uptight about both.)
  • Spend more time outside. It’s good for the soul.
  • I probably have more, but I can’t think of them right now.

What are your goals for the new year? I’m not a resolution maker, but I love a new list of goals. I think goals are amazing, and I think that it’s easy to keep adding to your goals, expanding upon them, changing them up to make them more of what you’re actually looking for throughout the year. I love that.

2019: The Best Worst Year

Quality.

The degree of excellence of something.

It’s a simple word. Not even a fancy one. Regardless, it’s the word I am focusing on in my life in 2020. It’s the word I want to embody the year we’re about to live. I want to look back a year from now, and I want to feel as if I’ve made that happen.

I’m going to be honest with you. I walked into 2019 excited for the new year. I’m always excited because we have always been so fortunate to have one amazing year after another. That’s certainly not to say that we haven’t had bad days or that we haven’t been through experiences that have brought us to our knees in tears begging God to change us. We have. We’ve done it a few times – namely in 2010 when we suffered miscarriage after miscarriage trying to have our second baby.

That year brought us to our knees more times than I can count – and we’ve been so fortunate that the rest of our years have been so beautiful (sprinkled with moments that weren’t pleasant, but very, very good as a whole). We’ve been so fortunate, and that is not lost on us.

2019 was a strange year. It was a year I cannot even put into words. It’s a year that is filled with so many amazing memories – I mean, we honestly had the most phenomenal year. But it’s also a year that humbled me. It’s a year that brought me so much clarity. It’s a year that hurt me more than any other year of my life.

13

We were only 7 weeks into the new year when our sweet son, only 4-years-old at the time, suffered a Grand Mal seizure. To this day, after four days in the hospital and every single test you can imagine, we have no answers. It was not febrile. It was not the result of head trauma. It wasn’t anything explainable, which is why it’s called an unprovoked Grand Mal seizure.

It was the worst five minutes of my life, followed by the worst half hour of my life when he stopped seizing and was completely unresponsive, followed by the worst four days of my life in the hospital watching his little body go through test after test, followed by the worst year of my life waking up in the middle of the night in a panicked sweat, tears streaming down my face, and fear in my heart as I raced across the house to his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing. Night after night after night.

I cannot even put into words the fear and terror in my heart every single time my phone rings while he’s at school and I see the name of the school scrolling across my phone. I just know that they’re calling to tell me he’s seizing again. I’m wrong – Thank God – every single time, but that fear never subsides. Every single time I hear a thud anywhere in the house or outside, my heart stops in fear as I race to the sound to make sure he didn’t fall and hit his head – because the chance of him suffering another seizure is increased exponentially after suffering from one.

It never gets easier.

I know we are fortunate that this wasn’t worse. I know we are so blessed that every single one of his tests came back negative and void of any complications or health problems or concerns. I know this. I also know that no answers suck because there’s no way to prevent or avoid what you don’t recognize or know to prevent or avoid.

I’ll never forget the moment, about a month after Carter was released from the hospital, when discussing his seizure with a woman when she commented, “I don’t know why you’re so panicked about it. It happens all the time to people, and it’s not that big a deal,” in the most callous, most disgusting display of ignorance imaginable.

It might not seem like the biggest deal in the world when a child is fine, but anyone who can say that it’s not a big deal and that it happens all the time and it’s just a thing has never stared at their child’s seizing body on the ground, foam and vomit seeping from his mouth while his body shakes uncontrollably. They’ve never seen their child go instantly still while turning bluer by the moment as his little body is struggling to take in air. They’ve never looked down at their lifeless child and thought to themselves, “Oh my God. This is the last time I will ever hold my baby,” because there was no breath and no recognizable pulse and you thought your baby was gone.

2

To those who don’t think that this is a big deal – keep feeling that. Keep feeling that and keep feeling the bliss that comes from having never been in a situation where your baby’s life was in question. You are the lucky ones. You are the ones who don’t know the fear that grips your heart and the instantaneous nightmare that comes to mind when your child’s lifeless body is suddenly flashing before your eyes when you lie down and close your eyes at night.

You’ve never laid awake in bed for hours on end night after night after night crying yourself to sleep while your husband holds you and worries for you and shares your fears and hopes that you’ll eventually get some sleep. You’ll never know that it’s like to go through almost an entire year living in a total fog from exhaustion and sleep deprivation and worry. You are so lucky you don’t see your son’s lifeless body every single time you close your eyes. At home. In a plane. In a hotel room. When he’s cuddled up next to you on the couch on movie night. You won’t know that terror, and you are living the very best possible life because of that.

That one moment, those 5 minutes, that half hour, that four days, defined an entire year for me. In fact, it may define my entire life. I don’t know. There are aspects of it that do get a bit easier each day, but the fear never settles or becomes more manageable when you’re not with your little boy and the phone rings and it’s the grandparents who are with him, or the school where he goes, or your husband when you’re not home. That fear consumes me. It eats me alive from the inside out, and it’s affected my entire year.

1

I can’t just get over it. I can’t just accept it because it happens to people all the time. I’ve had so many beautiful men and women reach out to me to share their stories so similar to ours. My heart hurts so much for each of them, while simultaneously feeling so much appreciation and love and respect for those who do this all the time, for those who live this every single day of their lives. For those who have it so much worse than we did or do. Those people are the real heroes.

That one moment, though. That one moment shaped an entire year. It took so much of the joy from my life in so many small ways while also providing me with the opportunity to learn new ways to feel joy. For example, I feel just a little less joy and excitement and pleasure when I’m away from my kids. I know I need the time away to recharge, even for a few hours on date night, but I feel a little less joy in that time because of my fear. On the same note, I feel so much more joy in the simplest of things. The moments I hear the twins bursting through the master bedroom door and running to my husband’s side of the bed at some ungodly hour where the sun isn’t even up yet on a Saturday morning asking for pancakes and bacon in their ‘inside’ voices (their inside voices are the same as their outside voices, in case you were wondering).

5

The joy I feel in those moments is indescribable. They’re alive. They’re well. They’re so normal and so unaffected, and they’re so sweet. I find so much joy in those moments.

It’s amazing to me that a year filled with so many beautiful trips, so many moments that bring laughter and joy, and so many days spent with the people who fill our hearts to the top with so much love and enjoyment, and so many hilarious memories, and fun adventures, and amazing things can be a year I look back on and feel relief when I realize it’s almost over.

I know, realistically, that January 1 is nothing more than a brand-new day just like today was, and tomorrow will be, and the day before yesterday was; but it holds so much more for me this year. It holds so much promise for a better year. A year of healing and of quality.

Our lives in 2019 were filled with quality. We weren’t lacking in it at all, but it was also busting at the seams with quantity. Approximately 30 weekends in hotels. Almost 100 nights in beds that don’t belong to us. More activities and nights spent with half our family here and half there and so very few opportunities to spend just a simple evening together at home.

5

None of our travel is work related, at all. The only time it’s even remotely close to work related is the weekend my husband and I spend in Tampa every December for his work Christmas party – and it’s not like that’s mandatory. We just love it. I say that because I’m sure it’s easy to wish for more time at home and less time in hotels and less time in the airport when you’re not really given a choice in the matter because it’s work-related. But, ours is not work related, which alternately makes me feel fortunate and sad at the same time. There’s a certain irony in feeling annoyed and overwhelmed and irritated about packing and traveling and being away from home when all the trips are your choice.

I don’t want to feel like that in 2020. I don’t want so much of everything in the new year. I want more quality, less quantity, and more time to focus on what is good in life. I want more lazy mornings in my own home. I want more weekends spent making spontaneous plans. I want more, but I don’t want more for the sake of more. I want more quality.

I want 2020 to be a year that I can look back on one year from today and know that quality was abundant in our lives and that we derived so much pleasure from each moment rather than simply living the motions. I want this year to be the year that moments of fear and terror are fewer and further between. Our pediatric neurologist told us that if Carter can go a full year without a secondary seizure, his chances of having another one decrease significantly.

1

I want February 17, 2020 to be a day of celebration because he made it a year without a second seizure. I want it to be a day of happiness. I am putting a lot of pressure on that one day because I have this feeling in my mind that making it to that day without incident means that I will finally relax a bit, breathe a little bit easier, and maybe even sleep through the night without waking in a panicked sweat. I hope it’s the first night in a year that I don’t get up in the middle of the night and sneak across the house to put my hand on his chest and feel him breathing and still wake up the following morning with a happy, healthy, beautiful little boy to love.

2020 – I have big plans for you.

2019 – I let you own me, and I will never let that happen again.