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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

Finding Quality Time With Your Family In Busy Seasons

Happy Thursday, loves!

Anyone else have kids struggling to acclimate to the new routine of back-to-school? Hitting the kids with school schedules, sports schedules, activity schedules, and the rest of our lives schedules is hard on them this time of year, and it’s showing in the Raiford house. The twins are the most emotional little people on the planet right now. Even our oldest, who is a dream, is a little whiny sometimes. Our 8-year-old is the only child in this house who is not tired, whiny, or emotional (except for a few minor instances).

Honestly, I think the problem is they’re starving. It’s a hard knock life when you go from summer snacking every 5.6 seconds to breakfast at 8, lunch at 11:20, home at 4:30 (thanks pick-up line). After all the snack begging we deal with all summer, we are shocked – shocked – they haven’t wasted away yet.

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In all seriousness, though, the hardest part of this time of year is losing the unhurried life we grow so accustomed to all summer. It makes it difficult to find quality time together when everyone is on the go all the time. Don’t get me wrong – my husband and I are fortunate enough to have plenty of time with our family both working from home and being present every day, but let’s be honest. Quality time is not found around the bar over frozen waffles, tired eyes, and taking requests such as “My strawberries are only cut in half. I’d like them cut in quarters,” or “Carter STOP TALKING TO ME before my eyes are awake!” and “Can I bring toys to school today?”

So, in an effort to make sure we are getting at least a little quality time with the kids during the week, we’ve been implementing a few new things into our routine, and the kids are loving it. Quality time with your family isn’t going to happen every moment of the day. It’s not even going to happen every day if you have kids, sports, homework, and the like. But, there are ways you can make sure you’re family is still a priority even when you’re all focused on other things.

*Just being there with your family on a daily basis is amazing. Your kids are going to grow up remembering that their parents were there to help with homework, that they were there to take them to the movies on the weekends, that they were there to play cards or board games or play outside or go get ice cream. It’s truly the little things that make the biggest difference.

Family Dinner

Weeknights are difficult in our house. Two nights a week, we are at cheer practice, and three of us miss dinner with the other three. One night a week, we have dinner with our best friends and their kids, which is such an amazing time for all, but it’s not like the kids want anything to do with the adults on those nights. They shovel their food in their mouths, pause for dessert, and quickly jump back in the pool or head outside to play. Dance parties are also big.

Monday night is our only at-home night during the week where no one has any activities, so we make it a family dinner night. We cook together; kids included. We sit down in the formal dining room together. We eat together. The kids tell us about their days, they ask us about our days, and we’ve found that we linger for a while after everyone’s plates are cleared. After dinner, we take a family walk around our neighborhood (every child gets to take turns choosing the route we take….walk by the Loud House this night. By the Fish Mailbox one night. By the Rooster mailbox another night…).

Our kids live for Monday nights right now, and we are loving every second of it. No electronics on Monday nights. Just good old-fashioned family fun, and we all need that. And, if life is running busy for you, don’t discount those nights you sit around a table in a restaurant with your family on the go. That counts. A dinner table is a dinner table if you’re all focused on one another.

Family Movie Night

There is nothing we love more than a family movie night. Ideally, it’s on a rainy evening where we want to curl up and watch movies from the couch. The kids love family movie night. We try to do it as often as possible on Friday nights, but it’s not always a weekly occurrence. However, when we do have a free Friday evening, that’s the plan. We take the kids to dinner somewhere (usually somewhere with really good pizza, plain pasta, and wine) and then we come home, take showers and baths, put on our favorite pajamas, and curl up. The kids love old-school comedies like “Beethoven” and “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which makes it more fun for us as adults, too. It’s simple, but it’s so effective.

The kids get to pick their treat for the night (ice cream, cookies, whatever) and popcorn, and they look forward to it almost as much as we do. They think they’re just having fun, but they have no idea they’re actually making memories. One day, though, we know they’ll look back and say to their own spouse, “I want to do family movie night like our parents did for us when we were kids.”

Game Night

Not my favorite way to spend quality time as a family, but the kids love it. We are all competitive, and some of us (Carter and Ava) are learning how not to be sore losers. Family game night takes some serious patience, but it’s fun. Cards. Board games. Trampoline games. Whatever they want to do. Our favorite, though, is the basketball game we bought and put on the lanai. I’m sure it has a real name, but I don’t know it. I’ll link it here for you, though. The kids love it, and we have so much fun with it. Our friends have fun with it. Our families have fun with it. It’s all the things, and it’s good.

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A Bonus…

I don’t want to discount quality time spent without the entire family. My husband and I are both home all day since we both work from home, so we don’t miss anything in their lives. Our kids will always remember us being here for them even when our time wasn’t necessarily spent with them. They’ll always remember having two parents home together for dinner and to help them with their homework, and to run errands, and to do the everyday things that must get done.

But, we need our alone time, which is where date nights are the best. Lunch dates are also great. Even grocery shopping dates are so much fun when the kids are not present. Additionally, one-on-one time with the kids is also amazing. We try to schedule time as often as we can to spend quality time with just the big girls while the twins are with the grandparents and vice versa. Those are things they also remember, because they’re getting more individual time with us where they can talk and no one interrupts us or distracts them. It’s really, really important to spend time with your kids on an individual basis.

Trust me. When our kids are grown, they’re going to remember the family movie nights. The dinners around the table talking about our days. The fact that mommy and daddy were at all their games, competitions, school events, etc. They’re already past caring about the trips to Disney and the vacations and the toys and the stuff they have. It’s those little moments that fill their buckets with love, attention, and the knowledge that they are loved by people who think they’re cool and want to spend time listening to them.

As a very wise man once said, “At the end of the day, all you have is family,” and he’s not wrong.

Struggling with Mom Guilt During the Summer

Happy Friday, loves!

Summer is officially here (last week, I think?), but it doesn’t feel any different to those of us in the Sunshine State. It’s hot. It’s humid. The heat is downright oppressive. It’s my least favorite time of the year (sweating isn’t my thing unless I’m working out) and my mom guilt is strong during the summer months.

I know I’m not the only one. I’ve been running my business from home for almost 11 years now. Back then, it just wasn’t that common. When I told people I owned my own business, they wanted to know where they could find my office. When I told people I work from home or wherever I happen to be in the moment (Starbucks? A hotel somewhere?), no one really knew what to say.

Most people always assume I do some sort of network marketing or direct sales job because those are big, and they were the only real ‘at-home’ careers for many people back in the day…I’m talking 2008-ish.

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I don’t network market (not that there’s anything wrong with it; I just don’t). I founded a content creation company, and I write and edit web content for my clients. I’m a writer, but more than a writer. I blog, I create the content on the websites you visit every day. Sometimes, even I’m surprised to log on to a website to read some information about a company or a situation, and I realize that I wrote the piece.

I’ve written and published more than 50,000 articles in the long history of my writing career. I’ve added editing to my platform, as well. The entire reason I began this business was 1 – to do something I love, and 2 – to make sure that while doing what I love, I get to create my own schedule and I get to be fully present and with my kids.

But…no situation is perfect. And that’s where the mom guilt comes into play. With that said, I’m delving a little deeper into something I think a lot of moms and dads deal with on a regular basis that they might not know how to describe.

What is mom guilt?

Or dad guilt. Or whatever guilt. I’m sure there are a half-dozen ways to describe it, but I’ll tell you what it feels like in my life. It’s the feeling when you have kids you want to spend quality time with, but you have a business you love almost as much as your kids, and you want to focus on that, too.

I’m a workaholic. I’d spend all day, every day at my desk in my home office if I could. I’d write all day long. I’d edit all day long. I’d take on dozens of additional clients and just work all the time. I love what I do. But, I love my kids more; and they need me.

The school year is easy for me. They’re in school, so I just have to take a quick break to drive them there and pick them up, occasionally volunteer at some event, and my husband and I share the duties taking them to and from their extracurricular activities. Weekends are date nights and family time and travel time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have a schedule. I wake up at 5, work until I take them to school at 9, work out, home, work until it’s time to pick them up. I don’t like to work after pick-up. That’s when I like to help them unpack their lunchboxes, their backpacks, and help with homework. That’s when we spend some quality time together talking about our days and doing what we need to do.

I have a schedule.

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Summer kills my schedule.

Legitimately kills it dead and then backs right over it a few more times. There is no real schedule this time of year, and that is something I struggle with. I’m a planner. I’m a routine-oriented person. I like things done the same every single day with very little deviation. That deviation must be my idea, and it must be something I have thought-out and planned like it’s my job.

You might not consider me the most spontaneous person.

Summer is hard. The first week was a trip to D.C. this year with Addison’s safety patrol group. I worked my ass off for weeks before we left to pre-write and schedule more than 50 articles for that week (on top of the articles due the weeks leading up to the trip) so that I could take 6 days off of my business.

The second week was cheer camp week, which meant leaving the house at 7:20 am to drop the girls off and then again at 11:30 to pick the kids up. No flow there. Then it was a normal week, and we tried to get on a schedule.  The problem is that I want the kids to have fun, but I want and need to work.

Finding balance

It’s so easy sometimes, and it’s so hard other times. Summer is hard; for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that I want to be at my desk. I don’t like to leave things undone, but the kids are here and I want to spend time with them. I’m trying to relax about leaving my desk, but it’s difficult. I will stop to play a game of cards, take a golf cart ride, run out for ice cream, whatever.

But, taking the kids to see a movie or go somewhere else requires pre-planning for me. If it takes longer than an hour, it’s not something I’ll do last-minute. I need something like 48 hours of notice. That way, I can work ahead a little bit so I wake up the morning of the activity without feeling as if I’m going to be behind, working all night, or I can’t really enjoy myself. I’m Type-A all day long, y’all. I know I can come home and do the work later, but I don’t like to. I like to get it done in the morning and have my afternoons and evenings free and clear.

I am also a firm believer in letting my kids have downtime. They don’t get enough of it with our schedules, but they’re serious homebodies (just like Craig and I, even though I’m sure you find that hard to believe as often as we are out, busy, and traveling). They like to be home more than anything else, and they all get cranky when they don’t get some downtime. I also don’t believe in entertaining them nonstop.

I’m just not that mom, y’all. Kudos to those who are, but I’m not; and I really think that my kids are better for it. They have SUCH big imaginations. They play so well together, and we rarely hear them complain of boredom. They’re more likely to complain when we tell them we are going somewhere fun than they are to complain when we have nothing scheduled.

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For example, yesterday was a down day. We didn’t have anything scheduled until evening when Charlotte had her tumble class. The kids slept in, they got up, and they all went upstairs to play with Charlotte’s kitchen and set up and entire pizza restaurant. They spent 3 hours doing that until I took the twins with me to the YMCA to play in the Kid Zone while I worked out. The big girls didn’t want to go. They wanted to read their new books.

When I got home, they sat down together and played Candy Land. Then they went upstairs and built a killer fort. After that, they went outside for a bit when the sun wasn’t so brutal. They never once complained of being bored. They use their imaginations. They read. They played together. They have such a diverse way of living their lives, and they are happy doing almost anything – and nothing.

I struggle with too much

What does that mean? Well, I struggle when we have too many weekday plans. I’m fine being busy all weekend as long as we are relaxing on Sundays, but I struggle with too many things during the week. For one, I’m working and so is my husband. The fact that neither of us gets up in the morning and leaves the house to go to an office doesn’t make our jobs any less of a job. Working from home or for yourself still doesn’t make you free all the time. Sure, I create my own schedule, but I like my schedule, and I don’t want to interrupt it. It’s the way it is because that’s what works best for us, and that’s what I like.

This week was a busy one, and we have plans next week during the week. I’m struggling with that. Not because I don’t want to have fun with the kids, but because even they’re starting to complain about it. Monday we went bowling and then to Craig’s softball game. Tuesday the twins went to grandma’s and the big girls and I had a shopping, lunch, doctor day. Wednesday and Thursday were down days, but busy evenings, and Friday is a movie day. Tuesday is another day we will be out all day long having fun with our friends, and Wednesday night is one of our favorite events of the year with our best friends.

And I feel overwhelmed thinking of all the time I’ve missed and will miss in my office. Addison, our oldest, didn’t want to go with me to the Y today or yesterday because she wanted to “stay home and rest” because she hasn’t had time this week.

I’ve spent so much time away from my desk during the week this week, and that means I’ve been up earlier in the mornings working, and later at night work. And that makes me tired, because I’m not getting enough sleep trying to do it all.

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My mom guilt is strong

I struggle with the guilt I feel when I’m in my office, but I try to remind myself that the kids don’t mind. They like that time to spend on their own. They don’t complain. They don’t feel as if their lives are boring because we aren’t at a movie or the park or the beach or whatever 7 days a week. They like being home as much as I do, but the mom guilt is strong.

But, if I’m being honest, my mom guilt isn’t about our kids and their activities and lives. They lead good lives. No, they lead amazing lives. There’s nothing they’re missing out on. They have more airline miles each than most adults do. They get to travel often. They get to do things, go places, and have experiences that most people never get in their lives. They have built-in best friends. They have a group of friends they’ve known since birth, and they are loved, fortunate, and happy kids.

My guilt is that I’d rather be in my office than at the movies. That sounds terrible, but it’s true. I’d rather be at my desk, killing it, than I would doing things during the week. Honestly, I just don’t find as much enjoyment in taking the kids to do things when my husband isn’t with me. Our kids just aren’t accustomed to that. When we go to movies, to parties, to events, hotels, travel, etc., Craig is with us. But, summertime sometimes means going with other people. We love our other people, so much, but we all end up at home at the end of the day wishing that he was with us, because it’s just a little bit less fun without him. We hate leaving him out and making memories without him.

Work/life balance

Ninety percent of the time, I feel like I’m killing it with the work-life balance situation. Summer is the 10 percent I feel like I’m failing every single day. I’m not no good at being off our regularly scheduled programing. I don’t enjoy the constant activities. The kids are cranky when we have too much going on. I don’t like rearranging my own work schedule for other things.

Basically, what it comes down to is that I’m a spoiled rotten asshole. I like my schedule and routine, and I don’t like it being interrupted. But, I think I’m getting better at it. I’m saying yes to more things (Bowling and a movie date with friends in ONE week?!) and I’m having fun with my friends and my kids in the process. I’m tired, and I don’t love that, but I’m learning to be a little more spontaneous.

But…I will say that I’m still good about saying no when I’m already a little overscheduled and overwhelmed by it – though I don’t feel good turning people I love down. Balance is important to me, but I struggle with that – hard – this time of year.

A note to everyone

If you ask me to do something, and I cannot do it or say no, thank you, please don’t take offense. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me. I run a business, and the fact that it’s from home doesn’t mean it’s any less a business than one that has office hours.

Sometimes, I just don’t have the time. For example, I had to say no to plans on Monday with someone I love dearly because we already have plans Tuesday (with her and her kids, so it wasn’t a heartbreaking no) and it’s a holiday week, and I know I need Monday to stay on track with my deadlines and my clients.

I also know that most of our evenings are already spoken for, and I draw a HARD line at putting my own health and mental health and sleep at risk by over-committing. If I say no to something, it’s not because I don’t want to join you (well, I mean, it might be, but it’s usually not). It’s because I really have no time. If I say yes to something I don’t have time for, it means I have to say no to something else. I can’t say no to work obligations, and I can’t say no to spending time with my family.

If you need me, I need at least 48 hours of notice, but most of the time – I need a solid week or two of notice. Our weeks get crazy busy, and I just don’t have much free time. Someone wise once said something beautiful.

I can do anything, but I cannot do everything.

Orlando’s Best Kept Secret: The Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate

Happy Wednesday, loves!

I have a secret. Well, it’s not a secret. No, it’s kind of a secret. Maybe. Who knows?

We are waking up at home this morning for the first time since the kids got out of school three weeks ago without feeling completely exhausted, without traveling, and without anywhere to be. I got to get up, come into my office, sit down, and actually have a normal day writing and editing. It’s a good feeling.

Here’s my secret – I love nothing more than normal days. I love being at home. I love my house. It’s my favorite place in the world, and it brings me more joy to be here with my family than anywhere else in the world. And that’s coming from someone who lives at home and works from home. I really, really love my home.

But, I also love to travel.

I can’t imagine life without travel or without the feeling of content I feel when I’m at home. I feel really lucky to love the place I call home so much, but I also feel so fortunate to live a life that allows us to travel often, and to travel well.

And, after the trip that was our daughter’s Safety Patrol week in D.C., I can say with complete honesty that my travel snobbery is for sure something I’m not ashamed of. Count me out of anything with less than four stars, but it should have at least 4.5 stars to make me happy.

Sorry, not sorry, but I like my coffee delivered to my room every morning by someone who isn’t married to me. I like my breakfast served to me in bed. I like finding a bottle of bubbles on ice already waiting for me with a personalized note from the hotel manager when I walk into my room. I like someone else carrying my luggage. I like someone else bringing my car to me. I like certain things, and that’s just who I am.

That’s why I’m sharing my other secret with you. It’s not so much a secret as it is just something so many people don’t know about because it’s a little bit off the beaten path. And by off the beaten path, I mean it’s like 7 minutes further down the road than Disney, and that makes people look elsewhere.

It’s the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. My husband and I have been spending several weekends a year here since we got married in 2005, and it remains one of our favorite places in the world. It’s just over an hour from home, so it’s a perfect weekend getaway for us, and we make sure we spend 3 or 4 weekends a year here.

It’s changed a lot in the past 14 or so years, but only for the better. When we were trying to decide where to spend Father’s Day celebrating my husband – the world’s most amazing father – the Omni was everyone’s immediate choice. So, we booked it, we packed, and we loved it. As usual.

It’s never busy

Even when the Omni is sold out of rooms, it never feels busy. The resort is sprawling. You can check the deets on the link to the hotel to see for yourself. But, there’s never a feeling of so many people there that you cannot find a great chair by the pool, a server, or a reservation at dinner.

You never have to leave the resort

When we go to the Omni, we don’t leave the resort. Well, that’s not true. We’ve been Disney annual passholders for over a decade, so we sometimes make the quick 10-minute drive to Disney in the evenings to spend a few hours at the park after the sun goes down. But, we don’t leave otherwise. We order room service or check out Trevi’s for breakfast. We love lunch at the pool bar, Croc’s, and we love dinner at David’s Club, a lot. When we are in the mood for sushi, Zen is the perfect choice.

The pools are the best in Orlando

You won’t find a better pool area in all of Orlando. Trust us, we’ve been to all of them. The Gaylord comes in second, but the Omni takes first. And, they’ve had our hearts for best pool area for almost 15 years, and they recently added a lot more to the pool…but they were the best before that. Now it’s even more amazing.

The main pool is a zero-entry pool that’s massive. It has a water splash pad on one side, a major waterslide, tons of space, a basketball hoop, etc.. The lazy river is 850-feet of greatness. The adult pool is elegant and pristine. The new wave pool is our kids’ favorite. The new kids’ area is perfect for little kids. The water is two-feet deep at most, and there are three fun slides for small kids. The resort features Cabanas at the kid’s pool, the wave pool, and the adult pool.

Cabanas are worth it, always. It’s a little more expensive on the weekends, and it’s more expensive during the summer as whole, but worth it. You get a cabana with chairs, a television, a fridge, a fresh fruit platter, 10 beverages, and a ceiling fan. You have cover if it begins to rain, personalized bar service, and so much more. This weekend, the price was the highest it typically goes for a cabana at the wave pool or kiddie pool, which is $275 for all of that. You get it all day long – from 8 am to 10 pm.

The restaurants are amazing

Fun fact – I hate buffets. Hate them. Ew. But, I really enjoy the breakfast buffet at Trevi’s at the Omni. It’s one of the best around. The fruit is always the freshest, and that’s one of my primary reasons for hating buffets (other than being totally and completely grossed out to touch food other people have been near or touched before me). The fruit is always so fresh, and it’s so abundant.

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You get all of it, not just a few pieces of random fruit. They always, always have strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, bananas, and kiwi, and it always looks and tastes amazing.

David’s Club is our favorite for dinner for so many reasons. Not only is it beyond impossible to find something you don’t love, but they legit cater to us like it’s the most important thing they’ve ever done in their lives. Even when we have our kids with us, they make it special. For example, they’re quick to give the kids their own table and their own waiter next to us so we can have a little downtime, and the waiter keeps them happy. Whatever they need, he or she is on it. We don’t have to do a thing, and it’s beautiful.

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(Lilly Pulitzer romper, Tory Burch  Millers, Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM, Givenchy Sunglasses)

Croc’s is amazing because they have the best pool food. They have the most fantastic buffalo chicken quesadillas. They aren’t on the menu anymore, but all you need to do is ask for them and they’re yours. You won’t regret it. Zen has fab sushi, and you will enjoy every second of it.

You’re always VIP at the Omni

From the moment we arrive at valet, we are always treated like the most important people in the hotel. For example, my husband and I have been coming here so long and so often that one of the amazing valets who has been there since we started coming knows our family well (Hi, Kenny!). He’s been helping us from day one, and he’s watched us go from newlyweds to having Addison, to welcoming Ava, to having the twins. He’s parked our 2-seater convertible and our Lincoln SUV and our BMW sedan, and our Denali (and I’m pushing for him to park a minivan the next time we visit…but my husband and I cannot agree on our next “family” vehicle. He loves the Denali and wants me to drive the Yukon XL Denali next, but I don’t want anything XL…I want the Chrysler Pacifica. We had one as a rental in Texas recently, and me and the kids fell in love. You guys…it has a vacuum in the third row. And I’m a neat freak who vacuums my car every single day with my handy dandy shop vac I keep in the garage. Don’t you feel like I NEED a minivan with a built-in vacuum? Please let Craig Raiford know this…he doesn’t think I’ll be truly happy in it after a few months, but I’m obsessed and ready to rock a mom van like it’s my job).

That was a bit off topic, but you know how it goes with me. The Omni staff treats you like VIP, always. Kenny at valet is amazing. He knows our names, he knows what we’ve been up to, and he’s always quick to come over and grab us to help with the kindest words and a “Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Raiford!” as he opens our doors. We love him.

The front desk is always so friendly. Kids are presented with a super cute backpack filled with toys, goodies, and candy when we check in. Because we are Omni Select Guest members, we have bottled water waiting on us in our room every single day, we have warm chocolate chip cookies, milk, and more water delivered to us every night during turndown service (one for each of the kids and us).

If it’s one of our birthdays, the kids’ birthdays, or our anniversary, or even if we are just there for a quick date night for no other reason than just to get away for a night, we have champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, or even a full cake with a special message on it.

Select Guest members also get coffee delivered to the room in the morning – or tea or water or juice or whatever you prefer, as long as you specify what you want. Additionally, we are always upgraded to a suite if there is one available. If there isn’t, they always make sure we at least have a balcony that overlooks the pool area and the grounds of the golf course. They’re so good to us.

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Kids Club

So, we just tried this for the first time, but we sent the kids to Camp Omni this weekend. Friday night, we had a family dinner. Saturday, we spent the entire day by the pool. By the time Saturday night rolled around, we were ready for a break from the kids, and they were ready for a break from us. Insert Camp Omni here.

We took the kids for a few hours, and they LOVED it! They asked if they can go every time we visit, and we are down for that! The camp is highly secure, and it’s available by reservation only. For a small fee ($12 per hour, per child), the kids get to go in and participate in an evening of fun from 5 pm to 10 pm. They played video games, did arts and crafts, went to the connected, fenced in, locked playground to play. They also had dinner in there, and they got to choose what they ate, including dessert. They loved it.

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Meanwhile, we were able to go to dinner at David’s, sip wine on the balcony, and enjoy the sunset. It was a perfect ending to a beautiful day. We highly recommend it.

Activities Galore

Glow golf, hair beads, a DJ, tie dye shirt making, hat decorating, hula hoop contests, a hot dog station, staff walking around with popsicles and ice cream to hand out to the kids just because, and Dive-In Movies at night round out the kind of fun that kids have at the Omni. It’s a great time for everyone, and there is always something to do.

And now you know. Now you know that we are always happy to visit the Omni. It’s always a great time whether we are with the kids, by ourselves, or spending the weekend with our friends. Are you ready to join us next time?

Maintaining Patience During Summer Vacation

Patience and summer might not mix if you’re a parent.

But, that’s part of the job.

Our kids are home for the summer, and by that I mean they are totally and completely home. We are not big on summer camps around here. I’m not knocking those who are big into them, but we simply are not. For one, there’s not many around here that interest our kids (or exist, if we are being honest). Additionally, one of the biggest caveats of beginning my business 11 years ago when our sweet girl was born was that I wanted to be a present mom.

I work from home, and so does my husband. That can make summer difficult. Being that my husband does not work for himself, he does need the house to be relatively quiet, which is not always easy with four kids. I don’t need the quiet so much as I just need uninterrupted time to work.

In the past, I woke up early and worked before the kids got up so that I could finish most of my work in the mornings. I write a lot of words each weekday for my clients, but I write quickly and have ample experience writing, editing, and submitting my work in an efficient manner. I need around 3 hours per day to get my work done.

These days, sleeping later is more important to me than getting up earlier. I like being up before the kids, but I’m tired. The last few months of the school year do me in, and I’m exhausted. Our lives are non-stop go, go, go the first 5 months of the year, and I just want to sleep in.

So, I work when they’re awake, and it’s often in small spurts throughout the day. I’m growing accustomed to it, and it works.

But, patience is not always easy during the summer. We are Floridians. It rains a lot, and we have kids who want to be outside more than anything in the world. Inside is like the devil in their eyes. I’m also not the kind of mom who has any desire to entertain my kids 24/7. I am not about to find a fun activity to take them to 7 days a week.

Thankfully, my kids don’t need constant entertainment or stimulation to have fun. I think that’s because we let them have times of boredom so that they’re able to use their imaginations and entertain themselves, and I’m so appreciative we’ve done that for them. We know kids who will come up to us and tell us they are bored when there’s a swimming pool, bikes, balls, toys, games, and a million other things to do, and we refuse to let our kids become the kind of kids who need constant stimulation.

We lead exceptionally active lives on the weekend, and our weeks are a lot more laidback. We stay home most days. We don’t make plans. I’m not into taking four kids out and about on my own throughout the week if I don’t have to. The kids aren’t as happy when it’s just me as it is when it’s both of us, anyway. They’re also homebodies like we are. They like to be home. Perhaps our summers are our time to actually stay home more often than not and relax and enjoy. I don’t know.

My mind is all over the place right now, sorry. My point is that it’s sometimes hard to maintain patience in the summer with kids, things to do, and a life to live. I am, however, always happy to share some of my own personal tips for getting through the 11 weeks of summer relatively unscathed and better for it.

Make Plans

I just said we don’t make many weekday plans during the summer, and I do stand by that. We may go see a movie, go swimming, go bowling, or something like that once or twice a week, but I’m not an entertainer. They’re going to read, play games, play outside and have fun at home the rest of the week. But, we do make a lot of summer plans that they have to look forward to. This helps keep them patient, and it gives us all something to look forward to.

For example, we are officially two weeks into summer, and we’ve already spent a week in D.C., this week is cheer camp, we have parties, events, and several trips to look forward to. There is always something to look forward to, and we love that. It helps us all stay patient with one another.

Keep it Simple

Maybe our kids are a bit spoiled. Okay, okay; there’s no maybe about it. They are spoiled rotten. They have more than they could ever want, they don’t go without, and they’ve traveled more of the world in their young lives than most adults will in their entire lives. Don’t feel sorry for the Raiford kids.

However, do keep in mind that our kids love simple things, and that helps us stay patient with one another all summer. Sometimes, they just want the little things that they don’t get to experience so often. What does that mean? Well, our kids might moan and roll their eyes when we go to birthday parties with bounce houses because they’re tired of the same bounce houses all the time. They might complain when we go to Disney because they dislike standing in lines and being hot and they go all the time. They might be frustrated that we’re going to the Omni instead of the Gaylord because they like the pool at the Gaylord better.

But, there is one thing our kids never complain about. The simple things. Ask them if they want to go into the kitchen and bake cookies, and they’re the most excited kids in the world. Sit down and play a game of cards with them, and they’re in heaven. Go outside and play ball in the yard, and they’re thrilled. Get on the trampoline with them, and their dreams come true. Keep it simple this summer. Kids like simple stuff. Trust me.

Take A Break

When you’re with the kids all summer, you all need a break – from one another. Call grandma, and ask her to keep them for the night. They want a break from you as much as you want one from them. Plan date nights. Plan a weekend away in which the kids are not invited. Do something without them. Plan a spa day. Plan a night out with friends. Go to the beach without the kids. Do whatever you can to take a break when you feel the overwhelming need to get away. They need it, too.

Create a Tradition

Kids love tradition, trust me. We have a few of them with the kids, and they always look forward to it. They know, for example, that every Wednesday night is dinner with our best friends. It has been since before the kids were even born, and they never get tired of it. No matter how many times we go to their house or they come to our house, it’s one of the kids’ favorite traditions.

On Sunday nights after bath time, we sit down and we watch America’s Funniest Videos with the kids. They LOVE that tradition. On Friday mornings, I have a standing donut date with the kids. They love it. These are things that make our kids happy, and it helps with patience. When you have traditions and fun planned for the summer, you and your kids appreciate those days when you’re all at home without a plan. Those days are the downtime days, and they know there are busier days ahead.

What do you do during the summer with your little ones to stay busy while also relaxing and maintaining your patience?