Life Update

Happy Wednesday, loves!

I’ve been a little (okay, a lot) MIA lately. Our life has been CRAZY since Valentine’s weekend, and we’ve just been focused on our little family and what has turned into appointment after appointment after appointment after appointment.

You know that saying, “When it rains, it pours?”

(I wish it would literally pour because the only rain we’ve been getting is drizzly and it’s doing nothing to clean the 89 layers of pollen off our deck.)

It’s been metaphorically pouring around here.

Life has some curveballs, and I’m good with that. I expect most of them, and I know that they’re not uncommon, but sometimes it’s a little overwhelming when everything happens at the same time and you can’t live your actual life doing anything you actually need to do or want to do because of it.

To quickly run it down for you, we haven’t been home in six weeks. I mean, we’ve been home, but only Monday through Thursday. Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday has been filled with travel – and one hospital stay.

  • Cheer competition in Tampa
  • Texas for five days
  • Cheer competition in Orlando
  • Hospital for three days
  • Cheer competition in Daytona
  • Cheer competition in Naples

We finally get to stay home for the weekend this weekend, and you’ve never met people more excited than us. It’s been a while since we haven’t had to wake up at the crack of down to put pounds of makeup on our 10-year-old daughter’s face (don’t even get me started on that one…it kills me every single time I have to make her up for a competition. Makeup on children should be illegal).

As if we were not tired enough from the first three weeks of travel, early flights, and lots of long rides in the car, our son suffered a grand mal seizure almost three weeks ago. We were having dinner at our best friend’s house. We’d been at our nephew’s birthday party all day, and we went over there to grill filets and have surf and turf while the kids enjoyed their first pool day of the season.

It was a gorgeous day, and I was having the most fantastic glass of sauvignon blanc on the pool deck with my husband, our best friends, and our best friend’s brother (and our awesome friend) BJ when the kids decided to leave the pool and go out onto the driveway and ride power wheels.

That’s when our 10-year-old daughter began screaming that our 4-year-old son was lying on the ground throwing up, foaming, and shaking “ready bad” and we all ran. Time stopped.

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I don’t remember much other than seeing our sweet boy on the ground, a massive bloody mess on his head, foam coming out of his mouth, vomit running down his cheek, his left side totally still as his right side seized uncontrollably.

I don’t remember anything other than Geremy grabbing Carter and running to his truck while I yelled for BJ to call 9-1-1 as he had his phone in his hand. Craig began running to the truck with Geremy and Carter, and I remember running to it as it was backing down the driveway to head to the gate. I do remember the truck was moving when I opened the back door and jumped in. I think that I thought we were going to the hospital, but Geremy was amazing enough to realize that he had to run down to the end of their property (and it’s big) and open the gate for the ambulance, and the fire station is only a mile or so away.

He took us there. Laid on the horn while we beat on the doors screaming for help. They opened the doors, grabbed our son, and then I remember being in the back of the ambulance with three EMT/Firefighters, my husband, and our baby boy.

Corinna had our three girls, her own three kids, and our niece, who was having a sleepover with us. I don’t remember much else. I know I called Bridget, my niece’s mother, to let her know since we had her daughter. I think she called our moms? I don’t remember.

I just remember the tests.

I remember the moment our son stopped seizing in the truck while my husband held him and screamed for him to wake up and breathe. I remember Geremy yelling that he was breathing just before we got to the fire station. I remember his lifeless body and the fact that he spent almost a half hour unresponsive and out of it. I remember so many little things, and so few other things.

I remember my mom coming to the hospital with my handbag that I left at Geremy and Corinna’s. I remember Geremy and BJ coming to get my car keys from Craig and then coming back with my car and a bag of essentials. Carter was only wearing his wet swimsuit when it happened, and we left everything behind. I remember my mom telling me that my mother-in-law was with the girls and she was taking them back to our house to stay with them for the night.

I remember Geremy bringing with him a bag with dry clothes for Carter, water, his favorite snacks, toothbrushes and toothpaste and even a phone charger. Things we would need for an overnight stay that we didn’t have. I cried because we have the best friends you could ever ask for in the entire world. They took care of our girls, got the entire story about how he made a funny noise, began seizing, and then fell off the power wheel John Deere he was on. They talked to the girls. They cared for them. Geremy was back in the hospital by 7 am the following morning just to check on us and to see Carter. Brian and Bridget were there shortly after with coffee and some of Carter’s favorite things. Corinna and the kids were there right after that. Our moms brought the girls after that. My aunt was there with my nephew after that.

Our room was filled for three solid days with visitor after visitor while Carter went through test after test. A CT scan, an EKG, blood tests, urine tests, drug tests, and he did a 24-hour EEG test. Everything came back clear and perfect. Now he goes to Shands for an MRI to look deeper into his brain.

He was a champ.

And thank God for social media alleviating the need to respond to every single text and call that came through by posting updates there. And thank God for everyone who reached out to check on us, to ask us what we needed, to offer their prayers. Finding out our sweet boy was on the prayer chain not only at our church but at the churches of so many of our friends and family at the same time was powerful.

We are blessed.

Right now, he’s fine. He’s himself. We are not okay a lot of the time. Night is hard. The first week was really hard. Our daughters witnessed it and have been very emotional. Our oldest daughter doesn’t like to be away from him. Our middle daughter is acting out at school in a major way, and she’s overwhelmed when she has to say goodbye to her baby brother in the mornings. Sweet Charlotte is Carter’s twin, and she’s been quiet about the entire thing.

She’s been very close to him, and she doesn’t let him out of her sight. None of us are sleeping well. But we get better each day. It’s hard not knowing what caused it. All we know is that it was not a febrile seizure, it was not caused by trauma to the head, and it was not caused by dehydration or blood sugar issues. At this point, it’s simply unprovoked.

Yesterday, driving to school, he fell asleep in his car seat before it was his turn to pick a song. When I asked him what he wanted, he didn’t respond. In the rearview mirror, his head was down on his chest and he wasn’t responding. I panicked and started yelling his name, and that caused the girls to panic. A few days prior, he was outside playing while we were cleaning out the car after a trip, and he walked around the house. I called his name and when he did not immediately answer, the girls began to panic calling his name and screaming for him. Ava cried. He was fine, but it’s hard to realize that your own panic and fear is causing the same kind of panic and fear in your kids.

It’s a process.

And then there is everything else. We still have cheer, so that means we still have to travel every weekend or every other weekend depending on the week.

We now have a million and 12 follow-up appointments with our pediatrician and our pediatric neurologist. We have a pre-op appointment at Shands this week on top of a meeting at our daughter’s school with the counselor to discuss how we can help her cope with this better when she’s away from her brother, a hair appointment, a pediatric appointment, and an appointment with the plumber (more on that in a minute) on top of my husband working away from home yesterday. It’s been a lot of appointments. I can’t remember the last time I had a normal day when we didn’t have an appointment or I didn’t spend the day packing.

Just to make the month more fun, our AC decided to stop blowing cold air when we got home from the hospital – and it was almost 90 degrees every day. It was a slow stop we didn’t notice right away. It definitely felt warm at home when we got home, but our moms had been staying here with our girls, and they always crank it way up and like it so hot in here. Then it was a little cool, and then it was hot the day we left for Daytona – but we had to leave and we had to kick the AC guy out before he was done…which meant it was hot all weekend while we were gone, hot when we came home Sunday evening, and wasn’t fixed until Monday morning. That was a long day.

Fast forward to this weekend when we were in Naples, and we came home to find our toilets won’t flush but stuff keeps coming up the shower drains when we try to flush them or use the plunger. My husband called the plumber – no, septic people, since they are apparently not the same people – and they came out this morning while he was gone and I had to be home to let them do their job – and informed us that it needed to be pumped – fine – and that our drain field is totally shot to hell and back and needs to be replaced ASAP. So now we are getting a new one of those…whatever those are.

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And I haven’t even begun to work on my taxes yet, which means this month will only get that much more expensive when I turn all that in and find out how much we owe this year #selfemployedproblems. Fortunately, we are blessed and able to handle everything going on in our lives right now without worrying about it. It still doesn’t make it fun, but we are going to have what might as well be a brand-new house after all this! I’ll take it.

And that, my friends, is why I’ve been MIA. I’m currently finishing up a collaboration with an amazing company I should have posted the week Carter was in the hospital but did not, and a few other things. It’s been a heck of a time around here, and we’ve been so tired. Hopefully, this weekend at home will let us get some much-needed rest so we can rejuvenate and spend time with our loved ones….and hope our drain field lasts until they get out here to replace it.

On that note, you won’t get much more from me this month. I need a little more time to catch up and try to get back to normal, but I’ll let you know anytime there’s something new on the site.

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Last-Minute Valentine Gift Ideas For Your Sweet Littles

Happy Wednesday, loves!

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, but doesn’t it feel like it snuck right up on us? I can’t even believe it’s here already, yet here it is in all its glory. I mean, we have a whole year’s notice, and here I am the day before scrambling to put together class gifts and cheer sister gifts for 100 kids – and kicking myself for waiting until the last minute.

Okay, so I remembered on Sunday, ordered a quick Hershey Bar Valentine’s Wrapper for $4 on Etsy to personalize, and thought I was winning at life. Until yesterday, when I remembered that PDF has to have all the kids’ names added to the wrappers so I can send them to Office Max to have them printed. And then I promptly forgot to have them cut for me. So I’m looking forward to a late night of all that with my husband tonight – because hot dates and who has time for that stuff?

We get to cut 100 wrappers, and then we get to affix them to 100 Hershey bars.

Wrapper PDF from Etsy – $4

Printing 100 Wrappers at Office Max – $25

100 full-size Hershey Bars – $60

Mom-failing until the last minute – priceless. Or maybe like $6,000 in therapy costs that I’ll eventually need one day. It could go either way.

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In the Raiford household, we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s a romantic holiday. My husband and I use any excuse to be romantic – which means celebrating our romance on Tuesday, or Friday, or Sunday afternoon. Whatever – we really like each other, so we are all about romance on the daily, and we have been the past 17 years.

Now that we have kids, it seems like Valentine’s is all about them and their lives. Their class parties and something sweet for them, and we kind of love that. We love celebrating our love for them on a day that’s special to them, and that’s what it’s all about for us. And that brings me to the point of this post – a couple of cute, last-minute Valentine gift ideas for your littlest loves if you didn’t think to celebrate them or you simply didn’t realize tomorrow is the big day.

Valentine’s Shirts

Our kids love a cute Valentine’s shirt, and we always make sure we have one for them when they wake up. It’s a fun idea for them to wear to school for the day – not that they will all wear them in the morning. Some will wait until Friday. Or never. Or Christmas. But, the point is that they love them.

Valentine Pajamas

Our kids also love some cute Valentine Pajamas, which always make them happy. They are weirdly obsessed with pajamas, and I dig it. It’s a total bonus if you can find coordinating jammies for all the kids. They especially love that in our house.

Hersheys and M&Ms

What’s sweet about being someone’s Valentine is getting something sweet to eat. Our kids love Hershey kisses and M&Ms, so we always make sure they have some in their Valentine bag. It might just be their favorite treat.

Donuts for Breakfast

Who doesn’t love to go out and get heart-shaped donuts on Valentine’s? My husband runs out and grabs those in the morning so the kids can have them for breakfast. It’s another favorite tradition from us to them.

Flowers

No matter what we say or do – my sweet husband always sends me flowers on Valentine’s Day, and he always sends the girls their own flowers, too. It’s a sweet treat for them to get their own bouquet of flowers, and he always sends them from both himself and our son.

He’s the absolute sweetest, and that’s why everyday is Valentine’s Day in our house.

This Doesn’t Happen to Families Like Ours: Except When it Does

“Don’t panic. Everyone is fine.”

Cold, hard fear gripped my heart. I’m fairly certain I stopped in my tracks walking out of the restaurant where we just had lunch with our oldest daughter and some of our cheer family. My heart stopped; of that, I am certain.

It was Saturday morning, and it was a cheer weekend. Cheer weekends are long, fun, tiring, and always memorable. We typically do not bring the twins with us because they aren’t down with the early mornings, late nights, and the hours upon hours of sitting on stadium seating watching what feels like a million cheerleaders compete. It’s loud, it’s overwhelming, and they prefer to stay at home. My parents and my mother-in-law, and sometimes our niece and nephew, come to our home those weekends to stay with the twins.

This week, Ava, our beautiful, feisty, sassy 7-year-old wanted to stay with them instead of coming with us for the weekend.

“There was an incident.”

I couldn’t breathe if I wanted to. Things like this don’t happen to us. We aren’t those people. We are a good family. We are happy, and healthy, and we are busy and have fun and we surround ourselves with amazing people we’ve known our entire lives. We aren’t the kind of people who have incidents.

Except, we are those people. Those things do happen to us.

Let me just rewind a moment, so I can preface this with a story that may play into this.

Last weekend, we were in Dallas, Texas for the night because we had to catch a very early flight home after visiting my grandmother for her birthday. It was late when we arrived at our favorite airport hotel – the Hyatt – and I had my husband drop myself and our four kids, and our luggage, off at valet with the bellman so I could check us into our room and get everyone bathed and to bed while he returned our rental car and made his way back to the hotel.

It was well after 10 pm when we checked in. We were tired, we were ready for showers and bed – and we were ready to go home.

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While I stood at the front desk with my four small children to check into our room – looking every bit the harried single mom – the concierge asked if he could give the kids a little gift. I told him that would be lovely. He proceeded to give the kids each an inflatable airplane in the color of their choice (which, while so sweet, is not the best gift to give kids about to get on a plane. Just imagine our family of six walking through security while the twins are using their best outside voices to ask if we “can blow up the plane now,” while we basically screaming, “INFLATE. INFLATE! You want to INFLATE the plane!”}.

He handed the kids each their planes and proceeded to tell me I have a beautiful family. I thanked him. Then he told me I was beautiful. I thanked him again. Then he proceeded to call out my four-year-old daughter about being exceptionally beautiful, and followed that up with, “You want to be careful with your kids in this hotel. It’s a dangerous place.”

The twins ignored him.

I did not. Neither did my 7 and 10-year-old daughters.

My husband could not make it to our room fast enough that night.

Ava did not sleep. Every noise she heard all night long caused instant fear and panic, because someone told her that she’s in danger where she is. It was a long night. It also required us to have a conversation with her that we’ve had more than once.

We see all the Facebook posts from moms and dads walking through the store when they notice people paying too much attention to their kids. We know all about the growing epidemic of child sex trafficking. It’s already got us on high alert when we are with our kids at home, in the yard, traveling, anywhere.

And we always encourage our kids to stay close to us. It’s not a requirement. It’s a must. They must have their hands on us at all times in public. Holding our hands, our arms, our legs, whatever. When we are unloading carts at the store, we make them count so we can hear them in case we have to glance away for a split second.

Because a split second is all it takes.

We usher them into our vehicles before we do anything else when we are out – and we immediately lock the doors behind them while we unload our shopping bags into the back. We are careful. Bad things don’t happen to us.

I notified the hotel after going back and forth about it.

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I hate ‘telling’ on people in public because I prefer to share the amazing service we have to the negative. I love to tell a manager or whomever is in charge when someone is exceptional. I hate telling them when they are not – I don’t want anything free. I don’t want anything comped. But, I feel that this is always what people think when complaints are issued.

I went back and forth but ultimately decided that it was the right thing to do.

The hotel was exceptionally gracious in their response, reaching out to me personally to apologize and to give me a step-by-step notice of their plan of action, what they’d already done, and the new training requirements they’re implementing to ensure that their guests are treated with kindness and respect, but to also make sure everyone is aware what is kind and respectful and what strikes fear. The assistant manager also asked me to please notify him personally the next time we are in the hotel – I’d mentioned to him we are frequent guests since we do travel to Texas several times a year to visit my grandmother – so he can treat my family. I will not notify him. I don’t want anything but to feel comfortable and to have my kids feel safe.

“We took the kids to the park, and then we took them to McDonalds for lunch and ice cream per their request.”

I still could not breathe. Or move. At this point, everyone with me noticed I wasn’t moving, and they recognized the panic in my voice.

“What happened?” My husband grabbed my hand.

“While sitting down eating her lunch, Ava called me closer to where she was seated at the table, and she told me that the man sitting behind me facing her was creeping her out because he kept taking photos of her with his phone,” said my mother.

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“But everyone is fine. When she said it, we turned around and noticed him holding his phone out around me sitting at the table to get a clear view of her and he was just snapping photo after photo, but Liz jumped up and stood right in front of Ava so he no longer had any view of her. He put his phone away. We notified the manager and called the police, but he got up and ran out of the restaurant when he noticed me talking to the manager and she began pointing in his direction. He picked up his phone, made a call, and quickly ran outside. A white GMC Yukon – older – came racing into the parking lot and he jumped into the passenger side and they took off. I took photos of the tag and the vehicle. I have them. The police have them. Ava is fine,” she said.

This doesn’t happen to people like us.

But it did.

And our girl knew it was wrong.

Someone creeped her out. Someone made her feel uncomfortable. And she spoke up. Loudly. She wasn’t afraid, but she wasn’t standing for it, either. And my 12-year-old nephew took note of his outfit, too.

He was wearing a Dunkin Donuts staff shirt and grabbed a Dunkin Donuts visor from his pocket and put it on while he was running from the restaurant.

They waited and waited with the kids in the restaurant, lingering over dessert, until they felt that he was gone for good and he wasn’t watching their cars or following them back to our home.

They all did the exact right thing.

Addison’s competition could not end quickly enough for me. I could not get home fast enough to give my girl a hug.

A man took photos of my child, and he did not even try to be slick about it. He clearly had a ride that could show up seconds after making a call, and nothing about this is right. NOTHING about this is right. The entire situation is terrifying.

I still couldn’t breathe.

“What did the police say? Can I talk to Ava? Send me the description of the car and the tag number, and I’m sending it to Officer L. He will find out what is going on and who this person is. Are you home? What did the police say?”

By now, our party of 9 was all stopped, looks of concern and fear on their faces.

Ava is all right. Everyone is all right.

She did the right thing.

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And she did the right thing because we talk to her about things that are scary and uncomfortable. As much as we’d like to shelter and shield her from things that are hard and scary, we didn’t – and it may have saved her or another child from something awful.

Was this man working for a child trafficking ring? Was he a pedophile trying to take kids or even just their pictures for his own perverse, disgusting, horrifying pleasure? Was he going to kidnap my baby and take her somewhere and hurt her?

We don’t know. We will probably never know.

But we do know we will never feel comfortable letting our kids go anywhere without us right thing watching them ourselves. We will forever worry when they go anywhere with someone other than us. Cheer weekends will now bring a hint of fear and panic, and I know we will never be entirely comfortable again unless our kids are close enough to touch.

This is no way to live.

Our parents should be able to take their grandchildren to the park and to get ice cream and not worry about things like this. They should be worried about who is spilling ice cream on their shirts or who is behaving in public. They shouldn’t be worried about trafficking and kidnapping and pedophiles.

But now they are.

This is the world we live in, and it sucks. It fucking sucks. There’s just not another word for it.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I will probably cry myself to sleep a lot of nights. It’s over, and she’s fine, but the kind of fear that gripped my heart when I picked up my mom’s call coming out of lunch that day will never let go of my heart. It’s like a hand, holding onto my heart, ready to squeeze it until it stops unexpectedly. It will never go away.

It’s scary, but you must speak with your children. You must tell them that they have to speak up. They should listen to their little bodies when something feels wrong. When someone ‘creeps them out’ and when someone makes them feel uncomfortable. They should speak up. No one will EVER be mad at them for speaking up when they don’t feel right.

I don’t care that my daughter yelled out that another person is creepy for others to her. I don’t find that embarrassing – I don’t give an actual you-know-what how another person feels. If you make my child feel ‘creepy,’ I don’t care how you feel. Sorry, not sorry.

Talk to your children. Let them know it’s okay to speak up. Let them know that it’s okay to talk to you.

Talk to your kids. It’s the difference between a phone call that begins with, “Don’t panic, everyone is okay,” and “I’m so sorry.”

Why Our Daughter Doesn’t Have Her Own Cell Phone

Happy Wednesday, loves!

I’m just sitting over here in a mild state of panic because the busy season of our lives is here. Do I say that every season? Probably, but this is different busy. This is cheer competition busy. And that means we basically move out of our home and live in hotels for the next two million days.

Okay, that might be a *small exaggeration.

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But….that’s neither here nor there. It’s an exciting time even if my inner tired-girl pretends it’s not. I’m dramatic. I know. And that’s not the point of this post, either. Does anyone else ever read my blog and think, “Her husband must legit be the most patient person in the world because when this chick tells a story, it takes her six hours and 7 other stories to get to any actual point.”? Back on track. Really. I promise.

Just before Christmas, I partnered with Life360 to discuss their cool new app. It’s all about keeping track of your family with the app, and it helps promote safety for all family members. Our family loves this app, and I’m sure we will extra super completely love it when our daughter gets her first cell phone in August.

That brings me to the point of this post – I had a million questions on Instagram about the cell phone situation. Parents who are concerned about when is the appropriate time to give one to their kids, should they be worried that their kids feel left out because their friends have cell phones and they do not, and so many more questions. I’m going to try and answer those based on our personal decision.

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No Cell Phone For Addison

She’s 10. Sorry, but there is not one tiny reason on the planet that our 10-year-old needs a cell phone. She is either with us, with her grandparents, at school, or with the parents of her friends. And believe me when I tell you that she’s not allowed to spend time with friends whose parents we do not know well and closely.

In short, there is not a time in her life when she’s not able to contact us. Her teacher has our cell phone numbers. We have their cell phone numbers. Her friends’ parents would never tell her she cannot call us or ignore our calls if she’s with them. That’s all there is to it. She’s not in the car with people we don’t know, and she’s not anywhere I can’t immediately get access to her or vice versa. She has no need for a cell phone. My husband and I are the only people she needs to speak to. That’s it.

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Middle School and the Cell Phone

My husband and I have gone over this so many times that I cannot even begin to tell you how many hours we’ve spent discussing this. When do we get her one? When we do go that route, and how do we handle it when she’s got one?

The simple answer – when she goes to middle school in August. It’s a different world in middle school. She’ll be in a different school, and she won’t be nearly as close to us as she is now. She’ll be involved in school-related activities rather than the extracurriculars we sign her up for now. I won’t be taking her to practices and meetings – she’ll merely stay after school for those.

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Additionally, she won’t be with many of the kids she’s with now. The kids she’s with now she’s been with for a million years. We know them. We know their parents. I know all her teachers, her principal, and the administration, and I communicate regularly with them and pop into their classrooms often. I am actively involved in both the PTA and in Safety Patrol at her school, and I make it a point to be near my kids as often as possible when they are at school. I’m probably too involved, but I’m not opposed to being a stalker when it comes to my kids. #worstmomever and proud of it.

However, when she goes to middle school, she’s going with a few of her best friends, and a bunch of kids from a different school. She’s not going to the middle school that is fed from her current school. So, there will be more kids, different kids, different teachers, and I’m getting the distinct impression parents who make themselves at home at the middle school aren’t nearly as welcome as they are in the elementary school. So…she gets a cell phone.

I want to know she can get in touch with me throughout the day. I want to be able to text her and tell  her that she’s going home with her best friend’s parents when we have a last minute change. I want her to know she can text me and let me know if practice is cancelled and she needs to be picked up at pickup. I need to know we can communicate, and I have a feeling it won’t be as easy as it is right now.

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I mean, I can pick up my phone and text her teacher now and tell her that I’m going through the pick-up line in the afternoon rather than getting out and coming into the school to get her because it’s pouring and I’m not ruining my hair, can she let Addy know? She responds yes, sends the GIF from FRIENDS where Monica’s got the ‘fro going on, and we laugh and laugh and laugh (I mean, what a fun teacher, right?!).

I don’t think that’ll be the situation in middle school. So, she’s getting a phone.

Stipulations

You didn’t think she’s just going to turn 11 in July and get a cell phone without any rules, did you? We love rules in the Raiford house. Uncool rules like the kids can’t get up and run around in restaurants, and they have bedtimes every single night – even the weekends – and they have to sleep in their own beds and stay out of ours, and they have to eat their veggies, and they have to be respectful and do their homework and make good grades and use manners and pick up after themselves and clean their rooms and put their laundry in the laundry room and play outside instead of watching television and read books and be decent, kind human beings.

We love rules.

Good grief – there I go again.

Back to the point. There are stipulations with the cell phone situation. For one, she cannot have any social media accounts. Again, she’s going to be 11. No child needs social media at 11. It does no good. It brings no value. It does nothing for her brain.

She cannot have any apps other than school-related apps. It will have parental controls, locks, and a password she’s not allowed to discuss. She’s not allowed to store phone numbers in it except for ours, our parents, and a few of our close friends’ numbers.

Final stipulation – and this is the BIG one.

When she comes home from school in the afternoons, her cell phone goes into our home office and she doesn’t get it back until she goes to school the following day. That’s the rule. She gets it when she is not with us, and that is it.

What does she need a cell phone for at home? She has a tablet. She has a laptop. She has a smart tv. She also has homework, and she has the great outdoors, and she has sports and family obligations, and friends to spend face-to-face time with.

So, while other kids are busy texting and getting lost in horrible, awful, terrible things the internet has to offer, our child will not be learning to take duck-face selfies or posting to social media. She’ll be reading books and playing outside with her siblings, and going on bike rides with us, and enjoying family trips, and having innocent fun.

She’ll grow up soon enough. Why encourage that? There are too many kids her age far too mature our taste. We like our sweet, innocent little girl just like she is. We aren’t trying to rush her into growing into a teenager just yet.

But, don’t think for a moment her entire phone will not be filled with selfies of myself and my husband and our little ones making stupid faces and doing other embarrassing things so she’s always thinking about us. Oh, and I cannot wait to pick up my personal ring tone for her.

Listen, Raiford and I became parents for the sole purpose of one day being the most embarrassing parents ever. It’s been 10 years, and our time is finally coming. Let us have it. It’s our dream.

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So, when should you get your child a cell phone? I can’t answer that question for you. I can only tell you why we chose the situation we chose, and I can only tell you to ask yourself if you feel it’s necessary and safe. Your decision is a personal one, and that’s the beauty of parenting. You get to do you, boo, and I get to do me, and we get to high-five and embarrass our kids and complain about how stupid we are when they ask for math homework help. #goals

Modern Holiday Fashion with Crazy 8

Happy Tuesday, loves!

I am exhausted!

We had such a busy, fun-filled weekend, and I’m tired. Even though it was a long weekend, I didn’t get a lot of rest yesterday during the holiday. I mean, the kids were all home from school, so that’s basically the sum of all things unproductive. It wasn’t a holiday for Craig, so that meant it was up to me to keep the kids quiet so that Craig could work. They are really, really good kids 90 percent of the time, but they can quickly forget what an inside voice sounds like, and that drives me insane when Craig is in the office working. But, they get it with a few reminders.

Actually, we weren’t home long. I took the kids to see the Grinch (super cute) with one of my besties and her two littles, my mom and mother-in-law, and my niece and nephew, so we were gone most of the afternoon. And, randomly, I slept in, took a four-hour middle of the day hiatus to see a movie, and still got as much accomplished before 5 pm as I do on a normal day prior to 3 pm. I was impressed with myself – but, then again, if I tell a client I’ll have something done for them on a certain day, it’s done early. My business motto is always to maintain my excellent reputation by providing stellar work in the timeframe I quote. I cannot stand when a business owner doesn’t keep their word, especially since I’ve spent 10 years keeping mine without incident. (Off my soap box now).

We had the best day Saturday. Craig managed to score four tickets to the Gator Game in the Bull Gator Suites, and it was SO much fun. We’ve been so spoiled this year with all of our major sporting events being in the suites, and I cannot go back to sitting anywhere else. I’m okay with that. It’s who I am as a person. We took our best friends with us, and it was a 12-hour day, and it was fantastic – but exhausting! Sunday we slept in and we celebrated our nephew’s 9th birthday by going bowling, which our kids love so much.

All in all, it was such a sweet weekend, and I’m good. Not restful after our whirlwind 48 hours in Tampa and Texas the weekend before, but it was still too much fun to care. Which, on the other hand, still leaves me exhausted!

Now that we are done with the weekend recap, I’m sharing one of my new favorite situations – with Crazy 8. When the company reached out to me to see if I was interested in shooting a campaign with them with my 10-year-old daughter, I was all for it. We love their clothing, and it makes all of us happy. I cannot stand when little girls don’t look like little girls – they already grow up too fast – but I also understand that our daughter is at an age where she wants to be a little more fashionable. She is a dream when it comes to choosing her clothes, and Crazy 8 makes it so easy for us to shop. She can find things she loves that are still appropriate and stylish that we are all okay with.

If you haven’t shopped their line yet, we highly recommend it. You can find Addison’s black shift dress and mules here and here. Her Lilly Pulitzer sunglasses are here. Did I mention it is beyond affordable, too? Her entire outfit was less than $50 – and both items are currently on sale, which means you can buy the entire outfit for less than $30!  How can you beat that?!

Transitioning Back to A School Routine and Schedule for the Whole Family

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Happy Monday, loves!

It’s the first day of school, and we have the most excited kids you’ve ever met! Addison begins her first day of 5th grade, Ava begins her first year as a 2nd grader, and the twins begin VPK. We are all so excited about today, and we can’t hide it! Addy can’t wait to get her Safety Patrol Belt and find out where she’s positioned – and it’s been really hard keeping that a secret from her the past few days!

Ava can’t wait to see if her teacher is wearing the special necklace she made her, which is another secret I’ve been keeping for a few days! The twins are so excited to be ‘big kids’ and carry their new lunch boxes (by the way, if I haven’t raved about Pottery Barn Kids products before, can I take a moment to do so right now? We’ve been ordering the kids their lunch boxes and backpacks from PBK since they began school, and every year their items last all year, they stay clean, and they don’t break. They look as good at the end of the year they do at the beginning. The only reason we buy new ones is because it’s so ‘boring’ to carry the same back pack and lunch box for more than a year).

Unfortunately, I’ve been battling what I think is a severe sinus infection since Wednesday. It’s either that or a cold, but I can’t catch a break. I have intense pressure in my sinuses, and that results in a terrible headache. My throat hurt for the first three days – just a little, though – and didn’t really hurt over the weekend, so I’m not sure where I stand. Addison began to feel poorly on Friday, and she was ready to go home from the school and rest. Carter has been pretty lethargic, and Ava’s had some sore throat issues off and on since Thursday.

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Our weekend was spent in bed. Literally, we were all asleep before 7 Friday night. We all slept late (well, late for us) Saturday, and we spent the day on the couch relaxing. Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, and we are all feeling much better this morning.  Except for this awful sinus pressure (recommendations? I can’t take allergy meds. I feel so loopy, sick, and terrible when I take them, so if anyone has any suggestions, that would be amazing!). I slept for 15 hours Saturday night and into Sunday, we skipped church, and we spent two solid days in our pajamas reading, watching movies, napping, and just being the laziest and germiest family you’ve ever met.

I knew this would happen, though. We had the roughest (it was so much fun, but it was tiring) weekend last weekend. Two midnight or later nights in a row, no time at home at all during the days, two parties, a date night, and a family gathering. We slept and showered at home, and definitely not enough of the sleep part. This week meant I needed to be up earlier to get more work done since I was gone from the house almost every day and evening for PTA duties, school functions, cheer practices, and appointments in between meeting deadlines. I overdid it, the kids overdid it, and we needed a weekend off.

Now it’s Monday, it’s back to school day, and the excitement is palpable!

With that, I wanted to share a few quick ways to make the start of the school year a little more manageable and easier. The transition is always a little difficult. No schedule all summer to a normal schedule takes a little time to grow accustomed to.

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It’s All Right to Struggle

You are not alone. If the first week or two with the new schedules and routines kind of throws you off after a summer of sleeping in, lounging around, doing what you want to do, and not being accountable for anything or anyone, it’s all right. Don’t add to the stress by being hard on yourself. Give yourself grace, and understand you will get through this. And, know you are not alone. We all feel the struggle. It’s real.

Prep Ahead of Time

I always make my kids pick out their outfit the night before school. This week, I’ve made them choose their outfits, accessories, and shoes for the entire week, and line them up in their closets so each morning is easier than the one before. We like to get as much done the night before as possible, and that includes packing all the non-perishable lunch items, organizing back packs, and loading what we can load ahead of time into the car.

Organize Lunches

Our kids won’t eat school lunch. I’m okay with that because I never ate it, either. But we have four of them, and that means packing lunches is a thing. The twins are in VPK, and that means they have to have a morning snack, an afternoon snack, and lunch. And everything must be labeled with their first and last names, and it must be separated into the correct area every morning before school begins.

And all four kids like different things. What we did is buy several bins, and we designated the fourth shelf in the pantry as the school lunches shelf. Their water bottles and Gatorades for the week are lined up. Their snacks are in one bin. Their chips in another bin. Their non-cold fruit in another bin. Their main food is in another (i.e. Addison likes a deli sandwich every day, so the bread we like from the deli is in this bin, and so are the English Muffins that Charlotte likes for lunch, and so are the miniature club crackers Carter likes as the “main” dish to his fruit).

The rest of the fruit is in the fridge, but we cut it up and put it in the correct containers the evening before to keep it as fresh as possible. Everything is clearly labeled in the bins and on the containers, and Craig just has to throw it in their lunch boxes along with their ice packs every morning.

This also helps us realize when we are running low on one thing or another so we can put it on the grocery list and make sure we don’t have any early morning panic attacks if so and so is out of their favorite whatever.

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Create A Morning Schedule

Our kids know they get out of bed, sit down at the bar while Craig makes their breakfast, and then they get dressed once they put their plates in the sink and clean up after themselves. They brush their teeth, put their shoes on, and they wait for me to call them for hair time when I’m doing working for the morning. Once hair is done, they give Craig hugs and kisses and head straight for the car. They load themselves into the car, and we go. They know the routine.

Consider A Reward

We also make sure each morning runs smoothly by bribing them with a Friday morning donut date. The stipulation is that all four of them must follow every morning instruction in a timely manner without being asked repeatedly, and they must do it with a positive attitude. If just one of them falls apart and can’t handle it, none of them get to go on a pre-school donut date on Fridays. Trust me when I say this encourages teamwork and a lot fewer hectic, crazy, upsetting situations in the mornings for all six of us.

Have Fun

Our kids love to pick their favorite songs or their favorite movie to watch in the car. We let everyone have a turn, and it keeps them excited to get into the car. We might choose a new movie they’ve never seen to put in the DVD player for the first week or so of school, and then they go back to wanting to listen to their favorite music. We all sing, dance, and make the ride to school fun. It really does help.

Take A Deep Breath

New schedules and routines are a little difficult, so give yourself some time to grow accustomed to it. Our schedule is all off this year, and we won’t even really start our new one until next week, and I know I’m a little stressed about it.

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But we will get through it. Our nephew’s mother is building her new house by the girls’ school – which is an amazing school – and he’ll be zoned to go there once it’s done in a few months. However, she is the guidance counselor at another school, which starts two hours earlier than the kids’ school. Her son is going into kindergarten this year. She will be dropping him off at our house every morning to have breakfast and get ready for school. I’ll now take him, too.

But the good news is that she will pick up the twins from school every afternoon so I don’t have to go to two schools in two different towns every afternoon. She’ll come to our house and drop them off, pick up our nephew, and it will all be fine. Addy does have to be at school early and stay late for her Safety duties, but we will definitely manage. We can do this.

See, I’m already stressed! But in a few weeks, I’ll be fine. Now, say a prayer for me as I’m headed to school to drop my babies off on their first day of VPK and then handle all the parents as they want to walk their kids to class for the first day at the girl’s school. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing yet, but I know that it’s going to involve something like 850 kids and their parents – and it’ll be stressful, but it’s what I love. Being present in the kids’ lives and in their schools makes me happy because it makes them happy. I wouldn’t trade it.

Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the Last Few Days of Summer Vacation

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Happy Monday, loves!

Or, as I like to call it, Happy Last Week of Summer Vacation!

There aren’t any back to school blues around here, if it’s not already evident. I know so many families struggle with that feeling, and I do empathize. It’s hard to send the kids back to school in this day and age. You worry about their safety. You worry about their well-being. You worry. That’s all that matters. I get it. I worry. I do. We both worry, but we also both work from home, and having the kids back in school is such a stress-reliever in our household.

But I digress. We’re excited about school starting next week. Addy is so excited to start the fifth grade. She’s a Safety Patrol, and she cannot wait to start her new duties. She’s also a competitive cheerleader, which means her season officially begins (this week, actually). Ava is excited about going into the second grade and finally feeling like one of the bigger kids at school.

The twins go into VPK. They’ll have the same teacher Ava had, who is the MOST amazing VPK teacher you can imagine. We love her, and they are beyond excited to be in her class this year. So, in our house, it’s exciting to go back to school. Combine that with the fact that September 1 is the first official day of the best part of the year – the “ber” months. I turn 35 in September, and all things pumpkin happen in Casa Raiford on September 1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now…back to the back to school blues, or the lack thereof in our case. Our kids love school, so they aren’t sad to go back. I love school, too, because no one is asking me for a snack every 7 seconds (at best). My husband and I both work from home, and while we do love the time we get with the kids during summer, there comes a point around mid-July when we (to borrow a famous, pointless, meaningless line from every teenager) literally cannot even.

That eight-week summer vacation mark is like the turning point. I find my patience is worn thinner than Nicole Richie after her sudden weight loss. The sound of quiet is not something I’ve heard in months, and I miss it desperately. The kids are no longer interested in doing anything fun during the day because they’re just tired of me (and vice versa). It’s hot, and it’s humid, or it’s always raining. They’re tired of going to the movies. They’re tired of swimming. They’re tired of movie nights, and card games, and trips, and being on the go.

They are tired of us. We are tired of them. We all want school to start.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The first two months of summer are magical. We have fun. And we’re still having more fun than we should probably be allowed to have, but we’re all tired. We are all ready for routine and normalcy. Those first few months are filled with vacations and travel and fun and the sun and friends.

To put that into perspective, out of the last 9 weeks, we’ve had only 1 weekend where we were home. And that probably doesn’t count because we had 7 extra kids for a sleepover. Every other weekend has been spent traveling or we’ve been home long enough to sleep and shower before the next activity. And it’s been amazing.

Which leads me to what I’m thinking could be my point (it could change…I don’t know where I’m going with this). My point is that the last two or three weeks of summer take a toll on me, and I don’t really like who I am and the control of my emotions and mood I lose. I wouldn’t trade this life we live, but I won’t pretend the last few weeks of summer vacation don’t make me cranky. In fact, I put that in my gratitude journal this morning. I’m grateful that’s my life problem.

I found myself in a situation recently where I felt very ugly. I found myself reacting to something out loud that is none of my business – at all – but it bothered me. Rather than doing what I normally do, which is talk to my husband about it and remind myself that the way other people behave is none of my business, I let it fester. I reacted to it, spoke of it, and instantly regretted it. It’s not who I am. I’m a live and let live kind of gal, but it upset me. I can’t control other people – nor do I want to – but I certainly didn’t intend to stoop to a level beneath me. I did. I’m disappointed in myself, but I’m reminding myself to have grace, forget it, and move on. It’s not who I am, and I know one moment of anger doesn’t define me.

My point is that I don’t love my mood all the time this time of year, and it takes a lot of effort to be my normally sarcastic, happy self. And that’s why I’m sharing a few of my tried and true patience-finders, mood-boosters, and self-care tips.

Or, as I like to call it, “do this before no one ever speaks to you again,” advice.

(Only 7 more days)

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Give Myself Grace

I’m imperfect, but I own it. I am nothing if not unapologetically myself. I prefer to give myself grace and allow myself to be okay with mistakes, with a bad attitude, and with my imperfections. I try to give grace to others by reminding myself that their behavior, words, and actions are a reflection of where they are in their lives, how they feel in their hearts, and their own unhappiness. And I try to do the same to myself when I’m less than graceful. I have all the respect for people who don’t make excuses or place blame when they make mistakes. I have all the respect for people who simply say, “That’s my bad, and I apologize,” and own it. I live by that rule.

Take All the Deep Breaths

It’s cliché, I know, but taking all the deep breaths is the most helpful thing imaginable. I’ve learned equal five-count breathing works best. Inhale deeply for a count of five. Hold your breath for a count of five. Exhale with an audible sigh for a count of five. While doing this, imagine all the happy thoughts you’re inhaling in the form of the color white. When you exhale, change that imagery to a red or black color to represent all the negativity. It’s silly, I know, but oh my goodness does it work. I find myself frustrated with so many things these last

Check On Myself

One thing I like to do is check in with myself. What’s bothering me? Is someone in my life bringing too much negativity to the table, and am I responding poorly to it? Have I taken on too much? Am I taking care of myself? Finding the answers to these questions often leads me to where I’m failing by either reminding me my monthly visitor is on her way and I’m a raging bitch because I’m hormonal or because I haven’t been eating well thanks to a busy schedule and not being home or because I haven’t been to the gym yet, or whatever. Checking in on myself allows me to see where I’m in need of some self-care, and it helps.

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Take A Time Out

I’m a firm believer in time-outs for myself. When I start to feel myself become snippy or short with my kids or my husband, I know it’s time for me to walk away and take a time out. I find it happens more this time of year than any other, but it’s easily cured with a run, a trip to Starbucks, sitting on the front porch to work, or sitting on the back deck with a book and strict instructions not to talk to me for a half hour. I’m better for it.

A time out can come in many forms. It can be a total social media blackout. Not answering your phone or texts for a few days. Removing toxic people from your life to the best of your ability. Removing yourself from situations that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s whatever you need it to be.

Recognize Stress and Tackle It

I think if I delved deeper into it, I’d notice that it’s the added stress of back to school stuff that makes me crazier than ever this time of year. My work schedule is interrupted 2-3 days a week with additional school-related activities for all four kids, their needs take over, we lose our easy nights and our flexibility in the evenings, and it takes a toll.

I’ve worked hard over the past 10 years cultivating my client relationships and creating a work schedule that allows me to be productive enough to run a successful business while still being a mom and wife, and this time of year it’s like taking a perfect schedule and piling 100 things for other people on top of it. It gets overwhelming, and it requires me to stop back and recognize where the stress is coming from so I can tackle it before it gets to me.

Delegate

I’m extra fortunate to be married to a man who doesn’t believe it’s the job of the wife and mom to take care of the kids. He’s hands-on all the time. He packs lunches, makes a homemade breakfast every morning, and gets the kids dressed and ready for school so I can have a few uninterrupted hours of work every morning to get my day off on a good note. He gives baths, helps with homework, cleans up after himself, and he’s a master laundry-doer.

He’s the best life partner, parent, and husband. I couldn’t do half of it without him. Even then, however, sometimes I just have to delegate. He’s just as busy as I am with his career, but we both know we just have to say, “Babe, I’m drowning, and I feel like I’m everyone’s bitch, and I’m a little crazy right now,” and the other steps up to do what needs doing to make life easier on the other. Delegating tasks is a life saver at home, at work, and anywhere else. Do it. It helps. What also helps is delegating other tasks – hire someone to clean your house, mow your lawn, detail your car, shop for you, and take back control of your life. Trust me when I say it changes your life.

Make No Excuses

If there is one thing in life that drives me nuts, it’s when people talk and talk and talk and never do. They are going to, they will, they should, they want to, they whatever. I’m a fan of conversations that sound more like I did, I accomplished, I managed, I handled, I mastered. I find it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when I make myself a lot of promises and need to back them up, and that’s my no excuses platform. I feel it’s easier to feel less stressed and better when I just do it and say, “I did it,” to myself. It’s really simple. Don’t talk about it, just do it. Like, tell me your story, not your plan. Use that motto on yourself.

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Just Choose to Be Happy

I promise it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds, but you must make the effort. I find that waking up in prayer and listening to my favorite Christian music when I work in the morning helps me set the tone for a happy day. If I find myself thinking about a problem or a situation, I give it to God and move on. I replace negative thoughts (I have so much to do today, but I have to do this and that and be there and here and I won’t get anything done) with positive thoughts (You are a badass mother and you’ve got this) and move forward.

I say it all the time – happiness is homemade, and I’m so abundantly grateful for all the blessings we have in our lives. I always feel guilty when I’m in a bad mood because I don’t feel I have a reason for it – but, I’m imperfect, and that’s okay.

10 Years of Parenthood: An Open Letter to Our Sweet Girl on Your 10th Birthday

Ten years.

That’s how long daddy and I have been parents. You, our sweet baby girl, Addison Grace, were born on this day in 2008. You came into the world a week before your due date, and only about six hours after you decided to make it obvious you were arriving. My contractions started late at night, and they were only 2 minutes apart in under an hour. You arrived less than six hours later – and I just barely made it to the hospital in time for an epidural and delivery! I haven’t forgotten that, kiddo.

I’ll never forget that moment. We got to hold our sweet baby for the very first time. Only 10 months before, we sat at our resort in Hawaii enjoying a bottle of champagne and celebrating my 24th birthday when daddy asked me if I wanted to have a baby. We’d been married three years, we’d traveled constantly, we’d built a house and then a home, and we were ready. Well, it took me a few days to decide I was ready, but you get the point.

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It was six weeks later when we woke up at 6 am. The pregnancy test box said I could start taking tests that day (six days early). I’d never taken one before, so I didn’t know what to expect or what might happen. A few minutes later, I was officially pregnant. That afternoon, we were at the University of Florida for a football game (it was November 17) and we went down to the sports shop, bought shirts that said “Gator Mom,” and “Gator Dad,” asked the family who were at the game with us to take a photo of us standing in front of our seats, held up our shirts, and waited while they all took a moment (we literally did not have any clue that you didn’t announce your pregnancy at three weeks and one day at that point…).

The next 36 weeks flew by so quickly. Our lives changed so much that year, and it was the most beautiful year of our lives. You came into our lives, and our entire world changed for the better. You were the easiest, sweetest little thing. We took you everywhere. Before you were six months old, you’d been to the Bahamas, Boston, Texas, Mexico, and Ohio. You spent your first birthday riding in your first limo, cruising Newport Harbor in an amazing boat, and enjoying a week in Orange County, California. You were the best baby (thank you for sleeping through the night and following our schedules and routines so well. I’m not sure I would make a great sleep-deprived human.)

{You when you turned two weeks old, you when you came home from the hospital for the first time and we put you in your swing, and you on the day of your first birthday}

You’ve given us so much. Laughter, love, happiness, joy. You are the sweetest girl, and you make us so proud.

You are the best big sister your sisters and brother could ever ask for. You are just like daddy in terms of your personality. You’ll do anything for anyone, you’ve got an unlimited supply of patience, and you are kind. You have a good heart and the sweetest soul. You’re a rule follower, and you never get in trouble. You are, quite simply, a complete joy.

It’s because of you we are parents. It’s because of you we have three more beautiful babies. And it’s because of you we have so much to smile about. Happy Birthday, Addison Grace. You’re 10 today, and that is huge. You are the most special little girl (almost big girl) in the world, and we love you more than we could ever put into words. You’ve taught us so much about being parents, and about love, and I want to share with you what you’ve taught me and what I want you to know on this day 10 years after you changed our world.

{Your first trip to the Lowry Park Zoo, on a boat cruising through Newport Harbor in Orange County, CA on your first birthday, and your first trip to Disney}

It’s the little things that matter the most

If you’ve taught us one thing above all else, it’s that it really is the little things in life. It doesn’t matter how many times we take you to Disney, or how many places we travel, or what we do, you are happiest when we sit down with you at the end of a day and play a game of cards or watch a movie with you. The big things are amazing, but you’ve taught us that it’s the simplest moments in life that are the best. We can sit down with you and google knock knock jokes and have the best time, ever. You make everything amazing.

Snack time is all the time

I just hope you always love being so active, and that you always love to join us in the gym for a run. Because, girl….you eat a lot. My parents always told me they one day hoped I’d have a daughter just like me for karma purposes (that would be Ava, if you’re wondering) and even though no one wants to hear their mother come out of their mouth, I hope you one day have a child who spends 11 weeks every summer asking if it’s snack time every 2.7 seconds. You’ll understand a fraction of my crazy, perhaps. Don’t worry, I won’t say I told you so.

{You and Ava when you were the very best of friends as babes, us when we were a family of four hanging out on Emerald Isle in NC, you and Ava in North Carolina, you and the babes in North Carolina, you and Carter on a flight to Texas)

What we do, you see, emulate, and believe

Our behavior is important to you, and we work very hard to make sure you’re getting the best of us all the time. We know you see what we do more than you hear what we say, and we are so inspired by that. We work so hard to make sure you learn how to be kind, gracious, and generous. We want you to learn to give back, to treat others with kindness even when they don’t deserve it in the moment, and we work very hard to make sure you know what’s right and what’s not.

Your daddy is the role model you’ll look up to when you take an interest in boys (which you better not do until you’re 76). He is what you want to look for in a gentleman. Someone who treats you with kindness and respect. Someone who opens your doors and stands when you walk into a room or leave the table. Someone who makes you laugh and smile, but someone who is also perfectly fine when you’re a mess. Look to daddy, sweet girl. He’s everything and then some when it comes to the kind of man you want to spend your time with. Anyone who treats you as anything less simply isn’t worth your time.

What we say is so important

You hear everything we say, even when we don’t think that you do. We hope you hear us when we tell you that you’re beautiful inside and out. We hope you hear us when we tell you how intelligent you are, how smart you are, and how amazing you are. We hope you hear those things, and we hope you know that those are the things we mean the most.

{You driving the boat in Tennessee, enjoying the only cow in Texas that doesn’t smell one fall, searching for shells two summers in a row in NC (I hope your future kids love doing that as much as you do every summer), scalloping, paddleboarding at the river house, and hanging out with our favorites on a summer evening}

Your love is unconditional

When we have bad days or my patience is wearing thin (usually with one of your younger siblings) or a stranger in public, you always love us. When I have a moment I’m not proud of, you still love me. Your love is unconditional, sweet, and so innocent. And I love that. I want to be more like you.

Life is better with babies

Like, really, really better. I never knew how much I enjoyed eating cold food, taking 7 hours to complete one conversation with another adult, or how much I loved spending time at Disney World until you came along. I could watch you do the same roundoff back handspring a million times a day and still think it’s the coolest thing ever. Life was beautiful before you, and it’s still unbelievable to me how much more of everything beautiful it is with you.

{You and G…because I know these pictures embarrass you, and we can’t get you to pose together anymore. Let’s see…Halloween, hanging out in North Carolina, bowling, at a resort in Orlando, and walking to dinner during another Orlando trip….I left out all the kissing pictures. I didn’t want to make it weird.}

We will always worry

It doesn’t matter where we are, where you are, who you are with, what we are doing, what you are doing, or how old we all are – we will never not worry about you.

When you’re in school and daddy and I are at home in our office working, I randomly worry that you’re eating enough at lunch (and your dad side eyes me and tells me that you have more food in your lunchbox than Publix has in one aisle). I worry that you didn’t hear me tell you I love you when I dropped you off. I worry how other kids behave and how you’re responding to them. I worry that you’re feeling sick or sad or confused or excited or what. And yet, every single day, I pick you up from the best day ever, and your smile is contagious. But, sweet girl, we will always worry about you.

We will always miss you when we are not with you

Always. Even when you and Ava and the babies make us so insanely crazy with your bickering that we cannot wait for a break, we miss you. We aren’t giving up our date nights or weekends away every few months, but we do miss you like crazy. We are always so excited to come home to you when we land.

{You make us so proud dancing, cheering, being Baptised, and choosing such sweet friends to surround yourself with}

There is joy in everything

Oh, Addison. You have taught us so much, and I love how much you’ve taught us about joy. With your smile and your sweet laugh, there is joy in every moment. You taught us that every moment is a good one, and that there is some sort of joy even in the saddest moments.

When I cried thinking about how hard it was going to be saying goodbye to great grandma when we left Texas last week, you put your sweet arms around me and told me it was okay and that you miss her, too. Even in one of my most difficult moments, you found a way to show me joy just by being you.

You are the best parts of both of us

Well, you’re the best parts of your daddy. I think you ended up with all my worst qualities, but you really do make them work. Never stop being like daddy. He’s the best person I know, and following in his footsteps is a very good thing. I’m sorry you somehow ended up with my OCD, and my anxiety about messiness and imperfections. I love that you have my perfectionism, but I hope you keep it a healthy situation unlike your crazy mama. Don’t let it make you cray, but if you want to keep thinking you want to be just like me when you grow up, I won’t argue with you. Just be like, 75% better than me and you’ll be all right.

{The summer you turned 7. We began your birthday month on the lake in Tennessee with our favorites. Remember when you jumped off that bridge holding Uncle Geremy’s hand like a champ?! We ended it at the Omni with all of our favorites, and the royal treatment for you, birthday girl. You and all your friends/cousins had your own table at dinner, your own waitstaff, your own cake, and your own fun}

Addybug, thanks for making us parents. Thanks for being the best. Thanks for being our family. Thank you for bringing so much light and laughter and love and happiness in our home on a daily basis. And thanks for not being too mad at us that you ended up with two little sisters and a little brother. We know they make you crazy, but it’s only because they love you so much because you’re so lovable.

Thank you for being a shining example of class. You might only be 10, but you are one of the most elegant, classiest people I have the pleasure of knowing. Your kindness shines through your eyes, and you are such a good person without even trying. I love how you always cheer people on, how you are so excited about their excitement, and how you always look to help when someone needs it. I love that you are such a class act. Never change, ever. The world needs about 7 billion more people just like you.

{That one time you and Ava asked us if you could join me and daddy the next time we went to NYC. Riding to dinner in a limo, taking photos with Lady Liberty, snapping quick pics in the hotel lobby before dinner, and shopping at American Girl. That was probably our favorite trip, ever. Daddy and I have spent 2-3 weekends a year in NYC for the past decade, but there was nothing like seeing it through your eyes for the first time}

We love you so much. All the time. No matter what. You’re our baby, and you will always be our baby. You are our greatest joy and every piece of our hearts.

Happy 10th Birthday, our blue-eyed beauty.

Summer Bucket List: Per My Kids

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Summer is here.

Oh, who am I kidding…we are Floridians. It’s always summer. But it’s really summer now that the humidity is back in full force and the kids are out of school for another 10 weeks (yes, I’m counting).

I don’t love summer. I don’t love saying that, but it’s true. I’m not a fan of sweating, humidity, frizzy hair, choking while trying to breathe outside…and mosquitoes. I’m also not a big fan of the beach, believe it or not. I’m a 35-year Floridian, and it pains me to go to the beach. I don’t like the feel of sand or the feel of salt water.

Don’t get me wrong…I love to look at the beach. I’m a big fan of sitting on the balcony at the Loft at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach and looking at it. I once spent 10 glorious days overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific from our suite balcony at the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu – and never once touched the beach.

I could sit at the indoor/outdoor bar at the Ritz-Carlton Ft. Lauderdale with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc watching the ocean all day long. But don’t ask me to touch it. The problem is having kids who love the beach. And they love it from up close and personal. Oh the sacrifices we make for our kids.

Summer isn’t my favorite season for so many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is all my mom guilt. I have a serious case of mom guilt in the summer. My husband and I both work from home. He works set hours for his company, and I work for myself. While I do get to choose my hours and when I work because I am the owner of my company, I still have to get the work done – and I’m not a fan of working late nights or afternoons. I like to work early in the morning and get all my deadlines met by noon each day so I have free afternoons.

However, this means boring mornings for the kids, and I don’t love that. Don’t get me wrong; they don’t mind it. They like to read, they like to play outside, and they love to create art and play games. But I always feel like I’m not giving them enough. I like for them to be bored…it gives them creativity and teaches them to use their imagination. My job is not to provide them with endless entertainment every moment of every day. That’s not good for any of us. But…I can’t shake that guilt from time to time.

That’s why we create a bucket list every summer. I let the kids choose what they want to do, and it never fails to warm my heart. My kids want the simplest things in life, and I love that. They get to do so much and experience so many of the ‘big’ things in life, and I secretly love that they really love the little things. I do feel guilty about that, too, however. Are we doing too much with them and sacrificing the littlest things? I don’t know…but I wanted to share their bucket list with you for our summer.

  • Have our cousins over for sleepovers so much
  • Have sleepovers at grandma and grandpa’s house
  • Swim
  • Go to the beach
  • Have ice create dates
  • Make cookies
  • Do more art
  • Read more books outside
  • Play hide and seek
  • Go somewhere we’ve never been
  • Visit great-grandma’s farm in Texas
  • Go to our favorite hotels for the weekends
  • Have more movie nights
  • Make s’mores (after the twins’ go to bed because they are dangerous little people)
  • Get a sprinkler to play in
  • Go bowling
  • Play cards
  • Ride our bikes
  • Stay home more often

How can you not love something so simple? I love it.

You’ll note our bucket list is not filled with things like “Go to Disney,” or a lot of other outdoor activities that don’t involve water. We’re annual passholders, and the last thing we will ever do during the summer months is go to Disney. You’ll see us there all the time between September and April, but May through August is like pure torture for all of us.

We are already making a lot of fun summer memories a week into it. We’ve had card games every night after the twins are in bed, and we spent four days out of town last weekend swimming every single day. We also had the entire weekend to have a sleepover with the cousins as they came with us – the grandmas, too. We’ve made a ton of art, and we are going bowling with our friends this morning. We fly to Texas next month to see my grandmother, and the kids are excited to visit the farm. They love it, but probably because our niece and nephew are going with my parents and they just get more time with them there.

We’re off to a good start. What are some of the things you do with your kids during the summer? Do you feel the same mom guilt as I do? I try to remind myself that it’s fine for my kids to feel bored, and that we don’t need to go do something exciting and amazing every single day. Fortunately, we do a lot and our kids beg for time home. They like to be relaxed, and that helps when I’m feeling the guilt!

Bad Days: Sometimes You Just Can’t Change Them (and that’s all right)

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What. A. Weekend.

Happy Tuesday, loves! Well, I’m hoping for a lovely, happy Tuesday. As I write this on Monday afternoon, I’m not very happy. Honestly, I had a whole different blog post in mind for today, but I’m inspired by my own bad attitude and moodiness.

Nothing makes me happy today.

We had the most amazing weekend. My husband and I got away for three days to Tampa, which is only about an hour away but still one of our favorite local cities. We stayed at one of our favorite Tampa hotels so we could wake up everyday to water views, gorgeous sunsets over the water, and coffee brought right to us in bed.

We had amazing dinners. We had middle-of-the-night room service. We spent an evening with Thomas Rhett and Kenny Chesney. We got to see friends – old and new – and we even got to get up in the mornings and run along the shore. We got to spend three solid days focusing on one another, and loving it. It was amazing.

We came home Sunday afternoon to all four of our kids in delightful, sweet, beautiful moods. They were dolls – all night long. We found some serious motivation to paint our master bedroom after we unpacked and did all the laundry, and we even worked a bit before ending up on the couch at 8:30 for some downtime. It was a stellar weekend.

And today, I hate everything.

  • I didn’t want to get out of bed
  • I (myself and no one else) put us running a million years behind this morning
  • I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish work-wise before I left to take the kids to school
  • My husband was setting up his new wireless earbuds and didn’t hear me when I was talking to him, and apparently today he gets no second chances in my mean eyes
  • Ava was pissed all morning and refused to tell me she loves me when I dropped her off because I snapped at her when she took her tablet into the twins’ school and 1 – bumped into someone else’s stuff and knocked it all over because she wasn’t paying attention and then 2 – bumped right into someone’s kid and knocked him down because she wasn’t paying attention
  • Addison has gymnastics and tumbling on Monday nights. An hour away. I hate that stupid drive and cannot wait for her to finish these classes when cheer starts again in June – yet I don’t want to send Craig tonight because the other option is spending the evening alone with the other three kids who were all whiny and annoying this morning…so…
  • My monthly visitor is only a few days away
  • I’m annoyed that I can’t find a real reason to be annoyed
  • It wasn’t the rainy day that it started out as. In fact, it’s mostly been sunny and I wanted a rainy day
  • Every time my husband tries to put me in a better mood today, I find myself side-eyeing him
  • I feel bad that I snapped at Ava and the mom-guilt is real

Honestly, I’m in a terrible mood today. And I’ve done all my usual things to try and alleviate it.

  • I worked outside on the deck
  • I drank lots of water and a cup of tea
  • We went to the gym and I ran hard on the treadmill and then did weights
  • I did deep breathing
  • I tried to replace my thoughts with happy ones
  • I tried to calm the eff down
  • I tried to shop online
  • I took another shower and tried to wash off the bad mood
  • I tried to remind myself that I have no reason t be a raging b*tch today or that I should be thankful this monthly mood doesn’t typically hit me this bad.

NOTHING IS WORKING.

So, I’m embracing my inner asshole, minimizing my contact with all humans, and trying to suck it up, buttercup. So far, no good.

But…there’s always Tuesday morning. I’ve made the executive decision to just let this roll today and focus on not allowing tomorrow to be the same kind of blah day as today.

I’m grateful my days aren’t usually like this, and I realize wholeheartedly I sound like an entitled, whiny, obnoxious brat today. I do. I can’t seem to change it, but y’all…I get it. I do. And I’m sorry to all the people I side-eyed today. Honey, I’m sorry I wasn’t nice when you didn’t know I was talking to you because you had music playing in your earbuds and  you weren’t facing my direction to know I was talking to and I decided that was not a valid or sufficient reason to not subconsciously know that I was speaking to you and that you should be a mind-reader.

To the people who smiled at me in the gym and received the RBF, I apologize. To anyone on the road today, I apologize for the names I called you in my mind. Anyone I missed, I’m probably sorry.

Lesson Learned

As someone who typically works my way out of a bad mood quickly, this kind of day is rough on me. I’d like to think it would be easier if I could blame it on something tangible, but the truth is I’m just in a funky bad mood and I just can’t work my way out of it no matter what I do today. So, I’m turning it into a lesson learned, I’m letting it be, and I’m just trying not to take it out on anyone else. And then I’m putting it away and starting over in the morning.

Days like today don’t come around often, and I’m eternally thankful for that!