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.

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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?

9 Ways to Combat Exhaustion When Your Calendar is Full

Happy Tuesday, loves!

I’m exhausted, and I’m guessing all my fellow moms are, too. It’s May. If you have school-age children, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Exhaustion is a way of life around here during the month of May, and it’s because there are so many end-of-school year events, parties, things, stuff, places, adventures, etc.

I’m not mathematically inclined, but there are two of us and four of them, and that’s not enough of us to go around. We’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and I think it shows. Cheer tryouts for two. VPK graduation, teacher appreciation luncheons to cater (I had to miss one school TA lunch this year because of field day) field day, 5th grade graduation, safety patrol field trip, 5th grade field trip, AVID interviews, tumble classes, our wedding anniversary, hair appointments, yoga classes, Mother’s Day, mom’s day lunch with the twins’ class, travel, birthdays, birthday parties, retirement parties, boat days, pool parties; you name it, we have it on the schedule this month.

And, let’s be honest, that’s all going on without considering my work schedule. I have clients who contract me to write so many words a day for them, and I have to meet those word counts every day. I write a lot of words for numerous clients on a daily basis, and I suffer from a little bit of anxiety this time of year trying to get it all done.

Fortunately, I’ve been a business owner and a mom a long time, and I’ve learned a few things about staying sane, easing the exhaustion, and getting it all done. I’m still tired, but I’m less frustrated, and my attitude isn’t as bad as it could be.

Go to Bed Early

It sounds so simple, right? But most people just don’t do it. I make it a point to go to bed no later than 9 pm each night. Now, most of the time that means falling asleep on my husband on the couch while we watch a movie, but that’s all right. He wakes me up, and we go to bed by 10:30 or so. It helps since I get up early to work before the kids are up and before the morning begins. If I go to bed any later, I feel it the following day.

Say No

Not everything you do requires a yes. If it doesn’t fit into your schedule or bring you joy, just say no. There are plenty of things that are going on this month that I could go to, but I simply say no because they don’t interest me, fit the schedule, or rank high enough on my priority list.

Prioritize

What’s most important to you? I have to make this choice a lot this time of year, but I promise it’s a lot easier than you imagine. I recently had a last-minute situation come up with one of our kids, and I had to cancel something I had two choices. Choose one day and cancel an unnecessary obligation on the calendar, or choose the other day and cancel something that was fun for the whole family. Obviously, I kept the fun and cancelled the unnecessary obligation. Our family needs the fun stuff more this time of year than ever considering all the scheduled things we have to do. That kind of prioritizing makes life more enjoyable.

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Make Time for Fun

This goes back to prioritizing, but making time for fun is something we have to do. This month is busy, but it’s been full of fun. From taking a weekend away with just my husband to celebrate our anniversary to our regularly scheduled Wednesday night dinners with our best friends to last-minute date nights to weekend pool parties to boat days on the Gulf, we make sure there is always time for fun.

This past weekend, I was the walking dead. Addison had her AVID interview Tuesday afternoon, we had our Wednesday night dinner tradition and our niece for a sleepover on Wednesday, we had Addison’s Universal Studios field trip on Thursday, I had the twins’ field day on Friday, cheer tryouts for Addy and Ava on Friday night, a birthday party for one of Addison’s friends (That’s also a mom gathering for our friends) on Saturday morning followed by lunch with our girlfriends, and cheer tryouts Saturday night.

I was tired. I wanted to go home. I hadn’t really been home in days. I was done. I wanted to spend time with my husband and my kids. I wanted to go to bed early. I wanted to rest. But then our best friends called and asked if we wanted to spend Sunday on the boat, and that’s always fun. So, we said yes even though we knew we’d be tired. And guess what? It was exactly what we needed. A day of fun in the sun, a lot of laughs, kids having the best time, and nothing but relaxation on the mind was just what we needed to break up a week full of activities before another week full of activities. Saying yes to fun is always a good idea.

Fill Your Body with Good Food

It’s so easy to want to eat poorly in May. Fast food is easier. Ordering out is easier. But, your body doesn’t want that, and you don’t need that. If I ate nothing but junk this month, I’d be sluggish, tired, and beyond exhausted. Eating well always fuels my body, and it will yours, too.

Exercise

I might not be able to find time to do everything this month, but I will always find time to work out. I need it. For my attitude, for my body, for my energy; I need to workout daily. It’s what gives me the energy I need to get things done.

Find A Routine

I’m very structured. I have to be to run the kind of business I run with the kind of tight deadlines and ever-changing daily routines. I like schedules, routines, and knowing what to expect. However, I find that I have to adjust my routine a bit this month. I say not to additional projects clients want done. I say not yet to new clients, and I prioritize what needs to be done for my regular clients. I work early in the morning, and I make sure I complete a certain number of words prior to taking the kids to school. I have a routine this time of year that I adapt to, and it works.

Silence Your Alerts

The single most pivotal way to get through this time of year without being more exhausted is to silence your alerts. Turn off the volume of your phone. Put do not disturb on after a certain time of day. Put it on during the day so you don’t get texts, calls, or social media alerts.

I do this all the time. I leave it so that only certain numbers can get through to me – though sometimes I don’t even do that knowing that they can call my husband if they really need me. If my phone is constantly going off, I can’t concentrate or get anything done. I put it in the master bedroom while I’m in my office, and I ignore it. It’s the single best way to accomplish things during the day. It’s quiet. There are no distractions. My concentration is not broken. It’s spectacular.

Get Out

A walk with a friend. A lunch date with my girlfriends. A run with my husband. Sometimes, you just have to walk away, find something fun to do, and get out of the house. It’s the best way to rejuvenate. And it helps. We also like to have fun with the kids. A golf cart ride. A long walk. Going to dinner. Playing outside. Whatever they want to do that gets us out of the house, we do it.

There’s no real way to fight the exhaustion you feel when you’re on the go so much this time of year, but you can make it easier on yourself. Eat a healthy diet, move your body, and focus on the good in your life and prioritize those things. It helps, it matters, and it’s what makes a difference in the way you live.

Are you so busy this time of year? What do you have going on, and how do you combat your exhaustion?

Celebrating Mother’s Day with The Bouqs Co.

Happy Thursday, loves!

Mother’s Day is a little bittersweet for me. On one hand, I feel so fortunate and blessed to celebrate this day each year. So many women don’t have that opportunity. My heart is full knowing that I have four beautiful babies to love not just Sunday, but every day.

On the other hand, it’s such a sad day for me. On Mother’s Day 2010, I was pregnant with our second baby. Our sweet Addison was a year and-a-half old, and we were so excited to have another baby to love. I was still in the first trimester, but I wasn’t early into it. I was happy, excited, feeling good, and just ready to make our baby girl a big sister.

The day was sweet. My husband and my daughter spoiled me – as they do every day – and we were having a relaxed family day. It was exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, our relaxed family day would quickly end when I realized that there was something wrong. I began bleeding heavily.

Eight hours later, our doctor told us that she was so sorry. We lost our baby.

I spent Mother’s Day in the hospital with my husband, our doctor, and Ultrasound technician, and a myriad of other people, and my sweet baby girl spent the day with her aunt. At the end of the day, we were not pregnant, but we were heartbroken.

Sadly, it happened again immediately after our doctor cleared us to try again.

So, while I love Mother’s Day, there’s always that small part of me that remembers one of the very worst days of my life spent in the hospital, away from my sweet baby, saying see you later to a baby we never got to know. One day, we will meet that baby and the baby we lost soon after in Heaven.

Our sweet Ava, who was born a year and many prayers later, once told us that maybe God needed our babies more than we needed them, but that he knew we needed them back and sent us the twins four years later.

Is that not the sweetest thought?

Nine years ago I spent Mother’s Day crying and wishing I was home with our sweet baby girl. Nine years later, I’ll wake up on Mother’s Day to four sweet babies and the amazing man who gave those babies to me. Nothing beats those sweet cuddles and the homemade cards and gifts they make at school…even that little blue box that always shows up this weekend (sorry, babe…but I’m always happy to have it!). 

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To me, Mother’s Day is about more than a fancy gift or a spa day (but those are amazing, so keep ‘em coming, guys!). It’s about being blessed. It’s about being honored for being the biggest love of someone’s life. It’s about being the person who is so fortunate to have the job of raising little people and teaching them to be kind, honest, and determined. It’s about thanking the women who raised us into the strong, determined, capable, amazing people we are.

It’s about thanking the woman who taught you everything you know whether you turned out just like her or not because she was your first, most important, and most loving role model. If you have a mom you love, be grateful. Not everyone is so fortunate to have a mother they love. Not everyone is fortunate to have a mother with them.

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Mother’s Day is about celebrating the women who raised the men we love. It’s about celebrating the women who are currently raising the person who will one day become part of your family, who will one day be half of your own grandchild’s DNA. It’s about celebrating those who know what it’s like to have a piece of their heart holding their hand.

Flowers never hurt.

And, because I love moms – I’m proud to be one, I’m proud to have been raised by a strong one, and I’m proud to know so many wonderful ones – I’ve teamed up with The Bouqs Co. to offer my readers and followers a 20% discount on a bouquet of farm-fresh flowers sent anywhere in the country. All you need to do is visit The Bouqs Co. and enter code ‘TIFFANYRAIFORD20’ at checkout.

Celebrate the mom in your life, and thank her for the kickass job she’s doing.

Anything Can Happen, and Being Prepared is a Good Thing

Happy Thursday, loves!

 

A digital detox is sometimes what the doctor ordered, and the Raiford family has spent ample time with our fair share of doctors in the past two or three months! Since our son’s unprovoked grand mal seizure on Valentine’s weekend, it’s been necessary. We are already so busy with our kids and their schedules, our travel schedules, date nights, volunteer schedules, my business, our home, our marriage, and so much more that I needed the detox. I took a break from the blog. I turned down all the campaigns that came my way during this time, and we just focused on living our best life, which is just so easy to do when you appreciate how much good fortune and how much abundance our lives are filled with.

 

When I was offered a chance to work with the legal professionals at Trust & Will to create our trust, will, and appoint guardians, I couldn’t pass it up. Life is short, and you never know what can happen. We had no idea when we woke up the morning of our son’s seizure that a day of pool parties and fun with our favorites would turn into a three-day hospital stay and newfound fear that will last a lifetime. We had no idea our lives would change forever that day, and that’s the point of a trust, will, and guardianship. Life happens, and it’s rarely going to happen as planned.

 

We certainly don’t like to think of our mortality, but it’s inevitable. We need to make sure our sweet babies are cared for. We need to know that they will be taken care of, that our homes are taken care of, my business is managed, and that our bank accounts and life insurance policies and investments are cared for. We need to know these things, and our kids need us to be prepared in case of the worst.

 

Thanks to the amazing legal pros at Trust & Will, we have our newly updated will, our estate, and plan signed, sealed, and delivered right to our door. It took no time at all to complete the process. Our questions were quickly answered by legal professionals with valuable experience, and it was the most enjoyable experience (well, as enjoyable as thinking of your own mortality can be, anyway). And because I want you all to take the time to do some adulting (I know, I know…who wants to adult when the weekend is so close?), Trust & Will is offering all of my followers and readers a chance to save a little money (you can leave it to someone you love in your will) creating your own will. Just visit the site, create an account, and use promo code “ADULTING2019” at checkout for $10 off the cost of your will.

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{ Dress by Lilly Pulitzer } {Necklace and Bracelet by Tiffany & Co.} {Bracelet by David Yurman }

The past few months of detoxing from certain aspects of life have been so invigorating. It’s been so much fun to focus on the kids, on our health, on our travel schedules, and we’ve learned so much in this season of fear and uncertainty. It makes me feel so grateful to know that seasons like this are short-lived, and that they are few and far between. I’m also so grateful for the lessons I learn in trials, how much my faith grows, how much my marriage grows, and how much our kids grow. It’s not always pleasant, but looking back it’s obvious that we sometimes need to slow down, shut down, and learn a few life lessons. And we did.

Our Kids Really Are Best Friends

Carter’s seizure was hard on all of us. Combined with every little thing going wrong at home in the midst of all his appointments and our hectic travel schedule this year, we were prepared to have meltdowns. We were prepared to see the kids unravel. But what happened was the exact opposite. We saw them become closer than ever. They give more hugs. They extend more “I love you’s” to one another. They spend more time together. They watch out for one another. At no point since his seizure has Carter been alone anywhere. They want to be with him. They want to watch out for him, and they realized just how important they are to one another. They bicker less. They get along more. It’s been amazing for us to see them grow so much closer.

 

Everyone has an opinion, and it’s best to nod, smile, and move on

Trust me. Every single person has an opinion. Some of them are valid and welcome. Some are hurtful and unkind. Some are snarky and clearly come from a place of discontent and unhappiness. Don’t worry about it. Say thanks, smile, move on. It’s simple. Anyone who wants to tell you that what terrifies you and changes your life is not that big of a deal is dealing with their own life issues. Lacking sympathy and compassion for people is an ugly trait, but you don’t need to be ugly in return. Simply extend your sincerest wishes to them and feel thankful that they’ve never held their lifeless child in their arms and wondered if they would die. Their ignorance is bliss, and they are so fortunate to have that.

 

I need my husband, and he needs me

 

This is certainly not something we’ve questioned or doubted in the past, but it’s something we are so much more aware of at this point. One thing my husband said to me when we first got engaged was that we would never be the people who sat on separate couches when we watch television or relax at night; we’d sit together. He did not want the same kind of marriage his parents had – they ultimately divorced the year before we wed – after his dad was gone most of his childhood for work, and he did not want to miss out on our future children’s childhoods (he was so sure he’d talk me into having kids…but he probably didn’t think four was our number!). That’s one of the values I love most, but I love it even more knowing that we don’t go through hard things alone. We are right there for one another, and we have one another to hold onto. It’s everything to me.

 

I have to let go

 

I have learned so much lately, and this is such a good thing. If it’s not serving you, let it go. If something isn’t bring you joy or happiness, let it go. Don’t dwell on things. Let them go. Those who live in the past are so unhappy, and they are living such small lives. I can’t sit here and think “What if we’d done XYZ, would it have stopped this from happening?” Or “Why our sweet boy?” Or the many other things that aren’t helpful that are in the past, out of our control, etc. Let it go and let God. If you don’t learn to let it go, you’re going never going to live your best life…which leads me to the following.

 

It’s okay to live your best life

 

I’m a big fan of living my best life, but I found myself saying I wasn’t living my best life following our son’s seizure. I just wasn’t. That’s not who I am. Life wasn’t perfect for me, and I was suddenly not living my best life. Something terrible happened, and suddenly my best life was not easy to see even though I was still living it. When your son is totally fine and his tests are perfect and the doctors tell you he’s a perfectly healthy little love, what about that is not my best life? What about having a healthy son is not best life stuff?

 

My best life is my reality, and I love that about it. My best life is being with my family. My best life is date night. My best life occurs when one of my busy little ones wants to sit down and cuddle with me for even one minute. My best life is lived drinking coffee in my favorite room of my house while my husband sits next to me drinking his and the kids are way too loud. My best life is lived in a five-star resort with a beautiful view and people we love. My best life is lived on Wednesday nights when we get to enjoy our long-standing tradition with our besties. My best life is spending weekends surrounded by the people we love the most laughing and having fun with one another and our kids. My best life is lived being present with my kids. My best life is what makes me happy. It’s not an indication of perfect. It’s my definition of my best life – and I never know where my best life takes me.

 

It’s okay for me to live my best life even when things aren’t perfect. The truth is that no one has a perfect life. My husband irritates me sometimes. He breathes loud when he sleeps sometimes, and it drives me nuts. I have excessive road rage. I am just not a people person. I’m impatient. I’m expensive. I worry, and I have fears, and I have nightmares, and things scare me. I take my 6-year-old nephew to school and pick him up most days, and he drives me beyond crazy because he’s never in a hurry and he’s always in his own world, and I’m annoyed with him more often than no. But that’s me living my best life because I am so fortunate I can do that for my aunt so that her son can go to the school she’s chosen and she can teach at the school where she’s been for decades. Everything that’s imperfect has a good side, and that’s my best life.

 

Life is only as good as you make it, which is why I like to make mine a good one. So, go, create your will. Make a plan. Fix your life. Get rid of things that don’t serve you. Wear big dark glasses and get botox so people can’t see your thoughts on your face. Pray for those who seem sad and lost in their own lives. If you can’t do that, send a prayer of thanks you’re not those people. Focus on the good. Be present. Take a break and spend time doing what you love. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from the things that happen to you and around you. Learn. Apply. Move on. Be a good person, always.

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.

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.”