Friday Favorites: Disconnecting is Amazing (and so is this fab Bandolier phone case)

Happy Friday, loves!

What a great week this has been…for so many reasons. Not only was it such a sweet and relaxed week in terms of finally having nowhere to be and nothing to do after months of sports, activities, end-of-school year awards, programs, parties, cheer camp, Safety Patrol DC trip, and our normal travel schedule, we also just had fun.

I was able to sleep in and be a little bit leisurely over my morning coffee. I got to linger, and then go into my office in my robe and work for a few hours. The kids are so easy in the mornings. They aren’t tired of one another yet, so it’s the best time for me to be in my office meeting deadlines. It was also a rainy week, which I love.

It was a low-key week, and I love that. Our regularly scheduled Wednesday night dinner with our best friends extended hours longer than usual (sweet, sweet summertime…no reason to rush home and get anyone to bed at a decent time when they were having so much fun). It was #backtobasics all the way, and I think all our cheeks hurt this morning from laughing so much….mostly at our husbands!

As fun as this week has been (ask me again in an hour or so how I feel about that when I’m awake and getting ready to drive an hour to work out at a hardcore gym with my brother from another mother at 5 am), I’m crediting most of that to one simple thing – being offline, disconnected, and not attached to my phone.

I always have my phone on me, even if we are out on date night. I hate that feeling, but I cannot relax if I feel like I might miss a call from whoever has our kids. Whether it’s date night and they are safe and sound in their own bedrooms in our home while our parents ae here watching them or they are at school, I can’t risk missing a call if something were to happen.

But, this week the kids are home. It’s our first official summer week, and I’ve been able to leave my phone in the master bedroom and leave it. The kids are here with us, and I don’t feel that I need my phone. I set my iPad and laptop to update my emails once an hour, and I don’t care if I miss and calls or texts otherwise. I get to them when I have a chance. Believe it or not, I’ve learned a lot this week just by leaving my phone in our bedroom when I’m working or spending time with my husband and the kids.

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My phone gives me anxiety

Not all the time, but I noticed that I was so much more relaxed this week. My phone, it turns out, stresses me out a bit. I am not the kind of person who can get a text or email that requires a response and not respond immediately. It’s my ‘leave nothing to later’ mentality. So, I get anxiety when I see texts come in when I’m in the middle of a client call or an article or editing, and I don’t have time to respond. I can’t stop thinking about it, and then I do.

If the text turns into a long situation, or it’s a group text, I lose all track of my situation, I’m distracted, and I accomplish so much less. I’m not efficient, but I feel anxious if I don’t respond right away. Guilty, like I’m sending the message that someone else and their needs are not important to me.

They are important to me, but they’re not the most important to me. My business and my clients and my kids and my husband are the most important to me, and I have got to get accustomed to leaving this feeling of guilt behind. I can’t sacrifice my work and my integrity.

Leaving my phone in our bedroom takes away that anxiety. Out of sight, out of mind. I don’t know if someone is texting or calling or whatever, and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about that. I mean, I get that my thought process is beyond insane, I do. I don’t pretend to try and understand myself. I really don’t.

Disconnecting is beautiful

I am so present! And efficient! And on top of things! It’s beautiful. I’m able to work without interruption, and my workday is shorter than ever because of it. I’m engaged when I’m with the kids, and I’m focused solely on my husband when we’re together. It’s a feeling that’s second to nothing else.

Distractions are my problem

I don’t handle distraction well. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I create content for my clients, and I need to concentrate to make that happen. I write quickly and well after so many years of providing this service, but my phone is a major distraction, and it slows me down. I can bang out 3,000 words in under 20 minutes without my phone here (with fewer than 5 typos each time…years and years of practice on that one), and I’m more efficient than ever.

Try it.

If you haven’t tried disconnecting like this, you should. Life is a lot easier, more efficient, and well-lived when the phone is not in hand all the time. Of course, know that I will never judge you – ever – if I see you at dinner with your spouse, phone on the table next to you, because I feel you. I see you. I know you. I relate. You can’t relax with kids at home if you’re worried something will happen and you’ll miss the call or the text.

I get it.

But, if you have the chance to disconnect entirely, you should try it. It’s a beautiful feeling, and it makes life so sweet.

Oh, and on that note, I also got a fabulous new phone case this week. I’ve been looking for it for months. My girlfriend has one, and she found it at Nordstrom, but they never had one in my size. I should probably be embarrassed how long it took me to realize I could just go to the Bandolier website to find it rather than stalking my Nordstrom app waiting for one to pop up that fits the XS Max. It just arrived, and I’m in love! The best part is that it’s only $100! Check it out here.

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3 Summer Masks Your Skin Needs, Stat

Summer is here, and we are all spending more time than ever outdoors. From beach days to pool parties to boat days, the sunshine is making us all feel good. But, it’s also taking a toll on our skin. With the changing of the seasons comes a change in our skincare routine. Right now, you’re sweating more than ever. Your makeup is clogging your pores more than ever. You’re getting sun, your skin is being dried out by the sun, and everything is changing.

Summer is a time for change, and it’s not just about later nights, later mornings, and more carefree fun. It’s also about changing your skincare routine, and I highly recommend you incorporate one – or more – of these amazing masks into your skincare routine. I have, and love, all three, and I typically alternate what I’m using throughout the week. I use them once or twice a week this time of year, and I alternate what I’m using based on what I feel my skin needs.

Your skin will thank you for these.

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Laneige Water Sleeping Mask – $25

I’m starting with my favorite. I actually got this mask as a sample in one of my beauty boxes from Sephora, and I fell in love. It’s so refreshing and hydrating for my skin that I ended up ordering the full-size product almost immediately. I use this mask one to two times a week after my shower. My face is clean, I put this one, go to bed, and wake up with brighter, more refreshed skin.

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Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask – $45

Can you tell I have a thing for sleeping masks? It’s got hyaluronic acid, which is exactly what my skin needs in my mid-30s. It’s also got a gentle exfoliator in it that helps my keep my skin healthy, and it makes my pores shrink. I have larger pores, so this is a great option during the summer. I use this mask once a week – I don’t want to overwhelm my pores, nor do I want to exfoliate my skin too much. No thanks to that kind of redness.

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GlamGlow FlashMud Brightening Treatment – $59

If there is one mistake women make during the summer, it’s assuming the sun automatically brightens their skin and makes it glow. It’s true that it does make your skin look glowing and gorgeous, but it’s not enough. You need to try for this mask once a week to help your skin look as radiant as possible. Your skin is dealing with a lot of stuff this time of year, and it needs a little help to keep it bright and beautiful. You won’t regret this one, even if you use it once every two weeks.

What’s your go-to beauty mask this time of year?

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?

Recovering After Vacation

No makeup. No real clothes. No exiting the house.

That’s what our weekend looked like. And, it was the most beautiful weekend.

I know I say that every weekend. No matter what we are doing, it’s a beautiful weekend. What can I say other than that we live our best life every weekend, and that’s because we do what makes our hearts happy. This weekend, it was cancelling all the plans. It was a rainy, nasty weekend. Everything we had planned suddenly seemed like a chore, and that’s no fun.

After six days in Washington D.C. – on a bus – with 33 kids and 20 adults, it was necessary. We had a wonderful week with our oldest daughter, but being one of the two sponsors for the trip is WORK. Let me say that again – it’s WORK. It’s hard. It was a year of constant movement, planning, preparation, and it wasn’t less work when we got there. Room assignments, key-holding, bedtime rulers, counting kids, dealing with a small handful of ungrateful, unhappy, unkind chaperones (thank you, Lord, for the amazing group we did have, but there were three or four who were like whoa).

It was 5 am wake-up calls, 1 am bedtimes, constant phone calls in the middle of the night waking me and my husband up in bed from parents at home, kids who didn’t feel well down the hall, kids who got hurt and needed medical attention. My husband and I worked hard all week handling that, and we walked 27 miles throughout the week, visited countless monuments, museums, and food courts. I starved all week because I’m a food snob – and fast food and buffets just don’t cut it for me. I also slept like death each night because we stayed in a motel.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bona fide travel snob. We love to travel, and we do it frequently, but we prefer 4 and 5 star resorts and hotels. We like room service. We don’t like serve yourself buffets. We don’t like parking our own car or carrying our own luggage. This trip was the equivalent of camping. But not like nice camping in a luxe camper. Like camping in the dirt with the bugs and the insects and the critters and the murders camping. Literally, our bus driver told us to be careful in the parking lot because of the vagrants.

I mean…I’m just saying.

But, this weekend, we were tired. Cancelled all plans except taking the kids to see Aladdin on Friday, and then it was home, home, and more home Saturday and Sunday. And it was glorious. Recovering from vacation – or a trip in this case – is never easy. But, I do have some tips that make it a bit easier.

Do Nothing

Busy is something we are, but it’s not something we are proud of. We are happy to have fulfilled lives with so many friends, so many activities, and so much fun, but we don’t love to be busy. We love to have downtime, but it’s not always easy with four kids and our lives. This weekend, we had plans. But, we decided to cancel them.

When we returned home at 8 pm on Thursday night from six days in Washington D.C. for Addison’s Safety Patrol Trip, we were officially 11 out of 15 nights traveling and away from our own beds, our own home, and our own favorite place. Not that we regret any of it, nor would we trade it. But, we were tired. Plans to go away for the weekend – again – did seem like good ones when we made them, but they seemed like nothing more than a burden by the time we got home.

So, we took the kids to see Aladdin, we came home, and we did not leave the house again for two solid days. It was the best choice. It’s always my recommendation that you allow yourself one night at home at the end of your vacation or trip where you can go to bed, sleep in, and have a day at home before you go back to real life. It’s never let us down.

Prepare For Relaxation

Anyone who knows me knows I am a total and complete neat freak, and I’m a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to cleanliness and order. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s so helpful when we come home from traveling. Coming home to a spotless home without laundry waiting is a gem (not that we don’t bring laundry home with us, of course). Knowing the bathrooms, the floors, the counters, all bedrooms, and everything is clean and spotless when we walk in the door makes me feel at peace.

Nothing is worse than coming home to a mess. Trust me – I feel like that every single time we leave the kids home and return to them. Not that our moms don’t clean, but they definitely don’t clean anywhere close to my standards. I love coming home and knowing the only thing I need to do is unpack. It helps prepare for relaxation when you come home.

Unpack Right Away

You guys…I do not understand people who come home from a trip, ignore their luggage and laundry, and do nothing productive. I. Do. Not. Get. It.

I can’t. How can you just ignore a mess and leave things undone when you get home? Where is your sense of peace? I can come home from a trip with my family of six, 5 pieces of luggage, and have everyone unpacked, clean laundry put away, dirty laundry washing, and everything put in its rightful place in under 30 minutes. It’s so easy, and it takes all the stress away.

If you want to relax and recover from a trip or vacation, you have to unpack and situate yourself right away. You have to. It’s not an option. I promise you will thank yourself for that one later.

Order Your Groceries

One more thing I’m not a huge fan of – ordering my groceries. I know it’s meant to be easier and to make your life better, but I am too much of a control freak. We buy so much fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, and I swear to you no one can pick out the best stuff. I detest groceries delivered to me that aren’t the ones I would have chosen. It seems people who are shopping for others often don’t put forth the same thoughtfulness and carefulness when choosing fruit and veggies, and we often end up with things that are already going bad, soft, rotten, or gross in general.

But, I always order groceries for delivery when we travel. I know it won’t get us through more than a day or two, but nothing is nicer than coming home and knowing I don’t need to add a trip to the store to my list of things to do upon arrival.

Make A Plan

It sounds a bit like an oxymoron, right? You’re home to relax and enjoy yourself, yet here you are making a plan. Of course, I don’t mean you have to make a plan to go anywhere or do anything. Just make a plan to make no plans. Our favorite thing to do when we are finished unpacking is to take showers and baths no matter how early it is, and then we climb onto the couch with blankets and pajamas and popcorn, and we watch movies as a family. Our kids don’t love to watch television as a whole, but they will sit down and enjoy with us when we have a day like this. And, I promise, it’s totally worth every moment.

How do you typically recover after vacation?

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?

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.

Friday Five: Ways to Change Your Life

Happy Friday, loves!

I did something recently that took me so far outside my comfort zone.

I opened my new laptop and committed myself to it.

I know. I know. That’s like, nothing, really, to some people.

To me, it is a big deal. I don’t love technology. I really don’t. I’ve driven vehicles I can control from an app on my phone for like six years now, and I only really began allowing myself to use that app to turn the car on from inside the kids’ school to cool it off on a hot day or warm it up on a cool day, or to lock the doors with my keys inside so I can go run without carrying them, or whatever, about a year ago. I knew I had this app. I just couldn’t commit.

We’ve had a Nest thermostat and Google Home for years, and I’ve had an app to control the Nest since we installed it – and I’ve never used it. I still get up and manually turn the air on or off or up or down. Well, just last week I actually asked Google if she would do it for me. I’ve never used the app.

I have an app for our ADT alarm system, and I’ve never used the app.

I don’t love technology. It confuses me. I’m a 75-year-old woman in a 35-year-old body.

So, every year or 18 months or so…I have to replace my laptop. I write millions of words a year on my laptop for my clients – and I usually end up rubbing the letters off my keys inside of six months. By a year, some of my keys are stuck. By 18 months, I’m banging on the screen because it flickers when it’s not in the exact right position, and I can no longer use at a laptop because it must remain stationery and immobile to ensure it works the next time I need it.

But, you guys, I don’t love change.

I’ve had my new laptop in my office for four months.

I just opened it.

Okay, okay. I opened it a month ago. And I didn’t turn it on. I put it on a shelf in my office. But, I opened it. So, that was a total win.

A week and-a-half ago, I turned it on. I let my husband install all the stuff I need. And then I began the tedious, awful, horrible, no-good, very bad process of logging into things. Except I don’t know my passwords. Or my logins. I know nothing.

It took me four days to go through the process of logging into everything, asking it to send me my login information, and asking to reset my password, and then saving my new information to the computer so I never, ever, ever, ever have to login by myself again.

And then I went through the process of resetting all my passwords again – because I don’t remember them even though I just set them up – when nothing on my phone or iPad opened up for me because it changed it all and the passwords were wrong. Again.

There’s a small chance I cried.

There’s a large chance I yelled the “f” word a lot.

There’s a larger chance I swore up and down I despise technology and will never use it again.

Then I put it back down on my shelf and continued to use my sad shell of an 18-month-old laptop again.

But, you guys, today I am three solid days into exclusively using my new laptop. I am officially one day into not yelling at it for not being my safe place, my comfortable place, my familiar place. Today is the first day I’ve felt “comfortable” with it.

I’m growing up.

Where are the tissues?

So, I did something scary this week. And that lead me into my Friday post.

I get a lot of questions about doing scary things about being comfortable and confident with change.

I don’t like change. I appreciate change in the end, but I never like it in the moment. Change is scary, but guys, scary is good. Scary means you’re doing things with your life (even if it’s just using a new laptop or giving birth to twins – I’ve done both and I personally recommend having twins. It’s easier than using a new laptop. A lot less stressful). If you want to change your life, you have to be okay with making change. And you have to remind yourself that change is always good when you look back. Is it terrifying? Hell yes. Is it comfortable? Hell no. Is it always something you look back on and thank God for because it was the best thing that ever happened to you? YES! And guess what…I have some advice for you! You’re welcome.

Learn Self-Care

If you want to change your life for the better this year, learn to take care of yourself. Say no, put down the phone and pick up a book. Spend time with people you love. Get outside. Take a break. Do something you enjoy. Get rid of toxic people. If you care about yourself and practice that, your life will care about you a lot more.

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Stop Glorifying the Word Busy

What does this even accomplish? We brag about how busy we are like it’s a trophy or something to be polished and placed next to an Oscar. What? WHY?

Busy is not glamorous. Y’all, busy sucks. I get that we all are. I’m not saying that I’m not. But I’m saying that I know being busy is a pain in the ass, and it’s nothing to be proud of. When we’re so busy we can’t do what we want to do, we aren’t living our lives. My husband and I have a business, he has a career, we have four kids, church, friends, family, volunteer activities, exercise, date nights, extracurricular activities. We get ONE freaking weekend at home to sleep in our own beds between January and March because of our daughter’s competitive cheer schedule, and then we get one more weekend at home in March before we’re gone through April.

Busy. Sucks. A. Lot.

I love my home. I love my bed. I love my family. I love my stuff. I love my home. I want to be here. I don’t want to be so busy I can’t even enjoy sitting down on my own lanai with a cup of coffee on a gorgeous morning.

If you’re glorifying busy and trying to keep yourself so busy you have no space on your social calendar and spend no time at home, ask yourself what it is about your home, your life, and your situation that’s worth running from. Then fix it. And then slow the hell down. Life is not fun when you’re exhausted and you can’t remember the color of your own walls.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself

If you’re going to make some positive changes in your life, start by being yourself. Who cares what anyone else thinks of you? Are you a Girl Scout Cookie? No? Then guess what? Not everyone likes you.

Now, be yourself at least find people who don’t like you for real.

Geez. If you can’t be yourself and stop worrying about how people feel, you’re not living your best life. Be you, boo. You’re a badass motherfucker.

Move Your Ass

You’re not getting anywhere in life sitting still. Get up and make things happen. Take action. As a matter of fact, stop talking about all that you’re going to do, and just do it. You’re wasting time talking about it that you could be using to just do it. Make like Nike. Even if you’re mad at them for supporting that one guy with the bad hair who sits down for the national anthem. They still make great stuff.

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Embrace Change

The best you can, anyway. No one likes change until we see how it’s paid off for us. Pray about it. Work on it. Pray about it again. And learn to embrace it. Every season is different, and they can’t all be the best season (for example, summer in Florida is the worst season ever, but gimme all the fall, spring, and winter vibes. Which are basically like mini-summer vibes. Or summer everywhere but Florida vibes. Normal summer for everyone else, perhaps, rather than our die a slow death by melting summer? What am I even talking about at this point?)

My point is this. If you’re going to make your life the best life ever, you have to do some things you don’t want to do. You never regret those decisions. You always regret being lazy and insecure, though, don’t you?

Good luck my loves. Enjoy your weekend, have fun, and kick ass. You have three whole days to do it.

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.”