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

Ten years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the little things that matter the most

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

Snack time is all the time

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

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

What we do, you see, emulate, and believe

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

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

What we say is so important

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

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

Your love is unconditional

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

Life is better with babies

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

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

We will always worry

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

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

We will always miss you when we are not with you

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

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

There is joy in everything

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

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

You are the best parts of both of us

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 10th Birthday, our blue-eyed beauty.

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FAQs: Answering a Few of the Most Commonly Asked Questions I Get On Instagram

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Hey, y’all! Happy Wednesday…and happy cooler weather, Floridians! I’m so happy to have this gorgeous 70-degree high situation back in my life. This weekend was spectacular – and in more ways that one. We had a house full of kids and family all weekend, and we got to spend a child-free night being treated like VIPs with 10 of our very best friends all night long. It included a party bus (with a bathroom on board, which is always perfection), a suite at an Orlando Magic Game, and entirely too much fun.

Did you know flossing is more than just what you do after you brush?! #funfact

I don’t know if it’s because I’m trying to use Instagram Stories more often these days or what, but I’m getting so many more questions that I usually get via DM on Insta, and I thought I might take a moment to answer a few of them. When I start to notice a few of the same questions come through over and over, I try to just address them publicly so it’s a little easier than sending dozens of the same replies.

So….here we go.

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  1. Are all four of your kids yours?

Yes! I don’t really know why I get this question so many times, but I’ve had a few “you look too young to have four kids,” “do you have a blended family,” and even once or twice, “it’s just so uncommon to see a couple with four kids who all belong to the same two parents,” in the DMs lately. Yes, all four kids belong to me and to my husband – together. We will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary in two months, and we will have a 10-year-old as of July. Our Ava turns 7 this month, and our twins turn 4 this month. They’re all ours.

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  1. What would you say is your personal style definition?

Lazy chic. Honestly. I’m lazy. I have four kids. I have a business to run. I have a husband and a house and the kids have about 7679377 extracurricular activities, and I still like sleep. So I like to go for lazy, but I’ll call it classic simplicity. I love fashion, but I like to spend as little time in the morning as possible figuring out what to wear. I’m a uniform kind of girl. Give me a Lilly Pulitzer shift and a pair of Tory Burch sandals and I’m dressed for the summer. Give me skinny jeans and a tunic with a pair of heels, and I’m dressed the rest of the year. I have a uniform – and I’m okay with that.

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  1. A lot of what you link is really expensive. How do you decide what to splurge on and what to save on?

Style is very personal, and that’s what makes it so amazing. I like a good mixture of high and low-end pieces. I’m not a very trendy person – and that’s all right – but I do love classics. I spend a lot on the basics: jeans, LBDs, shoes, and handbags – and sunglasses. Anything not designed to last a lifetime, I don’t spend a lot on. Maxi dresses, rompers, tee shirts, tunics, and things like that don’t get much of my money.

I do spend a lot on certain pieces, but they are pieces that last a lifetime. Much of what I wear are things I’ve had 3, 5, 10, 12 years and still wear/carry like it’s brand-new because quality is ALWAYS better than quantity. I don’t consider the staples or classics a waste. It’s personal.

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  1. What’s your workout routine?

Simple – I move my body. I belong to my local YMCA, and I stop by three mornings a week after I drop the kids off at school. Those days I do a mixture of cardio and weights. I prefer machines like the elliptical or treadmill, and I always look up different challenging 30-minute routines on Pinterest to make each work out different and challenging.

Two days a week I go home for a few hours to work and then I head back to the Y for an hour-long yoga class. I love and adore my yoga classes – they are amazing. I feel so good, so strong, and so amazing afterward! If I can’t make it to the gym one day, I just run a mile through our neighborhood. I hate to run, so that’s always my motivation to get to the gym when I don’t feel like it!

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  1. How are you so thin even though you have four kids?

Honestly, I think it’s a combination of good genes and my diet. I don’t ‘diet’ per say. I just like to eat healthy. I have an occasional sweet tooth I don’t deny, but 90% of the time we just eat healthy. We like our meals very simple, very filled with fresh ingredients, and very healthy. We season and bake those small chicken breast cutlets (maybe tenders? Publix, what do you call them?) we buy in the meat department and then roast some broccoli and add a salad or something for most meals. We do different variations of things like that most nights.

During the day, I love Greek yogurt with a lot of fruit and a little granola, oranges are my go-to snack (Well, cuties…I can’t eat an entire orange because it’s too big!) and I will have a spoonful of peanut butter with a few little chocolate chips on them if I need some energy or just want something sweet. We don’t eat a lot of red meat – just filet – and I can probably count on one hand how many times a year we have a starch or bread side with dinner at home. We double up on our veggies.

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  1. What size are you and how tall are you?

I am *almost* 5’3, but that really surprises people. I wear heels 90% of the time, so I always seem taller to people until they see me in flats for the first time – and then they’re shocked. My size depends on what I wear as well as the designer.

  • I wear size 25 jeans
  • I wear an XS top
  • I wear size 37.5 or 38 shoe (it depends heavily on the designer and the style)
  • Dresses are either size 2 or XS

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  1. Are your kids active?

Yes! Well, Addison is. She keeps us busy. Ava tried some sports, didn’t like any of them, and prefers to read and write and create art. Charlotte and Carter aren’t four yet (next week!) so we’ve missed being able to sign them up for anything, though they will start playing tee ball in the fall. Addison, however, needs to be active all the time.

She’s in running club two mornings a week before school. She takes a gymnastics class, two advanced tumbling classes, three dance classes (lyrical, hip hop, and ballet), and she’s a competitive cheerleader. Her gym closed last year when the season was over, but a new gym is beginning a competitive squad this summer, so she’ll take that back up in a few months.

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  1. You’re always saying your husband is super hands-on, but is he really?

Yes! I always say he’s the best mom I know! He is SUPER hands-on, and I kind of hate to even call it that. He does 99% of the laundry, he packs the kids’ lunches, he makes their breakfast and gets them dressed for school, and he cleans up any messes along the way throughout the day. He cooks, he cleans, he gives baths, he does homework. He just does whatever needs doing when it needs doing. He’s a dream, and we make a really good team!

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  1. You have a lot of date nights. How do you get away with that?

We have my parents and my mother-in-law all very close to us, and we just ask. They love the kids, and they know having four kids is a handful, so they’re always happy to help. If they’re not free, they’ll offer an alternative night instead. It’s a great situation, the kids get to spend time with their grandparents all the time, and everyone is super happy. We try for date night every other week, and we mostly succeed.

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  1. How do you travel with your kids?

It takes about a day of packing to pack for a family of 6 and get it all right – and that’s the worst part. We’ve never not traveled with them. They’ve been flying, staying in hotels, and traveling since they were all born, so they just know how it’s done. They are well-behaved, too. They might have their moments at home or whatever, but they know the expectation in public, and they know how to behave at dinner, on a plane, in the airport, whatever. I think it’s just so second-nature to them. We also make sure they have plenty of snacks, coloring books, books, and other activities to keep them occupied in their own carry-ons so they’re never bored.

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  1. You don’t share a lot of photos of your kids on IG. Why not?

I use Instagram primarily for business purposes. It’s where I post collaborations, outfit of the day photos, and where I share my blog. I share pictures of the kids on occasion, but it’s a very public platform so you won’t see much about them. I use Facebook for my family. It’s private, and it’s where I share stories and pictures of the kids. Although, I’m a little bad about that because I don’t really use Facebook unless I remember I have some photos I want to share with my family or I’m with friends and everyone is tagging me in photos – then I remember!

  1. Where do you shop?

Online. Believe it or not, I don’t love shopping in person. I really don’t have much time to shop in a store, and most of the stores I like aren’t anywhere near me. I also find I become easily annoyed going navigating the layout in any store when I could literally just filter my search online and have all of exactly what I’m looking for in under 3 seconds – and without needing to put on pants or a bra.

As for where I shop, I’m simple. It’s either from Lily Pulizter, or it’s from Nordstrom. I rarely shop elsewhere, mostly because I don’t know how things will fit, or I’ve had to return one too many things because it’s just not what I wanted when it arrived. Nordstrom and Lily keep my game strong, though I do love Bloomingdales and Saks, too.

Thank You: Giving Thanks to the Men Who Helped Our Daughter When Our Worst Fear Came True

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It’s Thanksgiving week, and that means it’s going to be a week filled with very grateful, thankful people – and there is nothing wrong with that. I do wish more people would focus more regularly on being thankful for all they don’t have rather than being upset by all they don’t; but that’s not really my problem. Today, my plan was to share a post about holiday hosting. Tips, tricks, and a few of my favorites.

Instead, I’m pushing it back to later in the week, and I’m going to share some thanks. Not your typical thanks. But I’m going to give thanks to two men whom I’ve never met before, whose names I don’t know. Two men who protected my baby. Two men who kept her safe, calm, and helped her when she needed help more than ever.

This weekend was like any other. We decided it was the perfect weekend to spend in Orlando hanging out at Disney with the kids. We’ve got four – kids, that is. And we’ve been annual passholders for about 8 years, since our oldest child was almost 1. We don’t live far from the parks, it’s easy for us to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon, or even a weekend having fun.

The kids are familiar with the park. They know their way around like the back of their hands. They know where everything is, how fast passes work, where to go for the best this or that, and the best places to go when it’s raining, when it’s hot, when it’s cold, or to see the parades or shows. They’ve only been a couple million times, that’s all.

But this weekend was not like any other weekend. This weekend was our worst nightmare come true. We had all four kids (Addison is 9, Ava is 6, and Carter and Charlotte are 3) Saturday at the park. It was meant to be a weekend of fun in the sun, relaxation, and some great meals at a few of our favorite places. We slept in on Saturday morning, relaxed over some delicious Starbucks, and ended up at Disney before noon.

We had fast passes, we did our favorite rides, we bought new toys and new hats, and we stopped for massive ice cream cones, bowls, cookies, and dishes at the Ice Cream Shoppe on Mainstreet for a break. Just before we were leaving Magic Kingdom to go to dinner, Addison decided she finally knew which toy she wanted, so I took her into the shop on Main Street and the restroom while Craig took the twins in the double stroller and Ava to the Christmas tree to wait for us.

We weren’t separated 3 minutes when my watch began vibrating on my wrist and I saw it was Craig calling. He wouldn’t call me from the same street at Disney 3 minute after we separated and 3 minutes before we’d be back together unless it was urgent – a text is so much easier.

I knew. I knew the second I saw his name something was wrong, and I couldn’t find my phone in my bag fast enough. I answered, and the fear, panic, and terror in his voice made my heart stop.

“I can’t find Ava. She’s gone,” is all he said.

I grabbed Addison by the arm and ran out of the store without a word – I didn’t even know if she had anything in her hands or if I had all our belongings or what. I just needed to get out of the store. We ran down Mainstreet looking for her. Black leggings. Back and grey Minnie mouse shirt. Black and silver Michael Kors flip flops. Bright pink Hello Kitty fedora.

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Nothing. No sign of her. Mainstreet was packed. I had Addison by the arm, and we were running. I was pushing people, breaking up their groups, crying. Terrified. I spotted Craig by the tree running around with the double stroller calling Ava’s name.

He’d told her they were going to stop by the tree to wait for mommy when the twins started bickering, and he bent down to talk to them. Ava – we later learned – was so distracted by the tree that she said “Okay,” to Craig without hearing anything he said and she kept watching. Craig, taking her “Okay” for confirmation she knew the plan, didn’t even notice she kept walking when he was breaking up the fight between the babies.

She was gone. We were both hysterical.

We separated as he stayed by the tree to look in case she came back and I went to find a cast member. Find a cast member. Find a Disney cast member and tell them she’s missing. Describe her. Give her name. They have a system, they have protocol. They know what to do. They know how to handle this. Find a cast member.

As I’m running frantically trying to find a cast member, which is usually the easiest thing you can do at Disney, I realize that it was some sort of big club weekend in which thousands of people were all dressed in Disney ensembles similar to the dancers, the cast members, and other Disney employees. It was near impossible to find someone who actually worked there rather than someone who merely looked like a cast member.

That’s when I ran into a store to get a cast member from behind a counter. And that’s when my phone rang. My darling husband Craig Raiford on the screen. I answered. “I have her,” is all he said, and I took off running.

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By the tree, I saw my husband in his orange and blue Florida Gator polo shirt on the ground with Ava in his arms. They were both crying. I have never hugged a child that hard in my life. She said she was so scared. Based on how scared I was, I can’t even imagine how scared she was.

According to Ava, our sweet six-year-old, she just kept looking at the tree on Mainstreet and didn’t know daddy stopped. By the time she realized he wasn’t with her anymore, she said there were so many people and she’s so small she couldn’t see anything, so she stopped a man and told him she was lost.

We’ve always told our kids – a million and one times – what to do if they are ever separated from us. Find an employee of wherever we are, find a person with a lot of kids who seem happy. Find a police officer, or a medic, or a fireman, or a security guard. Tell them you’re lost, and tell them what we look like, where we were, and our names.

And she did. She found a man in a Florida State Seminoles shirt – she recognized the logo from the games we watched – and she asked him for help. And then he told us the rest. He told us that Ava was so impressive and brave. She was crying, but she told him she couldn’t find her daddy, and then she told him that he’s wearing an orange and blue Gator shirt, and that he had her twin babies with him in their red stroller. And then he took her to find the nearest cast member for help.

We are so proud of our girl. Six-years-old, and aside from some tears, she was calm, stoic, and handled herself like a champ. She handled herself so well, in fact, two grown men were impressed and couldn’t resist telling us we should be proud of her.

The grace of God was with us on Saturday, because another man saw the entire thing unfold when Ava stopped FSU to ask for help. He, wearing a Bama shirt, decided to follow to find a cast member. He didn’t say it out loud, but my take is that he followed because a little girl was lost from her family and asked a strange man for help and he wanted to be sure that strange man would, in fact, help her. That’s when FSU spotted a cast member, explained the story, and left Ava with the cast member to go to Guest Services. It’s also the moment he decided to look around and spotted a man with an orange and blue Gator polo and twins in a red stroller looking a little worse for the wear. He approached Craig and asked him if he was missing his little girl and when Craig said he was, he pointed to the cast member and to Ava.

And that’s when FSU told Craig he had one smart, brave little girl. She told him exactly was Craig was wearing, what color the stroller was, what the babies were wearing; everything. And that’s when Bama came up and told Craig he witnessed the entire thing, and Ava did everything right. She did it all right.

She did everything right. And because of that, we had her back in under 7 minutes. It was the longest 7 minutes of our lives, and I cannot even begin to describe the kind of fear we felt in that moment. Terror doesn’t even begin to cover it.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare come to life.

But our girl remembered all the conversations we had with her about handling a situation just like this. Conversations I was certain she never listened to. Conversations I had to pry a response out of her following. Conversations she seemed to be more interested in her coloring, the scenery, the floor, the sky, being anywhere else but talking to us. She heard every word.

And that’s why I want to take a moment to tell you to talk to your kids. Talk to them about how to handle situations you never think you might experience. We are darn good parents. Our eyes are on our kids – and we would have put money on the fact we’d never lose a child in public. But we did. We did.

And I want to take another moment to thank the two men who helped our Ava. The two men who proved there are good people in the world even when the media wants us to believe otherwise. Two men in college football shirts who weren’t at home watching the game but at Disney with their families making memories and probably wishing there was a TV or two anywhere in the Magic Kingdom.

Thank you. I don’t know your names. I don’t know who you are. I never even saw your faces. You spoke to my husband while I was running around looking for our daughter, and you kept her safe. You are good people, and I am forever thankful to you both. Thank you for being at Disney. Thank you for helping our girl. Thank you for seeing a little girl with tears in her eyes and doing whatever it took to help her find her family.

Thank you. And thank God for putting those two men where they were that day so that our girl would be all right. Thank you. And talk to your kids. And by the witness who follows in a situation like this to be sure that help is really what’s being offered.

And Happy Thanksgiving week. Hug a little tighter this week. It’s good for your soul.

Travel Tips to Make Packing and Flying Easier With or Without Kids

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Happy Wednesday, darlings!

I’m currently sitting poolside in Hawaii sipping cocktails with my love as we enjoy the sound of the ocean and one another’s company.

Kidding.

I’m currently running around like a madwoman trying to get my house ready for our house-sitters, the last details of our vacation handled, picking up snacks for the kids for our flight, checking into our flights, hoping the scale at the airline ticketing counter is broken…

I’m in vacay mode at the moment. And by vacay mode, I mean we leave today and there are still a million and one things to do, because prepping for vacation does require a vacation. Right?

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That said, I have a few moments (and I made a promise) to share some of my must-dos, haves, and tips for packing for a family of six – or any family or person or cat or whatever, really. I had a lot of questions the other day on my Insta-stories from you guys asking if I have any tips for packing for so many people.

Yes. Don’t.

Kidding. Kind of.

The other question I was asked more than a few times was how I pack for so many people and keep our luggage under-weight.

I don’t.

Not kidding.

I’m a chronic over-packer, and I have no shame in my game, my friends. But I do have a few tips that might help you get packed, organized, and make the most of your time before you leave and when you come home.

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  1. Leave a perfect house: Truth be told, I can’t handle mess at all. I can’t do it. I can’t leave my house to run the kids to school in the morning if my coffee cup is sitting in the sink. I can’t leave my house with anything messy, out of place, unorganized. Before we leave on vacation, I wash all the sheets and remake the beds so we come home to fresh beds, we wash all the laundry so we come home to nothing but vacation laundry, and we stock the fridge so we aren’t worried about shopping. Our house sitters know I need to see absolute perfection when we get home, and they’re SUPER great about making sure everything is perfect. It takes some serious stress off of traveling knowing you get to come home after a trip to a perfect house.
  2. Pack trash bags: I do this, because the little bags hotels leave in closets are not big enough for dirty laundry, and I can’t handle dirty laundry touching clean laundry. This also helps you find a barrier between shoes and clean clothes. Because, ew.
  3. Make use of all space: The best thing I can tell you is to make use of all your luggage space. I like to stick my swimsuits inside my hats and stick my hats on the bottom of luggage. One, it keeps them from becoming deformed while we travel – because you know it’s next to impossible to get a hat back to its original shape once it’s been flattened – and to use that space. I also stick all the kid’s socks and stuff inside their shoes to make more space.

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  1. Buy what you need when you get there: I don’t pack non-essentials. I’m picky about my hair products and bath products at home, but I’m fine using the hotel stuff or picking up diapers and wipes and things when we arrive to avoid packing so much stuff. I never pack swim diapers or sunscreen – that’s what Walgreens and Target are for, right?
  2. Mix and match: I am an over-packer, but I’ve learned that I can pack just a few swim tops and bottoms for all of us and we can mix and match. If we have a four-day trip, I pack two tops and two bottoms that all go together, and I remix them during the trip so I have four suits. Less packing, more style, easy.
  3. Skip the separates: With the exception of my husband and my son, you won’t find any separates in our luggage. It’s all dresses all the time. We just don’t even bother with anything else. Vacay is all about dresses, and it really narrows down what we pack.

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***My absolute favorite tip ever for travel – pack sample items. If you order from Sephora regularly, you know you get three free samples with your purchase. I always choose lotions, hair product, and perfume samples. I throw them in a drawer in my bathroom and go through them when we travel so I have little items that don’t take up much space and that can be thrown away when I run out. It’s less packing and unpacking – and it uses none of my baggage weight allowance!***

If there is anything I highly recommend when you travel, it’s dry shampoo. Always buy good dry shampoo (my favorite is DryBar, linked here at Sephora) because who wants to bother with shampoo on vacation?

I also pack each of the kids their own backpack to use as a carry on through the airport, and I put new coloring books, crayons, little activities, toys, their tablets, and fun snacks in them for the kids. This way they have something to keep them entertained on our flight they’ve never seen before, so it’s all new and exciting for them. You have no idea what a bag of M&Ms can do for my twins – who pretty rarely get any junk food to eat!

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If you don’t use apps for airlines, use apps. Check your luggage. It’s so much easier to make it through the airport when I can use my watch or phone for boarding passes, and when we don’t have to carry so much stuff. We also always check the kid’s car seats so we don’t have to rent them with a rental car (here’s a fun tip – car seats always fly free with airlines, and you get a fun bag to put them in to keep them from becoming dirty and disgusting).

6 Surprising Things I Love About Being A Mom: The Mother’s Day Edition

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Happy Mother’s Day, Mamas!

If you’d told me 9 years ago when I was celebrating my first Mother’s Day as an expectant mommy-to-be that Mother’s Day would become a day that’s so bittersweet, I never would have believed it. I was high on life, on the baby we were expecting, and on everything else. Life was just so good. It is so good. I have no complaints; we have our minor issues, but our problems are the epitome of first world problems, and I’m constantly reminded how spoiled and ungrateful I sound when I complain about them. I try hard not to, but some days get to me.

I never would have believed Mother’s Day was going to be a day I’d celebrate with tears of sadness mixed with tears of joy, but God has other plans for me than the ones I create for myself. My plans are laughable, and they’re nothing in comparison to what my God has in store for me. That’s why when 7 years ago I woke up on Mother’s Day to celebrate my second as a mother, I had tears in my eyes, a puffy face, and a broken heart.

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You see, the day before was just another day. Until it wasn’t another day. I was almost two months pregnant with our second baby – except that second baby wasn’t meant to be. Our second baby wouldn’t make it another day to Mother’s Day. I miscarried that night. My heart hurt in a way that I can’t put into words. It still hurts each time I think of that beautiful baby I will one day get to meet in Heaven. I didn’t know it then, but I’d experience the same pain a few months later as I quickly became pregnant again and lost our third baby, as well. It all began on Mother’s Day – and it hurt. Two babies we’ll one day meet – but haven’t yet gotten to know.

It’s true we were blessed again about 6 weeks later with yet another pregnancy, and that pregnancy resulted in the birth of our feisty, silly, intelligent, sweet, kind Ava Cathryn. And we ended up pregnant only two years after that with a set of twins. Coincidence after losing two babies? I think not.

Like I said; I have no complaints about life. We learned very quickly that Mother’s Day 7 years ago that our problems aren’t real problems when faced with actual, real life problems. We learned very quickly to appreciate the little things. To be very grateful for the little moments. To embrace the imperfection of ourselves and our kids, and to laugh as many of the parent-problems we have off. We appreciate so much more since then, and we practice (and sometimes fail) to really take pleasure in the smallest things.

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I didn’t know then that Mother’s Day would be a bittersweet day for me. I always find a moment in which I wonder what life would be like if that baby had been born. I wouldn’t have had a second miscarriage, but I also wouldn’t have Ava Cathryn. And we might not have the twins. I couldn’t see then why something so tragic could happen to us, but God’s plan is often much clearer when it’s been revealed. He had a greater plan for us, and that leads me to my actual point today.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s a lovely day in which we will entertain our extended families, spend time with the kids, and open many cards, smell many flowers, enjoy a lovely church service, and probably have a few too many glasses of Sancerre. It’s a good day.

A really good day. I mean, it could be a great day if it involved Sancerre on a beach or at the spa without the kids or the extended family over, a good book, and room service – but that’s not what made us moms, so a day with the kids it is.

Nine years a mama, four kids, two angel babies, and a lot of love, laughter, and tears later, I’m still shedding a few tears on Mother’s Day, but they’re not all sad tears. It’s a day for me to really just honor the little people who call me mom (entirely too many times, if we’re being honest here) by sharing 6 surprising things I love most about being a mom. I chose 6 because of Addison, Ava, Charlotte, and Carter, and for the two babies we so sadly lost before we ever got to know them.

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  1. Early Morning Wake-Ups

It’s a 5 am alarm on weekdays for a few hours of work and coffee and vanity before the tiny humans wake up, and it’s 7-8ish on the weekends. It’s not the leisurely 10-11 it once was, but I love waking up early. I love that time. It turns out, I’m a morning person; but I really just love those weekend wake-ups with the kids come running into our room all kinds of excited to see us, jumping into our bed, and cuddling with us for a few moments before we begrudgingly drag ourselves out from the warmth of our duvet to the hard-knock life of breaking up fights and arguing over whose pancake is bigger.

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  1. The Mess

Anyoen who knows me is dying right now. I hate messes. I don’t allow them, I make sure they’re cleaned up in about a half a second. But…the mess I’m cleaning up after the kids means I have a full, happy home of little people who enjoy life. That’s something pretty spectacular.

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  1. The Noise

I don’t even know what quiet sounds like, and I don’t really want to. Our house is L.O.U.D. at all times. It’s six people all trying to be heard, and it’s a lot of screaming, laughing, and fun. That noise might bother some people, but I really love it. I love it because that noise means family. It means love, and it means happiness. I love that.

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  1. Big Grocery Bills

I remember the day we’d spend all of $50 at the supermarket in a week before we had kids. Okay, so half that was wine and the other half was maybe a package of chicken and some veggies – because we never ate at home. Now we spend $500+ every week at Publix (at least) and I don’t hate it. It means my house is full, our bellies are full, and we will never have a lonely dinner table, breakfast nook, or meal. It means I’ll always have a house filled with people I love an awful lot on holidays, Sunday evenings, and random nights even when they’re all grown up and on their own.

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  1. Sticky Kisses

When a messy, snotty, sticky baby puts his or her hands on your cheeks and turns your face directly to theirs and plants a loud, mushy kiss right on my lips – it is every single thing ever in life. You learn as a mom not to complain about kisses you might consider nasty and gag-worthy from anyone else. Those kisses might be the best thing that ever happened in life.

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  1. No Free Hands With Which to Do Anything

I never have a free hand. Handbags, diaper bags, kids hands, or even the twins in both arms is my go-to, and I love it. I love that I can’t answer my phone when it rings while the kids are with me. I love that I can barely get the keys out of my bag to unlock the car when they’re with me. I will always have my husband’s hand to hold when the kids are grown and gone off on their own, but I’ll always have a free hand. Right now, my full hands (and my fuller heart) mean I have four little people who love me so much, all the time, forever, and they want nothing more than to be close to me.

I’m a mommy, and it’s kind of the most awesome thing ever. I love the love I see between my kids and their siblings, my kids and my husband, and my kids and everyone else in their lives. They love hard and when I see how much and how hard they love, it makes me smile. Because their ability to love that hard and that much comes from us. They can give that kind of love because that’s the kind of love we give to them. And that makes me feel like a total badass.