Finding Quality Time With Your Family In Busy Seasons

Happy Thursday, loves!

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

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

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

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

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

Family Dinner

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

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

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

Family Movie Night

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

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

Game Night

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

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A Bonus…

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

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

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

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

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9 Ways to Combat Exhaustion When Your Calendar is Full

Happy Tuesday, loves!

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

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

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

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

Go to Bed Early

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

Say No

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

Prioritize

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

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Make Time for Fun

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

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

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

Fill Your Body with Good Food

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

Exercise

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

Find A Routine

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

Silence Your Alerts

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

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

Get Out

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

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

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

Celebrating Mother’s Day with The Bouqs Co.

Happy Thursday, loves!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that not the sweetest thought?

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

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

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

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

Flowers never hurt.

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

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

Why Our Daughter Doesn’t Have Her Own Cell Phone

Happy Wednesday, loves!

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

Okay, that might be a *small exaggeration.

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

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

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

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No Cell Phone For Addison

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

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

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Middle School and the Cell Phone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stipulations

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

We love rules.

Good grief – there I go again.

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

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

Final stipulation – and this is the BIG one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the little things that matter the most

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

Snack time is all the time

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

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

What we do, you see, emulate, and believe

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

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

What we say is so important

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

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

Your love is unconditional

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

Life is better with babies

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

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

We will always worry

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

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

We will always miss you when we are not with you

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

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

There is joy in everything

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

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

You are the best parts of both of us

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 10th Birthday, our blue-eyed beauty.

Summer Bucket List: Per My Kids

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Summer is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traveling Without Your Kids: A Must Do For Your Marriage

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I’m going to be late picking the girls up from school if I don’t leave here in approximately 10 minutes, but I’m sitting here at my desk in my bathrobe eating a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter with tiny chocolate chips. And I don’t feel bad. Technically, the line doesn’t even begin moving until 3:40, which is what I’m telling myself even though I’m going inside today so I can give my oldest her gymnastics bag and grabbing my middle before we go get the twins.

I’m distracted this week, and I’m working my behind off trying to get a lot more done in a lot less time. I’m taking Friday off…which means I need to get all my normal Friday work done by Thursday. That’s easier said than done when you consider it’s around 15,000 words. I’m 100 percent so excited about the upcoming weekend!

Three glorious days at one of our favorite hotels in one of our favorite cities to celebrate our anniversary 3 weeks early! No kids. Just us. Date nights, and sleeping in, and getting some sun, and getting my husband all to myself for a few days. What else could a girl want?!

As I’m multitasking (working and making packing notes), I’m thinking about all the conversations we’ve had with people over the years anytime we plan a trip without the kids. “It must be so nice to get time away so often,” (It is). “How can you leave your kids?” (With a cheerful wave and some sweet hugs and kisses). “I’ve never understood people who leave their kids. I could never do it. More power to you,” (PSA: this is not a great veiled attempt at insinuating people who take time to focus on their marriage or not losing their ever-loving minds with their kids are less than amazing parents).

We miss our kids when we aren’t with them, but man-oh-man do we appreciate that time away! We get to come home on Sunday morning rested, fulfilled, happy, and as much better parents. I can’t parent when I’m stressed, on empty, and without some personal space.

Ladies and gentlemen – My husband and I have four kids. Free time is not something we have. We have to schedule free time – and it sometimes takes weeks to get time to do that – and we don’t get much down time. If we don’t take a break from the constant snack-making, lunch-packing, butt-wiping, booger-wiping, bath-giving, boo-boo bandaging, this food touched that food and I need all my food remade-handling, chauffeuring, homeworking-doing, sports-practicing, exhausting, beautiful moments that kind of wipe us out from time to time, things get really ugly, really quickly.

I suck at parenting when I’m exhausted. We all do. It’s why kids have naptimes and bedtimes. So we can recharge overnight and face the next day with a happy heart. And that works…but sometimes I just need to get my husband very naked and very much to myself for a few days. And I’m not even remotely ashamed of that situation.

If you are one of the many people who feels guilt at the thought of leaving your kids, I feel you, sister. I always feel guilty leaving them. But I go. They love their time with their grandparents and their cousins. They sometimes need a break from our faces, too. And that’s the pretty thing about time off. If you can find time to take off and get away from the kids, do it. The benefits are astounding.

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You Get to Have a Real Conversation

I don’t know about your household, but sometimes my husband and I try to carry on the same conversation for an hour before we finally get to the point. “So, I was thinking we could (MOMMY! Can I have some water?) Sure, honey, give me a second. Anyway, I was thinking this weekend we could take the kids down to Dis – (Daddy! Can you help me with my math homework? Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were talking to mommy, but when you’re done can you help me with my math homework?) (Husband nods) What was I saying? Oh right, I was thinking this weekend we could…” and sometime an hour later, I might get that sentence out.

When we take a weekend without the kids, we get to talk. A lot. And we have meaningful conversation about how amazing it is to have meaningful conversation without being interrupted 87592641614 times. And the sad part is our kids know not to interrupt blatantly….but they’re constant “Excuse me’s” aren’t fun.

You Are Relaxed

What’s more relaxing than knowing you get to go to bed on your own time, you get to sleep all night, and you get to wake up on your own time? Oh, nothing. You’re also relaxed going to dinner because you don’t care if there is a small delay in your reservation. You aren’t eating on the kid timer. When you’re told it will be a few moments, you probably do what we do and say, “No rush! We’ll be at the bar!” You’re relaxed, and relaxed people are happy people.

You’re A Lot More Naked

TMI, I know. But let’s be honest. You are. And he is. And you both are. And that’s always, always, always the best. And I’ll leave it at that.

You’re Focused On One Another

I love nothing more than when my husband is fully focused on me and our time together, and it’s hard to manage that with the kids. I love being able to focus on him, listen to his stories and really hear what he’s saying. I love the focus, and that focus is good for the soul.

You Feel Closer Together

I cannot get enough of my husband when we travel. I feel so close to him when it’s just the two of us. It takes me back a decade before we had kids and we were just newlyweds jetting off to New York City one weekend, California the next weekend, and Hawaii three weeks later. That was our life, and it was so, so good. It’s a million times better now, but it does take me back to that time when we were young and carefree.

You’re A Better Parent

At the end of the day, you’re a much better parent when you have a few days away. I can always tell when my patience is waning, and I know when a timeout is necessary. Sometimes we just need to get away for a few days and recharge. We need to just be us and be reminded how much fun we have. We need to be reminded that we actually do miss our little monsters when we’re away, and we need to be reminded of the little moments so we get to go home and be much better parents to four much better kids (Kidding…the grandparents come stay with our kids when we travel and they don’t know how to pronounce “NO” so our kids are basically evil when we return).

For example, when we wake up in a hotel and room service delivers our coffee, we get to sit on our balcony and overlook the city or the ocean or wherever we are, talk, drink in silence, read the news, savor the sweetness. But we also realize that those sweet little faces that usually climb up next to us on the couch to cuddle when we drink our coffee at home are really sweet moments (because Lord knows in the moment we’re just like “Omg. Could you take up any more of my space?).

You’re A Better Couple

I don’t know about y’all, but I really like my husband – a lot. And I’m pretty sure he mostly likes me, too. Save for about a week every month, but what’s a girl to do about attitude problems when her hormones are like whoa and she has four kids and all that? Anyway, I really like Craig. And I like spending time with him. We are a better couple when we have a few days to ourselves. He makes me laugh. My cheeks always hurt by the end of our trip from laughing so much. He’s always so thoughtful in making reservations at my favorite restaurants, taking my Insta photos, shopping with me, and he always defers to me when it’s time to choose the bottle of wine we order – and I never have to compromise on that. It’s nice.

We are a much better couple when we have time alone, and that makes our marriage that much better. We might be together 24 hours a day save for pick up and drop off at school during the week, but we still need that quality time to focus on our marriage and nothing but one another. And we are so much better for it.

Did I mention all the nakedness?

Happy Birthday, Babes: Answers to the 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions We Get About the Twins

Four years ago today we welcomed our last babies into our world. Our twins, Carter and Charlotte, were born. I was 36 weeks and 6 days pregnant when they made our debut at 3 lbs. and 5 lbs. They spent a week in the NICU, and we spent a week living at the hospital – unofficially in the room we were discharged from after two days thanks to the amazing nurses who offered it to us – and our lives changed.

Now they’re four.

Four.

I don’t even know where the time went. They are the sweetest babies. They have their moments, but we have been so fortunate with our sweet babes. They’ve always been excellent 12-hour nighttime sleepers. They’ve always been easy babies, well-behaved babies, and they don’t give us too much trouble. We are fortunate, and we appreciate every moment of their sweetness.

And in honor of their fourth birthday, I’m answering a few of the most common questions we receive about being twin parents and about twins. These aren’t Instagram-sent questions. These are walking through Publix with the twins and hearing questions from complete strangers we’ve never met in our lives. All. The. Time.

  1. They’re twins? But he’s taller than her! They don’t look that much alike!

Yes. This is true. Carter is taller than Charlotte. He’s also five pounds heavier, and he’s got a penis. It’s called fraternal. And yes, I’m sure they’re not identical. And yes, it’s possible to have twins who don’t look alike.

  1. Did you plan on having twins?

Absolutely not. Had I known I hyper ovulate, there’s a good chance we might have stopped before we had more than one at a time.

  1. Are they natural?

They’re not unnatural. I assume this is the “nice” way strangers ask us if we went through fertility treatments to conceive. To be frank, it’s a bit rude – and none of anyone else’s business. We all know where babies come from, so there’s that. But no, we conceived our babies very naturally. Did you want that visual?

  1. Did you just want to die when you found out you were having twins? I’d kill myself if I found out I was having twins and I already had two kids at home!

I’m here, aren’t I? So, no; I did not die. One baby is a beautiful blessing. Two is an amazing blessing. It might be shocking to find out there’s more than one baby in there, but it’s not suicide-worthy.

  1. Better you than me, right? Ha ha ha!

Yes, yes, and yes.

  1. Did your lives totally end when you had twins?

Nope. We lead a very fulfilling, beautiful life to be honest. It’s just a little louder, a little busier, and there’s a lot more hugs and kisses to go around, and we have a lot more laughter in our house. And we never worry about sitting by strangers on planes. We get the entire row to ourselves, and that’s a total win.

  1. How do you sleep?

Lying down cuddled up as close as I can get to my husband in my very comfortable bed. We are very schedule-oriented, so our kids have always been great sleepers. We’re not sleep-deprived. Even with newborns in the house, we weren’t. We’ve been very fortunate.

  1. Can you tell them apart?

I can’t get their names straight, but we’ve numbered them – so it works.

Really?! Yes, this is a serious – and frequently asked – question. They’re not identical. They’re not even the same gender. They don’t even have the same body parts. And besides, Charlotte has long hair and Carter doesn’t so it’s totally easy to tell them apart.

  1. Do they have the same personality?

No. They do not. Carter should have been named Joy. This boy is nothing but pure joy all the time. He’s always got the biggest, sweetest, most genuine smile on his face. He’s always got a hug to share, big kisses, and a massive smile on his face. Charlotte is a bit more reserved, and she has to love you a LOT before she’s going to kiss you or even share a smile with you. She also owns Carter and the big girls. Anything she wants, she looks at them and they make it happen. She’s a leader, and Carter is just along for the ride.

  1. Do you just love having twins?

More than anything! We were shocked, we thought it was a joke, and we weren’t sure how we’d manage two babies at one time with two bigger girls at home when we found out baby number three was baby three and four. But God’s plan is always greater than our own plans. He knows. He brings you what you need in your life and He knew we needed these babies in our lives even when we didn’t know it. He knew. And He was right. Our hearts are FULL.

We get to have the privilege of living in a household that is always filled with laughter – occasional bickering – and we are never without a little person with so much love for us that they can’t contain it. Our lives are full, and there is nothing quite like getting to watch these babies grow up together. We have so much goodness in our lives right now, and one day we will find our home filled to overflowing when our four babies and their spouses and their own babies come over for dinner, birthdays, and holidays. It’s going to be loud, crazy, and overflowing – and it’s everything we want in life.

Happy Birthday, sweet babes. You are loved.

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.