kids, Parenting

Today, I put it on God.

Today, I put it on God. I don’t say that lightly at all. Today, we were faced with so many questions as a family about where we are going— where we want to be. Personally. Professionally. Short term. Long term. I feel like so often, we’re told that being stressed, being overwhelmed, or unhappy is part of life— it’s what we now call “adulting.” I used to believe that. I used to think that I had to settle for that. But after having a child, my thought process has drastically changed. Do my husband and I need to work in order to provide for our family? Absolutely. I’m not saying I’m searching for the plush life of staying at home, living large, and not working. Instead, I’m telling you that maybe, just maybe, it’s about perspective.

Do we need to feel trapped in our jobs? Do we need to feel under-appreciated day in and day out? Do we need to sacrifice time with our family for others who wouldn’t blink an eye to do the same? While society tells me each day “Yes!” my head and heart are now screaming “No!”. No, I don’t need to settle for a job that looks at me as simply a number. No, I don’t need to settle for sacrificing hours of my time at home with my young family, to go above and beyond for someone else’s children. No, I don’t need to settle for a job that no longer makes me happy. I’m tired of the emptiness I’m feeling right now and stressing about this day in and day out. I don’t want to keep watching my husband struggle with the balance of wanting to provide a comfortable lifestyle for our family, while feeling stifled inside. Stuck. Unable to pursue his real dreams and goals.

Part of me knows that my mindset needs to change. I need to stop being sucked into the consumerism of today’s world. To stop worrying about the fleeting things of the physical world (the bigger house, the fancy car, the designer clothes) and instead focus on the gifts I’ve been given( my talents, my husband, my kids). It’s hard, but possible…with His help.

I wish that it was simple and that with a snap of my fingers all the stress of work would all go away. It won’t. So, instead, I’m putting it in God’s hands. Instead of complaining, I’m sending my stress, my worries, and my trust to him. Instead of thinking I’m in control, I’m leaning on him to show and provide a more balanced path for our family; to guide me to the path that he has perfectly paved for me. It may be hours, weeks, months, or years. I know he’ll provide. But for today, I put it all on God.

Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

kids, Parenting, Uncategorized

Guess How Much I Love…My Bunny

There are certain items that bring a sort of nostalgia of our childhood. A favorite toy, story, or memory that we hold with us. A moment we can still recall vividly. Recently, as I laid my little man down for a morning nap, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I stared at this perfect little being as he snuggled a small little bunny and that sense of nostalgia consumed me.

From the outside looking in, it appears to be just that, a child’s bunny. Meant for bedtime snuggles, to provide a sense of security. But to me, it represents so very much more. That bunny is more than the character it represents from my favorite children’s book, Guess How Much I Love You. It is more than a security blanket. For me, it represents a special bond between my mother and me. A bond that, I hope, my son and I will one day have.

Growing up as a child, my parents were both teachers. They had the same schedule, for the most part, as my sister and I– school breaks, snow days, and summers off. It was all we knew. Then, one day, my mom was offered the opportunity to become a school consultant, taking her out of the classroom and allowing her to travel to other schools outside our small town of Indiana. It was an opportunity of a lifetime–one that she had to pursue. While it was exciting, I had little idea of how much it would truly shift my whole. My mom wouldn’t be home every day after school like I had been used to. We didn’t have FaceTime and Skype to stay connected. Instead, we had a Little Nut Brown and a Big Nut Brown– the two characters from my favorite storybook.

You see, my mom would read the storybook Guess How Much I Love You to me at night as a child. One day, before her trip, she left me the Big Nut Brown stuffed animal, the one whom represents the mother in the story, lying on my bed. The note attached, reading that she’d always be with me each night, no matter where her travels that week would take her.  Packed in her suitcase, was Little Nut Brown, the child in the story. Each time she traveled, she packed Little Nut Brown in her suitcase. I snuggled Big Nut Brown each night she was away. It was our bond. Our way of being together, no matter how far away we may have been. On night’s when I would miss her, she’d remind me that she was right there, snuggled up next to me. I’d find comfort in that.

Our bunny bond didn’t stop once I grew up and graduated high school. How could it? I was moving away from home for the first time. So, as I packed for college,  Big Nut Brown ame along. She sat on a shelf in my college dorm–watching over me each day. I never shared the story with friends, or felt the need to explain why I had a stuffed bunny sitting on my shelf when I was twenty years-old. Did I need to still snuggle it each night? No. But on the hard days when that math test just didn’t go right (and let’s be honest, with math, it never did!), or I was cramming to memorize those last key pieces of information for my final, that bunny provided comfort, reassurance. I could look at it and feel my mom’s encouragement. I could see her face, smiling. I could hear her voice, cheering me on.

Through graduating college, moving out on my own, and getting married, that bunny has been along for the ride. I’m not sure that there will ever be a day that Big Nut Brown doesn’t stay. Today, he sits in our son’s nursery alongside the book that started it all. And as I stared at my son that morning, snuggling his baby version of the same stuffed animal, I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotions. It was then, as a parent, that I realized that sometimes it’s the smallest acts, such as reading a story, that matter the most to a child. That one story, that one stuffed animal, has meant more to me in the past twenty years, than any other gift has.

So while that bunny will always hold a special memory for my mother and me, it now also serves as a reminder of the kind of parent I want to be. Twenty years from now, I can only hope that my son will look at his bunny, the one he used to snuggle to sleep, and be reminded of his mom. Not for the many things that she bought him, but for the memories that together, they made. The stories. The snuggles. The giggles. The playtime. The class parties. The ball games. Simply, the time we spent together.



education, kids, Parenting, Uncategorized

Momma on a Mission: Part 2

When my husband and I decided that it was in the best interest for our family this year for me to take a year off from teaching by extending my maternity leave, I had mixed emotions. For the last eight years, I had been a teacher. It was my passion–it was my identity. While I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to stay at home with our son and have the chance to witness and be a part of each and every one of his “firsts”, I also had some guilt. I had ALWAYS contributed to our household income and that was something I took pride in. I wanted to stay home, but I also wanted to bring in some extra money so that our family could continue to live comfortably. I had very little idea at how difficult that could be.

For weeks, I searched the internet for remote jobs with flexible hours, allowing me to spend my days with our son and drop-off and pick-up my step-daughter from school. Very little results showed up in my search. I’m not very good at asking people to purchase things, so I knew direct sales wasn’t going to bring in the revenue I was hoping. With an infant at home who is nursing and dependent on me, customer service jobs requiring phone calls or set working hours just didn’t seem reasonable. Family and friends recommended I offer childcare, but to me, that wouldn’t allow me the same one-on-one, genuine time with my son–the reason I was staying home. I was picky, leaving me with very few options.

Then, I stumbled upon an ad on Facebook for VIPKids. I remembered that I had looked into this months ago, while pregnant with Kellen. I went through the initial steps, but when I saw I had to do a live demo class, I had abandoned my application. I was scared. Looking back at it now, I have no idea why. I have interviewed for multiple teaching and administrative positions in my career. I have had a successful career thus far in the field of teaching. So what was there to be nervous about? Out of options and desperate to find something that would help my family, I decided to complete my application and signed up for my live demo class. It was the best decision! I have officially completed my first month as a VIPKids teacher and am ready to share with you why this is a wonderful side hustle for any one!

What is VIPKids?

VIP Kids is an online learning platform designed to help Chinese students learn English. The company has a flipped classroom approach in which students study material on their own and then use the VIPKid classroom platform to demonstrate and practice their learning with a native English-speaking teacher. The students and teachers both log-on to an online learning platform with interactive slides for learning and practice. The company has headquarters in both China and the United States and offers flexible teaching hours to native English speakers who hold a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and has relative experience working with kids (volunteering, coaching, teaching, mentoring, babysitting, etc).

What is the application process like?

To begin the application process, you are first asked to complete an application form with basic information: name, education background, and work experience. Once your application is completed, you are then prompted to book an interview. You can choose to book your interview right away and then look over the preparation materials, or choose to book an online interview at a later date. Sometimes, they also give the option for applicants to record a demo lesson that can be scored and later reviewed. I did this at first, but still had to do the online, live demo class, so I recommend just starting with that! Once you schedule an online interview, you need to review the materials that are provided. They are extremely important in ensuring that you score well on the rubric you will be graded on.  They also have videos that help you see and understand how to use TPR (total physical response) and props in your teaching.

What materials are needed/ required?

In order to teach for VIPKids you are required to have a computer device of some kind (laptop, MAC),  a camera (most are installed on your laptops already and those are fine!), and a headset with a microphone. I found a cheap one on Amazon!

In addition, you must have a wired DSL connection of at least 20 Mbps. In order to do this, I bought a cheap ethernet cord to connect to my laptop and run it to the room I teach in. You can find these in stores, but I bought mine on Amazon, too!

VIPKids also recommends setting up a classroom in a small corner or room away from noise and distractions. With two dogs and two kids at home, I created a small teaching room in one of our walk-in closets for now! It sounds funny, but works great! They also recommend that you have good lighting, as you are normally teaching during the early morning or late evening hours, when natural light is hard to come by.  Thus, I could a few cheap lights from Wal-Mart to help ensure good lighting for my classroom.

What are the hours like?

The hours are something that I know can make some people hesitant, especially if you are still working a full-time job.  The big thing to understand about this job is that because you are teaching live to students in China, there is about at 13 hour time difference. Thus, the peak booking hours during the week are from 5:00 am -8:30 am Eastern time and 8:00 pm to 8:30 am Eastern Time from Friday evening through Saturday (there Saturday and Sunday). Thus, when I first started working, I signed up for the crazy 1am-5am time slots, hoping to get my first few bookings. While I did, I also realized this wasn’t the best option for me, while nursing a four-month old throughout the night! Instead, I open up booking slots from 5am-6:30 am three to four days a week and 6:00 am-8:00 am on Saturday and Sundays. This works well for me as most of my family is still asleep, and my husband is home to meet any needs the kids may have.

What I really love about this company is that there are no set amount of hours that you must work. Thus, if you can only work on weekends, that’s fine.

What is the pay like?

The pay scale varies, based on your education background and your interview. The base pay is between $8- $10 a class. Each class is only 25 minutes long. Thus, your base rate could be $16-$20 an hour. In addition, VIP Kids offers cash incentives. If you show up on time to a class and teach it through the required time, you can earn extra money per class. There are also incentives for teaching 35 or more classes in a given month (super easy to do) and other competitions and incentives that they put out each month to encourage teachers to continue to take professional development offerings or to get certified in additional teaching levels ( VIPKids has different levels of teaching for students–you must be certified through a demo to do each level).

To give you a brief idea, in my first month of teaching with VIP Kids, I taught 50 classes, equaling 25 total hours of work. I started all classes on time and taught over 35 classes, qualifying me for two additional income incentives. Today, I received a direct deposit payment for $565.00.

How much work/ prep is required?

If you are currently a teacher, or have been a teacher, then you will absolutely LOVE this. The lesson planning and prep work is done for you! The slide shows are interactive in nature and are loaded into the classroom platform for you during your class time. All I have to do to prepare for my class is glance over the slide show and the learning objectives ( which I can do from my laptop or my phone app). I then gather a few learning props, usually flashcards from the $1 bin at Target or toys I have in my kids’ room, and I am ready to go! If you Google videos of other VIPKid teachers, you will see that there are some that really go above and beyond! More power to them, but I like to keep it fun and easy. Yes, I provide high energy and enthusiasm to my students, as well as some fun props, but I don’t go all out in decorating my “classroom” or buying expensive props.

At the conclusion of the lesson, you are asked to provide feedback for each student’s lesson. All that is required are a few sentences stating what the child learned and/or excelled in during the lesson, as this goes to parents. You are then able to provide feedback for the child’s next teacher (as it may not be you), as well as feedback for the VIPKid lesson itself. That’s it. My “grading” takes about 2-3 minutes.

Why I love VIPKids :

VIPKids has allowed me to continue to practice my profession and love for teaching, conveniently from my home, while not taking away from my precious time with my little one. The online platform is safe and secure, and allows me to teach and help students learn in a fun environment, without all of the stresses of teaching such as lesson planning, grading, and parent issues!

If you’re looking for a side hustle while staying home with your little ones, or simply would like to make some extra money to help pay off debt or an upcoming vacation, I HIGHLY recommend looking into VIP Kids. Don’t let the application or interview process deter you, like it first did me. It’s an amazingly fun and easy way to make some extra cash, while helping students along the way.

If you’re interested in signing-up, use my unique referral code to help fast-track your application!

education, kids, Parenting

Losing the Passion: The Truth Behind Educators Leaving the Profession

Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a teacher. I idolized my elementary teachers, played school at home with my dolls, and actually enjoyed going to my mom’s classroom during the summer as she graded papers, taught summer school, or added to her classroom decor. I grew up in a family of educators – all were passionate about their profession; each believe in a child’s ability to become anything they dream of being.

In high school, I signed up for a cadet-teaching class, allowing me to work in a preschool classroom 2-3 days a week. I fell in love. I could not imagine doing anything with my life outside of teaching in a classroom. I knew it was my passion, my calling. Each field experience in college further confirmed my passion for education. I can vividly remember my first teaching interview, the joy I felt as I was shown to MY very first classroom, my heart-skipping as I saw my name outside the door.  I look back at that moment–that joy I had. The passion. I remember how I promised myself, that young, first-year teacher, that when that passion and joy for the job dropped, when it no longer exuded from my skin and was contagious to the students I taught, I would re-evaluate my profession. That it wasn’t fair for a student to have a teacher who didn’t demonstrate a passion for their profession.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamed that that moment would come so soon.  I have taught in the public classroom setting for eight years, mere pennies to some of my distinguished colleagues who I have had the honor to teach with and learn from. I have taught a multitude of grade levels: kindergarten, first grade, third grade, and high school. With in each  new school year and each grade level, I know, without a doubt, that I have made an impact on at least one of my students. I have watched them grow not only as learners, but also as human beings. But, with each year and grade level, a burden has also been added;one that seeps away just a little more of the first-year teacher’s passion I once recall. I turn on the news and read the newspaper headlines about the struggle to find educators. I read of the rising problem of educators leaving the profession. The news anchors and headlines, asking “Why?”

I know why.

Ask almost any educator today who has taught more than five years, and any one of us can tell you exactly why.

The fact that my passion as an educator is slowly being drained away has nothing to do with my salary or lack thereof. Remember, I come from a family of educators. I have grown up knowing that the education field is not a lucrative one. I did not become a teacher in hopes of becoming rich; I became one because of my passion to help students learn, because of the joy I received in watching a student have their “light-bulb” learning moment, knowing I was a part of that. No, there are many reasons why educators are losing their passion and choosing to leave the profession, but it’s not the money.

In reflecting on my career thus far in the field, I have narrowed it down to five reasons that my job has become much more difficult than it once was and why it has begun to take a toll on me and my family. My passion for this noble profession, like that of many of my colleagues, is slowly being drained because:

  1. We didn’t sign-up to be a security guard. This sounds harsh, but it’s true. In the world we live in today, teachers and students don’t truly feel safe at school. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of school shootings and safety violations since I joined the profession. When I first became a teacher, never once did I have to think about what I would do in the situation of an active shooter. This year, I did and it rocked me to my core. I was eight months pregnant, eating lunch with my colleagues, when the fire alarm went off. If you’re a teacher, you know there are no planned fire alarms during a lunch period. I vividly remember looking at my fellow teachers in the lounge and voicing that I didn’t want to evacuate–that I feared this was not a fire drill, but a moment that could put all of us at risk– a way to get us all outside in the open. I did not sign on for this fear when I became a teacher. I did not agree to be responsible for not only teaching my students the curriculum, but teaching them what to do if someone enters our classroom with a gun. I did not sign on to teach them how to hide or how to evacuate. Have you ever had to have that conversation with a six-year-old, while still attempting to reassure them how safe their school is?  Trust me, it’s hard.
  2. We did not sign-up for the emotional stress. More and more of today’s students are suffering from mental health issues. It is becoming a silent crisis within our schools. In addition, students are not receiving the help they need to address these issues as our school and class sizes continue to rise, leaving students to fall between the cracks. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that they carry the successes and burdens of their students. Every day, I bring home the worries of not only myself and my family, but of my students as well. As a teacher, I have sat in countless case conferences and meetings outlining a student’s past: mental and physical abuse, poverty, living in squalor. This is hard to take on as a teacher – knowing your students’ burdens and feeling helpless outside of the walls of your classroom. In addition, the rate of suicide or suicide attempts by students are increasing as these mental health issues go unidentified or untreated. There is nothing worse as a teacher than receiving a phone call or reading an email informing you that a student of yours has attempted suicide. I have received two. It is heartbreaking. It leaves you questioning what more you, as their mentor, could have done. What silent cries for help did you miss?
  3. We sacrifice our needs and our family’s needs to meet the needs of our students. Anyone who believes that a teacher’s hours are the hours posted outside the school office’s doors has never met a teacher or spent time in their shoes. We get to work before the bell rings; we stay long after the last student leaves. We come in on the weekends and on our “vacations”– heck some of us still even come in on snow days. In addition, thanks to our society today, we are expected to answer emails from our students or their parents at a moment’s notice and have grades entered and up-to-date within hours. Add in the necessary time needed to plan lessons that meet the individualized needs of our students on 504 plans, or who have language or individualized education plans, and you are looking at WAY more than forty-hours a week. But, lo and behold we do it all. We get it all in, but at the sacrifice of our own families. We sacrifice playing with our littles ones on the weekend in order to grade the pile of essays. We sacrifice the MUCH NEEDED adult conversations with our spouses in the evening to finalize our lesson plans, respond to emails from students, and enter our grades. We sacrifice ourselves–that self-love we need–in order to get it all done. We stay up late, long after the bedtime we needed, in order to help our own kids with their homework, cook dinner, and get just a little quality time with them before they go to bed–staying up to answer the questions about the project that’s due tomorrow, to respond to the emails. This leaves us exhausted with little to give to our students, our spouses, or our kids.
  4. We are the scapegoats. I remember growing up as a child and coming home with a note in my folder, an explanation as to why I had to “clip-down” that day. Per usual, I was just a little too social for my own good at times. However, that was never an excuse in my household. I was held responsible for it–ME, the student. The one who didn’t listen to her teacher, who didn’t follow the rules. While there are still parents out there today who trust in their child’s teacher, who believe that maybe, just maybe, the story their child is telling about that low-grade or behavior note, isn’t the whole truth, unfortunately, those parents are few and far between. Today, teachers are becoming the scapegoat for a child’s low grade or poor behaviors: we have it out for their child, we aren’t fair, we teach in a style that isn’t to their child’s liking. Let me be honest here, parents. It is difficult to teach to thirty different students at one time and match EVERY single one of their learning styles, but I still attempt to everyday. I promise I have never been “out to get a child,” nor have I been biased towards them.Do we make the wrong decision sometimes, handle a situation in a way that may not be ideal? Absolutely, we are human. But, instead of insinuating and being quick to use us as a scapegoat, hear us out. Listen to my story, hear what I, as a professional, have to say about the situation or the grade before you’re quick to judge. It becomes exhausting to have to defend every decision that you make in your classroom to the students, to the parents, or to your administration, simply because a kid can’t own up to their mistakes or lack of planning.
  5. We are treated as a number, not as a human being. I saved this one for last, as it is the one that I feel has caused my passion to be drained. Education is a people business. We are asked, as educators, to treat our students with compassion, to show interests in their hobbies and passions, and to support them, yet we are not given that same courtesy. Very few districts and administrative teams are taking the time to treat you as a person, to give you the same respect they expect you to give your students. It only takes a moment to send a “Congratulations!” email to the new mom, to write an encouraging note after a hard day with a student, to compliment a teacher on an amazing lesson, a job well done.

In the past month, I have seen multiple current and former colleagues share that they are feeling disheartened, broken,  and under-appreciated in their profession as an educator. These AMAZING educators are contemplating leaving the profession they love so much because they don’t feel supported. They watch as they or their colleagues are passed up for promotions – promotions which are given to other, less qualified candidates because they “know someone” on the “inside.” Politics. They watch their colleagues cry during their lunch break after a student verbally attacks them in front of their class, telling the administration that their teacher is a racist and unfair. They know she isn’t; they know the student was at fault. They know nothing will be done. Scapegoats. They watch their new momma colleague scrambling to keep it all together–using all of her prep time and lunch breaks to pump milk for her baby, knowing that means she will have hours of work at home. It doesn’t matter…they are a  number on the staff payroll, not a person. They watch their colleagues pack their desk and carry their boxes home. They watch one leave the profession this year, two the next. They watch new teachers come in, full of passion and energy, to later watch them leave, their tanks empty.

Education is, and has always been my passion. I truly believe education is the foundation of our future and is crucial to the upbringing of our society. I still see glimpses of that first-year teacher me – the one full of passion. I see her as I help our daughter with her homework. I see her as I teach online and tutor. She’s still in there, but I know that in order to rejuvenate that passion for me and for all teachers in our education system today, it’s time for those outside of the profession to stop asking”Why?” and start listening. Listen to the teachers in your community. Stop assuming it’s our schedule or our pay, and truly listen. The burdens of our job are heavy and we don’t carry them lightly. We need your support.  We need your compassion. Most of all, we need you to treat us as human beings, because we are.

kids, Parenting

Product Review: Nonidoo Baby Milestone Blanket

*This post may contain affiliate links*

Every parent LOVES to capture their child’s milestones; their growth and all the new things they learn and do each new month of their life. One of the growing trends in parenting today is the use of a milestone blanket to make those photo shoots just a little bit easier!

If you’ve ever searched for a milestone blanket, then you know that there are A LOT on the market. It can be difficult to filter through all the products and to find one that you really love. In my search, I came across the Nonidoo Baby brand, which offers three different patterns. I loved that it was affordable ( under $15 and FREE shipping on Amazon!) so I thought I would give it a try. I picked the elephant pattern for our little man, but loved their flower and butterfly one for girls, too!

What first impressed me about this company is not only how quickly the package arrived, but how it was wrapped. The blanket comes inside a beautiful box and is wrapped and secured within the box with a silver ribbon. Thus, it would be great to add to a baby shower gift basket–no additional wrapping necessary and super affordable!

Upon opening the box, the first thing I noticed about the blanket was how soft it was– the blanket is made of a plush material– which I personally am obsessed with and ALL my blankets in our house are made of! Even after our photo shoot, my son was still grabbing his blanket to cuddle! Because of the material, you do need to make sure you smooth it out very well before utilizing it for your photo shoots, but once you do, I found that the material made my son a little more cooperative–he loved laying on it! ( or maybe it was just a REALLY good day for us :)) 

I also love that the blanket comes with so many accessories that help me to make the photos as custom as I’d like. Within the box, you are given two milestone marking hearts to outline the number on the blanket, 13 cards with letters and numbers that allow me to spell out my son’s name if I want to ( or a special accomplishment that month!), as well as cloud cards that can spell out days,weeks, months, years, or even teeth! I don’t have to take the addition steps of adding wording through an app on my phone before I post his pictures! I also  really loved the cute elephant design I chose, as it can be gender neutral, which is great for a momma who knows she will be adding to her family still or for the momma who is waiting to be surprised! Overall, I am VERY pleased with my purchase and love how my son’s pictures turn out when using this milestone blanket!

If you’re in the search for a milestone blanket or a gift for a new momma in your life, I highly recommend checking out the Nonidoo Baby milestone blanket. Right now, if you use promo code NOCHAOS20, it’s 20% off on Amazon! What a great deal!

kids, Parenting

Tummy Time Must Have: Activity Mat Review

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the concept that my sweet little baby is already five-months old. While I felt like my pregnancy flew by ( minus those last two weeks!), the time since we’ve welcomed our son home has flown by ten times faster. It has been amazing these past few months to watch him grow his own personality and begin to truly discover and explore the world around him.

Since our son was born, I’ve tried to be diligent in getting him to participate in daily tummy-time sessions. Luckily, our son LOVES his tummy sessions. Thus, for Christmas this year, we wanted to purchase him a new tummy time mat, as he had begun to outgrow the mat we initially used when he was a newborn. If you’re a first-time mom, like me, the hunt for a tummy time mat and playtime essentials can be DAUNTING! I vividly recall calling my husband to tell him I was going to make a quick-trip to BuyBuy Baby for some tummy-time toys and to check-out which mat to purchase for Christmas. Three hours later, yes THREE hours later, I emerged out of the store, squinting at the daylight, with just one toy. I felt defeated. I had NO idea how many options for play mats there were. I had no idea what toys my then four-month old son would truly interact with.

Thus, I began my hunt online. Looking at three things:

1. Honest, mom reviews: Why? Because we’ve tried the products on our own kids and we know what’s the real deal and what’s just been hyped up by advertising.

2. Price: I may be new at this mom thing, but I was not going to be coaxed into spending ridiculous amounts of money for a play mat that lies on the floor with my child, only to be used for a few months.

3. Gender neutral: Again, let’s be practical. My husband and I plan to have more offspring and I’d like to get a second use out of it, no matter the gender of our next child.

After much research and tireless searching of Black Friday and impending holiday sales, I settled on our playmat, Disney Baby Mr. Ray Ocean Light’s Activity Mat.

Why I love it:

  1.  The mat’s overall set up. The mat sets up and creates a barrier wall on almost 3/4 of the mat. This is great for my wiggle worm who likes to not only roll from his tummy to his back, but then scoot himself so that he can kick the inside of the mat. By doing this, the mat is staying firmly in place and he still has a soft surface to lay on.
  2. The mat’s features. The activity mat not only lights up, but also plays two different sound options. You can have a fun, musical set play with the flashing, colorful lights, or you can have soothing ocean sounds play. I love using the musical setting and lights during play time, then switching to the ocean sounds ( similar to his sound machine) as playtime is wrapping up. This helps us transition to nap time.
  3. The mat’s material. The activity mat can be easily wiped off for quick, spot cleaning after a drool or spit up episode. However, it can be disassembled easily to be washed as well.
  4. The mat’s pillow. The mat comes with a fun, green rounded pillow that looks like seaweed! It’s great for propping your child up for tummy-time beginners, as well as for head support while your little one plays on their back.
  5. The mat’s toys. The mat comes with a variety of toys that can be attached for your child to play with during his activity time. They include a Dory puppet, a Nemo teething toy with three rings, an octopus rattle, a turtle beaded rattle, and a mirror. In addition, all the toys can be removed and used separately or attached to other items, such as your child’s car seat or stroller. All the toys are brightly covered and high quality.  In addition, the toy placement is evenly spread across the mat, allowing for your child to reach toys from a back or tummy position.

We absolutely LOVE our activity mat purchase and watching our son learn and grow as he plays on it. If you’re in the market for an activity mat for your little one, or looking to purchase one for a friend or relative, I highly recommend this one!

kids, Parenting

The MIA Momma

In the past week, I have spent more time with or talking to my friends, than I had in the past two months combined. I have actually gotten out of the house regularly. I have worn jeans more days than I have worn leggings. Some of you reading this will think, “And your point is…”

I thought that, too. I thought I was doing great. I was enjoying my maternity leave time at home–the perfect excuse to stay in my sweatpants or leggings all day, throw my hair up in that messy bun, and conquer the craziness that is new mom life (really, just mom life in general.)  Afterall, having a new baby was the perfect reason for excuse after excuse of why I couldn’t leave the house that day– “Little man needs a nap,  he won’t take a bottle (well that’s an excuse AND reality!), we don’t have anyone who can watch him…” I found that the longer I was staying at home,the easier it was for me to make an excuse not to leave. The easier it was for me to become an MIA momma.

It took a few regular days of me getting out of the house this past week, actually following through with plans I had made with friends, to realize that I was beginning to fall off the grid. Is it nice to stay home and tackle that to-list? Yes. Is it nice to NOT have to get dressed up, blow-dry that hair and put on real clothes (only to have to change again later after you find yourself covered in spit-up)? Yes. Is it necessary to stay home sometimes in hopes that you can MAYBE get just a few minutes of rest while your child, who was up all night, rests? Yes.  But you know what I discovered this week? It is also extremely important to make time to continue to build on those momma friendships. Not just for you, but for your fellow mom friends.

As I sat across the room and across the table from my mom friends this past week, I realized how important it is to have a tribe of women who truly are there to support you–not to judge you, not to gossip later about you, not to further encourage your anger or frustrations, but to truly just listen, love, and support you. For four months, I hadn’t made that a priority. I hadn’t made an effort to really just talk AND listen. Sure, I responded to the group text messages and tried to be supportive from there, but it is profoundly different to truly be there with a person. Why? Because a text message doesn’t include the tone of despair that you can hear in a friend’s voice as they talk with you about a deeply emotional issue they’re processing at the moment. An emoji doesn’t show the pain hidden in your friend’s eyes–the pain only you, as her friend, can recognize. A GIF only hides your friend’s anxiety, the anxiety they feel every time that group message goes off and they’re left feeling like maybe they’re the only one in the group that’s struggling, that just can’t seem to get a handle on this parenting gig.

Parenting is hard. Balancing your marriage, the household, work, and your kids is hard. It is a 24/7, 7 days-a-week job. It is exhausting. But, this week, this MIA momma has been found. I was able to realize how crucial it is to not let your mom friendships go to the wayside as you navigate balancing it all, but to instead lean on them. Be willing to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have it all figured out, that you’re struggling with something right now, that you need help and advice, that you need your mom tribe. Suck it up and put on the jeans. Blow-dry the hair. Make the drive to your friend’s house or the coffee-house. Don’t make the “busy” excuses– because EVERY momma is busy. Instead, make time to be PRESENT with your friends.

It took me finally making those choices for me to realize that I needed that. I needed my friends to hear me out, to know my struggles, and to support me. And to my surprise, they needed that from me, as well.

I pray that each of you are able to find support in your momma friends like I have. That you find time–no, that you make time– to foster those relationships and to lean on them during the highs and lows that life throws you. This week, I  challenge you to make an effort to do so. Don’t allow yourself to become the MIA momma.