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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

kids, Parenting

New Year, New Priorities

Happy New Year! I have been MIA for the past few weeks, taking time to enjoy the holidays and winter break with my family. After all the prep of presents, traveling, and meals, it seems that the holidays just simply fly by! I am so lucky that I had the opportunity to soak up a few days with the ones I love!

The impending holidays also brought a hard decision for my family and I–to extend my maternity leave to the end of this year so that I can stay home with our sweet little man until he is almost a year old! I am so blessed and excited to have this time with our son–time that I truly believe I can never get back–but it was also a very emotional and difficult decision for me.

For the past eight years, all I have ever known is teaching. I have poured my time, heart, and soul ( and let’s be honest, pocketbook!) into teaching. From the moment I received my first classroom in North Carolina in 2007, I knew that teaching children (especially elementary) was what I was made to do, the gift that God had blessed me with. I loved every minute of it–even the hard days when I wasn’t sure anyone had learned a thing from me that day! I decided to begin graduate school when I was 25 to earn my Master’s degree in administration, so I could one day be a school principal and extend my reach beyond just the four walls of my own classroom. Education ran in my blood and I had huge aspirations to make a difference in the lives of children.

Then, on August 27, 2018 at 9:00 pm my priorities changed. For the first time, I laid eyes on my sweet Kellen Robert Ray and everything in my world looked different. My priorities changed. I wanted to see every smile, hear every giggle, and witness every milestone that my little man would have in his first year of life. To me, four months just wasn’t enough. I loved teaching, but the thought of being away from him for seven to eight hours, to return home exhausted and with only a few hours before baths and bedtime, set me on an emotional rollercoaster. My heart was telling me to soak up this time. That my career path would always be there, but my little baby would not.

My head, on the other hand, reminded me that we had car payments, a mortgage, groceries, and other expenses each month that needed paid. We planned for a four-month maternity leave, but not a full year off. I have always been a planner. I have always lived with a safety net for my finances. I have always had a plan. Thus, an internal battle between what my heart was telling me versus my head began. My husband and I decided to lean on God to guide us, just as we had just under a year ago when we found out we were expecting our little man.

As the deadline for my decision neared, I was still undecided. And then I looked at the calendar and I saw the end of December glaring back at me, sweeping me back to the memory of last Christmas. Last Christmas where I woke up early to take a pregnancy test–praying so very hard that it would be a positive. That the past few months of doctor’s appointments and medications would be worth it. Praying that I would be able to call the fertility office to cancel our impending appointment at the first of the new year. Staring back at a negative, feeling devastated, I put on a brave face for Christmas morning (and my 29th birthday) with my family.

I looked at the calendar again, seeing December 29. Again sweeping me back to that day last year when I decided to be brave and take just one more test. The day I cried in the bathroom and FaceTimed my husband because I couldn’t believe it. The day he left work early so we could get an official test done at the hospital to confirm that yes, we were pregnant. The day where I was told that we would still need to visit the fertility doctor–that we would be seeing him for the first 12 weeks of our pregnancy. The LONGEST 12 weeks of fear, excitement, and anticipation.  Looking at that calendar, thinking of how much I had prayed and waited for the moment I would meet my little man, confirmed that it was time to follow my heart and not my head.

And that leads us to the present. I am currently sitting at home on a Friday morning, watching a five-year-old play school and a four-month-old peacefully nap (well, he woke up before I edited this!). I am soaking up these moments, because I know how blessed I am. I know that by the end of today, I will have stressed about finances and have been plagued with the guilt that I am not working a multitude of times, but I will continue to lay both those onto God in prayer. We trust that he will provide for us during this time.

 

Happy New Year and may God bless you and your family this year!

 

Parenting

Married, but dating.

“Do what you did in the beginning of a relationship and there won’t be an end.” – Anthony Robbins

At my bridal shower, my bridesmaids had each guest write words of advice for me as I dove into married life. I will forever remember reading one, “ find time for just the two of you– make it a priority to still have date night.” I remember thinking, “Well duh! Of course we will still go out on date night!”

When my husband and I were dating, we made it a priority to not get in a “routine” of what our date nights looked like and would call eachother out on it when they began to get “too routine”. (Yes, going out to dinner is nice, but maybe we should take a break from Chili’s or Applebee’s and find something different! ) My husband was great at romantic surprises: picnic lunches at the local winery, showing up at my house with wine and flowers, cooking and planning a game night in together,  or planning a great dinner out at a restaurant we both had never tried. Knowing how we had dated and kept our relationship exciting with special things like this, I never feared that we would have an issue with it once we were married. I never thought twice about the wise words from a dear friend of mine.

Then, we had Kellen. Our  baby boy. And now, I understand my friend’s wise words. I’m tired. I’m worn out from the daily grind of parenthood. We’re on a tight budget with less money flowing in. Instead of planning fun date nights, I look forward to cozying up in my sweatpants, turning on Netflix, and scrolling through my Facebook feed. Why? Money. Time. But really, the fear of leaving our sweet boy with someone other than me or my husband. (Yes, I know I need to cut the cord and leave him sometime!)

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But that’s where my husband reigns. He is the king of still finding ways to date, though married. He is able to “keeping dating” by making me  feel special; by taking the time to build up our marriage each day. You see what he discovered is that dating your wife or husband doesn’t have to be huge or costly; it just takes time. Time to remember what they enjoy, what makes them tick, and what makes them feel special. Time away from the piles of laundry, vacuuming that needs done, or the newest post on Facebook;  traded in for time together and thoughtful gestures. While he has managed to do this throughout our marriage each month through notes in my lunches at work, surprise weekend plans, or just an encouraging morning text message, he seems to be outdoing himself in the dating field this holiday season.

This December, I turn 30. And through the stresses of being a new, first-time mommy, facing the reality that I will have to leave my son soon and return to work, my husband has stepped up his dating game with a 30 day countdown of special gestures, gifts, and surprises to my 30th birthday. Each day, I’ll update on what surprise gesture I received–not to brag (though he is AMAZING!), but in hopes that it may encourage you to find ways to continue to “date” your husband or wife.To take time for each other and set the stress of work, parenting, and life aside for just a few hours to focus on your marriage.

30 Days of Sweet Ideas from my Husband that you could steal:

  1. iMovie made with pictures of me as a baby through now!
  2. Family Date: Making Puppy Chow; idea from a “how to” video I made as a child.
  3. Sushi Date night–my favorite!
  4. Starbucks cup and giftcard–much needed for this tired new mom!
  5.  “Treasure Hunt” for our daughter and me with a matching necklace set at the end for the two of us.
  6. Stuffed animals of my favorite pets as a child–fun memory and stuffed animals for the kids!
  7. Day date trip to where I used to live before we got married–dinner at our first restaurant we ate at together there!
  8. Lunch date at Kentucky Fried Chicken after church– to correlate with a fun story for my childhood when my speech made “kentucky” sound like a curse word!
  9.  Gingerbread house building for a fun family night activity!
  10. “Exhausted Mom” ticket–good for a child free hour of relaxation with candles, music, and a nice bath!
  11.  Family Baking Night– making a reindeer food, a holiday tradition!
  12. Tis the Season…trip to shop and give back to others as a family. We bought gifts for two kids from our local “Angel Tree” for Christmas, a fun memory from when I was a child and my sister and I did this together one year!
  13. Girls’ Spa Afternoon- surprise nail salon trip for me and our daughter !
  14. “Goodwill Hunting”- trip to Goodwill together to buy “costumes” to dress-up as  two of our favorite country music artists, then we went out for lunch like them for a fun date!
  15. Ice-Skating- This is a fun tradition we started together last year! He even arranged for my mother-in-law to meet us there to watch our son!

What do you and your significant other do for date nights? Do you balance life and dating each other well? I’d love to hear ideas from you below!

Parenting

The Hypocritical Momma

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I will never be a stay at home mom. I remember thinking that, saying that, and rolling my eyes at the thought of any sane person who, after spending years in school and thousands of dollars on a college education, would just up and decide to abandon their dreams and goals to sit at home feeding their baby all day. And to a point, I have kept that promise. I am not a stay at home mom; but now my long-term goal? To be one.

If you met me five years ago, you’d find a very different woman. I had my “dream” teaching job at a school our staff called “Disneyland”, I was completing my Master’s in School Administration, I owned my own home and spent the weekends downtown with good friends. What else do you need at 26? I was content. I had goals of becoming a school administrator and following in my parents’ footsteps (both work in school administration).

Then, I met my husband and just like every cheesy Hallmark movie, you find yourself head-over-heels in love and your priorities change. I decided to leave the amazing job and sell my house for love–and to this day I would not change a single aspect of that decision.We were married on June 16, 2017 and celebrated with the most amazing week in Jamaica, followed by a “familymoon” with my step-daughter, Aubrey, to Disney World. Life was great!

As the suitcases were unpacked and stored and school began, we switched our focus to adding to our family. While we had Aubrey, we only had her 50% of the time with the shared custody agreement, and as much as I saw her as my daughter and loved her as my own, I still would never be “her mommy.” I had wanted to be a mommy since I received my first baby doll. I wanted to carry a child, love on that child, and be there for each new memory and moment. Little did I know, it wouldn’t be that easy. My past medical history (a post for another day) made it difficult for us to conceive. As I was given rounds of medication to help the process, I also began digging into bible verses to help me keep the faith that God was a part of this process. Justin and I prayed together each night, and we read bible verses related to conception and trusting in God’s plan and timing. Six months. That doesn’t seem like a long time–especially to others who I know have tried, without success, for longer than that to conceive. In our sixth month, our doctor referred us to a fertility doctor. I was crushed. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office–feeling so empty as I listened to my doctor go through the information and “next-steps”. I vividly remember thinking that maybe this was why God led me to Justin and Aubrey–that maybe I would never get to be a “real” mommy, but I’d still go through the joy of parenthood with him through raising Aubrey.

As the holidays approached, I tried not to think about the news-but my mind focused on the “what-ifs”. What if we can’t afford these appointments? What if we find the money and the procedures don’t work? A million questions swirled and occupied my mind. My husband tried to take my attention away from my fears, planning a birthday month countdown for my 29th birthday. Christmas Day came–my 29th birthday. My only wish? A positive pregnancy test. I woke up early that morning to sneak one more test in–hoping for a Christmas surprise. Negative. I hid my disappointment and enjoyed the next few days of celebrations with our family.

December 29th. Three days until our appointment with the fertility doctor. On a whim, I decided to give it just one more go for this month and picked up a pregnancy test to take while Aubrey napped that afternoon, splurging just one last time for the digital ones. Two LONG minutes and I sat in our bathroom, crying again. Except this time, in disbelief, staring at a small, bold “PREGNANT”. My mind raced. I didn’t have time to Pinterest “cute ways to tell your husband you’re pregnant.” I FaceTimed Justin right then and there–in the bathroom–and 39 weeks later, we welcomed our sweet Kellen Robert Ray.

What’s the point of this story? It took us six months to conceive our sweet boy– pennies to those who have struggled  longer, or those who continue to still struggle. Those six months were some of the hardest of my life–filled with self-doubt, sadness, frustration and fear that my husband would be disappointed in me for something so very out of my control. I felt broken. My heart aches for those who are still struggling, for those who suffer through a miscarriage, or those whom lose their child.

Most importantly, those six months taught me why momma’s struggle with the “back-to-work” or “stay at home” decision. They have waited so long to have a child– their WHOLE life in fact. Then, when they finally meet their childtheir WHOLE world– they have just weeks or months to decide whether they will leave their job and the financial stability it provides, or leave their WHOLE world in the care of someone else. It’s hard. I am in month three of my maternity leave and it’s constantly in the back of my mind. What do I do? What is best for my family? What will I miss? What if….?

So don’t be like me. Don’t be quick to judge the stay-at-home mommas who left careers to devote their life to their children. And stay-at-home mommas, please be slow to judge the mommas who can’t stay at home–know their struggle is also real. It’s difficult to leave their child each day in someone else’s care–knowing they will miss out on some milestone or “first” along the way. Instead, encourage, support, and lend an ear to both of them because in the end, no matter what type of “momma” you are, it is a hard, yet ever so rewarding job.