Planning the right things, not all the things, for your family’s next beach trip: 10 must haves to make it easier

That’s our Shibumi Shade towering over every other umbrella on the shore (Tip 4)

I am the ultimate planner, list-maker, early packer, you name it. So of course, I’ve married the man who pulls his suitcase down the night before we’re scheduled to go on a trip. It would probably be the morning of if I’d let him get in bed without showing me his suitcase that night.

I hate when yet another item hits my mental load, but I’m too much of a control freak to let go of the planning even if I could. I’d much rather be mad at myself than someone else for forgetting a critical item.

Two years ago, we bought a beach house in the Outer Banks (NC) that we rent out most of the time to cover the cost. Since then, I’ve learned a few things that have made it easier for our family to function on vacation. For reference, our kids are 2, 8, and 10.

Before you go:

  1. Make a clothing list for each person. Mark it off as you’ve packed it. Don’t forget extras of everything—and plan for how your kids normally act. Right now, my 8 year old wants nothing to do with PJs and likes to be “ready for the next day” when he goes to bed, so he sleeps in his shorts and t-shirt. At the beach, he’ll probably sleep in a bathing suit! So for him, I may pack a few extras.
  2. What can you send directly to the house or rental agency? This one is hit or miss at the beach, but if you can Prime beach toys, diapers, a baby gate—anything that takes up a lot of space, ask if it’s an option! Our house is not delivery-friendly, but the rental company is a mile up the road, and when you’re an in-season renter and paying a premium, you’re more likely to get what you want from these companies!
  3. Have your beach bag stocked before you go. You know what you never want to run out of at the beach? Sunscreen! It’s so expensive there! I’m always on the hunt for Costco’s promotions, and I recently found one on Amazon where you could get a BOGO deal, plus an additional 25% off by doing subscribe and save with it. (Remember, you can always cancel Subscribe and Save items after that initial purchase!) I’ve become a huge fan of the roll on sunscreen for their faces, and then I use a spray to quickly get the rest of the body. I also really like keeping baby powder in my bag to get sand off as we come inside. But if you’re nervous about talc, I recently learned about this Powder Pouch that uses corn starch instead.
  4. Bring your shade. Last year, I splurged and got the Shibumi Shade. If you’ve never seen one in person or have no clue what I’m talking about. Click on that link! This product is so easy to set up by yourself, stores compactly, and it provides all day shade with just a slight breeze (which is pretty much guaranteed when you’re on the beach). I know a lot of people love the canopy tents, and they work just fine. But if your family’s car is jam-packed like mine, then anything smaller I can bring is a win for me.
  5. Still using baby monitors? If you’re bringing someone small enough that you need a monitor, make sure you check with the rental on their inventory. Our house provides 2 Pack n Plays, a changing table, step stools, 2 high chairs, and a bunch of random baby toys and books. If you know these things before you go, you don’t need to pack them. Worried they won’t be there

When it’s time to hit the beach:

  1. Pack sand-safe snacks. Grapes can we wiped down, yogurt or apple sauce pouches are self-contained, and things like watermelon can drop on the ground and be instantly ruined by sand! While you’re at it, make sure those snacks are packed in individual bags.
  2. Baby under 2? Bring a baby bath tub. I loved bringing a baby bath tub to the beach so my little ones could enjoy some splashing in a controlled environment. And I used a light towel to cover them for a nap—my mom loves holding the little ones on the beach and they always fall asleep in her lap.
  3. Look for a mesh beach bag or sand friendly beach towels/mats. It really is game changer when you don’t have to shake down your towels and have sand fly into someone’s face. Even better, those beach towels take up so much less space!
  4. Freeze water bottles. We buy so much ice when we go to the beach, and have cases and cases of water. I recently heard this tip, and it’s so good! Freeze some of those water bottles before bed and use that as your ice for the cooler. As it melts, you’ll have refreshingly cold water on a hot summer day.
  5. Vinegar. Be ready for jellyfish stings. I bring vinegar and you can soak it in a towel to lay on the sting. Also bring a small first aid kit with bandaids, antibiotic ointment, and of course some hand sanitizer. (And some small bills for ice cream—either a cart that comes by or maybe it’s a walk to the pier.)

I feel like we learn new things every trip! Have some good tips I missed? Shoot me a message or DM.

It’s not just you, mama: We’re all feeling the emotions of our kids and struggling through it

What she feels, I feel. Turns out, I’m not alone in that.

Last month, my tween girl was subject to some bullying at school. Because of Covid, she couldn’t interact with those outside of her class, so she spent multiple days in a row by herself without anyone to play with or talk to. She was crying everyday, and even though I could keep it together in front of her and offer advice, I was dying inside. I remember how mean girls can be. Heck, I know how mean grown women can be! Meanwhile, my husband was barely phased by the emotional turmoil going on in our house. It was such a foreign concept to him.

I’ve always known I was an empath—someone who recognizes and internalizes the feelings of others, and usually I can go about life without any struggles. But this year, as my tween has started dealing with more ‘girl drama’ in her life, I’m finding it really hard to separate her feelings from mine. Surely, I thought this was just an empath problem, so I reached out to a mom Facebook group I’m in to ask for advice. Ladies—it wasn’t good. Turns out we’re pretty much all suffering along with our kids.

The drama at school was short-lived, so my sadness was too. But last week—more drama. This time, my daughter teased one of her good friends at a party. It was incredibly out of character for her, but she was acting as part of a group and is 100% guilty.

My daughter didn’t tell me about it initially. We were at the neighborhood pool two days later and a mother we don’t know (but who clearly knows the friend’s family) came up to my daughter while she was on her own and berated her for her actions at the party. Maybe she was kind about it. Maybe not. I only got the second hand version from my very traumatized 10 year old. Either way, I found this completely shocking and inappropriate. If you don’t know the child, you don’t have the right to talk to them. Period.

Now I’ll caveat that to say—it scared the shit out of her, and I’m hoping maybe it was enough for her to never want to hurt another kid and risk some adult coming and giving her a verbal spanking.

Of all my daughter’s friends, this one she hurt is one of my favorites. She’s sweet, shy, thoughtful, and has an awesome mom. So my empath feelings were taking over my life all week. I was crying every day; moody; frustrated I couldn’t solve it and make it better… The mother didn’t text me back for days, and I thought I’d lost that friendship too. Is it normal to stop being friends with the mom when the kids are no longer friends? I went back to good ole Facebook and ran a poll. Turns out, it is normal. Most felt like in the same situation, they’d be polite and friendly in public, but they’d no longer text and be friendly when it wasn’t socially required. That opinion changed depending on how deep the friendship had been, and in those cases, the moms tried to remain friends while still staying loyal to their own child.

So if all of us moms are feeling the pain, how can we survive these difficult years?

I talked to a child therapist about it, hoping for the magic pill to make raising girls easier. It may come as a disappointing surprise, but it turns out, there isn’t one! I know, I couldn’t believe the lack of resolution she offered.

While there’s no magic cure to make it easier on us moms raising girls, she gave me the most basic advice that we’d all do well to remember.

  1. Be there to listen. Offer advice. Counsel them. It may be hard for us to walk through the middle and high school years all over again, but remember how hard it was the first time? What a gift we can give our girls by walking along side them and guiding them through it.
  2. Rupture and repair. The therapist used this term with me. It’s basically how these kids are going to keep making mistakes, getting hurt, and struggling through challenges. And when that ‘rupture’ happens, we help them through the repair phase. We’re there with the support and advice. See step 1.
  3. I wish there was a third tip. There’s not. It’s our jobs to listen, support, and encourage the repair process each and every time they experience a rupture.

I will admit, one thing that helps me is finding an escape each day. I’ve been on a workout kick lately, and that hour helps me focus on myself and the needs of my own body. I’ve also heard that water is great for empaths—a bath with epsom salts or lavender, a swim in the pool, a quick 20 minutes in a hot tub.

Another thing I’m trying to remind myself is that these lessons are a part of growing up. My kid isn’t going to be perfect. She’s going to make bad decisions and face the consequences. She’s going to learn that what a group does isn’t always what’s right. And standing up for what is right is almost never the easy thing to do. But you’ll feel so much better doing what’s right than just doing what’s easy.

And mamas, we got through it once. We can do it again.

You can follow my daily battles of motherhood, being an empath, and keeping the house running over on Instagram. DM me with all the advice you’ve got for my journey ahead, so I can keep sharing what I’m learning along the way!

Here’s how those New Year’s Resolutions are going six months later. Am I still on track?

At the start of this year, I had a new approach to my New Year’s Resolutions, and it didn’t involve some grand plan to turn my life around. I wrote about it at the start of the year—instead of setting a goal like “lose 20 pounds” or “read 25 books,” I set mini goals to tackle each month.

So how did that approach work?

Well, I can tell you that I didn’t hit all of my goals. Not even close. But, I hit a lot of them—like writing and releasing my new book, even though it took an extra six weeks from what I’d planned for in my goals.

Similar to setting a resolution, I did much better earlier on than I am doing with my June goals.

When I set out to make monthly mini-goals, I did it for the first half of the year and then decided I would revisit in June for the back half of the year. And it’s a good thing I did! What I found is that many of my goals built upon the previous month. For example, in February I hired someone to format my book, and I was supposed to release the book in March by my birthday… but the guy I hired gave me a terrible end product and I had to PIVOT PIVOT PIVOT, which delayed a series of goals I’d laid out for the following three months.

I also found myself demotivated in a lot of areas where I’d planned to focus my creative energy because I was so drained from my kids struggling through such a crazy school year. Month-to-month was definitely the way to go, but as I go into the rest of the year, I’m going to revisit the goals a bit more strategically so I don’t fall behind or have a set of goals that no longer align to what’s interesting or possible.

This week, I’m reviewing the goals I didn’t get to in January through June. Are they still important? Did I focus on one area more than another? (spoiler: yes, I did!) What do I wish I’d done differently and how can I stay more well-rounded in the goals I pursue?

I found that due to my lower energy level, I focused on my one big audacious goal (releasing the new book) but if one of the goals was going to take a lot of mental or emotional energy, I fell flat about half the time. But here’s the good news, the other half of the time… I rocked it. I set goals for my relationship, my health, and my business that I may not have done if I hadn’t had the goal staring me in the face every day.

This approach really seemed to work for me, and I would absolutely recommend it to others. I printed out my goals and hung them in my closet—a place I see every single morning and night. So think about where that location could be for you. Seeing it and thinking about them everyday is key.

For a while, I fell off the fitness and health train really badly, but then one day (not even on my goals list!) I decided I was going to start the 60 day Insanity challenge from Beach Body, and I’m starting my LAST WEEK of it on Wednesday. My weight hasn’t dropped like I’d hoped, but it’s given me great perspective thanks to the bi-weekly fitness tests I have to do. And seeing the jumps from where I started are insane (excuse the pun)—and a reminder to me that there’s so much more to health than a number on the scale or even how my jeans are fitting.

A few things that I found helpful when setting goals:

  1. Align them to your key values (This is a great exercise to do if you never have.)
  2. Try to come up with two or three themes/big goals for the year (mine were: having an exceptional marriage, writing my second book, and working for myself)
  3. Once you have your themes, write down some things that could help you achieve those dreams or end goals. Just one or two a month in each area.

I found that it was hard to achieve goals tied to each area each month, but I really want to keep striving for that. I find that I’m more balanced if I am hitting on progress in multiple areas of my life, and I’m more likely to be happier day-to-day.

Thinking about giving it a try? Let me know! I’d love to hear about some of your goals and how the process works for you as you break them down.

How to make it through Father’s Day when there’s no father around

Our first summer as a threesome

I will never forget when a dozen roses showed up at my door Father’s Day weekend, just one month after my world was rocked and my ex had a protective order against him. They were from my boss with a note that said, “I’m sure this is a tough weekend. Thinking of you.”

She was right. I had been dreading it. The kids had just made a “Best Dad Hands Down” t-shirt at church with their little prints on it, and I was so angry that they didn’t have the best dad. This entire weekend set aside to honor dads, and theirs was no where to be found.

Like so many things in life, you don’t know what you don’t know. The experiences that shape your life, like having a traditional nuclear family with a mom and a dad, may leave you blind to the pain I felt when my kids had to make Father’s Day gifts at school the year their dad left and then the year after he passed away. While I would never want to see schools and daycares stop making those adorable handprint gifts, I want them to be more inclusive.

If your child’s teacher is unaware of the situation at home, tell them. The teacher can very easily encourage the child to make a gift for a grandparent, uncle, or even mom. Whether you are a two-mom household, a solo mama, your kid never knew his dad, he passed away, etc—just know that there are dozens of reasons why a child may not want to make a Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day, conversely) gift for a parent. And maybe they have someone else special in mind.

You can also celebrate someone or something else. Maybe it’s celebrating your dad for the weekend. Maybe it’s celebrating the first day of summer, which usually falls around that day. In our case, we made the weekend about my son, who has a birthday around that day. Even now that I’m remarried, we tend to celebrate his birthday as our primary focus. This may shift as he gets older, but for now, it works for us.

And finally, just treat it like any other Sunday. Do you normally go to church? Well honestly, I’d skip this one because a lot of churches do some nice celebratory things, and I find it kind of painful. So what about a big brunch somewhere? Or a day at the pool or an amusement park? Just go have a good, summer day with your kids and soak them in.

You can read more about our journey without dad in my first book, The Other Side of the Door, which is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Pre-teen frenemies, heartaches, and puberty: Everything I’m learning to survive middle school again

When my 5th grade daughter went back to school in-person in February, she was ecstatic to tell me about a new friend she’d made. Very quickly they were passing notes in class, FaceTiming on the weekends, and asking to hang out. We even took her with us to a long weekend at the beach.

Honestly, I really liked this girl and thought she seemed mature and grounded and smart—a good influence on my daughter, who is notoriously innocent and a very ‘young’ 10 year old.

That all changed when I quickly started seeing some of the texts and notes that her friend was writing. They screamed of manipulation and left my daughter unable to make good decisions. She was losing her other friends at the expense of this one—who was requiring her attention 24/7. And thus, our entrance into mean girl territory began.

We all remember the agony of middle school and being a pre-teen girl, but how has the internet and cell phone amplified what was already a terrible life experience for so many?

While this is uncharted territory for me, here are some of the things I’m quickly learning that I hope can help out my fellow clueless parents who want to punch the lights out of any kid who is hurting theirs.

  1. Keep conversation going. I’m grateful that my daughter has always been pretty open with me, and I’m working on to keep that up as she moves into her middle school years. I greet her after school with a hug and ask about her day (“fine” or “not good” usually), and then I probe a little deeper. What’d you do at recess today? Who’d you play with? How was “name” on the bus? I find that these give me tiny tidbits I need to have deeper conversations later, and they also get my spidey-sense tingling and I generally take a look through her backpack for notes or her iPad for any texts.
  2. Know the parents. I’m jealous that my mom knew all of my friends’ parents growing up. No cell phones and only a land line kind of forced them to have conversations. Now it’s a quick text and maybe a hello when we drop off. Worse, most of their friendships have been developing over FaceTime and apps like Roblox and AdoptMe, so I don’t even know their parents. I have recently found this to be so helpful because my daughter was in a situation where I wanted to talk to the other mom about it, and I was a wreck about it. Is that overstepping? Will she think I’m annoying? I took the plunge and the mom was incredibly helpful with her reply—which then helped the girls get over their issue with our guidance.
  3. Monitor. Monitor. Monitor. There are so many ways that information comes at your kid. So many ways for people to attack or tease or bully. The only way you’ll know is if you’re keeping an eye on texts, notes, etc. I don’t do this on a set cadence, but I use my gut on when I need to check in—or just if it’s been a while. What does search history look like? What apps have they downloaded? The best monitoring app out today seems to be Bark—which you can get for $99/year to monitor all devices and kids, so if you have 3 kids and between them there are 2 cell phones, 2 iPads, and a Kindle—it’s all covered under one plan! With the $99 plan, you can be alerted to any messages or emails that seem suspicious.
  4. Therapy. My daughter’s pediatrician mentioned this at our well-check last year when we were elbow deep in quarantine, and she described it as a coach for your feelings. Just like you have a coach for sports or a teacher at school, a therapist is there to help you better understand your feelings. I have to believe that getting a child in therapy with a trustiest adult sooner than they need it can only benefit them in life. Get them in before the drama begins so they have established trust and can open up and talk about situations more. Also take a look at your insurance, there are many now that offer a lower copay for doing virtual sessions!
  5. Model good behavior. My daughter and I recently had a conversation about how dang hard it is to stop engaging when someone is being mean—but how important it is to do. With the written word, it’s so easy to misinterpret what someone says, how they mean it, and what the consequences are. It would be an awful look for your child to complain about a bully only to find that she had written one bad thing to the other person. It discredits so much, and it doesn’t feel good to play the mean girl role at any point. So show her how to end a conversation, ways to block people, and what to do when she finds herself in over her head.

It’s really going to take a village. Know the parents. Bug the teachers and coaches. Stay involved at all costs. Be there to support them and show them all the love you can—even when they’re being moody or mean or dumb! We can do hard things!!

Follow along my parenting journey and see where we’ve been.

The things you need to make getting divorced happen now—even when you’re too drained to do it

You never thought you’d be here.

Well, maybe you did. There’s an internet statistic floating around that says 80% knew on our wedding day that we were making a mistake.

Too bad for us now though! So what can you do to make this complicated and scary process go just a bit smoother?

First, make sure you’re safe. If you’re in any kind of abusive or threatening relationship, please seek out police protection and get a protective order in place.

A protective order can:

  • grant you permission to stay in the house.
  • keep a locksmith from letting him after you’ve changed the locks (put a copy of the order taped to the window by your door!).
  • help you breathe easier and sleep soundly at night.

Next, change your passwords. And not just your passwords, but set up an entirely new email address he doesn’t know and begin having mail sent there. The two of you have so much history together and you never know when he may feel desperate or angry and try hacking your personal files.

Sharing custody? Instead of sitting on your couch watching the seconds tick by and listening to every breath and wondering where that random creaking sound is coming from, please promise me you’ll take some time to yourself to recover. As a single parent, your opportunities for me-time shrink way down. So make a list of things you want to do—paint your nails, watch Ali’s season of The Bachelorette when she kicks Justin to the curb as he hobbles away like a big baby, whatever it is—and reference that list when you find yourself alone on the couch, sweating, and worrying about what your ex is up to at this moment with the kids.

Finally, find a support group. I’m not so woo-woo and didn’t feel like talking about my feelings to strangers and admitting my ‘failure’ but I sure as heck wanted to hear about theirs and learn the tips and tricks. I didn’t have anyone close to me going through what I was, and I needed a tribe to lean on. I used DivorceCare, but there are lots of local or online options. Find what works for you.

If you found these tips helpful, check out my book on Amazon, Divorce: Easier Said Than Done, filled with practical tips like these to help you navigate a confusing and emotionally-draining time in your life.

I remember days and days of just saving up my tears for my 25 minute commute to work where I played Sara Evans’ Stronger over and over just to get it all out before I had to go and pretend I had my life together for the next 8 hours.

It’s important to remember that you aren’t always going to feel the way you do right now, and it’s up to you to be an active participant in your life and in this divorce. You get one good shot at it, so make it count. I’m rooting for you.

Available in Paperback or Kindle

Our surprise road trip from Virginia to Orlando

For Spring Break this year, I did something I swore I would never do—I went to a major theme park for the week.

It was an impulse purchase a few months ago because the deal was too good to pass up, and I paid an extra $100 a person for “cancel for any reason” insurance, so COVID didn’t stress me out.

The times I’ve been to Disney in the past, we always go after Thanksgiving when the crowds are light and it’s easy to get onto rides and visit with characters. But last year, we had to cancel our trip, and when I heard that Universal was capped (in theory, don’t know that I believe it now) at 35% capacity, I decided it was the perfect time to try a Spring Break trip.

The entire thing was a surprise because I had no idea if it would even happen. My husband and I both got our first vaccine dose, and everyone was healthy, so it was looking good by March. Then on Good Friday, my kids thought they were just hopping in the car with me to drop off our new puppy for a week of training camp, but secretly, dad was packing up the car while we were gone and we were sending the dog to be boarded (and trained?)!

We’re in Virginia, so we planned a layover in Savannah and didn’t even tell the kids where we were heading. As I mentioned in the last blog post, the big kids had iPads that I preloaded with movies from my MoviesAnywhere account (no internet required) and I got a portable DVD player to strap on the headrest for our toddler. Both worked really well! Plus, lots of snacks of course.

Other than a lot of bathroom breaks and diaper changes in the front seat, we had a pretty smooth trip. It was leisurely, which made it less stressful too. We spent over an hour at South of the Border, on the NC/SC border, and if you have never been, I don’t really know how to describe it to you. It’s a rundown tourist trap, and when we told the kids that we were staying for the week, they were THRILLED. Clearly, their expectations were low.

We ended up getting to Savannah around bedtime, and we stayed at a gorgeous hotel on the water thanks to a friend who had some Marriott points to spare. It was beyond anything we could have imagined and not like any place we’d stay on our own. But if you find yourself in Savannah, you need to at least stop in to the JW Marriott at River Street and check out their rock and dinosaur exhibits. It was like a mini-museum. And now I KNEW it was going to be hard to tell this kids this wasn’t actually where were were spending the week.

So the next morning, I told them we had to pack up and change rooms because our friend only gifted us one night in this room, and we went to Forsyth Park to enjoy the gorgeous views. I told them if they humored me, I’d give them their next surprise.

Ok, so technically my kids had no clue what Harry Potter World was and hadn’t heard of Universal, so this needed a bit of explanation. Once they got it though, THEY GOT IT.

I’m not sure it would have been possible to have more traffic on 95 than we did during the two days down, but our 4 hour drive on day two turned into 6, so we didn’t get check in to our hotel until dinner that evening.

I’m a big believer in looking for two bedroom suites for trips like this, especially with babies and toddlers. Both Disney and Universal offer value properties (Art of Animation for Disney and Dockside/Endless Summer for Universal), so it can be totally reasonable to go this route. My toddler transitioned to his own bed last month, so we packed bedrails, and he and I slept in the bedroom during week while the kids and dad stayed in the two queen beds in the main living area.

The benefit to having Caleb in a separate room meant he could nap mid-day, and when he woke up super early, only I had to suffer through!

It was a bit challenging when my husband and I wanted to stay up after the big kids’ bedtime, but overall, it was fine. We let them fall asleep to Shrek or another themed movie, and then we’d sit in the “kitchen” area for a night cap or just to relax for a few minutes.

I used AmazonPrime for a grocery delivery for fruit, water, beer, and other snacks to get us through the week, and it was perfect! It was nice having snack and drink choices other than $12 platters from the hotel’s dining hall and gave us stuff to take into the parks that we couldn’t bring in our car with us.

Some of these things may be a result of COVID, but a few things I learned from our first trip to Universal:

  1. Make dining reservations whenever you can. I had booked only 2 dinners (NBC Grill and Cowfish) at City Walk in advance, and those were the only meals we could get if we didn’t want a 3pm or 930pm!
  2. Come home mid-day when crowds are at their peak. We were at the parks by 7:30 most mornings and could ride a lot. Then suddenly the waits were 90-120 minutes by 1030 or 11. We made our way out of the parks and back on the shuttles for lunch/snacks at the hotel. Caleb took a nap and the kids either went to the pool or played on tablets. We would head back around 3 and had no issues!
  3. Consider if the dining plan actually works for you. I’m glad we didn’t purchase one. The lines were SO LONG in the park for quick serve meals. The only thing that saved us was that Mardi Gras was still going on, so there were food stands all around, and we were able to do that for dinners one night.
  4. Get the Photopass and USE IT. This isn’t remotely close to the Disney one, but for $100 or less, you can easily get your money’s worth. I didn’t learn until the LAST evening though that there are a ton of places that have fun photo experiences that are included with your pass. It’s not just ride photos and photographers at the entrances! My kids did a green screen shoot on our last night that I stumbled on by accident. They are some of my favorite pics from the trip!
  5. Buy the refillable Freestyle cups (the 12.99 ones, not the $25 ones). The Coke Freestyle stations are all over the parks. You can get water, lemonade, powerade, and even slushies! So don’t worry if you aren’t a soda drinker. You can refill every 10 minutes! We accidentally bought a fancy insulated cup for $25 before we entered the park, so don’t make that mistake.
  6. For the virtual queue, keep hitting that blue button. A few rides right now (esp. Hagrid’s Motorbike) are available via a virtual spot in line. Don’t mistake this as an express pass. For Hagrid’s, it was still a 90 minute wait (!!!) once we snagged this spot. If you can make it to the screen where you’re reserving the number of people for the ride and it tells you no times are available, just keep clicking. It took me about 10 minutes of trying to finally get a time reserved.

We spent one final night at a friend’s house on the water an hour north of Orlando, so it was a great way to unwind from a hectic trip, AND I got all of our laundry done! We decided we wanted to attempt the full drive home in one day, so I packaged up bags of snacks for each kid. That is what they had for the full trip, and they could eat them whenever. It kept them super quiet!

For the little guy, I bought him one of those $5 DVDs from Walmart that has 4 hours of various cartoons. He did much better than I thought on the drive down, so I wanted to double down on the DVD situation. 4 hours was awesome and kept us from having to change the DVD 10 times during the trip!

We timed our departure so we could get in 2 hours, have lunch, and then he could nap. Then we did another couple of bathroom breaks, and dinner later. Somehow, we made it from South Carolina to VA without a stop. The kids fell asleep and my bladder cooperated!

All in all, a great trip and now I know we can do road trips successfully! DM me with any other tips you have to make these trips go smoothly next time.

Planning a family road trip to Florida

Last Thanksgiving, I had a big Disney trip planned for our family. I love going down there immediately after that holiday and before the hustle and bustle of Christmas. I always find the crowds to be super light, and the weather is still a pleasing 70-something, compared to the 30s and 40s we’re starting to see at home. But as you know, there’s this annoying little thing called a global pandemic going on, so we canceled.

Then around the holidays, I saw a Harry Potter themed special come up for Universal Orlando. It was so cheap that I felt like I had to snag it and hope for the best come Spring. I bought cancel for any reason insurance and decided we’d drive from Virginia to Florida. Never in a million years did I think I’d go to a Flordia theme park over the wave of Spring Break holidays, but with the park in theory being capped at 35%, we decided there was no better time.

It’s a secret through, and I am so excited for the kids to find out. We’re breaking the trip up in two days, so we don’t even have to tell them on day one. We’ll let them think we’re just going to Savannah and that’s it. I’ll have a follow up post on our Universal experience, for sure. But today, I’m focusing on the things I’m doing to prep.

  1. Tablets/screens: My older two each have tablets, and I will download movies for offline use from my MoviesAnywhere app, which I am obsessed with. Until very recently, I still buy a lot of Disney DVDs with the digital codes, so we’ve got a great travel library that doesn’t require any internet or bluetooth connection.
  2. A portable DVD player: I’ve got a toddler who needs to be entertained, but I can’t trust him to hold anything for the trip. For less than $50, I bought a portable DVD player to strap over the headrest, so he can watch movies/shows. I found a few free Thomas the Train DVDs from my neighborhood Facebook group and will bring along a few of those to hopefully entertain him.
  3. Snacks! I’ve bought individual sized goldfish and veggie straws, plus some chocolate milks (a treat for our kids!), and other small snacks like granola bars. I’ll cut up some apples for day one too since my boys are obsessed. My husband is usually a stickler about the kids eating in his car, but those rules kind of have to go out the window when you’re driving for 7+ hours in a single day!
  4. Backstock: To borrow a term from The Home Edit, make sure you have extras of everything on hand! One time my middle kid threw up on a back road during a 4 hour road trip, and I had NOTHING to clean it up and no easily accessible clothes for him. We had to drive another 10 miles and luckily found a Walmart where I could stock up. Then we had to take out the car seat and wash it in a hotel laundry room at midnight when we finally arrived at our pit stop that night. Diapers, clothes, towels, flashlight, waters etc. And I love having some extra large ziplock bags or grocery bags for when there is a mess to clean up.
  5. Non-screen games: Inevitably the battery will die, the sun will be too bright, or they’ll get bored and just need a break from routine. I recently got a printer (only a year into quarantine!) and use the HP Ink program, which is ahhhh-mazing. I use my color ink all day long and print out bingo cards, list of the 50 states for license plate games, and other I Spy activities! It’s a great way to get kids looking at what’s around them. Who will be the first to spot a palm tree and know we’re really getting close!? I also grabbed this Rand McNally 3-in-1 book off Amazon for $9.99.

Most importantly – bring chargers, snacks, and stop early and often to pee! And have fun!

4 Things to Do to Create Memorable Birthdays

I am by no means a party planner. I don’t color coordinate well for family photos. I am an impulse shopper. And I’m constantly busy between my full time job, 3 kids, my side hustle, and keeping the house running. But what I do like to do is make birthdays special for my kids, and that gets spilled over to me and my husband sometimes too!

Here I’ll share 4 easy things you can do to make birthdays special and memorable without spending a fortune!

  1. Cupcakes for breakfast. This is a tradition I’ve been doing since the kids turned one. It’s such a treat and a great way to kick start the day. When I get my act together, we also do half a cupcake on half birthdays too.
  2. Silly themes. This is a newer one for me, but it started last year when I asked my husband what kind of theme he wanted for his birthday and he jokingly said he wanted a “haunted” theme, whatever that is. But a haunted birthday he shall get. So I hopped on Party City’s website and ordered a ton of random Halloween decorations. On his birthday morning, I got up early and decorated and packed him a lunch filled with plastic, bloody body parts too! This year I let the kids pick his theme, and they opted for golf and Where’s Waldo, which made for an interesting morning!
  3. Birthday week notes. I’m obsessed with words and notes. And I love a good post-it or lunchbox note. And during the week leading up to someone’s birthday, I leave them for my kids or husband!
  4. Balloons. For my kids, we blow up a dozen or so balloons and leave them all over the floor of their room after they go to bed, so they wake up with those first! When I’m feeling motivated or have the extra time, I swing by and order some helium balloons the day before as well, and I store them in our guest room and close the door until it’s time.

Guys, it can be that simple. And because these are traditions I’ve been doing for years (the cupcakes and balloons), the kids look forward to them and have come to expect them.

Hit my up with any of your easy birthday ideas to make the day memorable @theothersideofmotherhood

21st century COVID-friendly playdates

I have at least two (or twelve) moments a day where I feel sad or frustrated about the upheaval COVID has had to our lives over the last 12 months. And then I look to my son, who has his best friends across the street. They have barely skipped a beat. Once we started outdoor play with others again, he’s been in Heaven. I’ve never seen him happier. And it’s all thanks to creative styles of play they’ve had to get familiar with. 

My pre-teen daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t have her friends within walking distance. She has had a much more challenging year, and when I think about the isolation and lack of control that kids have experienced this year, it’s hard to stomach sometimes. At least you and I can hop in a car and go escape to a Target, a Starbucks, or a friend’s house if we really need something or someone. But these little guys are wholly reliant on us. You and me. I may say my kid can have the tablet from 5-6pm on Tuesdays but if her best friend only gets it from 8-9pm on Thursdays, then how can you connect? How do we help facilitate connection?

Over the last year, I’ve seen my kids come up with some pretty creative ways to connect with their peers, so I’m here to share a few of them today.

  1. Movie sync up. There are some fancy ways to do this, but I don’t think kids really care. My daughter was big into the Disney Zombies movie last year, and she and her friend would start it at the same time while they propped up their iPads on the couch and watched it together. They’d laugh; they’d pause when someone needed to pee; they’d talk about how they wanted to be cheerleaders now. It was almost like a normal afternoon playdate.
  2. Messenger Kids/FaceTime. Here’s your 2st century version of “Mom, I want my own phone line.” My new rule for my 10 year old is that she’s allowed to be on her tablet in the evening IF she’s talking to a friend. If it’s just her and an app, then it’s not allowed. I realized my desire to keep her “device-free” wasn’t fair when it was her sole form of connection.
  3. 90s style outdoor play. Hi. Captain Obvious here, but going to play outside like Nintendo is just becoming popular and internet is dial up has been all the rage with my kids. For my seven year old, that’s been easy because he’s got 3 best friends as direct neighbors, so as soon as we started letting kids play together outside again, that’s all they did all day long. Last summer, he’d literally be outside from 8am until 8pm and I had to drag him inside for meals. They built forts, rode bikes (and built a small ramp with one of the dads), had a million Nerf battles and water balloon fights (um, self-sealing water balloons are a top 5 recent invention), and they ate about a million Icee pops out of our garage fridge.
  4. Virtual “house” or “family.” A few weeks ago I could hear my daughter in her room playing “family” but she didn’t have any friends over. I slowly peeked my head in and there she was playing Roblox, and she had 2 friends on FaceTime with her. They were all in the same game. One was playing mom. And the other two were sisters. I couldn’t believe how creative they were.
  5. Zooming virtual school. This version of virtual school is way more fun for them, I think. Now that these kids have mastered the art of Zooming and creating backgrounds, I find my daughter creating her own Zoom calls with friends, and they set up virtual backgrounds to pretend they are in a classroom or their bedroom, etc. Similar to how they were playing house in Roblox, they were creating their own pretend worlds through the use of a background. 

If your kids are already doing these things, great! Keep it up! Let them explore new, creative ways of play.

Hopefully you found at least one or two new things to encourage your kids to build connection with peers when the world is a bit upside down. I think they’re going to be coming out of this pandemic with incredible life skills, and hopefully some new ways of thinking too.