Flying With Tiny Passengers

I’m going to be incredibly honest–when people see us going through airport security, I can totally see the looks on their faces every single time…you know, the look that screams “PLEASE DON’T LET THEM BE ON MY FLIGHT”. Four tiny children aren’t exactly the ideal passengers you would want on your airplane, no matter how long the flight. But because of those looks, I always feel extra-motivated to make sure that our kids are on their absolute best behavior during travel, and I plan for weeks before we leave, going through every detail of how to keep our children entertained, respectful of their fellow passengers, and happy.

I’ve read articles online that basically say there is no reason to fly with a child under the age of 2 unless it’s an emergency, and I’m just going to insert my two-cents here to say that’s ridiculous. I’ve written before about how much I love road trips, but sometimes airplanes are necessary and way more convenient. In the age that we live in, families are separated by thousands of miles, people move to new places constantly, and let’s be honest–you shouldn’t have to give up travel just because you have a baby. No, the baby won’t remember the trip, but guess what…YOU will, and wherever you take your child, whatever experiences you have together, that shapes who they become. So, if you’re considering booking a trip with your child but can’t get past the negative comments from strangers, I can’t tell you enough how lucky we feel to have ignored the haters and experienced so many wonderful memories of travel with our kids.

With that said, travelling with little people is WORK, especially when you fly on a plane and hundreds of strangers are staring at you every time your child makes a noise. But, don’t panic, here’s some of the tips that we’ve personally found helpful over the years:

  1. LEARN FROM PRIOR EXPERIENCES. If you’ve flown with your children before and can recall the exact moment that they’ve had a meltdown, plan for it again and brainstorm ideas to deescalate. If you’ve never flown, compare it to your last road trip or time that your child was restrained in a small space for a lengthy period. The last time we flew with all four kids, Luna and Lela fought over EVERYTHING during the last fifteen minutes of the flight, and it was a small nightmare. Because of that, we’ve packed two of the exact same everything, so there’s nothing to fight over. This brings me to my next point…
  2. STAY POSITIVE, NO MATTER WHAT. My husband is a stricter parent than I am, and we both agree, airports and airplanes are NEVER the time to be a disciplinarian. Flying is tough, it’s weird for kids, and even though the plane cabin is pressurized, the popping in their ears is a new sensation that confuses them. So, don’t pick a cross-country flight to decide to start disciplining them for something they don’t normally do. Bad behaviors and tantrums are going to happen, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity, try to keep it positive and redirect your child to something more positive when they start to crack under pressure.
  3. SCREENS ARE A LAST RESORT. This might be where I differ from the normal opinion, but we only give the kids our phones or a tablet if absolutely nothing else is settling them down. If you start the flight by handing them the most entertaining, over-stimulating device known to man…it’s all downhill from there. What if they get bored with it? How do you top that? What if they want something on there that requires Wifi? What if the batteries die? With our kids in particular, the tantrums increase by ten thousand percent when we let them use phones or tablets. If your kids do great with them, then go for it; this is just our experience. I give them our Kindle Fire if things go too downhill during the last 30 minutes of a flight, and I make sure there’s plenty of games and videos downloaded on Freeplay for them that don’t require Wifi. If you turn your device on Airplane Mode to test out before your flight, you’ll be able to see everything that is accessible without internet.

    We fit all of the girls’ clothes in a duffel bag, pack two activity bags, and use a carabiner clip to keep them hooked to the stroller until we get to the gate.

  4. ACTIVITY BAGS. Most airlines let you have a personal bag in addition to your carry-on, so we let the kids each carry a very small backpack full of entertaining things. For our upcoming flight, here is what they all have packed:
    • Lennox (7)- a few chapter books, a travel Spirograph, and a book on how to do Dollar Bill origami with some dollar bills in an envelope. These have always entertained him for HOURS, but if your older child has different interests, just make sure to pack things they love!
    • Lela (3) and Luna (almost 2)- we have the exact same things packed in both bags to avoid tantrums and arguments. I went to Walmart this week and raided their Easter basket-stuffer section; so for about $10 total, I got them a bunch of travel activity sticker books, coloring books and crayons, tiny dry erase boards, fake jewelry, candy necklaces, and ya know, other small trinkets that they’ve never seen before. That’s one of the biggest tricks I’ve found–make sure everything is exciting and fresh for them! On top of the small/cheap trinkets, I packed them each some magnetic tiles (they LOVE these) and quiet books (they EXTRA LOVE these). The girls do great in take-off and landings because there’s a lot of movement and noise, but during the still portion of the flight, we break out the toys.
    • Leif (7 months)- we pack his favorite small baby toys, nothing fancy. He’s teething right now, so we’re overly prepared for that with teething supplies and foods for him to be able to chew on during the flight.

      Favorite passport picture ever. 

  5. SNACKS. Right before the plane boards, we let the three older kids go to one of the little Hudson News stands in the airport and pick out one salty snack and one sweet snack to have on the flight with them. We use the sweet snack as a motivator for positive behavior–during takeoff, we usually tell the kids that if they are kind and patient for 15 minutes, we will give them their candy when the seatbelt sign turns off.
  6. DON’T OVERWHELM YOUR KIDS. With a full activity bag and snacks and screens, don’t play all of your cards at once. I make sure that I’m always in charge of the kids’ bags, and I hand them ONE toy or snack at a time. When their interest starts to fade with that ONE toy, trade it for a new toy in the bag. The biggest mistake we used to make when we would fly with Lennox as a baby was just dumping a whole bag of toys in front of him and expecting it to hold his attention. If your child seems to get overly eager to see everything in the bag, set a timer on your phone for ten minutes and let them know that when the timer goes off, they can have the next toy. Make it fun and exciting!

    We’re obviously Parents of the Year. Lol.

  7. BE ON YOUR A-GAME. Don’t go into the flight grumpy or tired or checked-out or fearful. This is game time, and your baby is counting on you to not make this miserable. At the first sign of a tantrum, it’s really easy to just give up, but please stay positive and soldier-on. This is going to sound pretty ridiculous because I’m married to a pilot, but I used to be really horrified of flying and would take anxiety medicine to sleep the entire flight. I had to quickly get over that fear and be fully present once I had my babies. If you are scared of flying and can’t shake the fear, just be sure to not mention it in front of your kids because it then teaches them to be scared, too. Discuss airplanes in a positive, calm way before you get to the airport, and explain to your kids that it might be loud and bumpy sometimes, but everything is fine and pilots are amazing people who have been trained to get them to their destination safely. It also helps to introduce them to the pilot when you’re boarding–we try to do this every time!

    We bought a travel case for our Dockatot because it’s carry-on size, and once you fit the Dockatot inside, there is still room to pack all of the baby’s clothes, too. So, everything is in one bag!

  8. PACK LIGHTLY. No matter how many adults are travelling with you, it’s still a total pain to have to drag a ton of luggage and baby gear through the airport, while still trying to carry your child. Keep it simple, and remember that most hotels have laundry rooms so there’s no need to pack ten thousand outfits. As far as baby gear, we wear the baby in a Tula carrier, we pack the Dockatot as a carry-on, check all of the carseats, and gate check our double stroller. If you remember last October when we went to Disney, our stroller got SUPER messed up in transit from our flight, so make sure you don’t pack your really nice stuff. We have travel carseats that we use, just in case they get damaged, too.
  9. ALLOCATE EXTRA TIME FOR SECURITY. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my husband have to be body-checked in the airport because of flying with baby formula or other random baby items that set off red alarms. The TSA agents are usually really nice about it, and they let us pick which one of us wants to get frisked. But still, if your baby is formula fed, there is a huge chance that your formula will set off the alarms when they’re searching your belongings. We usually try to Amazon Prime all of our formula and diapers to our hotel room at the destination ahead of time, just so we don’t have to travel with it. Call your hotel before you order anything and ask them what to write on the address label (usually it’s FUTURE GUEST: CHARLOTTE CHATMAN or you know, your name not mine). I’ve never had a problem with my breastmilk OR pre-made bottles in security, but powder formula in the past was always a nightmare. Also, you CAN wear your baby through security. I’ve seen so many blogs say that you have to take the baby off when you walk through security, but we’ve flown to/from a ton of airports, and I’ve never had to remove the baby from the carrier. Just an FYI!
  10. MAKE FRIENDS WITH PASSENGERS. I try to be extra friendly to the people sitting around us, just to put them at ease for their unfortunate seating arrangement next to the lady with 100 babies. As soon as we sit down, I’ll ask them where they are from and introduce the kids to them. Out of the dozens of times we have flown with the kids, I’ve only had ONE bad experience with a fellow passenger, and she was grumpy as soon as she sat down. You won’t be able to please everyone, but MOST people on your flight will be incredibly friendly and even offer to help if the kids get restless. Oddly, my faith in humanity multiplies every time we take the kids on an airplane. It’s not just with our kids either–on our last flight, there was a little girl across from us, just raging the entire time, and the entire plane stepped in trying to help with zero judgment or anger. Don’t assume the worst out of everyone, but makes friends instead!

We leave in six days for Newfoundland with our babies, and I know a ton of you have big Spring Break plans. So, happy flying with your happy babies! ❤

It never snowed where we live this year, so we’ve been having to travel far North every time we want the kids to see it! 

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Keenz 7S Stroller Wagon Review

A few weeks ago, Tom and I took the kids to a little expo at the convention center. We packed up our massive stroller that can fit all three of the babies, (you know, the triple stroller that takes up half of my car, can’t steer worth anything, and makes me feel like I’m pushing a clown car around everywhere), and like clockwork, within five minutes of being out of the house, the girls wanted to be carried, Leif wanted to be held, and no one wanted to be strapped into a tandem stroller. So, here we were…pushing this massive clown car through a giant crowd of strangers, while also trying to carry three babies and keep up with our seven-year-old. Tom looked at me and said, “Why do we even own a stroller?”.

I felt so defeated. All of the dollars wasted on strollers we didn’t use, all of the energy spent trying to find the perfect one for our family…and none of them fit our needs. I met up at a playdate with one of my friends a few days later, and she rolled into the playground with a Keenz 7S Stroller Wagon, looking like a mirage in the desert. In that exact moment, I was hooked. You know that saying, “You don’t know what you need until find it?”–that’s how I felt seeing a Keenz that day. It had every single feature that my family needed, and I knew I needed to try it! I have never been more excited to share a product review with you guys. Ever.

So, for starters, the Keenz 7S is a stroller AND a wagon. When purchased, it arrives with a ton of added features at no extra cost. Ours came with a removable cup holder, a cover, a storage basket, the top canopy, and even a cooler. Assembly was incredibly easy out of the box–I literally took the cover off, unbuckled a few strapped, and BOOM–ready to roll.

There are adjustable bars on both sides, in case you want to push it/pull it/or both. They can fold down, stand up, or go to 10 angles in between, depending on your most comfortable position at your height. Whether you push or pull, the stroll is seamless, there is no veer that I could feel, and this thing handles all-terrain trails and sandy beaches like a boss. Our neighborhood minorly flooded this week from nonstop rain, and with the spring suspension on the four wheels of the stroller wagon, we were still able to push the kids through some pretty crazy puddles and light debris piles on daily walks.

The storage basket on the front is able to hold my giant diaper bag, several coats, and more. There is also a storage pouch on the opposite side that has three pockets for a more organized storage option. I was able to take ours to the grocery store and use it like a cart by removing the top canopy and using the storage basket for our groceries, which was a total game changer for us! We were in and out of the store SO much faster this way, and the grocery manager even told me he loved my “playpen on wheels”. Hahaha.

My favorite thing about the Keenz is that my kids actually stay inside of it, though!! We’ve had ours for several weeks, and no matter where we have taken it, our crew remains in the stroller wagon for the entirety of the trip. There are two five-point safety harnesses inside of the wagon, which works wonders for when our five-month-old needs to ride–it’s so safe and secure that he’s able to sit up comfortably sit up with the help of the harness. Also, when he’s sitting on one end, there is PLENTY of room to fit both girls in it! Yes, it CAN FIT THREE LITTLE PEOPLE inside of the wagon! We’ve even fit our seven-year-old in it with them, but that was definitely a snuggly fit that only lasted a few city blocks…still totally doable, though. I had been searching forever for a stroller wagon on the market that could comfortably hold the three youngest, and this thing is just the perfect size for them, without having the excess room that would make it awkward to push.

The Keenz is a head-turner, too! Everywhere we have taken it, at least a dozen people stop us and ask where we got it. Last night, on a walk downtown, a woman even asked if she could take a picture because she wanted to remember to buy one later. I remember seeing one of these when we were at Disney World in October–I basically gawked from across the park because I wanted to know exactly what it was. The canopy roof is peaked, and it also unzips to create a mesh opening on top (I like this because it shields the kids, but it also gives me a better view of them inside of the wagon). The canopy also has an awesome feature of two roll-down panels from each side that will completely black out your stroller. We used this feature the other day because Leif was asleep flat in the bottom of the Keenz (like a bassinet on wheels!), and the ability to close it off completely from light was AMAZING and helpful. They really thought of everything when they designed this thing.

Our wagon is black, and I love it for the chic but utilitarian design. The fabric is incredibly durable, and everything is easily washable…because toddlers are messy, y’all. They also come in three other cute colors, and a lot of small shops even sell customized inserts for them to make them really stand out. If you’ve been on the fence about a Keenz, they have been running some amazing promotions lately that they always announce on their Instagram, and I really can’t recommend this enough for families with a whole bunch of babies or for those of you who just want a stroller that your kids love, too! After seven years of using strollers, I finally found the ONLY ONE that has literally every single thing our family needed, and if you want to follow along more with our Keenz adventures, don’t forget to check my Instagram stories every day–we’re probably on the go and in our wagon!


My Five-Step Morning Beauty Routine

I have admittedly never been a very “glamorous” person, even before kids. I didn’t start wearing makeup until I was 23, and even then, I would buy it from whatever grocery store clearance cart I could find cheap makeup in, put it on my face in two seconds, and spend the entire day wondering if my more makeup-savvy friends were laughing at me behind my back because I can’t do my eyebrows to save my life. I have always admired anyone who can navigate the aisles of Sephora without having a panic attack, and I have watched endless Youtube videos over the years, desperately trying to learn how to put eyeliner on without looking like a clown. But alas, it wasn’t working for me at 23, and it’s definitely not working for me now that I have four children. So, if you think this blog post is some kind of revolutionary way to look like a super model with perfect brows and a blowout…I do apologize–because this is more like how to look like a super mom with a perfect diaper bag and not covered in your baby’s blowout. But super moms can feel like super models, too; so hear me out.

I left for maternity leave 6 months ago, and we’ve gotten into what I’m calling my “Stay at Home Mom Routine”. I honestly don’t know how long I plan on staying home–a year/2 years/eternity, but I do know that as long as I’m home with my babies every day, I want to, at the very least, put on real pants, brush my hair, and put my contacts in first thing every morning. I’m not trying to hate on anyone who wears their pajamas all day with a week-old, unbrushed, top bun (MOTHERHOOD IS HARD; I FEEL YOU!!), but for me, when I don’t look great, I don’t feel great. And when I don’t feel great, our entire day is thrown off. So, when I say what our routine is, please don’t think that this means your routine is incorrect–we all do things differently, and I’m all about celebrating every mom.

But on a “normal, ho-hum, my husband is working, and here I am alone with four kids all day” day, this is what my routine looks like.

Step One: wake up before your kids and put on human clothes. Don’t sleep in and wait for your baby to scream and cry and start your day in chaos; set an alarm for about 20 minutes before your tiny friends normally wake up, and use that time to make a cup of coffee and get dressed for the day. I obviously don’t wear business suits or bank-lady-dresses anymore, but I love a good pair of denim with a basic sweater or top. I love animal prints and fun patterns because they hide stains really well AND they make me feel fancy. I’ve never really understood the black leggings trend for moms because baby spit-up shows up way too easily in black leggings, but jeans and patterned tops hide it pretty well all day.

Step Two: basic makeup. I use a mineral powder foundation, a brow definer, mascara, and lipstick. That is it. You could argue that it’s ridiculous to wear lipstick when you literally aren’t going to see a human over the age of 7 all day, but hey, when I walk past a mirror, I like to feel fabulous. So, I wear SUPER red lipstick. Like, the reddest I can find. And usually that distracts from my eye bags and the aforementioned spit-up on my jeans…because people are like “Wow, she’s wearing LIPSTICK. She must have her life together!” I’m not kidding. Lipstick. Wear it daily. I try to always have my makeup done before the kids wake up, but sometimes they surprise me. When they do, I make sure I have a bunch of old, empty makeup tubes and brushes for them to play with next to me.

Step Three: hair. I’m a huge fan of top buns, and I am so happy that society has embraced them with such open and loving arms. There’s a lot of great top bun tutorials online to figure out the basics, and I bobby pin mine like crazy so it doesn’t look insane by the end of the day. When I wear a top bun, I make sure to brush my hair before putting it up, and I dry shampoo it so it has more volume. If I know I’m going to be alone with the kids all day, I always wear it up, but if my husband is home and I’m actually interacting with another adult, I let my hair loose and use a curling wand to trace my natural curl pattern so I’ll have more defined curls. I’ve had that same curling wand for a decade now; so it’s put in some solid hours with me and is still holding strong.

Step Four: wake up your babies and attempt to get them dressed, too. My toddlers hate clothes, and sometimes I feel like I’m running a rodeo when I’m trying to get them ready for the day. This is why I always make sure that I AM READY FIRST. If I dress the kids and then dress myself, they will all be naked and covered in food within the two seconds it took me to slip on my shoes. So, always make sure to take care of yourself before you attempt to wrangle the babies.

Step Five: fabulous diaper bag. I may not have been a makeup person before having my babies, but I have always loved a good bag. I’ve gone through countless diaper bags over the last seven years, and my Lily Jade Meggan is, hands down, my favorite. You can find my full review here and what I pack in it here, but I promise that the right diaper bag really does bring your entire look together, just like the red lipstick earlier. My Meggan bag matches literally everything I own, and it’s got the most fabulous organizational system inside with a removable caddy for extra baby-supply storage. Also, each bag can be worn in the backpack carry so your hands are free, OR they can easily be worn as a cross-body or handbag, depending on the style you want. As always, check the Lily Jade website and Instagram for their current sales, because they run some amazing promotions!

And Step Six: remember that crazy days happen, raising tiny humans is HARD, and it’s okay to break your routine and go full-hot-mess when you need to! Bad days are inevitable, but they don’t have to define us. All we can do is give ourselves more grace and redder lipstick the next time we get back on track. ❤

Hard days happen. Leif is like, “WHY DOES MY MOM LOOK LIKE A CRAZY PERSON? IS THIS GENETIC???”


The Chaotic Art of the American Family Road Trip

When I was 18-years-old, I packed up everything I owned into the backseat of my rickety Volkswagen Jetta, and I drove across the country, from South Carolina to Oregon, with my pug in the passenger seat and a bunch of mixtapes made from friends. I had never been to Oregon, but I knew it was very far away from the insanity that was my bizarre childhood. I had no phone, barely any money, and I used one tiny road map that I bought on sale at a Books-a-Million to navigate me from coast to coast. Crazy, right? But because of that impulsive decision, I saw the entire country from the car window, I met amazing people along the way, and I eventually ended up in Portland, OR where I went to college and made a life for myself. Looking back, it was definitely one of the riskiest things I have ever done, but that one cross-country road trip sparked an endless wanderlust in me that I’ve never been able to shake…even four kids later.

“But you’re married to a pilot; why do you drive everywhere??”

“FOUR KIDS IN A CAR. I’D LOSE MY MIND!!”

“Your kids won’t even remember this. Why waste your time?”

I could probably write an entire novel answering those questions, but essentially, I think there’s magic in the American road trip that you can’t experience from an airplane. I think it shapes your view of the country, which is important for little minds that are always learning. I think it gives you a sense of home, even when you’re wandering around. And let’s be real, flying actually stinks–try taking four tiny kids through airport security by yourself one time, and then you’ll know why we love road trips.

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Living in North Carolina, we are essentially in the middle of the East Coast, and it has given us the amazing opportunity to drive as north as Maine, as south as Texas, and every stop in between, many, many times. We’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks along the way, and without jinxing myself, I can honestly say that the kids really do well in the car for at least 90% of each drive. Obviously, with children and even some ornery adults, meltdowns happens no matter what–so it’s all about focusing on controlling the controllables. So, here’s my Top Ten Tips for a great trip:

  1. Never drive more than 10 hours a day! If it’s a location that’s 12 hours away, split it up for 8 hours and 4 hours. Don’t push yourselves, or it sets the tone for a really awful trip. We always start our vacations by leaving our house at 4 AM and doing the bulk of the drive on the first day, while the kids are still sleeping in the car that morning. We’re early risers anyway; so adjust that to your normal morning schedule, if 4 AM scares you just to think about.
  2. Make your stops count. If we stop somewhere for the night, we try to make it a vacation in itself. Don’t stop at midnight and get back in the car at 6 AM the next day. Find a cool new town to explore between your starting location and final destination, and book a cool hotel there for a few nights. It breaks up the monotony, and it gives you a few days to refresh before getting back in the car.
  3. Sit in the back seat. If you’re lucky enough to have a co-parent with you, one of you needs to sit in the backseat with the kids while the other one drives. We drive a Honda Pilot with third row seating, and I put the two oldest in the very back, the two youngest on the middle seat, and I sit between the two youngest so I’m in reaching distance of everyone to pass out snacks and pick up toys that fall.img_1516
  4. Pack your own healthy snacks and meals. Nothing screams meltdowns like loading your kids up with junk food and sweets and sugary drinks for several hours, while having them strapped into a seat. We pack as many healthy options as we can, snack throughout the day, and unless it’s a total meltdown emergency, we do not let the kids go near a convenience store’s food section because Holy Junk Food Overload. Candy is a last resort, my friends. Save it for absolutely unavoidable briberies.
  5. Dollar Tree is your best friend. I hate clutter and trinkets, and I try my best to keep the kids’ toys to a minimum, but when we are going on a long road trip, I pack each child a tiny bookbag full of new knick-knacks that they’ve never seen from the Dollar Tree (coloring books, little toys, stickers, etc). We stopped letting our kids have screen time many years ago because we found it was leading to a LOT of tantrums and over-stimulation for them; so if you can avoid that in the car, I highly recommend it. Small toys, little games, and playing I Spy out of the car window are always our go-to source of entertainment.
  6. Align potty breaks with gas stops. My husband is admittedly an extremely frugal man when it comes to certain things. I’m pretty sure his most-used app on his phone is the one that tells you where to buy the cheapest gas, and it drives me bonkers. He used to always make us stop in the shadiest places he could find to pump gas, and then we’d have to stop again for a bathroom break because we couldn’t go inside the place where he stopped for gas; and that just doesn’t make sense. Find a very nice, clean gas station and take the kids in for diaper changes and potty breaks, while the other parent pumps the gas and walks the dog. It’s worth the few extra pennies, I promise.
  7. Toddler Tunes. I used to be a musician. I used to be somewhat cool. I used to play shows and listen to obscure bands and think I was awesome. And I would always tell myself that my future kids would NEVER listen to toddler songs on the radio because that was SOOOO LAME. But y’all, it’s a lifesaver. Luna’s attention is held for hours just by this one toddler CD that we have. There are NO stations on XM that are specifically designed for toddlers (Kidz Bop and Radio Disney are definitely geared for older kids), so either forfeit your phone and link it to bluetooth OR buy a Toddler Tunes CD. Totally worth it.
  8. Brace yourself for meltdowns. I say this in every trip guide that I make–there is no such thing as a perfect vacation, with or without kids. Someone is going to get tired or hungry or overwhelmed at some point, and you just have to be prepared for that. It might ruin 15 minutes of your day, but it doesn’t ruin your vacation. There is nothing you can do to stop a tantrum; so when it happens, just know that we’ve all been there, and it is not a reflection of your parenting. Pull over the car, let everyone stretch their legs and clear their heads, and then try again.
  9. Be prepared to lose phone service. You’d be really surprised how much of America doesn’t have phone signal or WiFi. When we were in Tennessee last summer, we spent 4 days without any connection to the world, and it was glorious…and kind of strange. Check your weather before you leave (no weather app without Wifi) and have all directions printed, just in case.
  10. Pack lightly for legroom. We have four kids, two adults, and a pug (yes, the same pug from my first trip to Oregon!) that all have to fit into the car. Add to that a double stroller, a dock-a-tot, and the other baby/child/dog necessities, and it does not leave much comfortable leg room for your trip, if you stuff a suitcase with ten billion outfit changes. Either invest in a cargo rack for your roof (these make me weirdly uncomfortable, so not for us) or pack light. We try to book at least one night in the middle of our trips at an AirBNB with a washer and dryer so we can wash clothes and reuse them!

I’m probably leaving out a lot of Road Trip Rules, but I think those are definitely the most important ones that have really helped us with the kids. There are so many gloriously gorgeous places in America, and when you travel slowly by car, it makes you really understand that saying “The journey is more important than the destination”. ❤

 


What’s Inside My Diaper Bag

My daughter, Lela, is admittedly a bag lady. She carries around at least five bags, at all times, filled to the brim with everything under the sun: chalk, tissues, tiny figurines, tiny books, ziploc bags, my mascara…the list goes on. Not too long ago, at my start of this motherhood journey, I was just like her, though. I carried around SO much unnecessary stuff for my one baby because I was so scared I would “need” something and not have it on me. My diaper bag was a cavernous black hole of odds and ends, and as a result, I couldn’t find what I was actually looking for…ever.

So, with four tiny people operating their basic needs out of my one diaper bag every time we leave the house, I’ve had to learn to minimize my baby supply hoarding and stay organized. I’ve been using the Lily Jade Meggan bag since Leif was born, and it’s the PERFECT size for everything we need, with some spare room for the supplies we might throw in for extra-long outings or road trips. I love the backpack carry feature because it allows my hands to be free with the kids. But what I love the most is the removable storage compartment in the center, something I’ve never seen as a built-in feature of any of the bags that I own.

Because of that removable caddy, I’m able to pack our bag for the day and simply insert it into the diaper bag when we are ready to head out the door. So, with a 7-year-old, a 2-year-old, a 1-year-old, and a 4-month-old (which is hilarious to type all of that out), here is what I pack:

-THREE diapers in Leif’s size, Three diapers in the girls’ size (they are potty trained, but they still wear diapers in public…the last thing I want is for them to pee on the grocery store floor in a toddler bladder explosion, y’all)

-ONE change of clothes for each child. We’re not talking about anything fancy–I grab one footed onesie for Leif and one dress for the girls, in case they have an accident. I also always have an extra pair of socks…because baby socks fall off baby feet wayyyy too easily.

-ONE pack of baby wipes. I admittedly use baby wipes like a crazy person–I even wipe down tables and playground equipment in public. No shame.

-ONE bottle for every two hours that we’ll be gone. I always use my pumped stash for public outings, which I know might be different from what other women prefer. My supply is super low, and when I’m crazily trying to navigate a cart of four children through the Walmart bread aisle, I just can’t seem to produce much, though. So, I bring a pre-heated bottle of milk in my bag. (Which I realize now, I didn’t include this in my picture!)

-Breastfeeding cover. I use my cover as a small blanket and carseat cover, too, so we never leave the house without this thing. Even if you aren’t crazy about covers, it’s a cool multi-purpose item that I wish I would’ve had when my oldest was a baby.

-Ring Sling. These are great for infant or toddler carrying, so I make sure we always have one with us.

-Water Bottle. I bring a water bottle everywhere we go and make sure it’s got a built-in straw so the girls can share with me, too.

-Bribes. Yes, my friends, I am the bribery parent. If I know we have boring things to do, I pack my bag full of fruit snacks and stickers, and if my kids start acting restless…BOOM bribes for days. I keep a new issue of Nat Geo Kids magazine for Lennox, too–bribery at its finest for brainiac 7-year-olds.

-My Wallet and Phone. I admittedly am very terrible about throwing my credit cards into the bottom of my purse or sticking them in pants pockets and washing them. But, ya know, I always check if we have money before we leave the house. Lol.

-Randoms: my glasses (in case my contacts fall out of my sleep-deprived eyes, which has totally happened), hair brush and hair tie. Maybe some lip gloss. Maybe teething gel. Maybe ten Target receipts that are floating around the bottom. You get the point.

I pack every pocket of the removable insert of my Lily Jade, and then I slide the insert into my bag! Good to go for an easy outing!

Pro-tip: if you’re looking into a Lily Jade, make sure you check their website and Instagram for current promotions! They usually have amazing deals going on!!


Our First Sick Day of 2019

It was the first weekend in January, and little Leif just wasn’t acting like himself. The sun was shining bright, it was sixty degrees, and we had planned to be outdoors the entire day. The girls were playing with sidewalk chalk, Lennox was riding his scooter up and down the road, but Leif just laid in my arms with watery eyes, looking completely pitiful. I told Tom that I thought something was wrong, and literally within the hour, our sweet three-month-old had spiked a 102-degree fever and developed a deep cough. By the next day, his symptoms only progressed, he started to struggle to breathe, and after taking him to an emergency doctor appointment, we found out that he had picked up RSV–the first virus to infiltrate our house during 2019.

As a big family, viruses have the potential to spread fast and take us down for weeks. After trying to figure out where the sickness came from, we circled back to Lennox having mild flu-like symptoms right before Christmas break at his school. He had a persistent cough, a slight fever, and was able to shake it off in a few days…so we honestly didn’t think it was serious. One by one, throughout the first week of January, though, RSV began to pass on to Leif…then Luna…then Lela. With a lot of rest, disinfecting, and deep cleaning every room of the house, we were finally able to rid our house of the virus, but it was a brutal start to 2019, for sure!

Since cold and flu season tends to strike only once a year, it’s easy to forget the basic tips to minimize germ transmission; so, I’ve put together some helpful tips that we practice in our house this time of year:

  1. WASH HANDS! I can’t stress this one enough–wash your hands frequently, with warm water and soap, and make sure you’re washing them for at least 20 seconds (we like to sing the ABC song while we wash!)
  2. Cough into Elbows! This is one thing that is important to teach even the smallest coughers and sneezers: when you sneeze into the crook of your elbow, germs aren’t as easily spread by touch.
  3. Disinfect the Hotspots in your Home! Use a disinfectant approved to kill cold & flu viruses, like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, to wipe the surfaces touched most frequently, like doorknobs, light switches, faucets, and toys. Clorox Disinfecting Wipes kill 99.9% of germs including viruses that cause colds and flu, as well as Staph, E. Coli, Salmonella and Strep.
  4. Live a Healthy Lifestyle! The healthier you are, the easier it is to fight off germs. Eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep (hey new mamas, this one is for you!) to help your body’s abilities to stay healthy.

This run-in with RSV was a huge reminder that with Lennox being in a traditional school setting now, it is SO important to make sure his classroom is just as clean as our home. We can do everything at home to keep a clean space, but if his school isn’t doing the same, viruses are definitely going to follow him home every day. So, as soon as classes resumed after the holidays, we made sure his teacher was restocked with a Teacher Appreciation Basket full of the essentials to keep her class healthy and clean: Clorox Disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, etc. With my sister being a teacher, I know firsthand how many supplies teachers have to pay for out-of-pocket and how quickly their classrooms go through them. I feel like every time I talk to her, she’s at the grocery store picking up more Clorox wipes! So, we wanted to make sure Lennox’s teacher had a mid-year resupply courtesy of our “not-so-little family”.

Clorox is an amazing supporter of teachers, as well, through their DonorsChoose.org site, which allows teachers across America to create projects and request resources students need in their classrooms. When I posted about it last August, I had SO many teachers personally reach out to me and thank me for calling attention to it; they pointed out that it’s SO vital for their classrooms, but a lot of people don’t know about it yet. Anyone can log on to the site to choose a project to fund, and when you donate, Clorox matches your donation dollar-for-dollar, which doubles the impact for classrooms in need. So, you can feel great about your purchase of Clorox products year-round: not only do they help to keep the flu out of your house, but the company is an amazing sponsor for our teachers and classrooms all across America. 🙂

To win one of our special “Cold and Flu Care Packages”- head over to my Instagram and share your family’s first sick day this year in the comments and how cleaning sets the stage for a healthy and happy season.

*This post was in paid collaboration with The Clorox Company.


Leif Alexander’s Birth Story

“Something is wrong.”

I repeated that over and over, at least a dozen times at every doctor’s appointment, throughout the entirety of my pregnancy. From the very first appointment, I had this bizarre gut instinct, indescribable now, where I just KNEW that this pregnancy was “off”. Early on, I had been referred to a high-risk doctor because of complete placenta previa combined with what appeared to be Leif having an intrauterine growth restriction. He was measuring in the 2nd percentile, and every ultrasound at the specialist was coming back with the same results.

All of my babies have measured small in utero, and I’ve always had a TINY baby bump (I hid my pregnancy with Lela until I was 8.5 months!); so none of that really concerned me, though. And by the second trimester, it seemed like the placenta previa was even clearing up; so I was referred back to my normal OB/GYN for regular, ho-hum, totally normal pregnancy appointments. But something just didn’t feel right.

At every appointment, my doctor would measure my stomach, ask me how I felt, shake my hand, tell an awkward joke, and walk out of the room. Every time, he would say my stomach was absolutely fine, measuring on target, and indicated zero signs that Leif still had a growth restriction. Every time, I left feeling like I was just crazy for thinking that something was wrong–maybe because of my previous miscarriages, I was just harboring anxiety and channeling it into this pregnancy…maybe it’s hormones…maybe I’ve felt like I’ve tempted luck by having three healthy children. But the more pregnant I got and the more comments people continued to make about how I was “too small”, I just couldn’t relax.

With all three of my previous babies, I went into labor naturally at 39-40 weeks. But this time around, Leif wasn’t budging. My due date came and went, and there I was–still having to post pregnancy updates on Instagram and let everyone know we were still hanging in there! I never really felt him kick or move too much, which triggered more panic, but my doctor kept reassuring me AGAIN that everything was totally fine…but if Leif wasn’t here by 42 weeks, then it would definitely be time to consider induction.

Nothing like a Category Four Hurricane to really shake things up when you’re 41 weeks pregnant!

Sooo….enter a Category Four hurricane barreling directly to our home, expected to make landfall the week of my due date.

Hurricane Florence’s trajectory was aiming right on our town, and things were starting to look scary. The news was hyping it up to be the Storm of the Century, and even though Tom and I both grew up around hurricanes (New Orleans boy marries Charleston girl=no strangers to these storms), this one had us panicking. We live in an area of North Carolina where our street floods even during a gentle rain storm; so, we were fully preparing for the possibility of losing everything in a sea surge. When I was exactly 41 weeks pregnant, evacuations were ordered for the city that we live in. Because of my previous occurrences of extremely rapid labor, my doctor told me that it would be dangerous to evacuate, and we should wait out the storm at the hospital, in the event that I went into labor and the city was too flooded to drive. My doctor assured me 1000 times that he had to be at the hospital anyways, and it would be safer if I was there, too. So, as we watched the houses on our street get boarded up and neighbors leave, we stayed behind.

The day before the storm was supposed to hit, though, Hurricane Florence started losing strength, all of the way down to what eventually became a Category One storm. It seriously felt like every single prayer that we had was answered. The issue of flooding was still a huge concern, though; so after getting a call from our doctor on September 14, we all headed to the hospital to wait out the storm surge there. The doors and windows were all boarded up, the sky was ominous, but it looked like there wasn’t nearly as much to fear as we had been bracing ourselves for. So, because we were already there and there were literally no other patients (thanks evacuations!), my doctor offered us the option to get induced that day.

I was fed the typical lines of “it’s dangerous to be pregnant past 41 weeks” and “he’s not growing anymore”…plus, let’s be honest, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, confused, concerned, and just really ready to hold my baby. So, I agreed to the induction, against what is now my better judgment. Because of a membrane strip earlier that week, my body was showing a couple of signs of being ready for labor anyways–and because of that, I was given a small pitocin drip, and an hour later, my doctor manually broke my water.

Things escalated so quickly after my water broke, that it honestly all blurs together now. Within fifteen minutes of mind-blowingly strong contractions and only one push, Leif was in my arms. I remember reaching my hand down to feel him as he crowned, and then, within seconds, he was on my chest. He was COVERED in vernix and still had hair on every inch of his body; he was horribly bruised and swollen from a rapid birth, and he looked so different from our other babies. My first instinct was to nurse him immediately, but he wouldn’t latch or show any interest at all. I called a nurse over and told her that ALL of my babies have latched instantly and something was wrong. She gave me the same speech that I had heard throughout my pregnancy: “All babies are different. It doesn’t mean something is wrong.” So, the entire hospital staff left the room to give us bonding time with Leif during his first hour.

We held him, we rocked him, we took pictures with him, and I kept trying to nurse him with zero success. About ten minutes after he was born, his face quickly started to turn blue. His breathing became rapid and random and he was making noises that I had never heard a baby make. As I pressed the CALL button to get a nurse in the room, Tom looked at me and said, “Charlotte, I don’t think he’s breathing.”

The nurses came flying into the room and took Leif with them to receive oxygen and take his vital signs. Because I had never had a “sick baby” before, when they whisked him away…I just assumed they would bring him back to me in a few minutes. Tom even left the hospital to go be with the kids, thinking that everything was going to be fine immediately. But as I sat there for hours without my baby, wondering if I was just reading the clock wrong or if he had stopped breathing altogether, the panic set in. A doctor I had never seen before came into my recovery room and was trying to explain to me that something was wrong with my baby, and they needed me to sign a consent form for them to do X-rays and IVs and a million things that I just couldn’t process. I just kept asking him where my baby was, and he kept trying to explain to me that he was admitted into the NICU. But I couldn’t process it. It was one of those situations that you really don’t know how you’ll respond until you live it. And I felt like I was living in a nightmare.

That night was one of the longest of my life–I walked up and down the hall from my room to his nursery, staring at him hooked up to a million machines and being haunted by the memory of him turning blue in my arms. The nurses kept telling me to get sleep, but instead, I sat up all night so confused as to why I wasn’t able to hold my baby.

The next morning, Leif’s NICU doctor came to my room and said that he had finally solved the mystery and things looked like they were going to be okay. After looking at MY medical file and comparing it to Leif’s symptoms, it was obvious that my OB/GYN had my due date incredibly wrong. Leif appeared to be born at the 35-36 week mark, and that explained his immature lungs, appearance at birth, and 6 pound weight. The shock that I was feeling immediately turned to fury and self-loathing. How was I so stupid to let a doctor talk me into an induction? How did I not know? Why did I blindly trust my small town doctor to calculate my due date when I had not even had a menstrual cycle since 2015? I still struggle with massive guilt every time I think back to it; some nights I can’t even sleep, and it’s taken me this long to even say the words out loud or write them.

Once we knew what we were up against, things slowly got easier. Over the next few days, while little Leif quickly adjusted to the world he entered too early, they started weening him off of the machines. They would let me hold him and rock him for increments of time, and after days of not connecting, I was finally getting to bond with my sweet, new baby. He struggled to nurse, he still struggled to breathe easy, and keeping him at a healthy pulse ox was a challenge sometimes. But by the fourth day, we were told that if he could make it a full 24 hours without a rapid breathing episode, we could finally take him home with us, if we agreed to daily doctor appointments for the next two weeks to check his lungs.

And just like that, with a million prayers and positive thoughts, within that week, Leif Alexander finally came home with us, making us a family of six. We went to daily doctor appointments, where we learned to adjust to a new normal, and even now at four months old, he sometimes has the occasional rapid breathing episode. But our pediatrician always assures us that no permanent damage was done–35 weeks is premature, but it’s nothing that time, love, and breastmilk can’t fix. I used to see posts about NICU babies all of the time–some babies who spend a few hours there, some babies who spend months. I never understood the things the moms must be feeling, but after living it that week back in September, my heart goes out to every parent who has to see their baby hooked up to machines, instead of being held in their arms, no matter the length of their stay. I’m grateful for amazing doctors and nurses who devote their lives to saving our babies, keeping them comfortable, and keeping us parents sane with the kindest and most comforting words in the moment. And I’m grateful for this sweet boy who had to fight to make it through his first week on this earth–my love for him grows every single day. ❤️