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”. ❤

 

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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. ❤️

 


Learn On with Kiddie Academy!

There’s nothing I love more than watching Lennox, Lela, and Luna discover new things and expand their knowledge every day. We love exploring new places as a family on the weekends, and one of our favorite things about living in a rural area is getting to visit so many locally owned farms and animal rescues. This past week, we loaded up the car and headed to a farm that takes in abandoned livestock and birds, and the kids were in absolute heaven. Lennox insisted on bringing his bird books and binoculars, and we stayed for hours, while he tried to locate each bird that he would see inside of his book. Once we got home, Lela and Luna drew pictures of the farm animals they loved the most (ok, they were squiggly lines, but the girls said they were the animals…and that’s what counts! Lol), and we talked about everything we had learned during our family fun day.

For children, the ability to learn new things presents itself into everything they do–something as simple as a trip to a farm turns into a science lesson, an errand at the supermarket turns into learning new foods and colors and shapes, a day at the beach is an environmental lesson, and on and on. Learning is all around us, and as a working mother, I love finding childcare that helps facilitate each of my children’s deep-rooted love of learning and exploration.

Lennox, Lela, and Luna were each 6-weeks-old when they started at their childcare centers over the years. My career in banking was not very flexible in the early days, I was offered a short and unpaid maternity leave, and I would spend countless hours during each of my pregnancies–meticulously comparing childcare options and looking for the best of the best, knowing that they would be the ones helping me shape the early years of my babies’ lives. As a military family, it can also be pretty hard moving to a new city so often and having to find a new childcare provider that you trust. Thankfully, we found Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care in all of my research, and I am so unbelievably grateful for their comprehensive curriculum, nationwide footprint, and highly ranked accreditation.

Each Kiddie Academy center supports my same belief that the ability to learn is in everything our children do, in and out of the classroom. On January 3rd, they launched their new national creative campaign “Learn On” to showcase how a child’s curiosity, sparked while at Kiddie Academy, carries into every aspect of their day. Through their Life Essentials curriculum, Kiddie Academy helps to spark the love for learning in even the youngest of minds. They serve families with children ranging from 6 weeks-12 years with full-time educational childcare, summer camp, and even before-and-after school care. They also operate over 210 academies in 29 states and DC! So, it feels great to know that wherever we go and whatever care we need, Kiddie Academy will be there to support us.

When we recently toured our local Kiddie Academy, I was blown away by the curriculum that they utilize every day. Life Essentials is divided into four parts: developmentally appropriate standard curriculum, health & fitness, technology education, and character education to teach our children values like respect, sharing, and friendship. Every child and teacher in the building was having a total blast–but just as equally important…everyone was learning, too!!

Given the right environment, children will naturally be more curious and excited to learn new things, and I love that Kiddie Academy creates a fun and hands-on environment for their little learners. Because, like I said, learning is all around us: in our every day routines, in our communities, and even on the farm–every child has the potential to develop a love for learning and exploring. Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care helps facilitate that same desire for knowledge by empowering our children with the right tools and resources to make the most of every learning opportunity.

Now, a lot of you have asked when I plan to go back to work now that Leif is three-months-old–and this is actually the longest that I have EVER stayed home. Right now, my maternity leave has a flexible and open-ended length, and I plan on taking advantage of that for the next year so we can regroup as a family. I’m excited to spend more time at home, to create beautiful memories with our babies, and to savor every moment of the complete chaos that comes from four kids so young. 🙂 When Leif turns one, I plan on making the final decision on a date to return to my banking career. But knowing that quality childcare is right down the road, wherever we are…well, that makes ALL of the difference.


An Honest Guide to My Favorite Baby Carriers

Finding legitimate baby products in the age of social media promotion is hard: more and more companies create fake reviews, buy fake social media followers, and pay influencers to promote their products on the down-low. Every time I see a baby product that I love on Instagram, I stop and ask myself, “I wonder if these moms REALLY love that? Or if someone is paying them to love it?” It’s tough to find honest and legitimate reviews.

So, what I can tell you guys, is that every single list I create on this blog is an unsponsored opinion, and when you see a paid advertisement on my Instagram page, it’s because I legitimately use the product and heavily vetted the company to see if they were worth the promotion. Hundreds and hundreds of companies reach out annually, and I pick maybe a dozen to work with–that should show the legitimacy of my ads, and more importantly, the honesty that goes into all of my posts, paid or unpaid.

With that said, I own A LOT of baby carriers, some of which were recently gifted from companies and some of which have lasted four babies over the last seven years. My Instagram page shows about a dozen different carriers that I’ve used over the last few years, and I get a lot of messages asking if I could only choose ONE, which one would it be. So, after trying what feels like every carrier on the market, I’ve decided to break it down on which ones are my HONEST favorites:

ALL AROUND FAVORITE: Boppy Carrier

If I had to pick only ONE carrier to wear my baby in, it’s going to be the Boppy Carrier. It’s comfortable, it’s soft, it’s incredibly easy to tie, and it has a built-in head support piece that was a life saver when I used it with newborn Leif. I use this carrier more than ANY other carrier, and it will always be my go-to. If I had to describe the “style”–I’d say it’s a Mei Tai mixed with a Moby, if that makes sense. It has the structure and support of the Mei Tai, but it has the stretchiness of the Moby WITHOUT the complicated tying (which makes it a fast solution in the parking lot of stores!). The shoulders are built-in, and the waist has a clip–so it really is a fool-proof tie. My husband HATES most of our carriers because they’re complicated to tie, but I see him using this one a lot when he’s home. You can wear your baby with legs-in, legs-out, front facing, or rear facing. Luna is 28 pounds now, and I can still wear her in it without feeling like I’m too weighed down or drowning in back pain.

FAVORITE RING SLING: Maya Wrap

This one was tough because, let’s be real, ring slings are pretty much just a strip of fabric attached to some metal rings…so most of the major brands are all incredibly similar and it’s hard to pick between them (PLEASE DON’T SEND ME HATE MAIL FOR SAYING THAT!). But the biggest difference in some of the major ring-slings are going to be the quality of the cloth and the length of the fabric cut. I use a WildBird (love the patterns) and a Hope & Plum (super soft, stone washed fabric!), and you can’t go wrong with either brand. But what sets the Maya Wrap apart from the other slings on the market is: the pocket AND the padded shoulder. Luna lived in this thing while I was pregnant with Leif, because being able to hip carry her was a lifesaver when my giant baby belly was sticking out front. I don’t particularly love wearing brand new babies in ring slings compared to the more structured carriers with head support, but once they get better head control, slings are my first choice for carriers because of their convenience, hip carry option, and being able to breastfeed while babywearing. Added bonus that you look super fabulous when you wear one, too.

FAVORITE FOR LONG DISTANCE WEARING: Tula Explore Carrier

We do a lot of outdoor activities, and if I use a sling or wrap, my back hurts like crazy. I splurged on a Tula, and it’s a miracle worker for days where you plan on wearing your baby for several hours at a time (like trips to Target 😂). It’s also extremely versatile and allows you to front face, rear face, wear baby on your back, legs out, legs in, EVERYTHING; so the price is actually super worth it because you can use this same carrier for many, many years. The shoulders clip together in the back, and the belt clips around your waist; so baby is incredibly secure on you, which is another confidence booster when you’re wearing baby for long periods of time. It was a huge toss-up to not pick this one as my all-around favorite, but it’s pricier and also a tad bit bulkier than the Boppy and doesn’t fold up into my purse. But because of that extra bulk, it provides more secure structure and more versatility. So, it really depends on which factors are important for you. If you struggle with lower back pain from babywearing, this one should be your top choice.

FAVORITE CARRIER ON A BUDGET: Infantino Swift

When Lennox was born, we were definitely not in the financial situation that we are in today, and the thought of spending $100 on a baby carrier was OUTRAGEOUS to me. After searching forever for an affordable babywearing option, I got the Infantino Swift in 2011 for $19, and y’all…I still use this same carrier today. Not kidding–Tom is literally walking around the house with Leif in this carrier right now (check out that throwback picture of him wearing Lela!!). Will your back hurt if you wear them in it for too long? Yes. Is it trendy on Instagram? No. Will you feel like that guy wearing the baby in The Hangover? Yes. But 100% worth it. This carrier is the best $19 purchase I ever made in my life, and if you’re brand new to babywearing and feel overwhelmed by all of the ties and buckles on the other types of carriers, this one is going to be your best choice. Totally foolproof tying, front-facing and rear-facing options, and by far, the most economic choice. Added bonus: my husband wears our babies more because he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by this one!

MOST CONVENIENT CARRIER: Lalabu Soothe Shirt

When Leif was a newborn, I wore my Lalabu shirts every single day–your shirt is the baby carrier…how mindblowingly awesome is that?!? They are incredibly convenient, great to layer under a sweater when you leave the house, you don’t have to worry about ever leaving without a carrier, and it was literally the only carrier that Leif wouldn’t cry in–I think it made him feel like he was still in the womb, to be honest. I have worn mine through two different airports, and that was the most amazing thing in the world to not be given a hard time about clips and straps on my baby carrier through security. It did great on my flights, too: he stayed in it the entire time, and people barely noticed he was there. If you do go for this option, SIZE UP. I’m a Size 2 and extremely flat chested, so I ordered a small and instantly regretted that I didn’t get a medium…because mine is skin tight…like, I literally have to slither in and out of it…SKIN TIGHT. Leify just finally outgrew his, so we got three solid months of extremely easy babywearing out of it, and that’s totally worth it to me. But, full-disclosure, I bought both of mine secondhand off of eBay for half of the price; so if you’re on a budget, definitely look for secondhand choices for this one!


Ten Tips to Take Your Own Family Photos This Year

The season is upon us, my friends–when parents everywhere drag their nicely dressed families to a professional photographer, hold their breath that the weather holds out, dare their toddlers to throw tantrums, and drink ten bottles of wine when pictures are over and swear they’re never going to do it again…but then repeat it all again next year, exact same tantrums included. I never had professional family pictures done as a kid, but my husband did, and he has nothing but negative memories surrounding the days that these pictures were taken–in cheesy 1980s picture studios where his parents dared him to make dumb faces for hours. Family pictures can sometimes be an exhausting and miserable experience for everyone, and for that reason alone, we have never had professional family pictures done. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong–I see COMPLETE value in the work that professional photographers provide, and if you’re one of those families that miraculously takes amazing pictures with zero stress–go for it…because nothing is more beautiful than the perfect family picture! But for our family, particularly because of our toddlers, it just has never seemed like a “fun” idea–and I try to keep our stress levels to an absolute minimum, especially near the holidays. When I look at every picture that we have as a family, I’m able to see happy memories around the day it was taken, recall the exact ridiculous words my husband said to make our kids laugh, and remember having fun as a family on our own schedule. That’s what is most important to me when picking out the perfect picture for Christmas cards–not the torture that we all had to endure to pay someone to capture those memories for us.

So…I’m not a professional photographer at all, and ninety-nine percent of my Instagram pictures are taken with an iPhone. They aren’t amazing pictures, they aren’t technically perfect by any means, and if you’re a photographer reading this, you probably want to kill me already. Please don’t. Lol. But, I promise that no one is going to be counting the megapixels in your Christmas card picture or checking for light flares. They just want to see your happy family, all in one frame. So, here are the tips that I can provide to help you capture just that:

  1. Give your kids something to hold: if you notice in almost every one of the letterboard pictures from my pregnancy, Lennox/Lela/Luna are all holding something in their hands that go with the picture. This wasn’t just because it made the picture cute; it was to occupy them and keep them from aimlessly waving their toddler arms all over the place. For our Christmas pictures this year, I plan on letting them hold a wreath in front of us. If you fill their hands with something, it entertains them and limits movement long enough to snap a cute picture without motion.
  2. DO NOT FORCE PICTURES: there have been so many ideas that I’ve had for pictures that have just not worked out, and that’s totally okay…because every day is a new day. My biggest, most important rule of photography is–if your kids aren’t feeling it, don’t force it. We limit ourselves to three pictures on a 10 second timer for every idea that I have, sometimes five pictures if they are just really feeling it that day. But thirty seconds is a VERY long time in the world of a toddler, and if you stretch it too much longer past that, you’re going to have some really unhappy kids. As soon as we’re done taking pictures, I try to play with the kids immediately, instead of flipping through the camera. It helps make the process fun for them, because it doesn’t feel as fake. Photography shouldn’t take up your entire day, AT ALL. I edit during their naptimes, and if I realize that I don’t like what we shot, I just try again the next day. Stress free.
  3. Put your kids high off of the ground: I’m not talking about standing them on top of a ladder or anything, but for most pictures, I have the kids sitting on a bench or a chair or a stack of hay…because if I set them on the ground, my toddlers will usually take off running sooo fast. For some reason, they do great seated and high up.
  4. Draw an X where you need them to stand: if you ABSOLUTELY have to have your kid standing for pictures, draw an X on the ground in chalk where you need them to stand. This is how we’re able to get pictures of all of ours standing in a row. I’ve drawn Xs in sand, on pavement, everything. If they start to drift away, I say “Let’s play a game: first you have to stand on the X”. It works if you rip up tiny pieces of paper and place them down, too…if you don’t want to vandalize a sidewalk with chalk, you rebel.
  5. Say the most ridiculous thing you could possible think of: Please stop making your kid say “cheese”–it makes their faces strained, and I don’t know who came up with that weird idea. Instead, try to make their smiles and laughter natural; Tom and I take turns telling inside jokes or making fart noises (yes, my friends, behind every beautiful picture is a parent making fart noises in the background). If you’re using a timer, say the funny comment at the five second mark so your face doesn’t look silly once it snaps, too. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have ruined with a ridiculous face that screams “I’m making fart noises”.
  6. Invest in a camera remote and tripod: Tom and I love to get in the frame with the kids, and even when it’s just pictures with me and the kids, I usually take them while Tom is at work. So I have a shutter remote for my DSLR camera, and I also have a camera remote for my iPhone 7 plus. They are super cheap, and it’s worth it to not have to use the self timer so much. However, my kids have a habit of misplacing mine constantly, so we still use the self timer a lot. Lol. But my best pictures were because of the remote. Also, I use the same tripod for my camera and my phone because I was able to buy an adapter that fits on the tripod so it will hold my phone, too.
  7. Editing is Your Best Friend: I have been editing pictures in Snapseed since it first started. I have tried Lightroom in the past, but I just could never get the look that I have always loved from my Snapseed pictures. When I shoot on my iPhone, I always make sure to apply an HDR overlay on Snapseed to pop the color, increase the structure, and then manually play around with the brightness/ambiance/contrast etc. I never apply pre-done filters, and I never really edit the same way twice. Every picture deserves it’s own attention to detail, and editing is what takes pictures from “ho hum cell phone pics” to “WHO DID YOU PAY TO TAKE THIS?!”
  8. Lighting is so important: I love natural lighting, but my house is 100-years-old and not exactly designed with a bright and airy layout. If you notice that your pictures all have a weird yellow tint to them, you need to find a spot in your house with better lighting or invest in a studio light. Most of our pictures are taken outdoors (in our backyard or at nearby State Parks), but with the indoor ones, I sometimes have to use a portable studio lighting set that helps keep the lighting a crisp white in my iPhone pics, instead of that icky yellow.
  9. Shoot vertical, not horizontal: A lot of people might disagree with me, but I can’t stand horizontal pictures and only use them if it is ABSOLUTELY necessary to get everyone in the frame. There’s a reason why vertical is called “portrait” and horizontal is called “landscape”–if you are shooting people, always shoot vertically and crop the excess space when you edit, if necessary.
  10. Never ask a random stranger: you guys, Tom and I have had so many hilarious conversations about this–never let a well-meaning stranger take your picture unless you want to use it for a good laugh later on. I bring our tripod in my purse every time we take a family trip (they aren’t allowed at Disney World, FYI–I had to prop my camera on a trashcan. No regrets), because if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s the absolute sweetest thing in the world when someone offers to capture a really special moment for us, and I always accept their offer and thank them endlessly. But if you are planning on getting a picture worth framing, don’t put that pressure on the poor old lady at the Grand Canyon who has never even seen a DSLR before. Use a tripod.

And hey, if all else fails and none of these tips work, just take pictures when they’re sleeping. 😂