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!

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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. 😂


Lily Jade Meggan Review

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room for a minute, okay? Diaper bags were definitely not a fabulously designed accessory when my first son was born (the days before Instagram, y’all). Back then, I searched for months while I was pregnant, just trying to find a bag that didn’t make me look like I was carrying a giant IKEA shopping bag full of baby supplies. My search, however, failed, and I ended up with one of those clunky, half plastic, over the shoulder bags with horrific organization in the center. I refused to use it as a purse, too, so I had to carry MULTIPLE bags, EVERYWHERE, EVERY DAY, and I only had one baby worth of supplies to carry–I cringe at that tiny memory.

So, flash forward to these days: I have four children, three of whom still require a lot of gear every time we go somewhere. My diaper bag would be absolute holy chaos if I didn’t have one with amazing organization that could house the multiple sizes of diapers, different bottles, different pacifiers, etc in easy access. Another top priority I look for in a bag is ease of wear–I am always wearing one of the babies, and it makes a shoulder carry completely useless and a cross-body carry pretty inconvenient when paired with a baby carrier. I also wanted something that looked like a regular purse, that I could style with my daily outfits. So enter the bag of my dreams: the Lily Jade Meggan.

My favorite feature of the LJ Meggan is the versatility of the straps: you can cross-body, over the shoulder, and even wear it in a really stylishly-shaped backpack carry, like you can see from my pictures. This is crucial with multiple children, because you want your hands as free as possible. The backpack carry still allows you easy access to the bag for the times you need to grab a pacifier ASAP–the side and front pockets are all easily accessible while being worn. When the kids aren’t with me (like once every lifetime, let’s be real), I love to wear it over the shoulder because it really, truly looks like a designer purse on the outside!

The teal interior has multiple storage pockets, as well as a removable and washable storage caddy that can hold literally everything your mama heart desires. We keep:

  • Three total changes of clothes (one for Leif, one for Luna, one for Lela)
  • Two sippy cups
  • Two bottles
  • Two pacifiers
  • Three blankets (the girls will argue to no end if they don’t have their own)
  • Hairbrush (hello North Carolina humidity!)
  • My wallet
  • A grocery store full of snacks
  • Wipes
  • Water Bottle
  • Three Pullups and Three Newborn Diapers
  • Ring Sling

And that’s just in the removable caddy!! The front pocket on the Megann is the perfect size to keep my iPhone 7 plus, which is awesome not having to dig around and find it when we’re out and about.

I get compliments everywhere that we go because of the design of the bag and the neat little details (like the outside beaded tassle and the gold buckles). The bag also has purse feet on the bottom, which a lot of expensive diaper bags seem to lack–it makes me feel more confident for the times when I have to throw it down in the middle of a playground while my maniac daughter tries to jump off of a slide onto the sidewalk. Kidding, but not really…

Luna: refusing to wear two shoes since 2017. LOL

Lily Jade is currently running their Black Friday sales, so if you’ve been on the fence about purchasing one, now is the perfect opportunity. I got mine as an early Christmas present to myself, but they make amazing gifts, too. Just saying, I would not complain one bit if Tom went on to the Lily Jade site and got me another bag to rotate around…the Shaylee in Old English looks AMAZING, too!


Toddler Gift Ideas 2018

Does anyone else feel like they blinked and all of a sudden it’s time to start Holiday shopping? The Target Christmas catalog came to our house the day before Halloween, and Tom and I instantly joked about it being WAY too early for that…but here I am in November with very few ideas on what to get the kids yet; so, you know, maybe Target was on to something! The problem with shopping for the girls is that whatever we buy for one of them, we have to buy an identical one for the other; so, at Christmas and even on their birthdays, we buy two of everything…and it’s sometimes hard to find things that are perfect for both 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds. PLUS, I feel like they have everything they need, so unless I get really creative (I legit thought about getting them motorized ride-on unicorns–not even kidding!!), they’re going to be my toughest people to shop for this year.

But if you’re struggling trying to figure out the perfect gift for the tiny toddler in your life, too, I’ve put together a list of all of Lela and Luna’s favorite things that they’ve been loving throughout the year, to inspire your Christmas list. I always try to blend as many useful non-toy products as possible into the kids’ Christmas presents because, let’s face it, we have SO many toys that I feel like I’m drowning in a tidal wave of Barbies some days. Plus, because they usually get everything they ask for (and more) throughout the year, we don’t overdo it at Christmas–we typically stick to maybe 3-5 presents per kid plus stockings. I never judge people that do MASSIVE Christmases, and I don’t judge parents that stick to one present each. Everyone has their own traditions, and our traditions mostly center around getting a 14 ft tree from a lot, Tom and I embarrassing ourselves by trying to unload it from the top of the car together, and then us spending way too long decorating it because the kids insist on “helping”. Good times, every year. I digress…

Here are our ten favorite products from 2018 that would make the perfect toddler gifts!

TrioKid Strollers: my daughters have not gone a single day without playing with these things in the six months that they’ve had them, so I’m definitely going to say that these are their favorite toy of all time. They are so incredibly well-made from the cutest small shop, the perfect size for toddlers, and the price is amazing! We have two Miniline ones, which are sized PERFECTLY for one and two-year-olds; the other designs also look incredible, but I liked the smaller design of the Miniline.

Tula Kids Backpacks: these are hands-down the cutest, most unique, durable, high quality, perfectly amazing toddler backpacks that ever existed. I could shout from the rooftops how much I love them for both of the girls, but I think the fact that Lela and Luna wear them everywhere should say how much THEY love them, too. They fit the perfect amount of toys, books, and sippy cups for our daily outings/restaurants/preschool class, and they’re perfect for overnight trips. I want one in my size.

Cuddle + Kind Dolls: the most adorable family that makes the most adorable hand knit dolls! The girls (and even Lennox) absolutely love these dolls, and the “regular” sized ones are perfect to fit in dollhouses, strollers, etc. They also make great growth measurers for monthly infant pictures, just saying! Even better–for every doll purchased, the company donates ten meals to children in need, both domestically and abroad.

Personalized Nap Blankets: every one of my babies has their own personalized blankets, and the girls take theirs everywhere–car rides, vacations, naptimes, etc. The girls love that they have their own blanket that the other one can’t steal (seriously, they have their names on them. lol), and I love that it’s something that they can keep to look back on when they’re older. Not a lot of kids gifts are timeless, but these definitely are.

ZoLi Bot Sippy Cups: these are one of those useful gifts that keeps giving. The girls are obsessed with these little cups because they are easy to hold, have a weighted straw, and they’re a super cute and fun design. I love them because they don’t leak, and even when they turn them upside down, the straw moves with them…so the girls don’t throw a tantrum and make me constantly refill the juice. So, needless to say, their stockings are going to be full of these this year. We also use ZoLi’s canteens, placemats, and teethers–really high quality, cute designs in everything.

Innobaby Bath Scrubber: you probably think I’m crazy for putting a bath scrub on here, but when my kids opened the package that these were in, they totally squealed in delight and played for HOURS (like, not even in the bath–they made up games and played pretend…all kinds of hilarious things that I would not expect from a bath scrubber). Also, cutest colors and designs ever. Best stocking stuffer on the list, for sure.

Fisher Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Sis: Ok, this is the only noisy toy that I’m putting on this entire list, but my kids are obsessed, and it entertains them for hours. What parents wouldn’t want their child entertained by a singing dog that teaches their toddler the ABCs? Exactly. Amazing price–usually about $12-13. Totally worth it.

Horse Hopper: I bought this on a late night Amazon whim last year, and holy cow, Best Late Night Purchase Ever. I was skeptical of buying a product without 100% 5 Star Reviews, but I’m glad I took a chance–it is INCREDIBLY durable (my seven-year-old hops on it, come on), compact, quiet, doesn’t require batteries, and both girls can fit on it at once. Hours of bouncing entertainment, without the broken bones of a trampoline.

Innobaby Din Din Chicken Plate: Here’s another one of those “Things I Wouldn’t Think Would Make Perfect Gifts Until I Had Kids…” items. My girls are HOLY FREAKING OBSESSED with these plates. Every meal. Every single meal they demand to eat off of these. They love them so much that we even got them the matching steamers (which make great bowls for vegetable and dip snacks for them). It’s got a suction grip on the bottom, too, which makes it where Luna can’t throw her plate in the floor if she doesn’t immediately love what’s for dinner. That, my friends, is priceless.

Cordelia: Books make some of the best gifts for toddlers, and as the one that is going to be reading the book over and over and over again, you want to make sure you buy ones that YOU love, too. I try to pick out books with the most positive messages and strong female characters, and this one takes the cake. The plot centers around a little girl who slowly learns to overcome the negative opinions of others and stays true to herself and her beliefs–definitely something I want my girls growing up hearing on repeat. Added bonus: the girls also have Cordelia plush dolls, which makes the book so much more fun when there’s something tactile that they can experience while we read. Such a cute gift set idea!

Some other items that I love throwing into the kids’ gifts every Christmas:

-Shoes: toddlers outgrow shoes so, so fast, and they always need more. If your girls are anything like mine, they will LOVE cute shoes under the Christmas tree.

-Little People sets: I don’t know what it is about Fisher Price Little People, but all kids are obsessed with them. The girls favorites are the Camping Set and Cinderella’s Castle.

-Bows: my girls LOVE bows, I love them wearing bows, and you can never have too many. I buy them in bulk, and Lela freaks out every time the box arrives. She sorts them by color, by size, everything. Hours of entertainment when they open the box, years of wear. I linked the ones here that they wear the most–it comes in a pack of 30. Great stocking stuffer.

-Pajamas: I always throw in a few pajama sets for each kid at Christmas. We love Baby Gap pajamas and Carters the most, but sometimes Old Navy has really cute ones around Christmas, too.

-Hooded Bath Towels: my babies love all things bathtime, so I try to get them new hooded bath towels whenever I can. The absolute softest, plushest ones that we have are these that we got on Amazon.

-Coloring Books: ya know who has the coloring books that my kids love the most? Dollar Tree. I load up on coloring books and crayons every time I’m there, and at Christmas, I fill a box full of them for each kid.

Some items I NEVER include:

-Food/Candy: Do you like tantrums on Christmas morning? If so, load up your toddler’s stocking with candy and tell them they can’t eat all of it for breakfast. Nope. Avoid foods at all costs, unless you plan on letting them eat all of it immediately.

-Bath Products: nothing screams holiday cheer like a toddler opening up a bottle of cute body wash and pouring it all over their brand new toys. Avoid anything liquid. Bubbles, too. The only liquids that should be anywhere near your Christmas morning are mimosas and coffee, and those aren’t for the toddlers. 😉


I Survived Disney World with Four Kids, and You Can Too!

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Having a new baby is hard for the entire family. As a mom, you have to physically recover from childbirth, while dealing with some crazy emotions. As a dad, you have to bond with a new baby, while dealing with your crazy wife’s crazy emotions. And as a kid, you have to learn to share your attention with a tiny new human invading your space. Our house turns into a giant pile of chaos those first weeks postpartum; so several years ago, my midwife suggested we go on vacation once we all feel healthy enough (and once our pediatrician is 100% okay with baby flying), to break up the funk. That’s how we ended up starting the tradition that six weeks after we bring a new baby home, we take the kids to Disney World for a week and tell them it’s a gift from their new sibling. We use the trip to help us all bond as a family (and secretly because it’s also a week where we don’t have to cook or clean!), and so far, it’s been amazing for all of us, every time we go. But you guys, tackling Disney World with a bunch of tiny children is NOT for the faint of heart, just saying.

But, that being said, after all of these babies, Tom and I are still brave enough to take the whole crew to Disney World every year! Every time we go, we find a new tip or trick that makes everything easier that we wish would’ve known before; so I decided to compile them all into one definitive list of “HOW TO SURVIVE DISNEY WORLD WHEN YOU ARE MASSIVELY OUTNUMBERED BY TINY CHILDREN”. 🙂 Keep in mind, I’m not a Disney expert or fanatic or anything–I’m just a totally normal mom who has had a handful of completely amazing trips with an armful of tiny travelers.

1. Strollers Are Completely 100% Necessary

There is so much walking at the parks that your kids (no matter the age) will be exhausted by the middle of the morning on Day One, and you will be exhausted from carrying them if you didn’t bring a stroller. Lennox is seven, and he rode in our stroller about 30% of the time; there were a TON of kids older than him riding around in strollers, too. Heck, there were certain points where I wanted to hop in, too. This trip, we opted to bring our double stroller for the girls, wear Leif in the Boppy carrier, and Lennox walked alongside with the Tagalong Handle. Sometimes, Lela or Luna wanted out of the stroller, so we’d let them trade off with Lennox. And sometimes, if Leif was sleeping extra hard, we’d use a snuzzler insert in the stroller and lay him down, while we wore Luna. I kind of wish we would’ve brought our triple stroller, just because I didn’t realize how much Lennox would still want to ride.

We’ve always gate checked our double stroller at the airport and had it waiting for us in Orlando, but sooo many people at the parks use a stroller rental service booked through Disney or their resort. I could never figure out why they didn’t just bring their own strollers until this visit…when the airport pretty much mauled our Jeep Stroller! The grips are missing from the handlebars and the front wheels are so loose that they squeak now. So, unless you’re ready to shell out cash for stroller repair, renting one might be a good idea!

For transportation around the parks, your kids don’t even have to get out of the strollers to get on the monorail, but if you are riding the bus or boats, you have to fold up the stroller and put the kids in seats, which is a TOTAL hassle. Monorail is definitely your best mode of transport with the stroller!

2. Keep The Same Nap Routine

This saved our vacation, y’all! Every day at noon, I made sure both girls were strapped in the strollers, no Fast Passes or experiences were booked, and we walked in circles around the park until they fell asleep. While they were sleeping, Tom would take Lennox on the rides that the girls couldn’t do (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Tomorrowland Speedway, etc) while I found an air conditioned spot to park the stroller while wearing Leif in his carrier. In Magic Kingdom, the Tomorrowland Terrace is an amazing, air conditioned spot to park the strollers for naps! In Epcot, we parked it on a terrace in Italy and enjoyed a wine tasting while they all slept in the stroller next to us–it was basically like an amazing two hour date at Disney World. Your child is going to be so tired by the middle of the day, I promise that it will be SO easy to get them to close their eyes; if I could take a nap at Disney, I totally would, too.

3. Don’t Over-Schedule

This is something we started back in our 2016 trip–don’t plan on doing long days at the parks with young children…unless you love tantrums. Our kids always wake up at six, so we would head to the parks as soon as it opened and make it a point to leave by three every day. If your kids are late-risers, then adjust your schedule to that. Even by leaving at three every day, we still had seven solid hours in the park, and no one felt exhausted. When we got back to the resort at three, we would head to the pool and lounge around the hotel until dinner–the trick was being close to our hotel room in the event of a meltdown!

Make it a point to leave the park while the kids are happy–if you wait until they’re already throwing a tantrum…you’re going to have a LOOOOONNNNGGG commute back to the resort, just saying. Three o’clock is this weird magical hour where every kid in the park turns into a pumpkin and starts screaming and throwing tantrums…so be warned. There are TONS of activities during the evenings at your resort: campfires, movies, pool games, luaus, everything. Stick to those during the afternoons–totally worth it!

Also, if you are one of those people that makes three dining reservations a day, you are going to be STUFFED (I’ll go more into this later)! I live by the rule of one dining reservation a day, and play the rest by ear. There are SO many amazing quick service restaurants (Casey’s Corner in MK is my favorite with great plant-based options!) and room service–there’s even Disney pizza deliveries!

4. Expect Tantrums

Toddlers are crazy, y’all, and we have never had a vacation that was 100% perfect without meltdowns. You can have the cutest, most well-behaved kid in the world, but if you overwhelm them with the craziness of Disney World and throw off their schedule with a vacation, they are going to throw at least one riot. Luna threw a HUGE tantrum at Animal Kingdom on the second day of our trip–I mean, RAGING TANTRUM where people stared at my tiny daughter clawing my face while she screamed to the top of her little lungs. Tom and I fully expected to have one “not so perfect” day on a seven day trip; so we recognized that she wasn’t happy at Animal Kingdom, regrouped, and headed back to the resort early that day to play in the pools. The bigger your family is, the bigger the chances that someone is going to be tired, sick, hungry, grumpy, etc at any given point in the day, and you need to work around it. You will see SOOOO many parents screaming, grabbing, and pinching their kids at Disney parks, and it’s heartbreaking. I know it’s a lot of money, and it took a lot of planning–but at the end of the day, you are there because you want your kid to be happy…so let their feelings lead your trip. If they aren’t happy, have a Plan B.

5. Resort Pools Make Everyone Happy

Speaking of Plan B: your kid would SO much rather be in the pool at the resort than being forced to walk around in giant crowds at the parks in the sweltering heat. I promise you. Every resort we’ve stayed in has had amazing water slides, splash pads, shallow pools, etc; so plan to spend part of your trip there. My favorite was Animal Kingdom Lodge because of the real flamingos that are by the pool! I see so many Disney first-timers try to do too much in the parks that they forget the resorts have a ton of activities to enjoy. Also worth mentioning: every pool also has their own life jackets, so no need to pack yours!

6. Minnie Vans are Amazing

Remember that tantrum that Luna threw? It all started because we had to ride the bus to Animal Kingdom. The buses are way too crowded in peak times, even at the Deluxe resorts, and we were being smushed into one tiny bus seat with four other total strangers. It was awful. For an extra fee, we chose to avoid the buses completely after that and utilize the Minnie Van service. It’s basically just a polka-dot Uber that has certified drivers and complimentary car seats that can be forward or rear-faced. Our driver was so sweet and even played a Netflix movie on his iPad for the kids and helped fold up the stroller and strap them in. It was amazing to not have to wait for a bus or share our ride with strangers!

The moderate and economy resorts apparently have an even worse bus system than the deluxe resorts do…so definitely consider this when you’re making reservations!

7. If Club Level is in Your Budget, DO IT!

If you’re already staying at a Deluxe Resort, go ahead and pay the extra fee for a Club Level room. I had never even noticed it before this trip, and once I found out what all it offered, I knew it would be cost-effective for us. With Club Level rooms, you’re given access to a private lounge where free drinks, snacks, desserts, etc are served throughout the day. The free breakfast every morning was amazing, especially considering breakfast at the park is usually $30 a person. At night, Hawaiian themed appetizers, as well as beer, wine, champagne, and mixed drinks were also complimentary. They have a little sitting area where they play Disney shows and serve the kids, too (the picture above!).

The Club at the Polynesian also gave us an AMAZING indoor view of the fireworks and Electric Boat Parade every night, while they served awesome free desserts and champagne. For the kids, there were free juice boxes, uncrustables, fresh fruit, nuts, chips, cheese, crackers, vegetables, etc to snack on, which totally saved us a ton of money in the long run because, well, kids LOVE snacks. If you ask the servers in Club Level for extra snacks to take to the parks with you that day, they’ll load you up with them, too!

There’s also a DVD player in Club Level rooms, so we would put the kids to sleep every night watching Disney DVDs that you can rent for free at the concierge desk. That was Lennox’s favorite part of the trip: going up to the concierge to flip through their books of movies every night!

8. There are SO many great Photo Opportunities…But Don’t Force Them

I love taking pictures of my kids, don’t get me wrong…but when you’re on family vacation and you’re trying to avoid tantrums, try to steer clear of posed pictures. I stuck to mostly candids or one-on-ones on the trip, and we avoided the lines for Memory Maker like the plague. On the last day of our trip, we arrived at the castle at 8 AM for Extra Magic Hours and it was drizzling rain outside; so we were the only ones there, and the kids were in great moods. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the moment– so we snapped about five pictures, and before I even looked at my phone to see if they were good, we kept it moving.

Keep in mind, there are HUGE crowds at Disney (especially right now!), so if you want good castle pictures, you have to think fast and seize the moment when you get it. Some of the biggest tantrums I saw at the park were right on Main St and in front of the castle because parents were forcing their kids to stand there for ten minutes at a time while a professional Disney photographer was yelling at them to smile. Nope. Just avoid it–I promise that the picture isn’t worth the tantrum. Stick to candids of your child actually being happy–those are the moments from your vacation you’ll want to remember.

9. There’s No Magical Age to Go

I totally understand where people are coming from when they say “Oh, well I’m going to wait until my kid can remember this…” as a reason to not take toddlers to Disney. It’s a pretty expensive vacation, and there’s a lot of rides and experiences that are geared toward older guests. But I have to be honest–toddlers, as crazy as they are, happen to also be pretty magical Disney visitors. They still believe in the costumed characters, they still think the place is magical, and the looks on their faces when they are on the rides make you want to take them every day forever. There’s no magical age–it’s just going to be a different experience depending on the age of your kid.

But here’s the thing–make sure your child enjoys costumed characters, big crowds, and rides before you start throwing out the cash for your trip. There were SO many toddlers screaming their heads off because they were terrified and overwhelmed, and I can’t tell you how many kids I saw that were actually playing games on their parent’s phones on the rides, just because they weren’t into Disney World AT ALL. Do a trial run at a Chuck E Cheese or small local theme park and see how your kid responds to the characters and chaos.

10. The Fireworks are Way Too Late for Little Kids

I love the Fireworks displays at Disney, but unless you want a meltdown, you gotta avoid them if you have young kids. Magic Kingdom fireworks can be viewed from the beach at the Polynesian (they even have the soundtrack playing!); so I would sneak out there with Lennox (sometimes Lela too) and leave Tom to watch the littles while they slept, instead of dragging everyone to the castle at 9 PM, like we used to do. It is just way too late to have young kids in the parks; plus, the fireworks at Hollywood Studios, as glorious as they are, are actually pretty terrifying because they center around the Disney Villains. If your kids have an 8 o’clock bedtime at home, keep your 8 o’clock bedtime on vacation–trust me, it’s worth it.

11. You Can Wear Your Baby on a Lot of Rides

For the last three years, we have gone to Disney with a newborn, so I’ve gotten pretty savvy at identifying which rides you can babywear on and which ones are great for breastfeeding. Here are my favorites at Magic Kingdom and Epcot:

Magic Kingdom: It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Prince Charming Carousel, Mad Hatter Tea Party, Under the Sea, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, WDW Railroad, People Mover, Carousel of Progress, Magic Carpets, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Liberty Square Riverboat.

Epcot: Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo, Frozen Ever After (WATCH OUT, there are some pretty steep drops on this one that they don’t warn you about!), Gran Fiesta Tour

12. Baby Care Centers Are Great

In each park, there are amazing Baby Care Centers that have changing tables, nursing rooms, and baby items for sale. The nursing rooms are all private (except Epcot–it is a group room, but I actually enjoyed being able to talk to other moms, instead of feeling quarantined!). The baby items that they have for sale are surprisingly not marked-up in price, which I thought was great of Disney. Bottles are two dollars, and packs of pacifiers are three dollars. They also sell rain covers for your stroller, in case you forgot one (remember, it rains a lot in Florida, totally sporadically).

I loved being able to nurse in the baby centers, but because there is only one center per park, if you are on the other side of the park and your baby gets hungry…good luck making it to the care center in time. There are a ton of dimly lit rides and corners to tuck away in to have some quiet feeding time, though. At Magic Kingdom, I love using the Carousel of Progress as a 20 minute nursing break; it is weirdly my favorite ride now. Lol

13. Skip the Dining Plan

We have never done the dining plan because, personally, I think it’s a lot of food that you would have to eat to make it worth the price. Walking around in the hot sun all day does not really scream “let me go eat three giant meals and a snack real fast!”, and when we do Disney, we only make ONE dining reservation a day and use quick service for the rest of our meals. I promise that if you are traveling with tiny kids, they don’t want to be cooped up in restaurants all day just because you want to get the most of your dining plan. Stick to one reservation a day, and play the rest of the meals by ear. There are SO many great snacks in the parks that you might even find yourself snacking most of the day and not want a giant buffet dinner.

My absolute favorite dining experience with kids was Garden Grill at Epcot. It was a character lunch with Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale, and the meal was all-you-can eat family style. We let our server know that we were vegetarian, and they brought us the most amazing meal I’ve ever had at Disney: vegetable “meat” loaf, rice pilaf, butternut stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and on and on and on. ENDLESS FOOD. The characters also took PLENTY of time to sit and actually interact with our kids, instead of just posing for a picture and leaving. Cannot recommend it enough.

My least favorite dining experiences have been at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and Be Our Guest. Both of them were incredibly overpriced for not-so-amazing food and not-so-great service. The character meet and greets at both places seemed really cold, as well. And again, kids don’t want fancy meals in the middle of the day–they want french fries.


10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Potty Training

When I think back to being a brand new mom, so many memories pop up into my head: holding my first baby for the first time, celebrating his first birthday, watching him take his first steps, and those super fun months where I did nothing but sit on our bathroom floor bribing, sobbing, and literally begging Lennox to use the dang potty. That kid was relentless, and I thought something was wrong with ME because of it. Every mom on the Internet had fed me a lot of false hope about potty training, and it made the process such a miserable experience for both me and my child. So, now, after teaching three of my babies how to not pee their pants, I’m here to tell you the ten things that I wish I would’ve known back when I started potty training my first:

1. There is no magical way to potty train your kid!

Soooo many articles on Pinterest and blogs promote these “easy” methods where your child will magically know everything about potty training in three glorious days. As a new mom, it made me think it was going to be a one-step process where I showed my kid a toilet and they would just automatically know how to wipe themselves and everything. But, you guys, potty training is a journey—a long, drawn out journey that happens in many different phases. It starts with them recognizing the urge to go potty, and it ends several years later when they’re able to wipe themselves, sleep through the night without bedwetting, and never have accidents. Without naming names, one of my children pooped their pants in the grocery store with zero warning at five-years-old. FIVE!

2. You will wipe their butts for YEARS, and it isn’t easy!

If you thought changing a baby’s diaper was hard, try chasing a dirty toddler through your house with a wipe while they yell at you that they can do it themselves. Cleaning a toddler is not for the faint of heart; so, when we potty-trained the girls, we immediately stocked-up on Kandoo Flushable Wipes. They recently upgraded their wipes tub with an improved locking technology, so now the girls can only get ONE wipe out at a time, instead of pulling the entire pack out. Kandoo Flushable Wipes are also free from parabens, chlorine, phthalates, and drying alcohols, which makes me SO much more comfortable using them with the kids.

3. Accidents happen!

Kids are really sensitive, and unfortunately, when stressful things happen in your life, potty regression is a very, very real thing. Lela was 100% accident free before Leif was born, but after I spent four days in the hospital for his birth, she was peeing her pants non stop when I got home. We waited until our routine was fully back to normal before we tried to talk about it with her—my inlaws had left town, the visitors had slowed down, Tom had gone back to work, etc. And now that Leif is a month old, I’m super happy to say she’s back on track. But be prepared to revisit potty training if you have any major life events coming up for your toddler.

4. Your baby has to be ready!

Lennox was three, Lela was two, and Luna Darling was only one when we started potty training. You have to watch for their cues and take it from there. To be honest, I was NOT ready for Luna to start down the potty training path, but she kept taking off her diaper and running to the bathroom because she would see Lela doing the same. There were definitely a LOT of accidents over the course of many weeks, but the first step was her acknowledging the purpose of the potty. As soon as she was able to recognize that, I switched her from diapers to training underwear, and she quickly caught on. There’s no magical age to start the process, though: you can show them 100 books about potty training on their first birthday, but you still have to wait until they are showing interest!

5. Car rides and public outings just got super dangerous!

Remember when you could pack some diapers and wipes in your bag and just go wherever? Yeah, now you have to plan road trips and outings around your child’s bathroom schedule. We bring a foldable potty seat and our Kandoo Flushable Wipes with us everywhere we go, and it has worked wonders for taking the girls to public bathrooms. On road trips, we also make sure to plan our stops in advance around when the kids need to use a restroom, and hey, accidents happen: good thing car seats are totally washable!

6. Some kids can’t stand those tiny, training potties!

Before you waste your money buying a standalone tiny toilet that sings princess songs every time your kid pees, think again. Lela completely refused to use the little potty that I bought for her, and as a result, I ended up wasting a lot of money on potty training supplies. Take your child to the store with you and buy whatever potty training supplies that they personally show interest in. Verbalize the entire process to them: “Do you want your own special toilet or do you want to use the big-girl seat?” By only using a tiny seat that fits over our toilet, Lela was able to understand flushing from an early age, so that was definitely beneficial.

7. Bribe away, baby!

If you think you’re a bad mom because you had to offer your kid M&Ms to use the potty, you are not alone. I pretty much offered Lennox anything that I could think of: candy, stickers, a Ferrari, ten puppies, ANYTHING! Don’t look at it as bribery: it’s positive reinforcement for reaching an amazing milestone. Think about what motivates your child and offer that to them; they deserve it.

8. Your kid will be naked a lot!

As soon as your child figures out how to take off their diaper or pull-up, be prepared to feel like you’re running a nudist colony. I can’t tell you how many times people have knocked on our door, and I had to yell for them to give me five minutes to clothe my toddlers. Don’t plan on having guests over unless you are SUPER comfortable with them watching you wipe your toddler’s butt.

9. Bye, bye rompers!

While we’re on the topic of clothes: don’t even think about buying your toddler any more rompers, onesies, or footed pajamas. We keep the girls in dresses every day because it’s easier for them to take off when they have to use the restroom. Button up pants can also be super frustrating for kids, so stick to pants that can easily be pulled up and down.

10. Every child is different!

After potty training three of my babies, I’m just gonna go ahead and warn you that once you have a successful system in place for one kid, it might not work for the others. Don’t beat yourself up if something isn’t working, just switch gears. You know your child the best, and if bribes aren’t something that motivates them, try a chart or a YouTube show that they like. You’re doing an amazing job at parenting your baby, and trust me, no matter how “easy” other moms claim for potty training to be, we’ve all struggled. You’ve got this!

 

 

This post was written in paid collaboration with Kandoo Flushable Wipes, but the content and opinions are 100% my own.


Control the Controllables

Lela was six weeks old when Tom left town for the first time after her birth. In a twist of cruel fate, I had to go back to work from maternity leave on that exact same day, and it was also my first time dropping tiny Lela off at a brand new daycare that morning. It was a trifecta of holy-freaking-craziness, I cried all day, and I went home that night feeling massively overwhelmed and wondering if life was ever going to get better. When I look back to the few crazy months that happened after that, I can definitely say it was the hardest part of motherhood that I have ever experienced. So, whenever moms ask me now what my secret to parenting is and how I’m so happy, I totally get where they’re coming from–there was a time when I felt SO far in over my head, too. And you know what, that’s totally okay to feel that way; we have ALL been there.

Parenting is tough no matter how many kids you have. Raising one kid is tough. Raising two kids is tough. Raising a dozen is probably tough, too. There are going to be so many days where you go to bed feeling completely overwhelmed and like the worst parent in the world, but the secret to not letting that feeling overtake your life is simple–control the controllables. You are feeling overwhelmed for a reason, and you need to work toward finding out the exact reasons why and tackling those issues one by one. I struggled for so long with not facing my problems head-on, and I would let them all build and build until I would have the occasional hysterical crying breakdown (just like on the day I had to take Lela to daycare for the first time). So, over time, for the sake of my own sanity and happiness, I developed a routine on how I handle the overwhelming issues that come up in parenting, and now, while raising my four babies, I have never felt happier or less stressed.

Every Saturday night, Tom and I pour a glass of wine, get out a journal, and write down every single thing that made life hard for us the week before. You can totally do it by yourself, but I find that including Tom really helps him to understand what is going on around our house and feel more involved. This week, a few examples from the list included: the girls’ sippy cups leak nonstop all over the floors, the downstairs toilet doesn’t flush well, and Luna won’t stop throwing our cat’s food everywhere all of the time. You literally just think of everything that made you frustrated or gave you an extra workload that week. Try not to turn your list into a nagging session, though. Sometimes I really want to include things like “You never throw away receipts or hotel shampoos, and I think you should be featured on Hoarders”…but the purpose of the list is to fix things together. Remember: control the controllables. If it’s completely out of your control, don’t even include it and stop letting it bring you down.

So, once we have the list of our most frustrating things, we brainstorm ideas to find solutions together. This week, based on the issues on the list, we decided to switch brands of sippy cups to ones that don’t leak, allocated time to fix the toilet, and we bought the cat a feeder that Luna can’t get her tiny hands into. EVERYTHING IS FIXABLE–YOU JUST HAVE TO TAKE IT STEP BY STEP.

We’ve been doing this since Luna was born, and I can honestly say I don’t stress about a single thing when I fall asleep at night now. I’m also much happier during the day, and I’m able to enjoy time with the kids, instead of letting every little thing get under my skin. Rome wasn’t built in a day, though; so try keeping your lists short at first. Our first list literally had two things on it: the floors never get clean enough from mopping them, and Lela always pees through her overnight diaper. We went out that night and bought a new brand of diapers and an electric mop (CANNOT RECOMMEND IT ENOUGH!!!), and my life was changed because I finally felt in control. For me, the list is a weekly reminder that every thing is fixable, and it empowers me to handle my stress.

So, if you’re feeling occasionally overwhelmed and like your parenting routine isn’t working, write it all out and work toward a solution. Something as simple as waking up an hour earlier everyday or scheduling more one-on-one time with each kid can really change your whole mood, you just have to figure out, in small weekly lists, what is weighing you down at that time and the baby steps to fix it. Parenting is tough for all if us, but you’ve got this, Mama!

FULL DISCLOSURE: Anxiety, exhaustion, and stress are common in parenting, but if you feel like you are having excessive amounts of them, it’s totally okay to ask for help. I ended up seeing a therapist for postpartum depression for several months after one of our babies was born. It took me a long time to admit that something was wrong, and if you feel like you could be experiencing anything remotely similar to the symptoms of PPD, I can’t encourage you enough to talk to someone. It doesn’t make you less of a mom, it could happen to anyone, and even though that was my only postpartum where I experienced it, it’s more common than you might think. ❤