Monday, May 15, 2017

Summer Camp Kid's Essentials: Featuring a KEEN footwear Giveaway!

We LOVE Keens Kid's Footwear and jumped at the chance to share them with you! This is a sponsored post.

Growing up there were two distinct groups of kids in my neighborhood: those who stuck around all summer long, rolling through tick-infested fields, playing in the creek behind our house from sun up to sun down, occasionally driving our parents crazy with "what do we do now's" and those two or three kids who were an enigma, the ones we didn't see all summer long because for six to eight weeks their parents sent them off to summer camp. Sometimes one of us would get a letter from them regaling stories of campfires and kayak races but mostly we were reassured that they hadn't drowned or been eaten by a bear through the stories we'd hear from our mothers.

I always liked the idea of summer camp, mostly glorified by the books I'd read and the movies I'd seen on TV, all from the comfort of my plush, air-conditioned bedroom. How could one not want to pack up their belongings and spend hours on a stifling hot school bus, driving out to the middle of nowhere where endless activities, built-in best friends and even the occasional summer romance awaited them? While I was constantly intrigued by the notion, I wore (thick) glasses and suffered from (terrible) allergies. Sleeping in a cabin in the middle of the woods, not being able to breathe and learning to co-exist with insects as large as my inhaler never really struck my fancy so I satiated whatever romantic desire I had for sleep away camp by attending a handful of local day camps here and there. I was also a horrible swimmer, not learning to swim until I was 9, so naturally that had nothing to do with my unwillingness to go anywhere that involved copious amounts of "water fun."  

As a child, summer break meant freedom. Freedom from structured routines, competitive sports schedules and countless unstructured hours in the day. Time to unwind, to relax and above all else, to get outside and play. As a parent of 3 kids under the age of 7, however, summer looks much different to me. As the last day of school approaches, all I see ahead of me are days filled with a collective chorus of "what do we do noooooooow," and "I'm so boooooooored," and "why can we just watch TVVVVVVVVV?" 

In other words, all of these unstructured hours in the day have me wondering how I'll ever keep my kids engaged, stimulated and happy (more than they are bored, sad and beating the stuffing out of each other) for 12 long, hot weeks. 

The answer to that will be a handful of strategically placed summer day camps that will hopefully give all of us a reprieve from driving each other absolutely insane. Mostly it will give my kids the necessary break they will need from me, the over-engaged, over-stimulating parent who will only allow them technology on the evenings and weekends when they haven't already lost it for poor behavior and poking each other in the eyeballs and in the mean time will force them to use their imaginations to entertain themselves, hopefully outdoors, between the hours of breakfast and dinner, only breaking for lunch and the occasional sunscreen reapplication. 

As we prepare for a multitude of day camps this summer, I thought it helpful to share some of our favorite summer essentials for those days when our  little ones will be out adventuring, taking on the world and hopefully making a mess of someone else's space other than our own. (Can I get an "AMEN?")

1. Let's start with camp-appropriate appropriate footwear. Depending on the nature of the camp, kids may require a sturdy, comfortable shoe that can take them from the woods to the watering hole and all of the places in-between. For us, KEEN kid's footwear is our go-to summer adventure shoe. Easy to clean, breathable and with a closed-toe, these shoes let kids participate worry-free in adventures and activities. 

With two kids heading off to a Little Explorers Science and Nature Exploration Program this summer, we recently picked up the KEEN Rio sandal, known for its flexible fit and easy-to-clean material. The bungee-closure system not only keeps these sandals snug on their feet but it also makes it incredibly easy for them to slip on and off all by themselves. While they're off traipsing through riverbeds and gravel trails, I know their little feet will be well-protected for whatever adventure comes their way. 

Visit our friends The Chirping Moms for 10 fun reasons KEEN Kids are great for summer time! KEEN Kids styles are also great for travel. 

Check out Wanderlust CrewGlobal Munchkins and Sarah Tucker for why they choose the shoes for travel. 

KEEN Kids are awesome for summer camp. See why Hello Happiness & The Vanilla Tulip will be using them this summer. 

They're also perfect for toddlers, check out how The Girl in the Red Shoes and Toddler Approved are keeping toddlers busy and active in the KEEN Kids shoes. 

 The KEEN Moxie styles are fashionable and functional, check out how Seven Graces Blog is styling them this summer!

2. If you're little one will be spending any time outdoors, it's always important to invest in a piece or two of quality SPF clothing. In addition to slathering them up with the necessary sunscreen and bug spray, I always make sure to have two or three of these lightweight, comfortable, cool UPF 50+ shirts from Shedo Lane on hand. Available in short-sleeve and long-sleeve styles, they offer superior protection from the sun while at the park, camp, or the beach. 

3. Keeping your kids cool from the inside out, especially with proper hydration is key when they're off exploring the world around them. These stainless steel water bottles from Klean Kanteen hold 27oz of liquid and offer a really great soft, silicone spout for max comfort hydration. 

4. COOLA Mineral Sunscreen and the all-natural Bug Band round out our Kid's Must Have's for Camp list. COOLA is one of the safest, most-effective top-rated sunscreens on and while its consistency is pretty thick, it does wear well and without that white residue that so many other mineral sunscreens can leave behind. I always recommend this sunscreen because it's one of the few that doesn't irritate my kids' eyes when they're in and out of the water frequently!

We're happy to team up with a great group of bloggers to share KEEN styles for kids AND an awesome giveaway. FOUR lucky families will win KEEN shoes for their whole family, up to 4 pairs (Combination KEEN + KEEN Kids styles). 

Please enter using the Rafflecopter below. 

Don't forget to visit all of the participating blogs too! The Chirping Moms // Wanderlust Crew // Global Munchkins // Sarah Tucker // I Love You More Than Carrots // Hello Happiness // The Vanilla Tulip // Girl in the Red Shoes // Toddler Approved // Seven Graces  Giveaway: Enter using the form below!   

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Friday, May 5, 2017

"Better Liquor, Better Living Rooms"

I used to be envious of early-twenty-something me. 

It may have been a time of transition and uncertainty, as I sat perched on the precipice of true adulthood, but good lord things were so much tighter back then than they are now. Things stayed where they belonged, hangovers could last for days without consequence and my bedtime beauty regimen didn’t take thirty minutes each night and involve things that required batteries and could easily be mistaken for sex toys.

Early-twenty-something me didn’t care what others thought not because I was confident with who I was but because I truly went about my way in the world with an “I don’t give any f*cks” attitude. Friendships weren’t deep but they were aplenty and when we got together, it wasn’t for a Wednesday morning spin class but rather a Friday night bar crawl where we didn’t care how much we drank, who we drank it with or who paid for it.

I envied this carefree, sometimes careless free-spirit who could be selfish with her time, her money and, well, her beauty (as if it would always be “this easy.”) If you had asked me back then what my thirties would hold, I’m fairly confident I would’ve said something like “Oh, I’ll totally be married with beautiful, impeccably behaved children living in a beautiful home carefully curated by my interior designer. I’ll still wear bikinis on the beach because I’ll have a bangin’ body, nothing will have changed and everything will be expensive and extravagant.”

Oh to be so naive again.

Here I am, a little more than twelve years later sitting in a hair salon working very hard to keep a handle on my prison roots. I have three beautiful children and we live in a beautiful home (Ding! Ding! Ding!) but come over on a Tuesday morning and you’ll find that home littered with signs that there are children everywhere. My interior designer (ha, ha, ha) is named Pinterest and she shops mainly at TJMaxx, HomeGoods and Target on a major B-word (budget) because when you have kids as little as mine, you can't really  have nice things until they go off to college.

The vacuum is stranded in the middle of the first floor, its cord spanning three different rooms. Socks are strewn about as far as the eye can see and if you look hard enough, there’s dust balls in every. single. corner. The sink is full of dishes that I’d like to say were from the extravagant breakfast I cooked that morning but the truth is, they’ve been there since last night. My dog finally got a bath and haircut this week after several months of smelling like a NYC subway. 

I love my children as much as the next mom but I also enjoy when I send them off to school in the morning and pull away from the curb in car line two kids lighter. I always, always crawl into bed with each one of them after they’re asleep each night and breathe them in. I also post creepy sleeping pictures of them to Instagram because that shows everyone on the Internet just how much we really love them.

Do I still pine for the days when I was a carefree, sometimes careless early-twenty-something? Maybe. Maybe I’d go back for just a day- and spend most of that day naked because had I known what kids and aging and gravity do to your body in your thirties, I would’ve spent way more of my twenties naked. Just totally buck naked. I might’ve taken pictures, too, for posterity’s sake (or to give to my plastic surgeon down the road).

But the whole truth is that I don’t really miss my early-twenties at all.

I’m living the life I spent most of my twenties dreaming about and while it doesn’t look as neat and white and shiny as it did in my head, it’s even better than I could’ve imagined. I still give little to no f*ucks but not because I feel like I’m invincible but rather because I genuinely love myself as I am. Even if it means I splurge on beauty paste to brighten my under-eye bags and meet my girlfriends at spin class every Wednesday morning to sweat off the poor parenting decisions I made the day before.

Speaking of friends, I have some of the greatest women in my life surrounding me and they all came to me in my thirties. I thought I would never find my “tribe” or whatever the trendy word du jour is for those women who offer to take your kids when they see that look on your face, who love on your kids like they do their own, who commiserate with you and celebrate with you the trials and tribulations that motherhood is all about. The kinds of women that you see in movies and read about in books and blogs and witness in those tiny Instagram squares but I found them and they found me when I wasn’t looking. Together we love deeper, laugh harder and everything we do is because we firmly believe it will better ourselves, our family and those around us.

One of those girlfriends recently got me hooked on a TV series starring Hilary Duff called “Younger.” It’s the perfect blend of thoughtless comedy that goes great with logging treadmill miles or putting up your thirty-seventh load of laundry. There’s a scene where one of the main characters returns from a suburban stay-at-home mom’s book club where she was forced to go in a hasty attempt to rustle up some excitement surrounding an unpublished novel. Her twenty-something cohort asks her how it went, assuming it must’ve been so lame to hang out with a bunch of pinot-grigio-guzzling sex-starved housewives but much to her surprise, her friend retorts, “it was really great. Better liquor, better living rooms.”

In that moment, it hit me. Actually, it hit me at the same time a rogue NERF dart whizzed by my temple. That’s precisely what my thirties are all about-  better liquor and better living rooms. 

In stark contrast to my twenties, a decade (mostly) fueled by shitty wine, rail drinks and dive bars, my thirties have introduced me to wines that taste like feelings other than “I’m just-out-of-college-broke” and “my-boyfriend-dumped-me-to-find-himself.” When we have midday play dates we drink the thirty dollar bottle of champagne on a Tuesday because we can and because we want to, some of us still reaching for the cheap stuff not because we have to but because we don’t give a shit and we enjoy it. 

And we do so in a living room that looks less like a serial killer’s grandmother’s basement and more like the pages of the design magazines we flip through in car line. That’s, perhaps, the moral of my thirties. We don’t give a shit and we enjoy it.

My thirties have truly been a gift to me and even though my metabolism sucks and my girlfriends and I group text about things like “the best Spanx to make you look twenty again” and “why do my kids hate me” I wouldn’t trade these last several years of awkward adult self-discovery and self-awakening for any of the nonsense that I thought was important in my twenties.

What’s even better? I hear forty is the new twenty… 

Here’s to the future, my fellow mid-thirty-ians. We’ve still got it and so. much. more. than we know. 

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Dear Collins: Today You Are Three!

I've never been so acutely aware of the passing of time until I became a mother. It's more true than ever as our youngest "baby" turns three today and we gather to celebrate him for the party-est un-party I've ever thrown. I wasn't really planning on throwing him a party- I swear it. But then I thought to myself, "a play date would be a great excuse to get everyone together and drink mimosas," and before long I found myself in the party supply store buying balloons because when I had asked Collins what he wanted for his birthday, he quickly replied, "a party with my friends, big balloons and cake." 

Well then. Needless to say what the newly minted three-year-old third child wants, he gets.

Today we'll gather at our new home and we'll happily let twenty-something kids under the age of 9 run wild around the yard. With a tower of donuts laden with "prinkles" and frosting, we'll sing Happy Birthday to Collins and reminisce over this past year. In the midst of it all I'm sure I'll have several moments of "how did we get here?" and "where did my baby go?" but the truth is, I've never found as much joy in the chaos of watching my boys grow as I've had since welcoming Collins three years ago. 

Without further adieu, here's your birthday letter, Collins Mason! 

Dear Collins, 

Today you are three! I can't hardly believe it. You'd been walking around telling everyone that you're "forty-five" so I guess today is just another day to you but to me, your dad and your brothers, this day is one we've been talking about for weeks. As the third baby, you don't get a whole lot of dedicated "me" but today? Today is all about you. 

There's something extra special about third babies and even though I spend hours each day between drop-off's and pick-up's and errand-running and "gym school," telling you how much I love and how absolutely hilarious you are, it's true. There's just something so uniquely wonderful and comforting about you. When you were born you allowed me to let go of all the Perfect Mothering guilt that often comes along with having babies and you let me just e n j o y and take in everything about your infancy. With your oldest brother, that guilt was all-consuming. "Was I feeding him enough?" "Was I holding him enough?" "Was I just.... enough?" was all I could think about for weeks and months on end. 

When your second brother came along that guilt presented itself a little differently. It manifested itself in trying to convince me that I could never love another baby the way I could my first. In the days before he was born I lost sleep over the worry of how I'd be able to mother two boys under two, of how I'd be able to split my time equally between not only that first year but in the many years to follow. 

And then you were born and I worried about nothing. Fear wasn't a word in my vocabulary but rather there was just love. This instinctual love that comforted me and whispered, "mom, you are enough." You were and continue to be such a gift, Collins.

I couldn't wait to get you home and introduce you to your brothers. Actually, that's a tiny lie. The five days we spent together in the hospital were some of the best of my life because it was the only time in your little life when it was just the two of us, together. I knew as soon as I brought you home to face the beautiful chaos that is our family, I'd have to share you. That I'd have to share my time, my attention and my love and I wasn't ready to do that yet. I wanted to spoil you for as long as I could when it was still just us. I will forever remember those days as they were some of the best ones.

You were the greatest gift to our family, Collins and three years later you continue to be such a complete and utter joy. You have brought our family so much MORE of everything and if I had to think of a single word for your life it would be just that: MORE. 

Our days are full of so much more laughter and love because of you. We spend way more money on groceries since you came along (holy cow, can you eat!) and as you grew, a little more space didn't hurt either. But more than that, you arrived just in time to remind your brothers that they are not, in fact, the center of the universe. It's a great reminder that everyone needs now and again and you do the most perfect job of knocking them down from their high horses day in and day out. 

As the saying goes, "a cord of three strands is not easily broken" and the bond you have formed with your brothers is nothing short of incredible to witness. It's what your Daddy and I wished the most for you- that no matter where life takes you, that you'll always find comfort, encouragement and support in your brothers. The foundation the three of you seem to be solidifying is strong and there is truly no greater gift to witness as a parent. 

That said, you above anyone else know how to push each of your brothers' buttons and you cannot stand when they call you a baby and exclude you from playing certain games. You are utterly convinced that you are a big boy and will tell anyone who asks what your name is that it's "Big Boy." Just like that. I cannot tell you how many times we laugh and giggle in the aisles of libraries, grocery stores and shopping malls when someone asks you that question and you proudly answer and don't dare anyone try and correct you. "It's BIG BOY," you say with a huge exasperated sigh. 

I never want to forget how, each night when I'm laying in your bed rubbing your back that just before you turn away from me to sleep you say, "Goodnight Mama," and quickly whisper "Mom, you have to say 'Goodnight Big Boy." 

And I do. And I wonder how I ever got so damn lucky. (And how I managed to raise three less than stellar sleepers). 

You are such a ham, Collins and you know it. I see so much of Mackie in you- your mannerisms, your inflection, especially in your strong will and stubbornness. It appears as if you're both committed to giving me a run for my money and it makes me laugh and want to rip my hair out all in the same breath but I trust that this attitude will take you far in years to come. 

You do love me something fierce though, as evidenced by the fact that as I write this, you're sitting at my feet with Frozen on your Kindle and about 25 band-aids unwrapped and stuck to various surfaces of both your pajamas and my mudroom. You're the epitome of a velcro-toddler when we're home together and I only say all of this so that I don't soon forget how you once refused to allow me anywhere in the house without you. Even if I  have to run upstairs real quick for "just a minute" you insist on following me every step of the way. And trust me, it's a lot of steps and you're not very quick.  ;)

If I try hard enough when I stare at you, I can still see glimpses of my last little baby in those cheeks. In the way you refuse to go anywhere without me, in the way you refuse to be left behind, in the way you cannot fall asleep without the smallest part of you touching my skin.

As you grow out of the "baby stage" and into this full-blown Toddlerhood, I can see you struggling with the desire to be older than you are. To keep up with the big kids, to do everything they do including but not limited to play with the small LEGOS and go off to school. I'll never forget how hard you cried on the big boys' first day of school when we dropped them off in car line and you realized you didn't get to go with them. It broke my heart but at the same time, I wasn't close to ready to share you with the world. 

It was a hesitance I'll soon have to get over though, as you're signed up and ready as ever to start Pre-K 3 in the Fall. You'll be at school with your brothers and I know they'll take such good care of you there. It won't be for long and I'll surely miss the heck outta you but every day you ask if today's the day you get to walk through those doors with them and I can't help but laugh at how hard and fast you want to grow up. 

It's so tough being the littlest brother but sometimes it's also the best. We let you get away with far more than we ever let your brothers get away with at this age and maybe it's due in part to laziness but mostly it's because deep down, we all know you're ready to be a Big Boy. 

Collins, I cannot believe you are 3! You have the best laugh. Your favorite color is green. Yesterday you told me your favorite food is "breakfast" and that you're favorite thing to do each day is play. You love your brothers more than anything in the world, hopefully me and your Dad are a close second. You insist on doing everything yourself and get so sassy if I try one iota to help you out. You are strong-willed and stubborn, bossy and beautiful (as  beautiful as a boy can be) and smarter than any other 3 year old I know.

Raising you is a gift that I'm probably not the least bit worthy of but it's so, so fun. We are so blessed by you, Collins and we cannot wait to see what this next year has in store for you! 

Happy Birthday, Big Boy! We love you more than carrots! 

Mama, Daddy, Carterito, Mackie and Sheepie

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