Wednesday, May 31, 2017

And Then They Grow Up.

"Hey Mom," he quipped, as he slid, knobby knees and nothing but legs out of the back of the Suburban into our garage. His backpack was slung over one shoulder all cool and cavalier-like and one of his uniform-mandated crew socks was scrunched carelessly down around his ankle; a dichotomy of Big Kid Status and Little Boyhood all in the same almost-7-year-old-boy frame. If it wasn't for those piercing blue eyes and that button nose I traced with my own lips no less than three-thousand times during those middle of the night diaper changes and nursing sessions, I might not have recognized him looking all Big Kid-like. 

"You think we could go out this week, just you and me and maybe..."

Hang out? Grab some ice cream? Spend some of your allowance at Barnes & Noble?

My ears perked up at the thought of my oldest baby eager to spend some one-on-one time with me. 

"You know, buy a new LEGO set together?". 

"Of course we can. But make sure you work on that chore chart this week," I quickly replied, mentally checking off "teach your boys the value of hard work" from my ongoing to-do list of Raising Little Humans Not To Be Big Jerks. As if he had somehow known that I'd go anywhere with him even if he didn't make his bed at all that week, discard the unwanted contents of his lunchbox or empty the silverware tray of the dishwasher, he had raced off upstairs to his bedroom and was out of earshot before I even stepped foot into the mudroom. 

I stumbled over his backpack. "At least he remembered to put his shoes away," I thought to myself as I glanced over at his chore chart, dotted neatly with expertly stenciled X's. His chart hung perfectly upright on that wall, in direct contrast to his little brothers' charts alongside, haphazard in their placement, penmanship and ultimately, their diligence in chore-completing. 

"Has he always gone out of his way to help me?" I wondered aloud. After all, he's always been my kindest, most sensitive boy. The answer was simple. Yes.

When you're in the thick of raising little babies you think that you'll never love them more. That right then and there is the most you'll ever love them their entire lives, as if life with them couldn't get any better than when they used to fit so perfectly in the crook of your neck. When you could ball them up and lie them in that perfectly dimpled spot between your thighs and they would gaze up at you, smile at the sound of your voice and you were certain your heart would explode into one thousand tiny pieces right there. There's no way it could ever get better than that...

...But inevitably those little babies grow up despite how much or how hard you wished for them to stay little. And it always starts with their necks, am I right? It's as if they appear from out of no where and suddenly all of that baby fat melts away. Their bellies, those swollen, delicious bellies synonymous with toddlerhood begin to lean out and their limbs practically lengthen right before your eyes, sending them head first into that clumsy, awkward phase where they're constantly covered in black and blue bruises from trying to keep up with their equally exploding sense of Act Now, Think Later. 

And you start to love love them more. You love them harder and more differently than before because they're growing up right before your eyes and you now have front row seats to viewing the best and worst parts of yourself in this child that once grew from a seed inside of your own miraculously flawed body. 

Mind blown.

"He's pretty great, huh?" I mutter to myself as I begin the treacherous task of sifting through homework folders and 4th-quarter-response-required-yesterday parent sign-up forms. I know I'm biased, after all, I am his Mother, but in spite of that very important distuingishment and although I am admittedly winging parenthood, he's turning out to be a pretty darn incredible somebody.

Somebody that I actually want to spend time with, a real thinking and feeling human being who loves Minecraft and mathematics, who can tell real jokes with real punchlines, who actually understands the basics of a major league baseball game and whose company I truly enjoy... as opposed to that helpless little human being that I didn't really have much of a choice in the matter of hanging out with and/or keeping alive just several short years ago.

A monumental shift had occurred. 

A milestone in and of itself and one that I'd almost missed when this particularly trying season of motherhood, one that I might have thought would never end, shifted from being based solely on the constant giving of care to one that was a beautifully symbiotic relationship full of jokes that made my sides hurt, mundane moments spent chatting in the kitchen like two old biddies, he with his legs dangling over the edge of the counter, me with my head in my hands in astonishment at how wise beyond his years he is and most importantly, true care and concern and a vested interested in how our respective days were spent while he was at school and I, at home with his brothers.

Suddenly, I see glimpses of a friend in this little big boy who I swear, just moments ago, was learning to take his first steps.

Word on the street is that it's only going to get better from here on out, too. Of course there's going to be moments when he still pees on the toilet seat (and the floor and perhaps even the wall) and apparently there's even a few years scattered in and among this "Puberty Phase" when, allegedly, he might not want anything to do with me, but until then, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy this new found kinship these next 7 or so years and spending time with my buddy that can truly enjoy the amazing-ness that is a PG-rated movie peppered with mature jokes, an ice cream cone enjoyed from the bottom up without making a disastrous mess and staying up later than his brothers who, thank the good Lord, will also grow up one day too soon and hopefully become equally cool little humans. 

So you see? You blink and then they grow up.. and it isn't so bad after all. In fact, it's pretty freaking awesome.  

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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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