It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

(Picture just because.)

Developmental Holiday Gift Guide: Everything you need to succinctly know when buying TOYS and BOOKS for infants through five years old

It’s here! Because a lot of you asked for it, I put together a holiday gift guide by age with a combination of (mostly) developmentally appropriate toys and books from the teacher side of me (professional opinion) and the tried-and-true, our-family-favorites mom side of me (non professional opinion). These are by no means complete lists. I’m sure there are things I forgot or things I might add along the way, but with each age range I’ve attached a general description of things to look out for/things to consider depending on the child’s age. I’m always hoping to hear your ideas too…send them along and I’ll add them into the lists! If you actually click on each age range heading, you’ll be taken right to my Amazon lists. Amazon is great, but I’m also going to try to buy local this year, so we can try and help save some small businesses along the way!

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of limiting technology – usually one technology gift per child per year. (Also full disclosure, somehow they end up watching way more TV and movies than they should on a weekly basis so don’t let that statement make you think differently of me.) This year we’re replacing the boys’ old iPads and that’s considered a huge gift for us. But most of the time I gravitate towards simpler or more traditional toys. For infants and young toddlers, I like a lot of the wooden toys, handmade toys, or montessori themed toys. For older toddlers I start to merge what is tried and true and high quality with what is high interest – and yes, that sometimes means forgoing classic and stylish toys for tacky trends and well known brands.

We’ve also ended up with a lot of crap over the years, and our playroom is in desperate need of a clean out, purge, and re-org. I usually do this right before Christmas anyway, in order to make room for the new crap that’s about to roll in. This year I’m really thinking of moving to a rotational toy room just to make space and get rid of the clutter. You know, the kind where we store bins in the basement of different types of toys and each bin gets its monthly turn of playroom feature and you keep rotating so things don’t get old and stale (and so you have more space). But this is a topic and a post for another day so let’s get right to it…

Infant – 6 Months

Think vision, think tummy time, think dangly, think texture. For this age I really don’t/haven’t bought much. But what I DO buy are things that are high contrast: black and white, or bright, bold colors in symmetrical/geometrical patterns because for babies the vision stimulation is everything! Go with soft crib books and loveys/security blankets with lots of texture. The more texture the more comfort. Anything to promote tummy time. Activity gyms are an absolute MUST HAVE because not only are they a valuable tool for tummy time, but the soft toys that usually dangle from above are perfect for the many milestones babies will hit in the first several months of life: visual stimulation, baby push-ups, kicking and batting, and grabbing and tugging.

6 – 12 Months

Think teething, think fine and gross motor, think mobility, think strength. You need things that are both small enough for a baby at this age to manipulate, but big enough so that they aren’t a choking hazard. We love rubbery teething toys, and any type of “in and out” toy. By “in and out”, I mean toys that can be transferred in and out of buckets (i.e. shape sorters, stacking rings, blocks) because this provides not just entertainment for long periods of time, but fantastic fine and gross motor practice and coordination. If you go the mobility route, do your research. We’ve had plenty of walkers or push toys that are not built for balancing, and the minute a baby puts weight on it the whole thing topples over (including baby!). We’ve had luck with the two I specifically put on the list – baby can learn to take assisted steps without the parental fear of everything and everyone toppling over. If you go the book and puzzle route, think wood puzzles with chunky pieces, or books with bright colors and simple organization (like first word books or board books with short sentences – 3 or 4 words). At this age, they start taking in words and receptive language like crazy even though their expressive language won’t pop out for a while still. Activity centers are also a worthwhile investment because everything is usually attached (no missing pieces, no choking), with lots of fine motor practice and different activities to explore.

1 – 2 Years

Think fine and gross motor ON STEROIDS, think active and physical strengthening, think practice and patience, think the building blocks of imagination and creativity. If your one or two year olds are anything like mine, by this age they are testing out every physical skill they have and getting into everything. If there’s one word I’d use to describe them, it’s BUSY. That’s why this age is filled with toys and activities that promote open-ended exploration and lots of movement, with some more detailed, refined, and delicate fine motor skills. Old favorites like Mr. Potato Head are perfect for this age, as there are endless combinations paired with trickier fine motor. For larger movement toys, sit and push or ride-on/ride-along toys are great for promoting movement in a more controlled way. At this age kids also start to have an imagination, and begin to dapple in pretend play. This is the best age for an introduction to things like baby dolls or stuffed animals or larger pretend play toys like figurines or animals, or my most favorite gift of all time – the play kitchen and play food. Megablocks (oversized legos) come in here too, but I caution you to avoid sets that build a certain thing (your kid will never follow the directions to build a certain structure at this age) – instead opt for the general starter kits that give you all the various blocks but with no specific design. Towards the end of this age, I also start to think about sensory (more on that in the next age range) so play doh makes its first appearance here. Nothing fancy though – no need to get the big elaborate kits – just the dough with cookie cutters are plenty for this age. If you’re considering books at this age, think language development. Board books (still!) with simple story lines, seek-and-find, or rhyming patterns help kids at this age develop their language as well as a sense of story.

3 -5 Years

I really couldn’t decide if I wanted to do 3-4 years or 3-5 years for this category, as I feel the jump in development that happens in year 4-5 is massive, so what would be a good gift for a 3 year old may not be a good gift for a 5 year old. But I just wasn’t able to splice it out enough to have two separate categories.

Think pretend play and dramatic play, think energy, think creative and imagination, think longer, more extended projects and play time, think sensory, sensory, sensory, and think about massive amounts of skill and knowledge development in huge bursts and leaps and bounds. Lots of sensory options, and it really depends on how much mess you want to deal with. (Full disclosure: I recommend letting them get messy sometimes because if you avoid all things messy they are missing out on important sensory stimulation and opportunities.) I love the variety packs play doh has come out with that include their cloud, krackle, and slime. Train sets or toy car collections or animal collections or doll houses (Calico Critters is a good gender neutral option!) come in at this age, as kids are able to more successfully organize their play to be able to play with lots of things at once. This is when you start to see kids set up zoos and towns and cities and race tracks. You also start to see them assume the role/perspective of someone else – maybe they’re running around the house as Woody from toy story all the time, or they spend an hour playing Paw Patrol with their Paw Patrol figures. High energy activities like bikes (balance bikes are amazing for development of balance!), scooters, and (gasp!) bounce houses that are small enough to fit inside your basement but large enough to allow for lots of jumping and wrestling and bouncing. I also love incorporating crafts and art supplies at this age – things like crayons and markers and coloring books and sticker books and even blank artists’ pads are engaging but also help to develop more specific fine motor skills. We introduced the grand easel at 3ish (maybe it was even 2.5ish), and it was a little too soon. We spent a lot of the first few months having to hover and teach to make sure markers or chalk weren’t drawn on anything other than the easel. But once that lesson was learned it is the perfect activity center. For puzzles and books, you’re now moving into the more complex, traditional puzzles (still with larger pieces but a smaller number!) and books in a variety of genres like non fiction, traditional picture books (I still keep it hardcover at this age if I can!), and old favorites like fairy tales and books in a series (Berenstein Bears anyone?!).

Remember to check out the post about Snow Day Boxes, too!

A little while back I did a post on Snow Day Boxes – boxes that Santa brings my kids every year filled with no-tech/low tech special activities that the kids can do on snow days (or rainy days or quiet time or rest time, etc.). It’s worth a read, as it could become your newest yearly tradition! If you’re interested, click here to read that post too. Happy shopping!

From Diva Baby to Delicate and Dainty

One of my first few posts on my blog was aptly titled “Diva Baby or Quarantine Baby…That Is The Question”. That’s because Tessa has been a very different baby than the bruises were (they were more similar than not). She had infant habits that I’d call diva (and I now say diva because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just quarantine, but she is, in fact, a diva)…like not taking a bottle, not wanting to be put down, crying whenever mom hands her off to someone else. A lot of these habits have evolved and gotten much better as she’s gotten older. But I now notice how delicate and dainty she is compared to the boys, who were all over the place like a bull in a china shop.

And delicate and dainty sure is cute. She has the sweetest fine motor…she will sit for minutes and hours trying to pick up leaves or wisps of grass from the ground. You give her a piece of ribbon to hold on to at daycare and she’ll still be clutching it in her hand by the time you get home that night. She’ll play with all the food you give her, but gosh darnit she won’t bring any of it near her mouth on her own. The bruises run circles around her as she just sits there happily with no desire or intention to even try moving. Lots of noise or too much talking startles her…she prefers the peace and quiet (which she rarely gets thanks to the bruises).

Here’s where the mom-anxiety comes in. At what point is delicate and dainty a concern? I’m no stranger to the birth to three experience. The educator side of me saw some red flags that I was never able to let go of with Dominic, and at 9 months he qualified for birth to three, with moderate to significant developmental delays in 4 out of the 5 major categories: communication (expressive and receptive), cognitive, adaptive, and physical (fine and gross motor). The only area he was totally fine in was social. We worked our tails off for a year in OT, Speech, and Behavioral Intervention (our service providers were angels!), and the kid graduated advanced in all categories a year later. So he was either just a late bloomer from the start, or his early intervention worked miracles. I’ll never know the answer to that question.

So here we are with my bow and I can feel those little anxieties creeping up again. Mostly because it’s impossible not to compare your child to every other baby around you, especially the ones who are younger or the same exact age but are doing more advanced things. The boys were scarfing down soft table food and feeding themselves anything they could get their hands on at 9 months. Tessa takes her purees like a champ, but wants nothing to do with anything solid. We’ve also been in a few social situations lately where Tessa just sits on the ground while babies who are two months younger than her roll, crawl, and scoot circles around her. She hasn’t made it beyond push-up position.

Case in point: we’ve resorted to using mama’s cordless jump rope as a training tool for trying to encourage Tessa to crawl. She loves it, and I can see her little body working so hard!

I’m trying SO hard to sit on my anxieties this time around and not jump the gun. To wait it out because deep down I think I’m just realizing (and beginning to accept the fact) that all my babes are late bloomers and that’s ok. But man, you know how hard it is to sit on that worry? To feel it creeping into your mind and have to actively work to squash it. It’s hard! Especially when the pediatrician is peppering you with questions at the 9 month appointment like…is she feeding herself? (No.) Is she putting things in her mouth? (No.) Is she crawling? (No.) Is she trying to crawl (No.) Hey, she’s clapping and waving…that counts for something right? And to be totally clear, the pediatrician had zero concerns despite us answering no to a majority of her questions. Just said babies develop at different paces.

Yeah, yeah, I hear this all the time, and have heard it all the time since kid one. But it still makes it so hard not to compare! It must be a mom thing.

You know what the worst one is? I hate hate hate when people say…”She’s number three, she must know all the tricks by now.” Or, “usually after kid one they all develop faster.” Guess what? My kid one hit his developmental milestones earlier than my kid two, and so far, my kid three. I think the best advice (to myself AND to the people who keep saying junk like that) is to just stop. Let it go. Enjoy the moments, those milestones will come. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that she’s not tearing the house apart yet? I’ll never ever ever complain about her preference for all things mama either. I’m ok with my delicate and dainty, I don’t love her any less. ❤

Nardini Family “Vacation”

I’m calling it a vacation but full disclosure, it was just a weekend away.

If you have littles, or maybe you have bigs now but you definitely had littles at some point, I’m sure you’ve been through exactly what I’m about to write. Save yourself some time and keep scrolling?

I’m sheepishly embarrassed to admit that this past weekend was THE FIRST TIME my little nuclear family unit went away – just us. No grandparents or friends or extended family. Luca is 4…is that pathetic? Maybe don’t answer that?

I think part of the reason we haven’t yet is because it’s a lot of work. At least when you have family or friends to travel with or to travel and go see, you’re all in it together and there’s more hands on deck. Since Luca was born we’ve done plenty of trips, don’t get me wrong, just not “just us”. I’ve simply been the type to prefer to save money, avoid the hassle, and just be a homebody.

It was great. We picked a place to explore that we haven’t been before – Ogunquit, Maine. Fall weekend, gorgeous weather. Even got one day of an “Indian Summer”. Great food (mostly), amazing hotel vibe in a pristine location. Couldn’t have asked for anything more, seriously. I’ve got instagram-worthy pics to show for it:

But like, there’s sooo much more that goes on behind the scenes.

First, let’s talk about the drive up on day one. “I want to leave as soon as we all wake up. It’s supposed to be gorgeous weather tomorrow, I don’t want to waste the day driving” I said. Ok, well that would have meant that I actually packed and prepared our family the night before. Instead I woke up at the crack of dawn and ran around scrambling to get us out the door and in the car by 9:30am. Not bad, we’ll be there by 12:30pm. We casually hit our first traffic blip – stop and go on 495. “Oh, my coworker said this highway’s the worst” he said. Great, thanks for the advance notice. Not only did we hit stop and go traffic the rest of the way, but we had to stop for lunch, stop for potty, and then stop for potty again (because a bruise didn’t have to poop when we stopped 20 minutes before). Soo we got there at 2:30pm. At least it wasn’t a waste of an entire day? Salvaged it all by spending the afternoon at the beach and coming back to the hotel for the kids to swim in the pool while the adults got drinks from the pool bar. Perfect.

Next let’s talk about night one. Ordered to-go food from a well-recommended local Mexican place and had fish tacos on the lawn at the hotel (which happens to be a cliff overlooking the entire beach) listening to live music while the kids ran around. Perfect. We get the kids back to the room, and bedtime goes surprisingly very well – everyone goes to sleep like normal and hubs and I head out to the patio attached to our room to have a nightcap and listen to the live music that’s still playing. Perfect. So something’s gotta be not perfect, right? Right. I go to bed around 10pm but get promptly woken up around 11:30pm with raging stomach pains. And by raging I mean unbearable-oh-my-goodness-this-is-more-than-a-hangover. Spent the better part of the next 5 hours in the bathroom, and if I wasn’t actually puking or the other way, you know, then I was sitting there in fetal position unable to move. Fish tacos. Luckily, I lulled myself back to bed and finally fell asleep around 4:30am and was able to snooze until the kids wake up around 6:30am. Still wasn’t feeling great, but light years better than how I was feeling 2 hours earlier.

Now we’ll talk about day two. Thankfully, I was feeling well enough that I wasn’t stuck in bed or miserable trying to explore this fantastic new place. I mustered the energy, courage, and positive mindset to not let the exhaustion from sickness and no sleep ruin my day, and I am grateful. Because we had a day. Walked a mile down the cliff path to another quaint little downtown to get breakfast, hubs took the boys to the toy store while Tessa took a cat nap back at the room, then ventured out in search of sweatshirts for the fam. Then back to the quaint little downtown from breakfast in search of a lobster roll. Found it at a place called Oarweed. I knew it was a calculated risk gambling on seafood again, but it was one I was willing to take. One of the main reasons we wanted to come to Maine. The lobster roll was delish but I definitely paid for it. Judging by fish tacos the night before, and the lobster roll after, I’m guessing it wasn’t just bad luck but I may be onto a new seafood sensitivity? Favorite food. Great. Still rebounded like a champ. Came back to the hotel room and the WHOLE FAMILY took a nap. Luca hasn’t napped in two years. It was glorious! The rest of the day was mostly just bruises being bruises and the bow being a bow. The boys stripped out of their clothes (because, you know, who wears clothes these days anyways?) and paraded around the room naked eating snacks playing hide and seek for a while before we ordered pizza and ice cream for dinner. (All thoughts of dinner out were out the window since I didn’t trust my digestive system.) Remember the instagram-worthy pics from before? Well, these are the reality-worthy pics (and I wish I got more of these because these don’t do it justice):

Night two went off without any climactic hitches (sorry if you were waiting for one). It was too cold to sit out on the porch after the kids went to bed, so it came back to bite us that we were all sharing just one hotel room. Hubs and I basically laid in the dark on our phones so we wouldn’t wake the kids. I was exhausted, so it was fine. We won’t talk about my 9pm snack of cheddar chips and Spindrift seltzer sitting on the bathroom floor (after I cleaned and sanitized it) because it was the only “safe zone” where I could snack in peace without the fear of waking any sleeping child. Other than that, only real thing that happened is, for whatever reason, Tessa sneezed at 4:30am and woke herself up, didn’t go back to sleep, and thus woke everybody else up. I guess there are worse things in the world than an early wake up call. So we made the best of it, caught the sunrise real quick, and hopped in the car to beat the rain home. Home by 10am meant I still had the day to unpack, debrief, and get the house back in order before returning to work tomorrow.

Haha. I guess there really weren’t too many cliche taking-kids-on-a-vacation stories. Maybe those of you who kept scrolling missed out. It was mostly just some mom-moments because I couldn’t steer clear of the seafood and am a functional zombie when operating on no sleep. (But hey, at least I was a happy functional zombie this time around?) And some family-of-five-sharing-a-single-hotel-room stories in which the bruises prefered to be naked most of the time. (But hey, what 4 and 2 year old boys don’t get a kick out of being naked all the time?)

Would I do it again? For sure, 100 percent, without a doubt. The boys. The boys especially. They will be talking about going on vacation to a hotel for years. They will be talking about swimming at the hotel pool for years. They’ll be talking about sleeping in a hotel bed for years. They’ll be talking about picking out toys from the toy store…till we go to the next toy store. Worth it? Worth it!

This one goes out to the…

  • Single moms/dads/caretakers
  • SAHMs/SAHDs with partners who work 24/7
  • Moms or Dads whose partners travel for work all the time
  • Military moms/military dads
  • Anyone else who spends days and nights on their own caring for kids
  • Parents and families who live long distances from other immediate family members and support systems

I put this picture up on my Instagram stories last night as a half-joke because my husband’s been on a (one night, one point five day) golf trip this weekend. And I captioned it “Dad’s away for a golf weekend we’re fine I swear.”

In reality, he will have been gone for a total of about 28 hours. Kind of pathetic for me to complain. But whenever he goes away it feels like an eternity. So behind this half-joke picture is a mom whose anxiety is through-the-roof high.

…whose spending the entire time watching the clock and coaching the seconds to tick by just a little faster…

…whose setting the tiniest goals for her own sanity (just make it to nap time, just make it to bedtime)…

…whose engaging in the great mental debate of whether or not to spend the 45 minutes getting the kids ready to leave the house and get out for a bit vs. staying home to avoid all aspects of the real world so no one has to see my single-parenting…

…whose sleeping with all lights inside and outside the house on and the TV on, and actually not really sleeping at all because of the fear of being alone in the house overnight with the kids…

…whose chewing off all of her cuticles and putting bandaids on bloody fingers because it’s the epitome of the manifestation of her anxiety…

Literally my world stops and time stands still because of how much anxiety I have doing this on my own. I am SO grateful that most of the time I get to do this life with my best friend, the greatest dad, and the handiest helper. So I suppose it’s SUPER selfish of me to throw a tantrum when he asks to get away for a little bit, or when he works late nights and has meetings leaving me to handle dinner and bedtime on my own.

I’m not quite sure my whole point in all of this but I think there are a few. First, behind every happy photo or what looks like a put-together mom could be something entirely different. I try not to judge or compare; I know we are all doing our best. And second, I think it’s important to normalize NOT being ok all the time, admitting when you need help (usually I’m the first to call in grandparent reinforcements, it just so happened that this weekend all grandparents were busy!), or letting go of things that aren’t going your way.

And, lastly, I try my best to put mind over matter and keep the most positive outlook, to enjoy the QT with my QTs, to not be afraid of leaving the house because I know it’s better to be out and about playing and interacting with others rather than hiding in my own safe-haven of a home going stir crazy and allowing myself to dwell in my anxiety. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it goes poorly. But the thing is, it ALWAYS goes. I try and find peace in that.

Bottom line, SO. MUCH. RESPECT. for the people who do this all the dang time. And if that’s you, I hear you and I see you and I feel you. You are a freaking superhero!

The Saga of Family Photos

What it takes to (semi?) coordinate a 4 year old, 2 year old, 8 month old, and a skeptical husband…

I’ve been itching to do family photos for a while now. The last time we did them (which honestly wasn’t that long ago) was Tessa’s newborn photos. But I feel like those are a little different than normal family photos because Tessa was still a blob, and we were a barely-functional new family of 5. We didn’t have the time or energy to put much into them, so we snapped a few and called it a day. I tried a little harder this time around, but let me tell you, it is still no easy feat to get this family through a 1 hour session of family photos.

Jen Morrissey, ladies and gents! She’s awesome, and a really great friend!

I have to start planting the seed with my husband MONTHS in advance. He can be SUCH a grump, so I have to grease the wheels wayyy ahead of time. And originally, I planned a sunset shoot for today (Sunday). Once I had organized it with my photographer (who doubles as my real life friend – what a treat!), I had to text her and say, “OMG Mike will murder me if I make him do family photos in the middle of football Sunday”. So we switched it to a sunrise shoot. He wasn’t too happy about that either but, hey, at least it wasn’t during football.

As it crept closer, I had to start priming him (yes, still referring to the husband). Priming him usually includes trading him a round of golf for a pleasant demeanor DURING the shoot. We’ve spent plenty of family photo shoots bickering aimlessly as we try to get non-smiley kids to smile. It just so happens that yesterday my brother in law asked him to join him in Asbury Park for a golf weekend next weekend. THAT was my ticket in! “Sure babe you can go golfing next weekend IF you promise to be a good sport for pictures tomorrow!”

Now that I had the husband hooked, it was time to focus on the kids. Remember the photographer, my friend, Jen? Listen to this brilliance she sent me last night (and I quote): “Tell the boys and Tessa about Wendy. She’s my friend who lives in my camera, and she whispers to me when she’s so happy with what she sees. And she tells me to tell you when they’ve done an amazing job and should get treats. And if they look hard enough with big enough smiles into the camera they may see her bouncing around. But most of the time she’s shy so she just gives out treats.” Seriously?! GENIUS!!

I exacerbated the Wendy story and decided to tell the kids that Wendy was, in fact, Santa’s special camera helper AND that she’s friends with Elfie (our Elf on the Shelf). So not only would Wendy be magically bringing treats if the bruises smiled hard enough, but she would report back to both Santa and Elfie and their Christmas would depend on it. Too mean of me? NAHHH.

Click any of the photos in this post to be taken to her website.

The other thing I told them to hopefully gain their cooperation was that we were going to a farm to take photos. This hooked Dominic, but what I didn’t tell him was that it was NOT an animal farm. Because every farm in his eyes has animals. I knew I only had a certain amount of time once we got there before he realized there were no animals so I was banking on the Wendy thing to come through.

So now we’re at the shoot, and the first thing we realize is Tessa pooped on the drive there. But her outfit is too complicated to try and change her in the middle of a field, so ehh we’ll just manage the shoot with a stinky poop in her diaper no biggie. (And I forgot to mention that, of course, on the day of family photos she wakes up with a booger eye all red and swollen and crusty…great!)

And we’re pulling out alllll the Wendy stops. Luca is so curious about Wendy, he keeps walking as close to the camera as possible to see if he can get a glimpse of Wendy, and is posing like a cute little boy left and right. I quickly realize 4 years old is the PERFECT age for photos.

Tessa is pretty cooperative too. All she needs is Mommy in her foresight and she’s all smiles…booger eye and all.

Meanwhile Dominic is over it after the first 3 snaps. Here comes whiney, vocal-fry Dom just asking when Wendy was going to bring treats. He’s not only over it, he’s legit ignoring it. We get the whole family into position and he’s purposely turning the other way, picking his nose, or putting his hands over his eyes.

CT-based photographer but also just stellar human.

So in comes the 3/5ths rule. 3/5ths rule means we can NEVER wait till all 5 of us are photo ready, because it will NEVER happen. Instead, wait until 3/5ths of us are ready and do the best we can. And actually, today, I’d say we hit 4/5ths the majority of the time so I’d call that a win. This is also the reason we can’t just rely on posed photos all of the time. By the end, we just told the boys to run around in the field while Jen snapped photos because the more movement for them, the happier they’d be, and the less annoyed with the camera they’d be.

And it wasn’t until the end that Dominic finally said, “But Mommy this is NOT a farm!” To which I responded. “Aw man, I’m sorry you didn’t like the farm I picked out this time. I’ll pick a better one next time.” And you know what? That response miraculously did not cause a meltdown, he simply shrugged it off and said, “Ok Mommy!”

Mid-shoot, Wendy magically dropped off airheads and rock candy, and one little taste and the boys knew exactly what to do. Luca’s so smart, he would take one picture, ask for a piece of a treat, then take another, ask for another treat (to which we obliged) and so on. He definitely got the most out of Wendy’s treats, and by 9am the bruises were so hopped up on sugar they were running in circles.

Yup, all of this before 9am. And then off to bagels, comfy clothes, and a relaxing football Sunday at home.

Plus, she sent some unedited sneak peaks (in this post!) a few hours later…and they made it all very worth it. I can not wait to see the rest!! ❤

The Snow Day Box

It’s September 17, 2020. September 17. Just acknowledging the fact that I’m about to start talking about Christmas and it’s September 17. Too soon? Nah, no such thing.

I wasn’t actually starting to think about Christmas (except if you know me, you DO know I start early…), but I’m participating in an Usborne Books Party on Facebook tonight that got me thinking about this. And aside from the To-Go Packs, The Snow Day Box is my other “best idea I’ve ever had”.

What is it, you ask? Simply put, it is exactly what it is. Santa delivers a box (old Amazon box wrapped in wrapping paper) for each kid filled with snow day activities. I started it last year and will continue it every year for the foreseeable future. It checks all the boxes: Bruises. Bows. Books.

Here’s why: I fill it ONLY with no-tech, developmentally appropriate, play-based literacy, STEM, art, and music supplies. Last year’s boxes for the boys were filled with books, drawing pads, coloring books, learning activities/supplies, new (and fancy!) markers and crayons, craft kits, slime kits, puzzles, stickers. Googly eyes and colored craft sticks and tissue paper and buttons and pom poms and glue. And they ATE. IT. UP. I can’t wait to build Tessa’s box this year.

Some of the stuff we took out and added to our art table right away, like the crayons and markers (needed to replace old ones anyway). But the majority of it stayed in the snow day box, and we only took it out on snow days. It was hard for the bruises – they wanted to take stuff out all the time – but if we did that I knew they’d blow through everything within a day and then have nothing for snow days (which defeats the purpose). And what it did was make room for lots of eager anticipation and excitement for snow days, a lesson in patience (good things come to those who wait), and not because it was a day off from school, but because they not only got to go play in the snow but also spend all day creating and building and crafting and reading…with ZERO (ok maybe there was a teeny bit here or there, but exponentially less than before!) screen time. I went from surviving snow days with movie marathons to enjoying family time doing things that grew our brains!

Want another tip? Doesn’t just have to be snow day boxes. But rainy day boxes or boredom boxes or cool down/calming boxes or quiet time boxes or….when we went into quarantine…I reintroduced an iteration of the snow day box as the learning box or the school-at-home box.

All year long, I’m constantly on the hunt for affordable, smaller items to fill these boxes. I like getting things that double as on-the-go items they can put in their to-go packs. Kill two birds with one stone, you know? I’ve had the most success with a few brands/stores. To bring it full circle, why I started this post, Usborne kills it in this area…regular books, activity books, sticker books, learning books, drawing books. Sooo many different options and the literacy specialist in me just screams! I’ve always preached Melissa & Doug and it rings true in this area too. My kids are big fans of their oversized coloring pads, re-useable sticker books, paint-with-water, and on-the-go sets. And to be honest, I get most of my stuff from the clearance end caps at Home Goods, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx. Found some great mini nat-geo slime kits and gems and rocks kits last year on clearance for three bucks. THREE bucks! For all miscellaneous craft supplies and glue and crayons and markers, Amazon definitely takes the cake.

And just to bring it back full circle one more time…it’s September 17. Hallmark movies are probably starting to play as we speak (EEK!). It’s not too early. Start now, a few bucks a paycheck, and you’ll have plenty to fill a snow day box by Christmas. Happy Christmas shopping!!

Just Say No

We live a pretty active lifestyle. No, not in terms of exercise (I wish!…still haven’t found my groove after baby 3), but by staying busy. Yeah, the pandemic has caused us to adjust. Still, we like to get outside and do things and go places. We ARE homebodies, but we have trouble staying home/indoors because that’s when the bruises go nuts, the bow gets clingy, and this mama gets fed up, anxious, and antsy. (Notice hubby didn’t get mentioned – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him stressed out a day in his life. It’s like his body and mind do not know stress. I wish so desperately this could be me!)

But staying busy also forces me to be more aware of and accept the fact that I need to say no sometimes.

It’s Labor Day weekend. The perfect weekend for one last hurrah or one last summer weekend getaway, right?

We said no to this weekend. We said no to Cape Cod (sorry Nardos!), we said no to Block Island (sorry Lex – miss you so much!), and we’ll probably say no to anything else that comes up…By “we” I mean “I” but my husband is pretty supportive and usually lets me call the shots (again, no stress, go-with-the-flow). We even got into a silly argument because it’s my birthday this weekend and he kept asking me what I wanted to do for it. And all I wanted to do is NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING FOR IT AT ALL. I didn’t want to be the one to make decisions for once.

After the chaos of this past week getting the kids back into their school and daycare routines and the bananas start to a new school year, I knew my body and my mind just needed a break. I wanted to have normal Friday pizza night with a side of s’mores at the fire pit. I wanted to wake up in my own bed at no specific time. I wanted to not care what my kids dressed themselves in each morning (let’s be real..Dominic will probably run around naked all weekend anyway). I wanted to finally be able to wage war on the chipmunks (don’t worry, I don’t plan on harming them) who keep eating the tomatoes from our garden. I wanted to sit on the deck and drink my coffee while the bow got her normal morning nap and the hubby took the bruises to the grocery store (side note: first time taking the kids back into the grocery story since the pandemic and I feel weird about it). I wanted to do dishes and laundry on Saturday morning so that I’d feel somewhat organized and have my sh*t together, and therefore enjoy a relaxing rest of the weekend. So that’s what we did and that’s what we’re doing.

We’ll drive down to the CT shore tomorrow for a little taste of the beach. But a day trip was about all I could handle in terms of plans. While my social media and group texts will probably be flooded with the traditional last of the seasons – beach days, camping trips, cocktail hours, girls’ nights, and big nights out – I’ll be content with my little family nestled up at our house with nothing to do.

I think it’s really important to feel like it’s ok to say no sometimes! Social media forces these absurd expectations on us – like we have to go out and get the perfect pictures every day just to stay alive. That’s not reality, and I’m most happy in the small, simple moments of my life. So that’s what I’m toasting to this weekend. Whether you have big plans or small plans, I hope you remember to do the same!

We said no to this weekend, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Happy Labor Day weekend, y’all, and remember to take care of yourself!

Where are all these emotions coming from?!

(Part 2) First Day of School Night

What in the holy heck was that? Literally I blinked and it’s 9pm. I’m pretty sure I blacked out today, not from alcohol or any other inappropriate activity. But from stress and adrenaline. Is that even a thing? I guess it was a good thing that I was out-of-my-mind busy while at work, because it didn’t leave me any time to FEEL the feelings I had last night.

She did, they did, we did.

She did great. Well, my standard of great. If you read my post yesterday or know all about my chronic diva problems (to be fair, they aren’t problems…) with Tessa; you’d know I really wasn’t sure how she’d do at her first day of daycare. I was right about a number of things. Nope she didn’t take a bottle. I swear she’s actually sarcastic about it. Miss Darcy said she sat there and played with the bottle nipple and spit it back at her nonchalantly. Yep she had a few episodes of stranger danger/mama attachment issues resulting in uncontrollable crying fits. At least she came out of them ok after either crying herself to sleep or Miss Darcy distracting her with some of her solid foods. BUT after all that, I showed up at pick-up and my bow was happily playing with her toes sitting in a stroller watching the older kids play outside. She locked eyes and immediately burst into wide mouthed smiles and reached her arms out to snuggle. In that moment, my mama heart exploded and I knew she’d be ok in all the days to come (even though I’m a little nervous she’ll try to make up for her lack of bottle drinking all day by nursing all night long tonight…).

They did great. The oldest bruise got a special day of exploring with Gammy since he doesn’t go back to school until Wednesday. He hiked and explored and snacked and even went swimming decked out in sweatpants and a t-shirt (no swimmies, no problem). The youngest bruise was abnormally shy and had two pee accidents, but no poo accidents (WIN!) and no biting or hitting episodes (WIN!). He greeted me at pick-up by running to me waving and yelling “Hiiiiii Mommy!!!” And he was so excited to carry his own backpack to the car and get home and tell Luca and Daddy all about his new friends Quinn and Colby and his old friend Ellie that he hasn’t seen since March.

Sooo we did great because they did great. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was still great in my book. My terribly stressful day really didn’t matter anymore and was promptly in the rearview mirror once I snuggled my bow and played with my bruises at home again, back where I belong.

Here’s to doing it all over again tomorrow!

Where are all these emotions coming from?!

(Part 1) Back to School Eve

It was a weirdddd weekend for me. I’m usually not the emotional type, but I’ve somehow caught myself in unusual emotional moments the past 3 days, and to be honest it blindsided me.

But then I realized it.

First, we made it through 2 weeks of quarantine as of this Friday, of which the first 7 days we were convinced our kids (and probably us too) had COVID and I swam in mom guilt. They were showing symptoms, and one of my kids had confirmed positive exposure so we thought it was a done deal. After several agonizing days of waiting for 3 kids’ test results to come back, all were negative. Really relieving, but at the same time we were hoping these mild cold symptoms were all it would be if it actually did hit us. So a little disappointing in that sense?

Second, the second 7 days of a quarantine were official back to work days for me, except I had to do it all remote instead of in person because of this quarantine. You’d think it’d be a silver lining to have 7 extra days home with the kids. But by Thursday and Friday of this past week, I was in back to back to back meetings from 8am till 5pm daily with a four year old, two year old, and almost eight month old basically fending for themselves. We survived, but it was hell.

Third, I’m realizing now that it’s been since March 13th with my little family unit. I’ve watched my four year old turn into a little independent human. HE actually taught ME how to play a board game this weekend. One that I didn’t even know he knew how to play. I’ve watched my two year old become the wild one with big feelings that I’m pretty sure he’ll always be. I’ve watched my newborn infant turn into a baby girl full of sass and zest and playfulness.

Months of us all together, all the time. Though hard at times, it’s been precious, and we’ll probably never get anything like this back again, at least when the kids are this little (unless of course, the COVID situation goes to sh*t again and we’re back in stay at home orders). Now it’s about to end, and we have to try to get back into some sense of normal. After spending months figuring out what our new normal was.

Fourth, I’m about to leave Tessa after an unexpected almost eight months of being my little baby kangaroo, attached to my hip all the time. If this year was normal I would have left her after three months. But it’s been eight! A lucky eight, for sure, and I’m so grateful for the extra time. But it’s making this normally rational, normally logical, normally put together mama extra emotional. Add that to the fact that she still doesn’t take a bottle and cries when she’s with other people. You know. I’m feeling….good about it? Nah not really.

I know there are so many other parents who have already transitioned back to work or back to school or back to whatever their normal was before COVID. I know it can’t stay this way forever.

We’ll do it though. Tomorrow will come and go and we’ll survive it. I’ll probably look at pictures all day long and text my husband wondering how everyone’s doing. We’ll do it though. Tomorrow will come and go and we’ll survive it. I probably won’t cry but I will worry and I will watch the clock go by minute by minute. We’ll do it though. Tomorrow will come and go and we’ll survive it.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Check back tomorrow for part 2. Cross all your fingers and sleep with your pjs inside out for me please!

Boy Toys: Cars and Dinos and Blocks…Oh My!

Ok so I have to admit I have a major case of third child syndrome. Don’t know if that’s a thing, but we definitely had/have second child syndrome with Dominic, so poor Tessa doesn’t even stand a chance.

I did everything to a T for that first child, followed ALL the rules. Kept up with all the cleaning protocols, didn’t use a single product that wasn’t all natural. Talked to the pediatrician before trying anything new and talked to the pediatrician about every little worry or question that creeped into my mind. You know the drill. Back then, Whole Foods was my jam; now I consider it a weekly win if I make it down the organic or all-natural aisle in Stop & Shop. (For the record, Whole Foods is still my jam, there just isn’t one close enough to me right now for me to consider it a worthwhile trip.)

Second child meant the 5 second rule turned into the 60 second rule, we no longer carried the high chair/shopping cart cover with us everywhere we went, and Welch’s fruit snacks vs. Annie’s bunnies = same difference. Ditched the Babyganics shampoo and body wash for good ole-fashioned Johnson’s baby shampoo and body wash because it just smells so damn good.

You get the picture, let me cut right to it. This poor girl lives out her days playing with toy cars, dinosaurs, legos, and trucks. I wish I could say it is because I’m ignoring gender norms and raising this bow to shatter all the glass ceilings. That would be noble of me- and philosophically the beliefs and values I want to and try to instill in all my kids align with this. You better believe I want her to shatter ALL the glass ceilings. But this was just serendipity I suppose – causal result of laziness on my part.

I was talking to my mom about it – feeling guilty I don’t really have any feminine (girly?) play things for her. She made a good point. She said, “That’s not true all your baby toys are gender neutral, you just don’t bother to actually take them out.” New Year’s Resolution 1: make an effort to take out the baby toys more often (I’m allowed to make a New Year’s Resolution in August because I’m a teacher so technically my New Year starts at the end of the month.).

I thought about it more; it’s still kind of weighing on me. On one hand, there is zero reason I need to add any more crap to the already-overflowing playroom we have. But I do sort of have big girl dreams to be able to play dress up with my girl, to watch her play with a doll house, to see her take care of her baby dolls. Or at least let her have the option of choosing this (because I know if she chooses diggers over dolls or dinos over dress up, I’m totally fine with that too – believe it or not I was the BIGGEST tom-boy athlete growing up!). And if this is the case – to even give her the option to choose what toys she wants to play with – then I need to drastically overhaul the playroom. It is head-to-toe all things BOY right now. Time to make way for girl! New Year’s Resolution 2: Clean, purge, clear out (not a bad excuse to do this!).

No need for me to rush into buying all playthings girl right now, she’s still too young for it to matter. But thinking about Christmas and her birthday in January, I’m going to need all the ideas from all the girl moms out there. What’s the best girly gift for a one year old? Is there even one? Or is it really completely gender neutral until the toddler years? Do I just wait till she’s old enough to realize what she wants and wait for her to ask for it? Would love for you to drop me a comment below or follow me on Instagram to give me your insights!

Insta handle is Bruisesbowsandbooks. See ya there!