Traveling with a baby versus a toddler

If you ever start to feel “in control” as a parent, try traveling with your toddler 😉

But seriously, we’d traveled enough with Griffin as a baby that we felt fairly in control. Within the first year of his life, we traveled to Colorado, Utah, Florida, California and Costa Rica. Throughout that time, my husband tried to lighten our load as much as possible and we focused on streamlining the whole traveling-with-a-baby airport experience. So, we’ve put a lot of research into our travel preparations… and maybe we were feeling a little too cocky going into our most recent trip.

Everything went fairly smoothly during our time in Wisconsin — except the sleeping situation. It had been a few months since we last traveled, and we didn’t factor in how much he’d changed since then or how much he depended on his bedtime routine. It was “MAMA, MOM, MOOOM” for hours and lots of wake ups throughout the night. We felt like zombies at the wedding reception! Fortunately, we received a great tip from a family member (below) that we’re excited to try out this summer. There’s no way around the sleeping-in-a-strange-place adjustment, but it seems like it will definitely help ease the initial distractions.

We are in no way experts at any of this (who is?) but it can be helpful to see what works for others! Following are some things learned over the last few years, plus recent tips we’ve received that we’re excited to make the most of this summer:

Traveling with a baby: 

  • A front pack is GOLD (we used a Solly wrap and Baby Bjorn the first few months, then transitioned to an Ergo).
  • If you want to bring a stroller, it’s worth buying a cheap, lightweight one that folds up easily at the gate.
  • Make a sleeping plan: the first 6+ months, we just shoved our Dockatot in our suitcase. As Griff got bigger, we transitioned to a foldable pack-and-play, which I explain below.
  • Always pack more bottles/pouches, etc. than you need (and divide them between your suitcase and carry-on bag in case one is lost… yikes! We learned this the hard way in a different country).
  • Save a bottle for take-off (a tried-and-true tip that really does help).
  • Bring a few small toys for distractions once they’re a little older (Griff liked this light-up musical one and this amazing indestructible book).

Traveling with a toddler:

  • Don’t bring your own pack-and-play unless absolutely necessary! Most hotels provide them (just call ahead to confirm). We do bring a crib sheet to wrap over the pad, plus blankies/whatever your little one likes at night.
  • Ask hotels if they have any open handicapped rooms that weren’t booked so that there’s a large enough bathroom for the crib/pack-and-play (and there you go: a two-room suite! Thanks for the genius idea, Sarah!).
  • Let them burn energy before the drive or flight! I’ve had to take many deep breaths while I watch Griffin speed crawl across the gross airport carpet and touch everything in sight – but it’s always worth it when he naps later.
  • SNACKS! All the snacks.
  • Have movies and activities ready to go. We just ordered these mess-free markers for an upcoming trip, and Griff loves this magnetic drawing board!
  • There are more valuable ideas in this Everyday Mama article – I just ordered a sticker book too!

There are endless tips and tricks out there to improve your traveling experience with a baby or toddler, but the most important thing at the end of the day is just remembering: “This too shall pass.” Griffin has been “that baby” who screamed the entire flight, no matter what we did, but somehow we survived. It was just a small blip in our trip, and the next flight was better! We’re learning that parenting is all about perspective and teamwork… and those rough moments make you appreciate the good ones even more.

What has made your plane or car trips easier with little ones? Please share any advice or favorite items!

Building up immune systems and wearing down parents

Pink eye, ear infections, colds, RSV, croup, roseola, bronchitis – oh my! You name it and we’ve experienced it over the last six months.

My toddler has picked up every germ possible from his daycare friends. Just when we think that it has to be over, that we’ve at least earned a two-week, sick-free period, I get the dreaded text or call: “He has a fever of 102” or “He threw up.” Insert your own symptoms in here – I have a feeling most parents have felt the stomach-dropping moment that is the beginning of long nights and quarantined weekends.

Everyone continues to tell us that he’s just building up his immune system. Would I really prefer to have my one-year-old go through this now or when he’s five? I can’t help but think that it would be easier during the later preschool years, when he can tell me what hurts and comprehend that his stuffy nose is not the worst thing in the entire world. I never imagined the horrors that would result from the inability to breathe out of your nose! He seemed to take other illnesses like a champ, but a cold is his kryptonite.

I knew there was no way to prepare for daycare life emotionally. Drop off time still wrecks me and I miss him constantly – but I had no idea the toll toddler germs would take on our lives. We’re now at an all-time high of three days in a row at the pediatrician. My husband and I have routines that we don’t even need to discuss: if he grabs the nose sucker, I know to have tissue ready before the breathing treatment mask is unveiled. Time for ear drops? Get the changing pad out and grab a toy for distraction.

Now, I know sickness is not a laughing matter in many situations. But when you’ve been cut off from the outside world for months at a time and your social interactions are limited to doctor’s offices and pharmacy lines, you have to laugh. It’s rarely funny in the moment, but we have to make light of this season to regain a sense of normalcy; to hold strong to the belief that it will get better and we will rejoin society again someday. After all, you start to feel like a broken record when there’s a new medical issue every week and you’re constantly turning down invites or canceling plans.

As a newborn parent, you’re mentally ready to hibernate for a while. But this? We were wholly unprepared for it. We ended up catching many versions of his sicknesses as well, and so our own abilities to “parent while sick” were stretched in new limits. After all, there aren’t any off days in parenting: The need for a bath and requests for snacks never stop! Of course, along with testing your patience and immune system, it also puts a strain on your relationship in a completely different way than any other scenario.

When you promise “in sickness and in health,” it isn’t just a covenant or romantic notion between you and your spouse. In fact, you aren’t just promising that to each other – but to all of your future family members as well. It’s an all-encompassing vow, a plea and a reminder for grace in the midst of kid chaos and constant coughing. It’s an unavoidable aspect of family life: kids will get sick and you will snap at your significant other about spilled Pedialyte. There’s no way to explain what happens on night five of no-sleep and nonstop coughing unless you’ve been there and felt the exhaustion. You can go from synchronized medicine drops to silent treatment over forgotten laundry in five minutes flat.

Marriage isn’t easy – and neither is parenthood. We’re learning that every year and age comes with its own joys and challenges. The happiness that little ones bring is unmeasurable, but what about those weeks when the difficult times seem unrelenting? What if the sickness or sadness overshadows your ability to absorb their light? Our strength is unveiled one appointment, one day, one bedtime battle at a time. Fortunately, motherhood is full of grace – and we are more resilient than those germs!

For the Love of “Ruff” 

There are several types of people in this world: those who have a dog and those who include their dog in their Christmas card picture. We are proud members of the second group.

We didn’t just consider Reagan to be “good practice” for kids when we got her—she was our first child. As soon as we were out of the puppy potty-training phase, she started sleeping on our bed. We planned weekend mornings around her dog park trips and happy hour locations based on dog-friendly patios. We worried about leaving her home alone too long and, like most new parents, probably took her to the vet more often than needed.

We even navigated our relationship differences and discipline ideas with her. There were days when my husband and I got upset at each other if he was too tough or I was too soft. What kind of discipline is warranted, for example, when she chews up my leopard flats? Is it really that big of a deal if she eats some table scraps every once in a while? At the time, these were major issues (oh, how our worries have changed!).

I worked from home when I was pregnant, which meant that Reagan and I were inseparable. I’d joke that I had the best co-worker in the world. Still, I knew that our little family life was about to change and she was in for a shock. Once our son was born, she was clearly apprehensive about it all. She has always been the sweetest dog, and she was just as gentle as we thought she’d be with a baby—from a distance. During those first few months together, she only reacted to him when he’d sneeze or scream. Who was this tiny human and why was he so loud?

Now, that baby is a crazy toddler who calls Reagan “Ruff” and regularly invades her personal space and suffocates her with hugs. He talks to her, kisses her goodnight and says “bye Ruff” every time we leave the house. She checks in on him during bath time and is there when he’s up crying at midnight due to double ear infections. She has overcome that initial distance and is fully comfortable licking him right on the face and, most importantly, sharing food. My heart aches every time I see their sweet interactions. To each other, they’re siblings; both integral parts of our family.

My husband and I laugh as we chase our toddler around, thinking about our “puppy parent” stress years ago. But we also recognize all that Reagan has taught us – and all that she’s currently teaching our son. She turned our selfish, young adult lives upside down with responsibility (in the best way possible!). It’s one thing to grow up with dogs and quite another to have your own; to feel the full weight of caring for someone who’s completely reliant on you.

A constant comfort for everyone in our house now, Reagan demonstrates unconditional love, entertains us endlessly and reminds us what matters. She didn’t hold it against me when her space shrunk to make room for another or my phone picture roll changed from all Reagan to all baby. Come to think of it, she’s the best model for forgiveness and selfless love I know. And we could all benefit from a little more of that in this world!

 

 

Giving up on Labels & Mom Guilt

Part-time, full-time, natural, real, easy, hard… where does it end? We put labels on so much in life to try to understand someone or categorize something. How many times have you been asked what you do or how you do it?  In motherhood, these labels seem to be taken especially personally.

In my relatively short motherhood journey so far, I’ve been a work-from-home mom and a traditional nine-to-five mom. I’ve experienced the judgement on both sides. Last year, I hesitated to say that I worked part-time because it felt like I was always working – when I wasn’t feeding or entertaining a little one, that is. We’re full-time parents first and everything else is in addition to that, regardless of how much help you have or how you spend those precious naptime hours.

Even though working from home was certainly challenging as my son got older, going back to work full-time was a completely different beast. I cried every time I dropped him off in the morning. Eventually, we figured out that it was best if my husband did drop-offs. I’m better at pick-up time; at scooping up my son and not letting him leave my sight. We all have our special talents, right? You might be a coding genius but I’m a needy mom.

Fortunately, as humans we’re adaptable and can fall into routines easily. It’s both a weakness and a necessity for survival that we gravitate toward the familiar. Anyway, it’s still not easy to leave him, but I’ve adjusted enough to keep the tears to a minimum. The first time I felt a sense of relaxation when I got in my car with coffee and a podcast in mind, however, I instantly recoiled as if I’d taken a sip of week-old milk: MOM GUILT.

I’m learning that mom guilt comes in many forms. Everyone, regardless of your “label,” experiences it. Mom guilt sneaks up on you like Randall in Monsters, Inc. (clearly a house favorite right now). When I worked from home, I’d feel bad for getting frustrated when my son was teething and wouldn’t nap or when I’d try to multitask when he clearly wanted my attention. And then I felt nauseous for weeks when I had to go to an office and leave him at daycare. Why am I paying someone else to watch my son? What if this isn’t the best choice for him? I’d wish for quiet and then for the exact opposite. My guilt morphed from one shape to another, as all of our worries and fears tend to do. You’re cruising along just fine and then BAM a camouflaged lizard (ahem, Randall) stops you in your tracks. You’re ok and then you’re not.

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Most days, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing – which, I’m also figuring out, is just part of the motherhood learning curve. I find myself harboring guilt for any number of strange things at any given time. A ball is certainly always at risk of being dropped. But then I take a deep breath and my toddler smiles at me in between unrolling the toilet paper and sticking his hands in the dog bowl, and I realize that it’s all in how you look at it. It’s cliché but true: gratitude makes a difference. I may not want to leave my son every day, but I’m lucky to have somewhere safe to take him. I may overcompensate on weekends and get frustrated when our limited time together isn’t perfect – but what is?

It’s all too easy to feel alone when we start comparing ourselves to other moms who are “part-time” or “full-time” and forget that grace reigns over guilt. We often build up the other side and idolize whatever we don’t have. How lucky is she to stay at home and enjoy her kids without having to worry about contributing any income? Or how is she so professionally successful in this phase of little ones when I can’t even find clean yoga pants? But at the end of the day, we’re all united by our uncertainty and our desire to get this – our most important job – right.

As moms, we’re always full-time everything. We may get sick days at work, but not at home. We’re all just doing the best we can: whatever we have to do for our families. And I feel like my various experiences across the working spectrum so far qualify me to safely put an end to the great debate: It’s all hard! You’re right and you’re right and we’re all just different sides to the same coin. Everyone is tired and trying to do too much all at once.

Time is a precious commodity. Motherhood is not easy. And even though this full-time life is exhausting, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. After all, the benefits far outweigh the work: A full-time, forever love.

 

 

Easy love & hard-won happiness

“It used to be so easy,” my husband and I mused over margaritas and guacamole on a recent date night. We were checking in with each other and discussing how we’re feeling about work, stress, the future and so on. We never used to have to say “let’s check in” when we needed to vent or wanted to bring something up — life was a continuous date full of connection and conversational opportunities.

Now, we try to steal a kiss while tripping over our dog and catching the bowl of salsa our toddler is attempting to throw. We still text throughout the day, but it’s changed from debating the happy hour we’ll hit after work to questioning our budget (yes, I did need those shoes!), gushing over said crazy toddler and planning when we can chat in person. Life involves more bills and babysitters and less sleep and relaxation than ever. Our time used to seem endless, but now it feels like a constant, limited loop. It’s marked by work schedules and nap timelines and so much else we couldn’t have imagined back then.

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It’s taken us years (almost seven) to get to this point. We started out just as starry-eyed as everyone else. You don’t realize at first that you’re building the base for a big future full of marriage, babies and a mortgage. Dating begins with an indescribable feeling of possibility; a flattering pursuit. My husband and I met through mutual friends and he quickly convinced me that a first date would be worth it even though we lived in separate states. It took just one shared pizza to realize that I wouldn’t be able to walk away from this.

I admittedly see a lot through rose-colored glasses, but I knew marriage wasn’t something to be entered into lightly. He gave me confidence. I was also fortunate to have an excellent example of what marriage could be. My parents always put each other first, above us. As a kid, I thought it was strange that they wouldn’t take our sides when one of them was (clearly) wrong. As an adult, I recognize the respect they gave each other and the hard work that’s gone into their 30-year marriage. They are always a team, and in many ways, they make marriage seem easy — which is the ultimate sign of partnership. I recognized similar partnership potential in my husband early on, which made it a clear choice. I could see us choosing each other again and again, whether that was picking a date night over a work event or backing each other up in front of our (future) teenage children.

“Shouldn’t this be the easiest part?” One of my best friends asked when struggling with a long-term relationship that didn’t yet include marriage or kids. I listened to her explanation and quickly realized that she was right. The reality of love is so different than we expect. I recalled that recent check in date with my husband (along with the planning and money that went into it) and agreed that it only gets more difficult to connect and prioritize. It isn’t always easy initially, but it certainly doesn’t get easier when you add more stuff and tiny humans into the mix. You need a solid foundation before all of that comes along; an infrastructure that’s strong enough to withstand all of the inevitable trials. Sleepless nights and colicky babies require a lot of grace for survival. We all have different courtships and stories woven together by our decision to choose love; to put another person’s happiness above our own.

So maybe love should be easy at the beginning, but there are too many variables and tests over the years to maintain that level of simplicity. It can set your foundation, and that’s it. Everything else is built in time, through a partnership comprised of obstacles and accomplishments that may or may not include: paid debt, achieved goals, happiness, unhappiness, moves, children, travel mishaps, broken A/C units (testing love and our civility!) and so much more. If marriage starts with spontaneous notes and weekend getaways, it’s sustained by intentional compliments and on-going, sometimes mundane, acts of love and commitment. Now, he fills up my gas tank because he knows I’m too impatient to do it. I cook for him because I know that otherwise he’d subsist solely on scrambled eggs. Life is full of sweet memories and difficult conversations. We’ve gone through college courses, career shifts and vacation disasters. We’ve had periods of more money and then less. Our love has changed, grown and solidified. We still have a lot to work through and figure out together.

It’s not easy anymore. But it’s hard-won, and it’s ours.

Sleeplessness & Survival

“How I finally fixed my sleep problems.”

“The secret to a goodnight’s sleep.”

“15 reasons you keep waking up in the middle of the night.”

Should I continue? Our society is obsessed with sleep. From all of the research on the ill effects of not getting enough sleep (or getting too much!) to the tips and tricks for solving sleep problems, it can be endless and overwhelming. As a (still fairly new) mom, I waver between annoyed and angry every time another groundbreaking study reveals that my current sleep patterns are unhealthy and may even lead to an early demise. I’m not one to leave comments on articles, but if I was, my sleep-deprived brain has conjured up many retorts in the late (or early) hours of the night along the lines of: “Middle-of-the-night wake ups are harmful for my REM cycle? How interesting. Let me tell that to my 18-month-old who can’t sleep with the slightest hint of a stuffy nose.”

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Of course, sleep is important. But when you tell a bone-tired parent that rest is within reach with a few easy tips, Mr. Whelan from Reader’s Digest, we’re probably not going to take it well! The natural progression during this sleepless time, then, is to research a more probable solution. And by that, I mean fall into a Google wormhole of community message threads with desperate moms and blog articles about other people’s perfect babies. Both of those nosedive quickly from helpful to hysterical. In fact, I found most blogger’s posts about baby sleeping habits to be just as hopeless as the mainstream tips. After all, what works for one baby will rarely work for another.

It took a while to accept that truth, as logic often requires a clear, rested mind. When our sleep problems were at their worst last year, I read an assortment of sleep training methods. I tried a few, but nothing seemed to work. My son never calmed down enough to soothe himself – instead, he’d just become more angry that I was ignoring him. He didn’t take a binky or like to be swaddled. What was I doing wrong? The only thing that brought me peace, and perspective, during that time was this article from Jennifer Batchelor: “Sometimes Babies Don’t Sleep.” It beautifully outlines the truth that you can’t always train or schedule away these difficult aspects of parenthood. Sometimes, babies just don’t sleep. Sometimes, we aren’t in control. It’s so simple, but it felt groundbreaking to accept that in the midst of exhaustion!

Before having my son, I had never stayed awake for an entire night. I went to bed when I was tired, even if that meant missing out on all-night study sessions or bowing out of a social event early. Then, at exactly 39 weeks and six days pregnant, I started having contractions. Instead of sleeping, I watched movies all night and counted the time between contractions. At 4 am on my due date, it finally seemed like it was time to wake up my husband and head to the hospital. Griffin was born that night around 10 pm and then, between tests and vital checks and everything else, rest still alluded us. I went from 0 to 60 when it came to testing my ability to function without sleep. My sometimes sleep-challenged child was sending me a sign right from the beginning!

Now that he’s 18 months, there are plenty of nights when he sleeps well and I almost forget what we’ve survived to get here. And then he’ll get a cold and his response to the discomfort of a stuffy nose will give me terrifying glimpses into his “man flu” future (mostly joking!). Even so, we’ll have a night without sleep that takes us back to the beginning days of our family of three. I’ll gripe and groan the next morning and add a few more cups to my usual coffee lineup, but I’ll press on.

Because within the harsh frustration of not being able to sleep when it’s all you want to do, a tiny light is flickering to flames. A growing wisdom is replacing my initial motherhood frustrations and insecurities. I’m beginning to recognize how incomprehensible and extraordinary the foundation of trust and selflessness is that results when you are the caregiver of a tiny human; when you cater to their every need. Not sleeping sucks, there’s no denying that. But it shows you how strong you are; how much you can still accomplish when your brain is pounding and your eyes are hazy. And it also demonstrates the limitless love of parenthood.

 

Mom, why didn’t you tell me your job was so hard?

Wine bars, weekend getaways and … diaper wipes?

Hi, I’m a millennial mom. According to the internet, I should be backpacking around foreign countries and writing essays about self-care. I should be posting Instagram photos with mimosas on exotic beaches or so focused on my job that I’m researching freezing my eggs.

Instead, I had a baby in my twenties.

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We’ve all seen the headlines about women shifting away from marriage and waiting longer to have children. Now, I’ve experienced it in the lingering loneliness and disconnect as friends counter my sleepless baby woes with hungover stories of calling in sick at work. I’ve laughed but felt the distance grow as people comment “I can barely take care of myself – much less another human being!” Because that’s the core of it, right? Why would I purposely choose to give up my comfortable life; to hand over my freedom to an irrational tiny human?

I didn’t go into motherhood naively – or so I thought. In fact, I laughably even felt confident. I was the oldest of four and I’d babysat plenty of little ones. I was excited to follow in my mother’s footsteps and add more joy into the family. But even so, I was blindsided by nearly every situation and every emotion that resulted (and I’m not even going to get into the hormones, oye!). About a month after my son was born, I was still recovering physically and emotionally. I was getting sleep only in increments of a few hours at a time. The extent of my brain activity was wondering things like “is it possible to die from a lack of sleep?” and “is it normal that he cries so much?” I was struggling with nursing and my baby was struggling with reflux. I was like most new mothers out there: completely overwhelmed, exhausted and anxiety-ridden.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was so hard?” I accused my mom, who had always made it seem effortless. Why didn’t anyone warn me? How were we possibly going to survive this? She laughed and said she’d asked her mom the same thing after having me. The reality is that everything worth anything in life is hard. And yes, as a millennial, I recognize the humor in even saying that. My generation is notorious for wanting life to come easy; for normalizing immediate gratification, digital dating and one-day shipping. We’re an impatient culture. And there’s nothing that tests your patience more than a newborn.

In our society, we either seem to avoid motherhood or over-glorify it. If you don’t have kids, you’re going to spin class and brunch and making backhanded comments about those who do. On the flip side, if you do have kids, your social media persona includes perfect hair, babies who somehow smile on command and sickeningly sweet captions. What about the rest of us in real life? What about the moms who try to meet for coffee only to slink out after a meltdown or blowout? Or the moms who rush home from a meeting only to be met with a grumpy baby because it’s the afternoon witching hour? We fuel debates between moms vs. not moms or working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, but all we really need is to give each other grace – there are hardships down every path.

I got just as caught up in my preparation for motherhood. I read the books. I imagined life as an Instagram mom. I wanted to puree all of my own organic vegetables but also embody the carefree French mother figure I read about. I decided that my baby would be flexible and he’d love “adult food” and traveling. He’d respond perfectly to sleep training — or maybe he wouldn’t even need it! I created the perfect vision of myself as a mom before I was actually a mom. And then it all changed. My baby was born and he annihilated everything I’d ever known in the best way. He immediately tested my patience, filled me with love and anxiety and every other emotion in the world.

So, Mom, why didn’t you tell me it was so hard? Because it wouldn’t have made a difference. I still would have chosen motherhood over backpacking adventures or boozy brunches. I can enjoy all of that later – but now, I have a toddler to run after. And that’s the shocking, awe-inspiring secret of motherhood: There’s no way to prepare and there’s nothing anyone can say to actually describe it. It alters your concept of time and your purpose. There’s nothing more simultaneously scary and beautiful. It’s so hard because it matters.