3 Lesser Known Ingredients to Avoid in Your Skincare Products

Toxic Ingredients in Skincare

A lot of us are self-proclaimed label readers — we scrutinize ingredients on breakfast cereal boxes and reach for organic macaroni and cheese over the conventional Kraft that we grew up on. We worry about what’s in our tap water, as well as if the plastic from disposable bottles is being leached into that water, which we swore was safer. We pore over the natural sunscreen selection available on the market and analyze the additives in our vitamins. Why, then, do so many of us skimp when it comes to the products we use on our skin? Our skin is our largest organ, and much of what we place on it is absorbed directly into our bloodstream. Think about nicotine and birth control patches — effective doses are delivered into our bloodstream, through the skin, thereby allowing us to curb cravings or prevent pregnancy.

I’ve made it clear that I firmly believe in a good 80/20 balance. If we eat healthy 80% of the week, I don’t feel badly when we treat ourselves to ice cream on a Friday night. When it comes to our products, though, here’s where I don’t skimp:

-With products being applied onto or used by my children

-If I’m soaking in the product (ie, a bubble bath)

-If I’m slathering the product onto my face or body, especially if I’m not washing it off

There are many ingredients to avoid in skincare products — in fact, an entire novel or series of blog posts could be written on the subject matter. You have likely heard the buzz about parabens and pthalates, but here are three that might have slipped under your radar. If any of these are in your current products, I would recommend ditching them — there are much safer and equally effective products out there!

Hydroquinone

What Is it? Hydroquinone is a skin lightener found in many lightening creams and dark mark fade treatments.

How Does It Work? It reduces the production of melanin in your skin, which is why many people love it for treating hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and other skin discoloration.

Why Should You Avoid It? Hydroquinone works — there is no doubt about that! Unfortunately, its safety is also unclear. In fact, studies have shown that it exhibits carcinogenic effects when applied to the skin. It is also considered cytotoxic and harmful to cells. Though it does decrease melanin production to lighten the skin, long term use might actually damage your pigment cells. With side effects like increased sun sensitivity, irritation, and hyperpigmentation (the opposite of why you use it in the first place!), it’s smart to avoid this ingredient.

Chemical Sunscreens

What Are They? When it comes to sunscreen, you protect yourself in two ways — with a chemical sunscreen or a mineral sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, homosalate, and helioplex, to name a few. They tend to be more irritating to the skin and can sometimes cause allergic reactions.

How Do They Work? Mineral sunscreens create a physical barrier to protect your skin from the sun, while chemical sunscreens absorb or scatter — but mostly absorb — the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreen does offer more protection against UVA and UVB rays than physical sunscreen, but the actual range of protection depends on the specific ingredients and their stability.

Why Should You Avoid Them? Some studies show that ingredients in chemical sunscreens are endocrine (hormone) disruptors, estrogenic (mimic the effects of estrogen), and may interfere with other normal body processes. There are also speculations that chemical sunscreen can contribute to cancer, one of the reasons being that retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative, has been shown to speed the growth of cancerous cells. The ingredient methylisothiazolinone is also found in many sunscreens — ironically, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named this chemical as the allergen of the year. Also problematic is the fact that many chemical UV filters have not been FDA approved.

Mineral Oil

What Is It? Mineral oil is colorless, odorless, and is a byproduct of the distillation of petroleum to create gasoline. It often helps decrease water loss from the skin. Because it is lightweight and inexpensive, it is often found in many creams and lotions.

How Does It Work? It sits on top of the skin to prevent moisture loss.

Why Should You Avoid Them? Mineral oil is available in different grades, and it may be contaminated. Even though cosmetics use “cosmetic grade” mineral oil, scientists have expressed concerns about its safety. It can also clog your pores and increase the risk of blackheads and acne. Mineral oil is what’s known as an “occlusive agent,” which means that it reduces moisture loss by forming a physical barrier on your skin. If your other products contain pore clogging ingredients, this means they will stay close to your skin and increase your risk of breakouts. The bottom line, too, is that it isn’t doing anything for your skin. There’s no nutritional or moisturizing benefits, so why put it on your skin at all, especially knowing the potential risks?

 

What do you think? Did you find any of these lurking in your favorite products? 

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Dear Daughter, This is Why I Don’t Give You Everything

Dear Daughter

Today we are at yet another cheer competition — we’ve been gone countless weekends this season, competing in different arenas and exploring different cities. My bank statements are filled with hotel charges and team dinners, and it’s been tough to be away from your younger brothers so much.

We had to wake up extra early this time to get your hair and make-up just so. You reminded me to be careful not to get mascara on your uniform, and I smiled as I saw through your eyes just how important this was to you. After paying $20 to park and spending another $40 just to walk through the door to watch you perform, I am relieved that your team does well. Afterwards, everyone congregates around the vendor tables as you and your teammates stare wide eyed at the sea of sparkly bows, shirts, jackets, and pins. Every competition, it is the same — moms begin gathering armloads of possessions to buy their children, while you stare longingly at them. I can almost see the thoughts swirling through your brain, envy and sadness apparent on your face.

“Lucy’s mom is buying her five shirts!” you exclaim. I nod politely.

“That water bottle is really cute,” you hint. Again, I hold steadfast.

I see your reserve deflate like a balloon as you finally have the courage to mutter, “Can I at least get a pin?”

How can I explain to you that it’s not about the money, and never was? I, too, could stand in line and overload my arms with overpriced shirts and pins, or just buy something for you because everyone else is doing it. Even though I’m an adult, I still feel the strain of peer pressure. I also know that it’s difficult to stand by and watch your friends get handed things, like a new trampoline a month before Christmas, just because — or $50 to the mall on a random Saturday simply because they’re bored. I realize that in the world of a tween girl, it’s easy to compare yourself to your friends and focus on what you don’t have.

I know it’s tough to understand, but your sense of perception is skewed. We don’t live in an area where the average child is represented, nor have we ever. Not every kid has a birthday party that costs more than a month’s worth of groceries or receives a shiny new car on their 16th birthday. There are kids in our country and in our very state who don’t know where their next meal will come from, or if their electricity is going to be shut off when they arrive home that day from school. Things like cheer bows and the opportunity to participate in competitive cheer, in general, is something unobtainable that they truly can’t even fathom as they twirl their fingers through the holes of their hand-me-down shoes.

I don’t expect you to grasp how privileged you are. I know that you’re at an age where you can only focus on what you don’t have, but please try to concentrate on everything that you’re given. Many girls would kill for your wardrobe, warm house, and kindhearted teachers who genuinely care about your success. If I teach you validation through material possessions, you will never recognize your true worth. You will grow up pertpertually chasing a happiness that will never exist.

Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult for me not to indulge you all the time. I absolutely love being able to do fun things with you, and I am so grateful that I’m able to do so. Sometimes it’s so tempting to be the mom loading her arms with shirts and showering you with material things. Here’s the truth, though — doing so would truly be a disservice to you. I’d be setting your expectations too high and teaching you the wrong values. I don’t want you to ever feel entitled and think that the world owes you something — it doesn’t. I believe in sensibility and moderation. I, too, am in love with shopping and admittedly find joy in material possessions, but there needs to be a balance.

I know you don’t always realize the sacrifices that we’ve made for you. Each of our parenting decisions has been centered around school districts and opportunities for you to partake in. We’ve agonized over test scores and bus routes more than you’ll ever know. Here’s the part you don’t see:

*Our higher food bill, which allows you access to three healthy meals a day.

*Our mortgage and taxes, which provide you with a beautiful, safe home in a great district.

*The time we sacrifice and the schedules we juggle — with a three year old and one year old — to make sure that you can participate in all the activities that interest you.

*The money we set aside each month so that you’ll be able to attend overnight camp during the summer months, one of your favorite parts of the year.

At the very last competition of the season, I decided to splurge a little. I let you pick out a few overpriced items, and the gratitude shone brightly through your eyes as you hugged me tight.

“Thank you, Mom. I really appreciate these,” you whispered. You didn’t see my own tears that day — tears of relief and gratitude. You see, I often wonder if I’m doing this ‘parenting thing’ right. I love you so much that sometimes it hurts, and I am constantly trying to strike a balance between giving you the most magical childhood that I’m capable of while simultaneously raising a healthy, balanced future adult that values people over possessions.

Dear daughter, I will never give you everything. But I will give you my unconditional love, acceptance, pride, honesty, empathy, and always promise to be the mom that you need. You might not realize it now, but gratitude and balance are lifelong gifts — I can’t wait for the day when you realize that you’ve received them all along. Until then and always, I am your biggest cheerleader.

Love, Mom

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Three Reasons Why You Should Consider A Side Hustle

Why You Need A Side Hustle

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — the average millionaire has seven streams of income. Seven. Not just a 9-5 day job, guys — seven streams.

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

I often get asked, why not go back to work if you want an income? Why take on “side hustles?” I answer this question in my blog bio, but the long and short of it is the following:

  • I love being a mom. I love being home with my babies and working around their schedules. Having one parent home has really improved our lives more than I can even say, but that’s a whole other blog post.
  • I don’t like working outside of the home for others. This is something that I’ve learned about myself early on. I don’t like the confinement of having to show up at a specific location for a specific number of hours, day in and day out. I also don’t like other people telling me how many vacation days or sick days I’m allowed to have. I’m aware that this is my own personal flaw — trust me, I have many.
  • I make a full-time income on part-time hours with side hustles — I have great ambitions to increase that amount even more as the years pass. It really just works for our family.

I’m a big proponent of having something for yourself — if anything, having something to call your own is good for your soul. The beauty of the side hustle is that it can look different for you depending on your passions and strengths. You can start a blog, open an in-home daycare a couple days a week, or join a network marketing company. You can quite literally work your side hustle around everything you have going on in life, whether it’s kids, a full-time job, or a little of both. I’m also sure you’ve heard other people talk about their “why” for having a side hustle — here is mine:

  • To throw more money at my student loans above the minimum monthly payments
  • To grow my kids’ college funds
  • To have the freedom to splurge when I want
  • To be able to travel more and have more date nights with my husband
  • Because it feels really awesome to have my own income and be able to contribute to our expenses

Your reasons for wanting a side hustle might look different from mine, and so might your background and strengths. Since it’s pretty obvious that I’m a huge proponent of them, here are three key reasons why I think you should consider having a side hustle:

1. It’s Financially Smart. Remember above when we talked about the seven streams of income? I don’t know many wealthy people in real life that make their money from a single source. Sure, there are exceptions, but generally, a lot goes into that financial stability. There is passive income happening, too, often in the form of investments and other money that contributes to their bottom line. I also believe that you should never  place all your eggs in one basket. When I was 13, I lost my father to pancreatic cancer. I watched my parents’ comfortable lifestyle deteriorate as my mom was left to raise me as a single parent. Life happens, and streams of income can shift. Sometimes they’re stagnant, sometimes they trickle, and sometimes they dry up altogether. We hear it all the time — jobs are lost, and life moves in a different direction. Side hustles are a fiscally responsible choice that help contribute to your family’s stability and financial freedom. They often don’t require much to start-up, either, so if one fails, you can always try another without too much of a loss.

2. They’re a great outlet to channel your passions. I have some incredibly smart, driven, and savvy mom friends who have their own great side hustles that are based around their passions and schedules. If you’re an esthetician but want to primarily be home with your kids, why not have your own side business? If you have a marketing background, consider freelancing and helping small businesses build their brands. Are you creative? Open an Etsy shop or other small business where you can work with your hands and your heart. Want passive income but don’t want overhead costs or having to deal with inventory? Consider joining a multi-level marketing company for some “fun money.” Whatever it is you’re passionate about, there’s a side hustle for that — and chances are, it’s going to feel really good to work your business.

3. You’ll meet new people and grow your village. Here in Austin, most of the moms that I’ve met are transplants. We’ve left behind families and friends to venture into the land of tacos and cacti. Having a business means dealing with people, whether that is your customer base or other professionals in your field. Finding your tribe is priceless, and some of the very best moms that I’m grateful to call my close friends were made in my side hustle adventures.

Now, I fully realize that side hustles might not work for everyone. They certainly have drawbacks — nobody is typically contributing to your 401K, and there is no such thing as paid time off. If you don’t work because you’re sick or give birth, you don’t get paid in some instances. However, for a lot of people out there — both working and at home — side hustles are a great option that can really give your family a lot of added flexibility.

What do you think? Have you considered a side hustle? 

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This Is 30

This is 30

I turned 30 on Friday.

I expected to wake up and feel something — wiser? More refined? More maternal?

Spoiler alert: I didn’t feel any of those things. I felt the same, yet somehow different.

I’ve been in my 20’s for quite awhile now, as you can imagine. A decade has passed both entirely too quickly and more slowly than I anticipated. My 20-year-old self looks much different than the present day me. I rang in my 20’s with a loud night out on my college campus, surely consuming entirely too much vodka and ending the night with a 3AM pizza delivery. I’m entering my 30’s asking for a piece of cheesecake and a full night’s sleep, as I spend my days wrangling my now three kids and toting them around to preschool and cheer.

When you’re in your 20’s, you feel almost invincible. Scary stories of cancer and lost loved ones can’t possibly happen to you –you’re far too young for that, right? Something about entering this decade makes you feel a little more vulnerable. Things can happen in your 30’s. Diseases can develop and tragedies seem more tangible. You’re closer to middle age than you might feel comfortable admitting.

Back when I was 20, I thought 30 would be filled with suburban life and mom jeans — group yoga classes and glass tupperware. My cupboards are admittedly filled with Pyrex and I dig my three row SUV, but 30 is not quite what I expected. Some of my friends welcomed 30 with a perfectly executed bar hop, complete with sugar rimmed drinks and short black dresses. Others celebrated quietly with new babies in their arms and half drunk glasses of wine, too tired to even put on pants. Here’s how I see 30 —

Thirty is well-rounded. My Facebook newsfeed consists of wedding and baby announcements, #Homeowner statuses, pay raises, new jobs, and cross country moves. Thirty is hovering between scrounging together the last few dollars to pay the daycare bill and having enough extra for expensive dinner dates and spa trips.

Thirty is exhausting. There are client meetings, full heaps of laundry, and the monotony of meal prep and preschool pick up. There’s the itch for a vacation coupled with the sheer exhaustion of trying to imagine how we’d all survive in one hotel room. There’s the seemingly neverending stack of bills, permission slips, and summer camp brochures. Someone always needs an appointment, the emails never stop coming, and it seems as though we can never just stand still.

Thirty is sophisticated and sensible. There is drinking because you actually enjoy the taste of alcohol. There are bras chosen for comfort instead of aesthetics, meals curated based on nutrition and caloric content, and beauty products selected because of safer ingredients. There is the excitement of a new vacuum and bedspread, and the sacrifice of fixing the thermostat over grabbing coffee that month.

Thirty is playful. There’s still the cranking of pop music entirely too loud, and the blowing off something important for a much needed mental health day. There’s the treating yourself when you need it, even if there are other things you should be spending your money on. There’s the telling your kids that there’s no more dessert left while secretly stashing the good stuff on the top shelf of the pantry. There’s the excuse of watching a Pixar movie because your child asks, when really, you want to see it just as badly.

Thirty is strong — I mean, really strong. Your body might have carried some babies, and your brain has held the knowledge from your advanced degrees. There’s the pushing through sleepless nights, the climb up the career ladder, or simply making it to bedtime without completely losing your shit. There’s the marathons run, the barre classes attended, or even just the strolls around the park to lull a fussy baby to sleep.

Thirty is real. There’s no more time or energy for bullshit — there are the friends who have stuck by your side as you’ve navigated your 20’s, the ones who understand what it feels like to lose an opportunity you desperately wanted — or even a baby. Thirty means dinners dropped on your doorstep when your neighbor knows your spouse is out of town and you have sick kids at home. Thirty means a girls’ nights out, sipping cocktails on a rooftop lounge, and having the opportunity to engage in adult conversation for the first time all week.

Thirty is nothing and everything that I ever hoped and expected, all at once. Thirty is real and raw — thirty is beautiful and entirely terrifying.

This is 30. And it’s going to be awesome.

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Graham’s Lumberjack Bash

Lumberjack Party Theme

It’s still surreal to me that my last baby is one. I wanted to celebrate his birthday at our home so that I could go a little wild with the decorations — I love a good party. Coming up with a theme was slightly tricky, but I finally decided on a lumberjack bash because I am obsessed with all things buffalo plaid. Seeing it all come together was the best part. If you’re thinking about throwing a lumberjack bash for your babe, here’s the breakdown of our party:

Lumberjack Party Theme

The Decor

I fully admit that I relied on Target’s winter and Christmas decor for much of Graham’s party. This is where I found the buffalo plaid bins and metal tins (thanks, Dollar Spot), buffalo plaid “ONE” letters (Christmas ornaments that I cut the string off of), miniature winter trees, buffalo plaid chalk tags, burlap garland, and many of the balloons. By the way, every one of those items except for the “ONE” letters was found in the Dollar Spot! Here’s a little more of the decor details:

Campfire Set from Land of Nod, which was on the right side of the table and made a great statement piece.

The burlap table cloth and runners were purchased from LuxuryLinenLoft on Etsy.

The lumberjack tassel garland really made the party. I was obsessed. I love that the shop has a cheaper DIY option if you want the look but don’t want to spend as much.

I placed this gold “one” script balloon underneath the tassel garland, and loved the way it came out.

And of course, we had to have lumberjack beards for fun photo ops.

Lumberjack Party Theme


Lumberjack Party ThemeLumberjack Party Theme

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lumberjack Birthday Theme

 

The Cake

This is likely my favorite part of any party, and I had a vision for Graham’s. I wanted a realistic wood look with plaid, as well as a plaid interior. Monica’s Creative Cakes is a local woman here in Austin who made Graham’s gorgeous cake and smash cake for me. The board that the smash cake rests upon was found at Target, again in the Dollar Spot. Not only were the cakes perfect, but they were incredibly delicious! I scoured Etsy for the perfect cake topper and fell in love with this. I was also stuck on having a banner around Graham’s high chair and loved this option.

Lumberjack Party ThemeLumberjack Party ThemeLumberjack Party Theme

The Menu

I admit that I didn’t do anything crazy for this, but we did have a few cute ideas thrown in:

  • Costco: Sandwich platters, chocolate chip cookies, and veggie trays
  • Woodland Berries with Maple Dip (aka raspberries and blackberries)
  • Campfire Flames (aka Trader Joe’s version of Cheetos)
  • Twigs (aka Pretzel Sticks)
  • “Don’t Feed the Bears!” (aka Teddy Grahams)
  • S’Mores Pops (these were a hit – just pop the marshmallows on a stick, dip in melted chocolate, and roll into crushed graham crackers)
  • Pimento cheese dip with tortilla chips
  • A large cooler stocked with juice boxes, water, Topo Chico, beer, beer, and more beer

Lumberjack Party Theme

The Favors

I opted for some delicious s’mores kits. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Clear party favor bags from Target
  • Stapler and staples
  • These downloadable treat bag toppers
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate Bars
  • Graham Crackers

As you can see, the end result was pretty adorable. We had them in a tray by the door so that people could take them on their way out.

Lumberjack Party Theme

The Table Details

I wanted all of the details, down to the forks and straws, to coordinate with the theme. We used a lot of mason jars to complete the look, too. Here’s where I purchased everything — as you can see, we put our Amazon Prime membership to good use:

Lumberjack Party ThemeLumberjack Party ThemeLumberjack Party Theme

Graham’s Attire

I sadly don’t have any pictures of him in his adorable outfit, but just take my word for it that he looked amazing. He had on black skinny jeans from Zara, along with this adorable buffalo plaid shirt and amazing buffalo plaid moccasins from Hudson’s Mocc Shop.

Buffalo Plaid Baby Moccasins

We also rented a bounce house for entertainment. Though this was definitely one of the most expensive parts of the party, it was well worth it. The kids had a blast on there, and it was great to have them running around outside of the house. Even though he was super overwhelmed, the birthday boy seemed to have a nice time, too.

Lumberjack Party Theme Lumberjack Party Theme

…as did the adults.

Lumberjack Party Theme

 

Planning a lumberjack party for your babe? I hope this gave you some inspiration!

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The Happy, Fulfilled Mother is Both All and None of Us

Working Mom vs Stay At Home Mom

What does fulfillment look like as a mom? The answer isn’t so black and white. Whether you stay home or work, Facebook serves as a constant reminder that we’re doing it wrong. In a sea of Pinterest perfect parents, it’s tough to glance at your sink full of dirty dishes and growing list of client emails, wondering why you just can’t seem to get it together in comparison. When it comes to different viewpoints on the role that mothers should hold within their families, society and social media both paint a very distinct picture resembling one of the following mindsets:

Staying home is much more fulfilling than working because you have the opportunity to really be there for your children and have full involvement in their lives. It’s also a luxury for your spouse and improves your family’s overall quality of life. You never have to pay for daycare, and when your child is sick, you get to be the one caring for them without stressing about missed work time. Bonus: you have the option to wear yoga pants or leggings every day of the week.

Staying home is terrible – your children are sticky, demanding creatures that run you ragged. You barely have time to pee or shower, let alone get any housework done, and it takes an obscene amount of effort just to get dinner on the table. You’re so sick of wearing those damn yoga pants, and it’s a win if you leave the house without a questionable stain on your zip-up. Sometimes you fantasize about what it would be like to put on a pencil skirt and kick up your heels on an office desk, or brush the dust off that diploma you’ve had packed away in the attic.

Being a working mom sucks. You’re missing everything – your son’s soccer tournament, your daughter’s school concert, and whatever else is scheduled during working hours. You’re the parent huffing into the auditorium when the kids have already lined up on stage for the school play, all eyes on you as you shamefully hide in the back row. You are sick of the hustle of never-ending meal prep and shelling out a substantial chunk of your post-taxed income to let someone else care for your children. Sometimes you wonder what it would be like to sip your coffee in the comfort of your own home – not dribbled down your blouse as you run to catch your morning train.

Being a working mom is great because you are setting a true example for your children. You are raising your sons to know the value of a two-income household, and your daughters to recognize that women can achieve their dreams and accomplish anything. You’re a strong, independent woman who juggles it all. Childcare is great because your kids are being socialized and are accustomed to multiple caregivers. It also feels good to contribute to your household income. Hell, you’re probably the breadwinner.

Then, somewhere in between the blurred lines and the bullshit lies reality.

Despite all the toddler tea parties, trips to the park, and fancy office views on Instagram, there really is no black and white when it comes to motherhood. Sometimes things are, in fact, very gray. Depending on the moment it’s met, that gray can be cold and stifling, sending you into a downward spiral. It can also be calm and welcoming – a much needed reprieve after a particularly rough moment.

I’ve been the stay-at-home-mom who was bored to tears, insecurely watching my friends from the sidelines as they climbed their career ladders.

I’ve also been the stay-at-home mom who felt such joy and fulfillment from spending my days at the zoo or devouring books with my toddler on a rainy day.

I’ve been the working mom who miserably trudges to the office each morning, wishing that I could just stop missing everything.

I’ve also been the fulfilled working mom who feels pretty bad-ass for balancing my family with pursuing my own passions and having an identity outside of my children.

I have a confession, though – while I have been all of these mothers before, I’ve never been just one of them at any given time. In fact, most days I’m all of them simultaneously.

Some days as I squeeze in client phone calls while bouncing a fussy baby, I find myself longing for an office with free cold brew. I start to wonder if leaving my full-time career was a mistake.

As I take the baby for a walk that afternoon and help my tween with her homework after school, I then feel deep gratitude that I have the opportunity to be their people.

As moms, we need to stop feeling insecure about our paths that are unique to our motherhood journeys. We must stop searching for a fulfillment that might not exist in every moment, but rather accept that sometimes fulfillment is fluid and therefore constantly shifting. The truth is, sometimes there are no perfect options – there are only perfect moments.

Maybe someday, though, I’ll leave it all behind and be the PTA mom. And maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll decide to work full-time again outside of the home.

Or maybe I’ll work part-time forever.

Whether your morning view is a sleepy toddler, a city skyline, or something in between – know that you are mom. And through all the many moments in your life, both perfect and imperfect, that is simply enough.

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To My Last Baby on Your First Birthday

Graham Bennett

Graham OneGraham Bennett, you are one today. Did you know that after the age of one, you are no longer considered an infant? This means that I am no longer the mother of a baby, nor will I ever be again. This stage of life — the bouncers, the swaddles, the pacifiers — is over. You’re starting to take steps and wean off of bottles, and it won’t be long before we’re in full on toddler mode, and the baby years are yet another fading memory.

It’s hard for me to come to terms with this finality. Sometimes I think that I could have a million babies, but other days I know that my plate and heart are already filled to the brim. I feel in my gut that you were meant to be the very last, and the one who makes our family complete. Did you know that you do so in the best possible way?

We have a tradition in our family where each child gets a special day with us on their birthday. Today we took you to breakfast and to ride the train at Zilker Park — just me and your Dad — while your brother and sister were at school. At about 80 degrees and sunny, it was absolute perfection. We talked about how fast this year has flown and how amazing we think you are. We took the time to marvel at your babbling, your pointing, your quirks, and your luscious red hair. You are so delicious, G, and are truly the love of our lives. How did we ever live without you?

Graham One

The decision to have a third and final baby was not one that we took lightly. We agonized for quite awhile and were apprehensive when it happened before we were completely ready. Would we have ever been ready? I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I had, riddled with anxiety about whether or not I’d be able to love you the way you deserved, or if I’d be able to handle being a mom of three. But you, Graham — you fit so seamlessly into our lives. The smile you reserve just for your siblings and the way you rest your head in just the right spot under my chin when you’re tired — I somehow know that you were meant to be here all along. It was always you.

I held you a little closer tonight, relishing the fact that you still fit so perfectly into my arms and haven’t lost your delicious baby thighs. I know these days are coming to a close, and while a part of me is dreading the end of this beautiful stage of life, a large part of me also knows the infinite joys yet to come. There will be Disney trips, lost teeth, and so many movie nights. There will be first words leading to first sentences, and running down the stairs to see if Santa came on Christmas morning. There will be school trips, broken hearts, and times when I’ll throw my arms up in surrender because I won’t know the right way to guide you. There will be days where I long for time to speed up, and days where I’ll wish that a kiss and Mickey Mouse bandaid would still solve all of your problems. There is pain in letting you go, yes — but there is also so much joy and beauty in watching you grow up.

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy. There are no words to describe the absolute joy that you bring us or how grateful I am to spend my days with you. It is truly a privilege to be your mama, Graham, and I know you will do great things someday. For now, though, you’re still my smooshy velcro baby — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Graham Bennett

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Comparing Our “Everyday” to Everyone Else’s “Highlight Reel”

Natural Ways to Combat Depression

When I first moved to Austin from the East Coast, it initially felt like a vacation. The experience of finding my new stomping grounds – my grocery stores, Starbucks, and favorite lunch spots – was almost surreal. While some new things were exciting (HEB is basically a city, y’all), others left less to be desired (holy water bill!). One issue remained constant, though – my growing insecurity. I’m aware that there are natural ways to combat depression, but I just wasn’t sure where to begin.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt vulnerable about various aspects of my life. I could probably go to therapy and work through the deep roots that is my self-consciousness, but I’ll save the money and keep moving forward. I’ve been guilty of getting caught up in what everyone else is doing, seeing, tasting, and experiencing. Being a large part of what I do, social media consumes my life. It’s quite literally my job to scope out blogs and perfect Instagram pages to find fun new moms to try out products and form ideas for fresh content. It’s easy to become insecure amongst a sea of Clarendon and Ludwig.

One day, though, I came across this quote –

“Stop comparing your everyday to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

I stopped and contemplated. I felt like these words were speaking to me, as that has been my reality.

Everyone else was thinner.

Their clothes were perfect.

Their kids never misbehaved.

Their houses were impeccably decorated and showroom worthy at all times.

Their weekends were filled with living room forts and museum trips, followed by expensive date nights.

I looked around at my own house where toys lay scattered around our family room and crumbs were strewn atop the kitchen counter. My kids were still in pajamas, as was I, and there was something sticky and purple in the dog’s fur. How do I even live up to it all?

The truth is, though, that what we see on the outside world is only a snapshot of what occurs in a person’s life. That quote spoke so deeply to me because it was accurate. Most of us only post the “good stuff” – the things that make us happy. In 2017, I made several promises to myself. I was going to practice great self-care and make sure that I’m getting enough time to do so, and secondly, I would stop comparing my “everyday” with that of others.

I’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but I’ve also developed some tricks to make it easier. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Unplug From Social Media.

I can’t stress enough how important this one is. Give yourself a dedicated block of time where the phone goes in the drawer and you simply practice being present. Read a book to your kids, take the dog for a walk, or just have a face-to-face conversation with a friend. If you’re not being bombarded with the highlight reel, you are able to best obtain perspective.

Make a “Thankful” Jar.

I’ve also heard the word “Blessings Jar,” but I despise the word #blessed. It makes me think of privileged humble braggers on social media, but that’s a whole other post. Before you laugh at me, take a minute and think about it. We all need reminders of the things in our life that are good. Are you healthy? Are you able to walk without pain? Are you able to afford to grab a coffee and treat yourself? If the answer to any of the above is yes, then you have things to be thankful for. Even at our most rock bottom moments, we really have so much more than we even realize. I know that I need that reminder when I’m at my worst. Take a few minutes and write down the reasons you’re thankful for being you. Everyone gets frazzled and jealous sometimes – we are human, after all. When this happens, grab one of the strips from your jar and read it aloud to yourself. This will force you to focus on what you do have rather than what you don’t.

Set Some Goals – And Crush Them.

If there’s something you want, set a goal to obtain it. It was tough for me to watch many of my friends become homeowners before we were able to purchase a house, ourselves. We had Hayley at a really young age, and saving just wasn’t an easy option for us when we made it a priority to rent an expensive Boston condo to keep her in a top school district. I admit it – I was bitter and jealous. My friends were in a position to move home and stash after college, but that was not our reality. Instead of letting it eat me alive, though, my husband and I channeled those emotions into saving for our own house. We became homeowners last summer, and I am in love with our house.

Embrace the Hand You’ve Been Dealt.

I spent many years comparing myself to others and was sick of feeling constantly inadequate. I realize, though, that as cliched as it sounds, we truly all have our own paths to walk. Just because someone has something amazing, too, doesn’t mean that they didn’t work hard for it. Whatever hardships you’re facing and whatever stress is at the forefront of your life, take a deep breath and overcome it – fight for what you want. Just because you were dealt a specific hand doesn’t mean that it needs to determine the rest of your life or define who you are and what you will become.

I’m still constantly battling my insecurities. I’m trying to teach my tween daughter to balance screen time when it’s a struggle for me to do so, myself. I’m far from perfect, and I still wish my house was cleaner. Instead of wallowing in what I want, though, I’m spinning my emotions into tangible goals to motivate me to better myself.

 

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I’m Sorry I Was Late Today

Chaotic Life with Kids

I’m sorry I was late today.

I had every intention of being on time, but the best laid plans often go to shit when there’s a baby and toddler involved.

I’m not sure if you know this, but I’m still pumping for my eleven-month-old. I say ‘pumping’ because he never latched very well. It was really important to me to give him breast milk, though, so I pump several times a day to ensure that this happens. I’m drying up, so we have been relying on my freezer stash to fill in the gaps. When I thawed a few ounces and tried to feed it to him this morning, he kept pushing it away. Frustrated, I smelled it and realized why – it was rancid. Insert Plan B of thawing another bag.

I tried to save time and get dressed before I got the baby up, but my toddler had pancakes for breakfast. As you know, these are frequently accompanied by syrup. In his words, he “just needed to give me a hug.” I’m sure you can surmise that the result of said hug was an outfit change, in between warming up Bag #2 of Hopefully-Not-Rancid milk.

OhMyGodWhyDoesFrozenMilkTakeSoLongToThaw.

The baby is in between diaper sizes, and I have been debating whether or not to make the trip to Target for the next size up. He chose this morning to remind me that it was, in fact, time to do so. Right after I had just changed him.

When we finally got ourselves out the door, my toddler just needed to ring his tricycle bell. He then decided that along with ringing the bell, a ride around the garage might be nice. He proceeded to trip and lightly scrape his ankle, which of course was the equivalent of being stabbed. I had to quickly buckle the baby in the car, then grab him a Bandaid – but not just any one would do. It had to be Marshall from Paw Patrol, and it took a couple minutes of digging through the box to find just the right one.

When we finally got back to the car, I looked at the clock and realized what time it was.

Cue my curse words.

I’m sorry.

I know how important it is to be on time. From the outside, it seems like so many moms have it together in this department much more so than I do. If I’m being honest, though, I don’t foresee my circumstances changing anytime soon. I miss being punctual, but a smooth morning routine is a luxury that I don’t have these days. My life is comprised of little hands and little voices – crawling, climbing, grasping fiercely. I long for the days of taking time to carefully flat iron my hair and apply mascara without rushing to find missing shoes or making sure that I’ve packed enough diapers. Right now, though, my time is not my own – and I’m ok with that.

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6 Raw Truths of Parenting Kids with a Larger Age Gap

Siblings with Larger Age Gap

My 12-year-old daughter Hayley was not exactly planned. We were pretty young parents and hadn’t even finished growing up yet, ourselves. Subsequently, we had much that we wanted to accomplish before expanding our family. When she was about eight, the baby fever set in – right when I was in the midst of graduate school. Her baby brother Colin was born right before her 9th birthday and about eight weeks before I graduated with my second degree. Starting over with a new baby, despite how well prepared we were this time around, was much more challenging than I anticipated. If I’m being honest, it was a shit show. Even though he was the second kid, this was not like riding a bicycle.

Hayley and Colin

Parenting children with a larger age gap has its own unique set of joys and challenges that you can’t fathom unless you’re living it. You are a veteran mom in some ways, having successfully raised a child into their elementary years or beyond. In other ways, you quickly realize that you still have no idea what the fuck you’re doing. Here are some very raw truths about parenting kids with a larger gap:

  1. You won’t feel like you’re going from 1 to 2. Your older child will be independent enough to give you more time to focus on the baby, just like a first time mom. You’ll have a quiet house while your oldest is in school and can bribe them to play with the baby while you take a hot shower. Hayley was nine when Colin was born. She had been independently using the bathroom, showering, and getting herself ready for years. She even packed her own lunches and washed her own laundry. The transition to a second child was a very different experience for me than for my friends with two closer in age. In many ways, I felt as though I had two separate families.
  2.  …but in some ways you will. Even though Hayley was very independent, she still needed to be parented. You’ll live through the challenges of maintaining an older child’s busy schedule and extracurriculars with an unpredictable baby in tow. Amidst the chaos of diapers and breastfeeding, I was helping her with math homework and toting her to cheer practice. My life was a constant juggling act calming her colicky brother while reciting spelling words and signing permission slips. Those were the moments when it really hit me – you have two of these things now. You are responsible for two little humans that need you, albeit in very different ways.
  3. Family outings will be impossible to plan. Do you know what nine year olds like? Going to the movies. Shopping. Paintball. Trampoline parks. Board games. Basically, fun activities that are anything but baby friendly. Do you know what babies like? Pooping, sleeping at inconvenient times, and cluster feeding. As a result, my husband and I often split up and each took a kid, which meant that full family outings were a rarity. Planning around nap schedules and fussiness is tricky and sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. Be prepared to get some serious 1:1 time with each kid separately, but time as a family won’t be quite the same for awhile.
  4. Vacations are shot, too. I love traveling. When Colin was nine months old, we decided it would be a great idea to take him on a six hour flight to California. Amateur move. Needless to say, it wasn’t a vacation for any of us. Hayley is at the stage where her friends’ Snapchat stories depict all of their magical vacations, laying on beaches and riding elephants in lagoons. It’s not as easy to live that lifestyle with a baby on board (or at all, if we’re being honest), and there aren’t many trips that are fun for infants, tweens, and overtired parents. Your vacations might take a hiatus for a few years.
  5. Exhaustion will be an understatement. Speaking of being overtired, tweens are emotionally exhausting. There’s the eye rolling, the tears of frustration, the foot stomping, and the friendship drama. There’s the, “I don’t understand this math problem!” issue and the, “Emily told me that my shirt was ugly!” issue. You know what else is exhausting? Newborns. Your body is healing, your breasts are leaking, and you’re running off two hours of sleep and entirely too much caffeine. Couple that with the tween crap and it’s enough to make any sane person lose their shit. You’re trudging through two very different trenches simultaneously. You will be pulled in every direction and be completely brain dead and touched out by the time bedtime rolls around.
  6. Their bond might be different, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Colin looks to Hayley as a role model and true authority figure. I’ve often caught Hayley whispering to him that he’s her favorite person in the world. Colin has taught her more about patience and compassion than I ever could as a parent. They still manage to find things in common that they both love, like singing karaoke songs and making silly videos with Snapchat filters. Their bond is pretty rock solid despite those nine years between them. The bond your children share, despite their gap, will be the most amazing thing to witness. You will see your older child’s leadership flourish as they guide their younger siblinHayley and Coling, and you will discover the magic that comes from said sibling thinking their big brother or sister is the greatest person in existence.

Sometimes I wonder if waiting too long was a mistake – will they be close as adults? Colin will only be nine when Hayley goes off to college – will he even remember a time with her? The truth is, the struggles and joys of parenting are real and raw with any age gap. Taking that time to achieve my goals was an important piece of my parenting journey and has made me the mother I am today. Whatever the reason for your larger gap, you are giving your kids the lifelong gift (or curse?) of a sibling – whenever it happens to work best for your family.

 

 

 

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