Ask Me Anything: Transracial Adoption

Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series I’ll be running featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.

The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at caitlin@realmomrecs.com.

Ask Me Anything: A Transracial Adoptive Family

Having a family that doesn’t “match” means we attract attention wherever we go. Even living in a diverse area, we still stand out in a crowd.

We get a lot of questions and comments when we’re out in public. I’m happy to say that the vast majority are positive.  The number one comment I get is, “you have a beautiful family”. Sometimes I feel like this code for “I’m noticing that your family is different”, but I’ll take the compliment.

Other comments are not so friendly. People have asked prying questions or made assumptions about my kids’ birth parents. Strangers ask me if any of them are my “real” kids (HINT: they are all very much real).

My goal is to openly discuss transracial adoption so people will be more familiar with our situation and other families that look like ours. Following are questions from other bloggers who are familiar with my family but don’t know us in real life.

Meghna Dixit of Love, Life & the little one asks, “What are your thoughts on adoption? When do you know that you are ready to adopt?”

Everyone’s journey is different, but for me, adoption is something I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m not sure where the desire came from but it has been on my mind since I was a young teen. Fortunately for me, my husband was open to the idea. It wasn’t a plan that he would have come up with on his own, but we talked about it prior to getting married and he had a lot of time to think it over.

We decided together that we would adopt first, before attempting to have biological children. It was also important to us that we pursue adoption for kids that were in need of a family, which is why we chose to adopt from foster care vs. domestic infant adoption.  We were not interested in marketing ourselves to birth mothers and being “in competition” with lots of other couples who wanted to adopt.

To us, the purpose of adoption is to find families for children, not find a child for the family.

June 2010: Our first trip as a family of 4
Kayla Nigro of Adventures of a Young Mother asks, “What was the process to get your two children? How long did it take? Was it stressful?

Because of the route we chose to pursue, the process for us was very quick. First we had to become licensed foster parents, which took a few months. The home study was a little stressful, but being a social worker myself I had a good sense of what they were looking for and didn’t go too crazy alphabetizing my canned goods or anything.

Mostly they just want to ensure your home is safe and you have a clean background check.

We had to have a room prepared for the child in advance which was a little strange. I think at this stage in the game our friends and family started to think we were crazy. Having never tried to get pregnant and having been married for less than a year, we were collecting any and all baby/toddler items we might need for whatever child we could be placed with. Some people were supportive from the get-go and others tried to talk us out of it. Not having the same support as we had with our biological children is something that still bothers me to this day. On the other hand, there were people that were kind and helpful at this stage and I’m very grateful for them.

Adopting from foster care means that there is a good chance you will have some foster placements that end up being reunified with their birth parents or going to relatives instead of becoming available for adoption. This did in fact happen with our first foster baby. While it was extremely difficult for us to care for a child and then see him go, we had faith in the process and believed he was going where he needed to be. That whole situation validated our reason for wanting to adopt prior to having bio kids: we knew that we could endure having a child leave, but we didn’t want any children of ours to have to endure saying goodbye to a child that had been ours for however long.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much time to wallow in our grief after saying goodbye to our first foster child.  Less than four hours after he left, we were called for Tiana and Zari.

John with Tiana and Zari
Inez Bayardo of For the Love of Mom asks, “I’m sure there have been times when you feel a question is inappropriate or going too far. How do you handle these types of questions?”

Being an adoptive mom has forced me to learn how to be assertive. While the majority of comments I get are positive, I have been asked some that are nosy, strange, or outright rude.

I could write an entire post about the crazy things I’ve been asked, but for the sake of brevity I will just name a few that stand out in my mind:

Where did you get him? Asked completely out of the blue while grocery shopping with Zari when he was a baby.

How much did they cost? This was asked directly in front of my children who were both old enough to understand at the time.

What was their mom, a crack whore? Yes, someone asked this exact question. I wish I could say I had a witty response but I literally just stood there speechless.

Why didn’t their parents want them? I’m not going to discuss their birth parents and the reasons they are not able to parent.

Do they have the same father? Of course they do, my husband is the father of both of them! If you’re asking about their birth father, why on earth does that matter to you?

Personally I find it difficult to get snarky with people even when it’s warranted. Usually a blank stare accompanied by silence is enough to make the person think twice about what they just asked.

An early pic of me with Zari

When I’m by myself, questions don’t bother me as much. I feel like it’s something that goes with the territory of being a conspicuous family. I made the choice to have this family so I need to accept what comes with it. The questions that really bother me are when they are offensive and asked in front of my children. They didn’t sign up for this and they don’t appreciate being singled out or made to feel different.

I also make a distinction between questions asked out of nosiness vs. people genuinely interested in adoption. I’m happy to engage in a conversation with someone who opens with “I’m interested in adopting, would you be willing to answer some questions for me?” I still won’t disclose personal details that are part of my children’s story, but I will gladly talk about the adoption process in general.

Claire Lyons of The Frugal Family asks, “Do you find kids more tolerant than adults? How have your kids found school etc?”

I have absolutely found kids to be more tolerant than adults. In almost all cases, children accept our family on first glance without hesitation. In most cases they don’t even seem to notice anything different about us.

As the kids have gotten older (they are 7 and 8 now), they occasionally get questions from their peers. Their responses to these questions are as different as their personalities. Zari, always carefree, takes things at face value.

A classmate of his once saw me pick him up from school and was confused. She asked him, “why is your Mom white?” Zari looked over at me as if to verify that I was in fact what she said I was. Then he shrugged, and replied, “she was just born that way.”

Tiana on the other hand is much more aware and concerned about what others think. It’s important to her to fit in and she becomes embarrassed when people ask her about her family.

Liz Farris of It’s a Twinkie Life asks, “how did your bio kids handle the adoption process? And if they came after, how did your adopted kids handle the bio kids? Is there competition? How do they get along?”

Zari and Tiana were 3 and 4 when our first bio child, Elle, was born. They reacted as any child does when they get a new sibling. They loved the baby and also had typical sibling jealousy. This was especially true for Zari, as he was the one being “de-throned” from his place as the baby of the family.

Happy kids with their new baby sister

When our fourth child, Luca, came along, I noticed a slightly different reaction. By then they were 6 and 7 and had more questions about pregnancy and where babies come from. This sparked some thoughts about themselves and their birth parents. Tiana especially started asking things like, “why did she have a baby if she couldn’t take care of one?” I tried to field her questions honestly but with as much detail as she could handle and understand at her age.

Proudly holding their new baby brother

All four of my children behave like regular siblings. They have a normal amount of unconditional love for one another and a normal amount of sibling rivalry. Some combinations of kids get along better than others, but it seems to have more to do with personality type than genetic connection.

Just to verify my answer I asked Zari how he feels about his two sisters. He said “I love them both the same, and they annoy me both the same.” (You can always count on a straight answer from Zari!)

As for Tiana, she also loves all her siblings the same but I also know it means a lot to her that we have Zari. She is more sensitive to looking “different” and it is helpful for her to have someone in the family that looks like her. I’ve also spoken to adult adoptees who say it was difficult growing up without knowing anyone who is biologically related to them. I think this would be an issue for Tiana based on her personality, so I’m glad she has Zari.

Natasha Brown of Grits and Grace asks, “what has been the toughest part for you and your husband raising black children?
Learning to do T’s hair took some practice.

When the kids were first placed with us, I didn’t give much thought to the idea of raising black children. I figured I would need to learn some basics in haircare, but other than that all children need the same things, right?

Well, sort of.

With time I’ve come to realize that there is more to it than food, shelter, and love. Are my husband and I equipped to raise black adults in our society? The honest answer is, probably not. We can teach them what we want them to know (and we’ve already started), but we have not lived the reality that they are living being black individuals in the U.S.

Preparing them for adulthood is a huge responsibility that is not lost on us.

I started giving a lot more thought to this topic when Trayvon Martin was killed. When I saw his cute, boyish face all over the news, I watched in horror. I started to think about my cute little boy and how people would see him when he is a tall, strong, young black man. Could he be shot walking home in our neighborhood? The thought terrifies me.

John and I know that we are raising our kids with a certain amount of privilege. As young children, Tiana and Zari are afforded some basic white privilege by having white parents. We also know that this is temporary.

Once my children are grown and they go out in public without us, the world won’t see what school they went to or what house they grew up in. They will simply be seen as black. People will make judgments and assumptions about them. I’m sure it will be harsh and my kids will likely be unprepared for that.

We have began teaching them basic things like how to act around the police and how to conduct themselves in public. Sadly, I have already had to explain to my son that he needs to control his emotions because if he gets angry, people will be afraid. These conversations are difficult but I know they are necessary.

John and I also know we can only teach them so much.  They will also need some black role models and mentors to help. Transracial adoption doesn’t work without help. It isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t easy, but transracial adoption has been a wonderful blessing for our family.

One lucky family
Want to see more posts about transracial adoption? What other questions do you have? Leave a comment!

 

 

 

Best Books for Preschoolers

How do I choose the books on the list?

I write my “best books” lists based on the books that appeal to all children, both boys and girls and regardless of their specific interest du jour.  My four children run the complete gamut of personality types, and these are books they have all loved.

What’s NOT on the list

Let me just say it again: these books were chosen based on how much children enjoy reading them.  I have gone out and bought books based on “best children’s literature” lists and it was clear that they were chosen by adult rating scales.  My preschool-age children are much more active and have shorter attention spans than adults, and they thought some of those books were a total snooze-fest (I’m looking at you, Make Way for Ducklings!)

I also do not include books that 3-4 year olds may find scary (sorry, I know Where the Wild Things Are is an amazing book, but my kids are wussies), or sad (why, The Giving Tree, WHY?????)

Some may be new and others pre-date my own childhood, but these are they books my kids beg me to read again and again and again…

 


Don’t Push the Button!

An irresistible book that will appeal to your child’s silly side.  Of course when the monster tells kids not to push the big red button, that’s exactly what they’ll want to do.  Then hilarity ensues and the kids need to interact with the book to get things back to normal.

 


Feast for 10

This counting book is also a joyful portrayal of a family going grocery shopping, preparing a meal together, and sitting down to eat as a family.  It follows a simple rhyme scheme and is enjoyable to listen to.  I love how my children see people who look like them in this book but that isn’t at all what the book is about.  The family is so wholesome and sweet it makes you want to sit down and eat with them.

 


Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and take the opportunity to make some demands from their keeper.  A silly tale of give and take follows.  The kids will appreciate the hilarity of seeing farm animals do “people things” without realizing they are learning the basics of collective bargaining!

 


Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

I think it’s one of those things every kid fantasizes about to have their Dad get them a humongous ladder to climb up and grab the moon.  Children are delighted when the pages fold out to show just how huge the ladder is. NOTE: Choose the paperback version if you’re buying on Amazon as reviews indicate the board book version frustrates toddlers with the folding pages.

 


Mix It Up!

My kids absolutely love this highly-interactive book that teaches them about mixing colors.  The pictures are so realistic, it actually feels more like finger painting than reading.  The first few times I read this book to my kids they actually thought it was “magic”!  If you love this one, don’t miss Herve Tullet’s other playful hit Press Here.

 


Just Go to Bed (Little Critter)

My kids are super into all the Little Critter books, but this is one of their favorites.  Little Critter tries all the tricks to avoid having to go to bed.  Why is it so fun for kids to watch other kids being naughty?

 


Olivia

Wonderful illustrations and a captivating pig protagonist make this book a favorite of 2-6 year olds.  Sassy, spunky Olivia appeals to children and adults alike with her creative and precocious ideas.  The original is the best but my kids love the other Olivia books too, especially Olivia Forms a Band.

 


King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub

This is a cute story about a king who refuses to get out of the bath.  Every time a member of his court tries to entice him to come out, he instead invites them to do the activity in the tub.  While the story is fun, it’s the illustrations that make this book a top pick.  Amazingly detailed, kids will spot something new each time you read it to them.

 


Shades of People

My go-to gift for preschoolers, especially those who live in areas that are not racially diverse.  Describes the many different shades that people come in (almond, copper, tan, etc) and how even in the same family there can be many shades.  Features beautiful photographs of kids and families with all skin tones. My kids love looking through the pages on their own and pointing out people that look like them and people they know.

 


Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Mo Willems is pretty much an A-list celebrity in this house.  My kids can’t make it through any of his Pigeon books without erupting into fits of laughter.  In this book, the bus driver steps away from his bus and leaves the reader (your child) in charge of making sure the pigeon doesn’t drive the bus.  As soon as he leaves, the pigeon starts asking, bargaining, and pleading for permission to drive the bus.  See how your child reacts to his own persuasive techniques when he is the one in charge!

 


It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny

PJ Funnybunny decides he doesn’t like being a bunny.  He is tired of eating carrots, his ears are too big, and he has way too many brothers and sisters.  After trying to go live with various other types of animals, PJ decides being a bunny isn’t so bad afterall.  An entertaining story that teaches kid to appreciate what they have.

 


Corduroy

A classic and timeless book that my children love just as much as I did as a kid.  Adorable and relatable, stuffed teddy bear Corduroy is ignored by the kids coming into the department store until one special girl looks past his flaws and gives him a home.  (Also answers the question “what would it be like to wander in a department store at night?”)

 


Pinkalicious

If you think this book is only for girls, I dare you to show me a preschool boy who doesn’t love it after reading it!  After eating too many pink cupcakes, Pinkalicious starts turning pink and is diagnosed with Pinkatitis.  At first the fun, relatable protagonist is delighted, but then she discovers it’s better to just be herself.  The magical antidote?  Eating lots of healthy green vegetables!

 


The Snowy Day

This book about a boy’s day exploring and playing in the snow is written so simply but so vividly, your child will feel like he’s out there playing with him.

 


Harry the Dirty Dog

Another classic that I remember loving as a child, and now my kids love it just as much.  Harry hates baths so he hides his scrub brush and runs away.  On his adventures, he gets so dirty he changes from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots (that line always makes Elle giggle!) and his family no longer recognizes him.

 

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

When I first encountered Pete the Cat, I’ll be honest, I thought he was a little creepy looking.  Since then, we’ve become very familiar and I now see why my kids love him.  The Pete the Cat books are written to be like songs (in fact some even come with a recording of the song) or you can read it more like a poem or rap.  In this one, Pete is out walking in his white shoes and keeps stepping in messes that turn them different colors.  But Pete doesn’t get upset, because “it’s all good”.

 

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Unlock your child’s imagination as you follow Harold through a world of wonder made all with his own purple crayon.  An unforgettable classic.

 

Duck on a Bike

Zari (age 7) is taking over the blog to summarize this book for you.  He says, “Duck decides he wants to ride a bike.  All the other farm animals have lots of opinions.  It is funny to hear what they’re thinking!  At the end there’s a big surprise too!”  Thanks buddy.

 


The Watermelon Seed

Crocodile loves watermelon and eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  One day he swallows a seed and begins to panic in the funniest way as he is sure a watermelon is growing inside him.  My kids never get sick of this sweet story.

 


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Circular logic reigns in this silly story.  Kids learn cause and effect as one thing leads to another with this demanding mouse.  At the end, it comes full circle with the mouse asking for a cookie again.  At this point my children groan in unison: “here we go again!”

One Messy Mama
Coffee and Conversation button

Our Week in Crappy Cell Phone pics (5/17/17)

Take a peek at our fun family adventures as of late through the eyes of my crappy cell phone pictures.

Little Man turned 1!  To alleviate the guilt I had about doing absolutely nothing for his party, I paid someone to make him a kickass cake.

Elle went to a pool party for 4 year olds, also known as a mom’s 2 hour heart attack.

Luca apparently inherited my feelings towards vacuuming.

John succeeded in hiding my Mother’s Day gift for a week by putting it in a place I’d never look.

Part of being a little sister is knowing your role as the camel’s hump.

Brunch without booze is just a sad late breakfast.

I went to cheer Tiana on for her race where she yelled at me for embarrassing her.

Well I ain’t saying he’s a gold digger…

Zari’s assignment was to make something out of recycled materials.  Every other kid made a robot, car, or castle.  My little creative genius made a graveyard.  Note the caption on the gravestone: “Dead people blood”. (Alternate caption: How to get a call home from school).

This pic makes our family hike look like a great time, because you can’t hear the whining.

Blogging Income Report Month 1: April 2017

Whew!  I survived my first month of blogging!  I have learned a lot this past month and had some successes as well as many challenges.  A month ago, I was clueless about how much more goes into blogging than just writing blog posts.  Hosting, domains, security, plugins, widgets, promotion, graphic design, image editing, branding- these are all things I had NO idea about going into this.  As I assume all new bloggers do, I am learning as I go.

Why write income reports?

First of all, I want to write these because I love reading other people’s!  It is fascinating to me to see how other people have grown their blogs.  Not just income, but also page views, visitors, and social media following.  I am always super impressed to see how someone can start out so small and then start gaining traction and then BOOM– it takes off!  Reading other blogger’s income reports has been hugely motivating for me.

Secondly, I’m a numbers girl.  I enjoy seeing data in tables and on graphs.  It makes something creative and subjective (writing) into something measurable.

The last reason I have for writing and sharing income reports is to force myself to look at my progress each month.  Blogging can be a frustrating endeavor and I want to make sure I look back and celebrate my successes.  Seeing my growth will also allow me to create realistic, manageable goals for the next 30 days.

Month 1 Revenue

This section will be very short because right now I only have one (small!) income stream: Amazon Affiliates.

Affiliate income: $4.33

Sponsored posts: None yet

Google Adsense: Hoping to start next month!

Total revenue: $4.33

Month 1 Expenses

Expenses this month are not what I expect to have going forward because they my startup costs.

Bluehost (Web hosting for 1 year, domain name registration, + security):  $125

WordPress (Premium Theme and Install): $179

Total expenses: $305

Month 1 Net Income: $-300.67

Sad face!  This month was a big net loss.

However, I didn’t expect to turn a profit in my first month and I am not going to let this get me down!

Stats:

These are a bit more optimistic than my income this month.  Anything above 0 is a success to me because all of these were at 0 until half way through April!

Page views: 303

Unique visitors: 207

Comments on my blog: 2

Pinterest followers: 7

Twitter followers: 35

Right now those are the only social media accounts I’ve started.

Goals for next month:

Income: $1 (hoping to see a positive number)

Page views: 1000

Unique visitors: 500

Comments on my blog: 25

Pinterest followers: 50

Twitter followers: 200

Broader goals for the next month include writing a sponsored post, setting up Google Adsense, and connecting with other bloggers by either writing a guest post or featuring a guest on my blog.

So, what do you think?  Any impressions or feedback from my first month?  Anything you want to share about your start as a blogger?  Leave a comment!

One Messy Mama

The Motherless Mom on Mother’s Day

For my first 19 years, Mother’s Day was not much more than a normal spring Sunday. As a child perhaps it was a bit more exciting as I proudly gave my mom a misshapen clay bowl I made in art class. As a teenager maybe it was more of an annoyance for me as I was forced to dress up for church and go to brunch afterwards. My mom probably made me wear nylons under my skirt and I probably fought with her about it because they’re itchy and no one else wears them anyway. But other than that, it wasn’t a day that had much significance for me.

My twentieth Mother’s Day was different. Three months earlier, I had gotten the phone call that changed the course of my life. I was at college, 450 miles away from home, away from all my family and relishing in my new independence. Living a completely self-centered and carefree life as only a young, unmarried, naive college student can.

“It’s cancer”, she said. With those words my carefree existence, my blissful naiveté was shattered just like I could swear I felt my heart shatter in my chest. Like all of me were made of glass and it only took the tiny pinprick of those two words to break me into a million pieces until all that was left of me was a pile of shards on the floor.

“No” was all I could manage to say back to her. I sunk down to the floor in the hallway of my dorm and swiped my hand back and forth over the coarse old carpet that was an ugly shade of blue-fading-into-brown. A hall mate walked by and looked at me on her way to the bathroom and I felt an irrational hostility towards her. How dare she walk by like everything is fine! Why does she get to keep being normal and happy when my whole world just got pulled out from under me?

I can’t remember the rest of the phone conversation, other than the tears. We both knew this was not a battle she would win. Several doctor’s visits earlier she had her diagnosis narrowed down to pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. A quick Google search had told me the latter option was a virtual death sentence. And we knew it would be a matter of months, not years. I remember wishing she would just tell me everything was going to be fine, because I would have believed her. I was still her kid and she was my mom and whatever she said was right, no matter what Google said. But she didn’t lie, and we just cried.

Three months later, I was home for what I knew would be my last Mother’s Day with a mom. I cared about and prepared for this one like I never had before. Coming from a family that wasn’t big on showing our feelings or saying “I love you”, I wanted this last Mother’s Day to be different. I wanted to find a way to tell her how much she meant to me and what a wonderful mother she had been. I spent days making a homemade gift with my brother and sister, compiling photos and memories into a little book and binding it for her to keep. But by the time Mother’s Day came, she had deteriorated so quickly that she had fallen into a coma and was unable to read it. We tearfully read her the book aloud in hopes that she was still able to hear us, clinging to the hope that it wasn’t too late to tell her what  we should have all along. Four days later, on May 13th, she was gone.

Mom, my brother, me, and my sister in 1986. I always liked how I’m holding onto my mother’s hand.

I wasn’t sure that it would, but life went on. I finished college, a bit more recklessly than I had started it. I traveled a lot. I went from one place to another, always staying busy, avoiding spending too much time alone with my thoughts. During those years Mother’s Day was easy. I had no reason to take notice of it.  Without children and without a mother, it was a holiday that didn’t apply to me.

A few years down the line I found my way back home. I fell in love, in that guarded sort of way that those who truly know heartbreak are prone to do. I married young, and, figuring that if I couldn’t have a Mom, I might as well be a Mom, I sought out to adopt children. By my first anniversary I was a Mommy of two.

That first Mother’s Day as a Mom was strange. I thought having kids would be the magical cure, that the happiness they brought me would fill every kind of void. Instead it was a weird mix of emotions: joy that I had these two beautiful babies that I had the privilege of being Mommy to, and a profound sadness at being forced to face my grief on a day I had successfully avoided for the last six years.

With time, my family grew to include three kids, then four. My mother had always wanted four kids, and here I was living her dream! Except she wasn’t here to see it. During my pregnancies  is when it hurt the worst. I would talk to her in my head: “I think this one is a girl, Mom. Did you think I was a girl before you found out?” And right after giving birth: “Wow, this baby is so beautiful. I know it would be one of the best days of your life if you could just be here to hold her.” Having kids brought a whole new level of longing to the surface. In addition to missing my mom, I’m also missing the Grandma that my kids should have had.

There are mornings when I wake up and in my first few moments of consciousness I forget she is gone. When I realize, the pain washes over me once again. I start to blame her even though I know it doesn’t make sense. “How can you be missing all this? How could you leave me when I still needed you here?”

In theory, I would like for my kids to know who their grandmother was. I have tried to tell them stories about her, but it always seems to trigger tough conversations. “If she’s your mother, why isn’t she here like Grandma Lu?” they would ask. At very young ages I had to explain death to them.  “If your Mommy died, that means you are going to die too, and I don’t want you to die!” my then-5-year-old son cried to me at bedtime one night.

For the most part, I keep my thoughts of my mother to myself. I avoid correcting new friends when they say “your parents” because I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. I’ve gotten adept at acting like everything is fine. I’ve developed the skill of burying bad feelings. And then there are times when out of nowhere it pours out like a levy that has collapsed under too much pressure. Like the time my kids chose Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born for their bedtime story and I got to the page that says “Tell me again about the first night you were my mommy and you sang the lullaby your mommy sang to you” and halfway through the sentence emotion grabbed me by the throat and I couldn’t speak. After they went to bed that night I hid that book high up on the shelf where they wouldn’t be able to grab it again.

Losing my mom has greatly affected the way I parent. I want to do things with my kids now, not wait until they’re adults, because who knows if we will ever have that time? I try to replicate the best memories I have of my mom as a kid. I think about the negative aspects of our relationship and try to improve upon those with my children. I have a different scale of “things worth getting upset about” compared to most parents. In reality my “things worth getting upset about” list is almost identical to my “people who are not allowed to die” list. They are both very short.

My husband asked me what I want for Mother’s Day this year. Just like all the other years, I answered that I’d like a pedicure, or to go out to brunch. Part of me really wants to stay in bed all day and not think about what day it is. But then I would miss out on those four little people proudly handing me their misshapen clay bowl from art class, probably with a crack in it from being carried around by clumsy little hands. So on that day, I will get up and be Mom to my kids, moving forward even though a piece of me is broken, like that crack in the bowl. And I will still think it is beautiful because it was made with the never-ending love between child and mother.

Best Toys for 2 Year Olds

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally  chosen each product here and am not sponsored by any brands.

2 year olds are BUSY, so any toy that captures their attention for more than a few minutes is a total win.  This is a year of learning explosion and there are tons of great toys to help them master colors, shapes, sorting, number and letter recognition.  This year they will also dabble in creative and imaginative play, which will continue much more in year 3.



Melissa & Doug Toy Shopping Cart

This toddler-size metal grocery cart is a perfect mini replica of a real grocery cart. Kids especially love filling it with pretend groceries and putting a baby doll in the seat as they pretend to be Mom or Dad on a shopping trip. After seeing every toddler friend, cousin and neighbor play with this at our house, it has become my go-to gift for 2 year olds!


Melissa & Doug Food Groups - 21 Wooden Pieces and 4 Crates

If you give your toddler has a realistic grocery cart, he's going to want some realistic food to put in it. This cute set is a great way to get kids familiar with healthy food and the food groups. There is a crate for grains, dairy, fruits/veggies, and meat. Melissa and Doug also have some really fun cutting food sets that complement this set where the child can "slice" the food on a small cutting board.


LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

Looking for a toy that holds your toddler's attention while also teaching them letter recognition? This fits the bill! When your child puts a letter in the space and presses once, it says the letter name and sound (S! S says "sssss"!). Press again and it says a word that starts with that letter. It also sings the ABC song and Wheels on the Bus when you press the musical note. Fun and educational, we give this one an A+


Melissa & Doug Latches Wooden Activity Board

Keep little hands busy with this ingenius activity board. Open and close, lock and unlock 6 different types of latches. A fun way to develop fine motor skills. (Note- the picture shows two puzzles but it does only come with one!)


Tonka Retro Classic Steel Mighty Dump Truck

All kids should own this classic, kid-tough steel dump truck. We actually have two- one that stays inside for loading up toys and pushing around the house, and one that stays outside for hauling around sand and dirt.
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LEGO DUPLO Creative Play My First Box of Fun

This is a great starter set for a child's duplo collection. It has 95 pieces including two figures, several animals, house elements and a car. The box has extra room to store more sets you collect along the way.


Holy Stone Magnetic Drawing Board

Think the MagnaDoodle that you played with as a kid, but bigger and with color! Easy to scribble on, easy to erase, and comes with 3 shape stampers (a star, car, and circle) to add to your creations. Mess-free art for toddlers, CHECK!


ALEX Toys Little Hands Button Art

My son was exposed to this toy during occupational therapy sessions to strengthen his fine motor skills. He liked it so much, we got one to have at home. It comes with 10 different picture sheets for the child to match the colored buttons with. When he pushes them in correctly it makes a soft "click" sound that makes it a little extra gratifying.


Fisher-Price Little people Surprise & Sounds Home

A staple in our Little People collection, this house makes lots of fun sounds (refridgerator, oven, alarm clock). And don't think this is just for girls- my first son was completely fixated on this toy for months as a toddler, especially opening and closing the toilet lid and hearing it flush! Comes with a mom, dad, and child figure and closes up with a handle for carrying around.


Fisher-Price Little People Loops 'n Swoops Amusement Park

Another hugely popular addition to our Little People collection, this gets played with by every little kiddo that enters our house! All it's missing is some extra cars, like these Fisher-Price Little People Wheelies All About Trucks.


Magnetic Wooden Fishing Puzzle Game

Use the little magnetic fishing pole to go "fishing" for the sea creature puzzle pieces. Kids will sit quietly for an abnormally long time to accomplish this! Very entertaining for ages 2-4.


Little Tikes Count 'n Play Cash Register

My kids love this toy cash register. The three types of coins are different sizes and thickness so they only fit into the correct opening, so kids learn to sort in a very basic way. Swipe the credit card to drop all the coins down into the drawer. Pull the red handle and the drawer opens with a traditional cash register sound. Simple but clever toy.

Best Toys for 6 Month Olds

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally  chosen each product here and am not sponsored by any brands.

6 month old babies have basically one goal in life, and that is to find ALL THE THINGS and put them in their mouths!  Chew toys reign supreme with this age bracket (or regular toys, that baby will also chew on).  Little ones are also developing hand-eye coordination so they will be delighted by toys that they are able to manipulate, like a shaking musical toy, which rewards their movement with a pleasant sound.



Ike & Leo Teething Toys, Set of 4 with Pacifier Clip

These BPA-free, freezer-safe teethers really do stand out from the rest. They have a soft silicone feel to them without being filled with that questionable liquid goo. Each one of the four has a slightly different texture which gives baby some variety (and you will probably notice he'll choose a favorite). The best part is the clip it comes with so you don't end up having to pick them up off the floor over and over. A must-have!


Hohner 4 Piece Baby Band

Hohner is known for making great musical toys and this set nails it for babies. It includes a baby maraca (rattle), mini rainmaker, tambourine, and cage bell. All designed for babies to be able to grip them easily. When baby shakes, they discover the unique sound each one makes. Lots of fun!


Sassy Look Photo Book

Ask any Mom of a 6 month old what their baby's favorite toy is, and they'll answer "ME!" With this cute, drool-proof photo book, babies can stare at pictures of Mom (and other family members) to their heart's content.


Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo

Around 5-6 months old, babies have the head control and upper body strength to sit upright in a jumperoo. This opens up a whole new world to baby whose perspective on the world just went from horizontal to vertical! There are so many great products out there, but this Fisher Price jumperoo gets seriously rave reviews. A baby happily jumping and playing in this contraption = precious minutes of freedom for Mom!


Manhattan Toy Classic Baby Beads Wood Rattle, Teether, and Clutching Toy

This clutching toy moves and glides like a fidget toy. The brightly colored balls twist and turn to promote tactile development. It is remarkably calming to play with. I had some concerns originally about the paint flaking off when babies bite it, but we have had this for years and it still looks brand new.


Bright Starts Safari Beats Musical Toy

This little drum is super easy to hit and will thrill little one when it lights up and plays music in response to their touch. The sounds are addicting and just plain fun. No lie, I have caught myself playing some beats on it when the baby's not even around.


Lamaze Fifi The Firefly

There is something about this toy that just seems to make it baby's favorite. It could be the many colors, different textures and panels, crinkling sound, jingle noise, or the many parts for baby to chew on. Just an excellent sensory toy that holds baby's interest.


Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Rock-a-Stack and Baby's First Blocks Bundle

These two classics are staples that every baby needs. My infant son plays with them literally every day. He can not crawl by without at least knocking over the stack of rings and dumping the shapes out of the sorter! As he approaches 1 year he's now starting to put the rings on and fill the bucket of shapes. These brain-boosting toys are deserving of the name "brilliant basics".


LeapFrog Learn and Groove Musical Table Activity Center

This table is like a magnet for babies and toddlers, it attracts them instantly and sustains their attention! Little ones learn cause and effect by doing various things to elicit a sound (push a button, open and close, spin, slide, turn the page of the book in the center). It even can switch to Spanish mode if you want to expose baby to some basics like colors and ABCs. A major favorite for 6-18 months.


Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle and Teether Toy

The interlocking soft tube design of this toy make is super easy for babies to hold and explore with their hands and mouths. Babies can't get enough of chewing on this, especially when teething. The middle cube makes a gentle rattle sound when shaken.


Edushape See-Me Sensory Balls

These nubby balls have a spiky texture, providing little one with a new and different sensory input. They come a bit under-inflated, just perfect for baby to squeeze and chew on. As they get older they will enjoy rolling and throwing them as well.


Taggies Crinkle Me Toy, Elephant

As babies, all 4 of my kids loved toys that crinkle, and TAGS! This toy has both, plus a squeaker in the middle and a handy ring that you can attach to the car seat or diaper bag. Easy to bring with you on the go, and easy to throw in the washing machine too.


Sassy Ring O' Links 2 Pack

Keep the links on the ring to use as a standalone rattle, or make a chain out of them to link toys to the car seat or high chair. Versatile toy that has gotten tons of use from my babies.


Oball Rainstick Rattle

This 6 inch Oball has large holes that are super easy to grib and the structure is flexible while still holding its shape. The real highlight of this toy though is rainstick inside. When the ball is rolling or shaken, the beads cascade down and make a soothing rain-like sound. Even older children will take an interest in this ball.

 

 

One Messy Mama

Blended Life Happy Wife

 

Our Week in Crappy Cell Phone Pics (4/11/17)

When you’re trying to do a toy review and you need a photo of your precious little cherub playing…  you get faces like this.

Elle started out all too happy about getting to wear a bathing suit for “beach day” at gymnastics.  You should have seen her “bitch stole my look” face when another little girl showed up in the same bathing suit.

 

It’s spring break, so my kids don’t have homework, but they can’t handle changes in routine so they are doing “play homework”.

When your mom is taking WAY too long to cook dinner.

 

Luca: “It wasn’t me”.

7 Best Resources for Planning your Disney vacation

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World?  Want to maximize your magic but feeling lost with all the details that go into it? Here are the most useful sites to help you every step of the way!

Best site for when to go: Yourfirstvisit.net

Yourfirstvisit.net has an awesome crowd calendar that takes all 52 weeks of the year and rates them on a easy-to-read chart based on whether crowds will be low, moderate, or high (and varying degrees in between).  Thinking of going the week of Easter or Christmas?  This handy tool lets you see right away that those weeks rate an 11 on the 1-10 crowd calendar scale.  Yikes!

Best site for where to stay: wdwinfo.com

This site, also home to the popular Disney discussion boards called “DISboards”, gives detailed descriptions of every Disney-owned resorts as well as off-site Orlando hotels.  Each hotel listed has tons of photos including a walking tour, food pics, amenities, resort maps, room categories, and more.  Seriously everything you could want to know about your Disney resort is easily found here.  I also recommend jumping over to those discussion forums where thousands of Disney fans are there to answer any question you could come up with.

For families of more than 4, your options of Disney resorts is somewhat limited.  Definitely check out yourfirstvisit.net, specifically this guide to beds and # of sleep spaces.  All your options for larger families are outlined here, complete with floor plans so you can perfectly plan who will sleep where.  Little Susie will thank you when she doesn’t end up having to share a bed with Grandma!

Best site for budgeting tips: Mousesavers

Looking for Disney discounts and deals?  (Who isn’t?)  Saving money on your trip is no easy feat but Mousesavers has truly thought of everything.  In addition to the big ones like park tickets and resort discounts, they also have deals on things like stroller rental, grocery delivery, car rental, and trip insurance.  Every little bit of savings can get you closer to your dream vacation.

Best site for all things characters: Kenny the Pirate  

 Do not underestimate how much joy your children will get out of meeting their favorite characters face to face!  Kenny the Pirate is the guru of Disney characters.  Check out his blog, follow him on facebook, or download his Character Locator app to find everything you need to know about where to find your kid’s favorites, what their meet schedules are, and how to minimize time waiting in line for your meet and greet.

Meeting characters was a major highlight for my kids on our Disney trip. And don’t forget to pack costumes!

 

Best site for Fastpass+ info: Touringplans.com

 Touringplans.com is a mecca for tons of detailed info for your Disney trip, however they do charge a subscription fee for some of the most useful components, like the crowd predictor and customized touring plans.  Without a subscription however, you still have access to tons of useful information about Fastpass+ and the best way to use it.  Instructions on how to book them, how to get more than 3 per day, and which attractions are your best use of Fastpass are all there to help you spend more time riding and less time waiting.

Best site for where to eat: AllEars.net

Allears.net has a comprehensive dining section complete with menus and reviews for EVERY restaurant in all of Walt Disney World and the resorts!  You can easily find a list of restaurants in each location and compare them by average rating and price point.  Have kids with food allergies?  Be sure to check out the section “Special Dietary Needs” for the answers to all your questions.

Best site to sum it all upEasyWDW

EasyWDW has a fantastic summary of each park that can help make your day there easy breezy.  If you do nothing else, check out these cheat sheets for each park.  They have a map that allows you to get your “lay of the land” with restrooms, restaurants, rides, shows, and snack locations.  They outline what order is best to hit attractions in with the best way to maximize your Fastpasses.  There are various plans for how to attack your day, whether you are doing a full day, half day, arriving late, etc.  Wondering how long the line for an attraction will likely be at a certain time of day?  There are charts for that included.

These sites helped our family have an amazing and stress-free first trip to Walt Disney World (yes, even with a toddler)!  What are some of your most useful Disney planning sites?  Drop a comment!

Best Toys for 1 Year Olds

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I have personally  chosen each product here and am not sponsored by any brands.

Push and pull toys are where it’s at for this age bracket, as new walkers eagerly test out their new skills.  This is also the age of the “dump and fill” stage of play, so little ones will love toys where you can put things in and empty them out (over and over again).  Young toddlers also love toys that make music and have bright, attractive colors, so you will find lots of those on this list.



Little Tikes Cozy Coupe

There is a reason this toy has been around for 30 years. It has UNIVERSAL KID APPEAL. Go ahead and give it to a one year old. Even if they can’t yet get in and out of it themselves, they will be interested. This is a toy they can grow with for a few years. The only problem with this one is the fights kids will get into over it during playdates.


Melissa & Doug Large Shapes Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzle

This puzzle, with its big chunky pieces and easy-to-grab knobs, is a great intro to puzzles for toddlers. Sure, they will be doing a lot more dumping out and banging the pieces together than they will putting them back in, but it's all in the name of learning.


Playskool Busy Ball Popper

Ok I'll give it to you straight on this one. Yes, it is loud. Yes, you have to keep it loaded with D batteries. Yes, the songs can get annoying and there will be plastic balls rolling all over. But- it WILL be played with. Kids just get so excited about this one! If you want a toy that is guaranteed hours of play and not just taking up space, this is it.


Hape Kid's Toy Push and Pull Toy

New walkers never tire of pushing this adorable wooden toy around the house! Reminiscent of the classic plastic ball popper toy, but with a very pleasant "clack" sound that won't drive parents crazy.


Tomy Hide & Squeak Eggs

These cute little eggs have a lot going on. They come in a carton that opens and closes and fits each egg into its own spot based on the shape on the bottom. The eggs have different facial expressions that matches the one on its shell. Baby’s favorite part will be the irresistable cheep they make when you push down on them. A big hit in this house from age 1-4!


IKEA Mula Stack and Nest Cups

A modern take on the classic stacking cup, these have fun and eye-catching patterns and detailed textures. Nest, separate, build, knock down. These cups cover several of a one year old's favorite activities. They are also great for water play or in a sensory table with sand or rice.


Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon

Whether your little one is walking independently or still needing a little assistance, push toys are where it’s at with this age bracket. And this adorable push toy version of the Radio Flyer Wagon is sure to delight! Toddlers love loading it up with their toys and feel empowered pushing it around the house. It is well-built and sturdy to withstand the inevitable beating a new walker will inflict on it. This well-loved toy will surely be passed down to future family members.


Kidoozie Funtime Tractor

This tractor sings, moves on its own, and makes animal noises when baby pushes down on one of the animals. The farmer and animals also come in and out, and lock into place when baby gets them into the correct spot. Lots of fun and entertainment, and also a good way to introduce farm animals and their sounds to your little one.


Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Piggy Bank

Your 1 year old will want to put all the coins in, then dump them all out over and over again. They will also love pressing piggy's nose to hear it oink and sing.


Fisher-Price Little People School Bus

Little People sets are a classic that young toddlers up to preschool age love playing with, and this bus is no exception. It comes with a driver and two other little people that the child can take in and out of the seats on the bus. When you push on the driver's seat, he talks and the stop lights flash. It also sings a song, "stop and go", that is mildly annoying but the little ones will enjoy! Great way to start any child's Little People collection.