This summer I am trying something new, and so far I am really loving it. During the summer, the kids and I can be found either out by the pool or at the splash park. We are water loving fools around my house. Last summer, though, one of the things that held us up the most was having the condense the diaper bag into a pool or beach bag. I was forever leaving sunscreen in my diaper bag and not having it when we went to the pool, or leaving my sunglasses in the pool bag and not having them in my diaper bag, or forgetting to pack things like sunglasses and hats altogether. This year I am trying something new.
First, I changed the type of pool bag I have. I used to carry the traditional fabric oversized beach bag, but I never found one I liked. They were never big enough to hold all my towels, and even the vinyl ones had to be hung out to dry if they got wet. And they ALWAYS got wet. This year I am using a large plastic tote from Old Tyme Pottery. If you don’t have an OTP near you, then I feel sorry for you, but I’m sure you can find something comparable or even the same from Walmart or Target (though I haven’t seen them at my Target). At OTP, this giant doozey of a tote cost $4.99. That’s right. A pool bag for less than $5! I also like this bag because it is lightweight and because it has a flat bottom, so it never spills over in my car.
This year, I decided to keep my pool bag packed and ready to go all the time. Rather than having to pack a pool bag every single day or rather than having to drag a thousand things outside every time we wanted to go out to the pool, I keep my pool bag packed and ready. Here are the things I always have in my pool bag:
1. Hats for the kids to keep the sun off of their face. For wee little ones, you can get hats with UV protection, like Bean has here. But I keep them pretty covered with sunblock, so I opted this year to get Gracie a cowgirl hat instead.
2. Sunglasses for each of the kids. I try to get the kind with UV protection.
3. All kinds of suntan lotion. I have a little of the WaterBabies left, but I’m not crazy about that brand because it never seems to stay on for long and it goes on pretty thick. What I use religiously on the kids is Coppertone Kids Broad Spectrum 50. It sprays the best! You don’t have to rub it in, and it isn’t greasy. I have Banana Boat SPF 15 tanning oil for me, but I use the kids stuff on my face.
4. Goggles. These are new for the kids this year, and so far they love them. In fact, I can’t get them to take them off long enough to even take a picture of them! They use these in the pool, but still like to have them handy at the splash park, mostly because they are still a novelty, I think.
5. Crocs for the kids. These are the BEST summer shoes. They are durable beyond belief, and I love them because they can get wet and never look any different. They don’t shrivel up like those cheap flip flops, do. Plus, they are easier for my kids to wear because they don’t like things between their toes. I also like them because they can be worn with bathing suits in place of flip flops, or even with shorts and t-shirts for playing. Bean has even worn his with khaki shorts and a polo to church. They are a little pricey, but we get one pair at the beginning of the summer and they has until fall. I buy them about half a size too big and use the strap on the back for the first part of the summer. Then when their feet grow into them a little bit, you can flip the flap up and make them backless. This gets me almost two sizes worth of wear out of them.
6. (Not pictured) An extra swim diaper for Gracie, just in case she has an accident in hers while we are out and needs to change.
7. Bubbles. Inevitably, when we are at the splash park, one of my kids wants to stay and one wants to leave. I’ve learned to keep bubbles handy for the one who wants to leave. I can usually convince them to hang out for 15 or 20 minutes longer with bubbles while the other one plays. Plus, bubbles are much easier to use when you’re around water because the kids can spill them and it isn’t the end of the world. They also help make friends when we are out because everyone loves bubbles!
Because this bag stays packed with all our essentials all the time, I can simply toss in beach towels and a snack and we are on our way. For the snack, I keep juice boxes frozen in our freezer, and toss those in with a bag of Goldfish. By the time we have been outside for a while, the juice boxes have melted and they are nice and cold. And the Goldfish we just eat straight out of the bag. I used to pack individual snacks in little Tupperware containers, but that got to be such a time drain. Now, we eat out of the bag. Just. Like. Animals.
The key to keeping it packed and ready to go is cleaning it out when we get home. But since everything stays in the bag, there really isn’t much to do when we get home. I take out the towels and hang them out to dry, clean out any remnants of a snack if we’ve had one while we were out, and then toss any wet clothes we might have collected that day into the dirty clothes hamper. It takes about two minutes. Then, I put the refreshed bag back in our front closet and it’s ready to go for our next outing.
Keeping a pool bag packed has saved us so much time, and a lot of stress, too. It is no longer such an ordeal to go anywhere. In fact, one afternoon after school this week we came home and the kids asked to go to the splash park. All we had to do was put on bathing suits and grab our bag, and we were out the door. Even a school night can become a splash park day now because we have streamlined our system.
Do you hear that?
What’s that noise?
IT’S SUMMERTIME KNOCKING ON MY DOOR!
Lately, we have been sending Gracie to her room when she gets really worked up. If we can’t play in water for whatever reason and I can’t get her to calm down any other way, then she has to go to her room until she stops crying. Then she can come out and play with us again. This is not a punishment. It is just to get her into a quiet place where she can calm herself down. And she usually does within about 3 minutes. It is amazing. This afternoon I sent her to her room and less then a minute later, it was quiet upstairs. I peeked down the hall to check on her, and this is what I found:
She was just sitting there quietly, happily reading her books.
Sometimes, she just needs some time away from everyone before the demons can leave her pretty little head. The good news is that now that her bedroom is finished, she has a pretty little place to exorcise her pretty little head!
We did Gracie’s room in stages. First we painted and then we set up her toddler furniture (you can read about that here). The last step was to put in a bookshelf and toy storage something, and then to move her changing table out when she became potty trained. We are in the process of selling our crib and so we decided to sell the changing table with the crib as a set. Gracie isn’t done potty training yet and still uses a changing table, though. So, we took the little mattress pad off her changing table and set it up on top of a dresser in the guest bedroom as a make-shift changing table until she no longer needs one.
We originally talked about building a bench seat under her window with toy storage, but when we put her furniture all in her room, we worried that a built-in wouldn’t leave us many options now or in the future when it came to moving furniture around. Plus, with the way her room is set up now, I really liked her table and chairs under the window.
Her toddler sleigh bed came from Amazon, and is made by Dream on Me. It is beautiful, but I would not recommend this brand. What you can’t see in the pictures (you can’t even really see it in person unless you know to look for it…) is that the slats on the footboard and headboard are chipped. When they packed up the pieces, the paint stuck together and so when we pulled it all out to put it together, the paint scraped away in some places. Plus, it was not easy to put together at all. Just an FYI if anyone is interested in the style. Now that it is all put together and the paint has been touched up, though, it is a very sturdy bed and Gracie loves it. My mom made the drapes and matching duvet cover out of fabric we found online. It is gorgeous in person! Even more than the pictures show.
(Note: I’m still trying to figure out what to do above Gracie’s bed. I’m very close to turning it into a huge fabric bulletin board to hold pictures and artwork. I’ll keep you posted.)
The only thing not yet in the room is a five-drawer chest of drawers that belonged to my dad. It was one of the things of his I wanted after he died. My mom and I are going to paint it white this summer and put new hardware on it. It will go in Gracie’s room to the left of her bed and hold a little lamp.
For her bookshelf and toy storage, we found one piece at Ikea to do it all. And I love it! I have always wanted to use one of their big storage bookshelves. I really want one of the 4×4 bookshelves in this same style, but her bedroom is too small. I might try one in our master bedroom, though, since this little one worked so well in Gracie’s room. The bookshelf was $70 and then we paid $4.99 for each of the storage bins. The bins are fabric and very light, but they are this suede-type material that gives the appearance of them being more expensive. I really love them.
I hung her butterfly mobile over it, and I’m debating about what to do above the bookshelf. I’m thinking either white letters to spell her name or just leave it blank. I kind of like the blank wall right now since there is so much else going on with the mobile and all the trinkets on the tabletop. I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.
I love everything that is on top of her bookshelf now, too. We didn’t have any place to put keepsakes in her room, and this tabletop has given us just the perfect place.
This lamb was in Gracie’s bassinet when she was a baby. And the little Precious Moments figurine was in Chris’s sister, Annie’s, room when she was growing up. Annie gave it to Gracie for her first birthday. I figure we’ll hold it until Annie has kids of her own one day. Until then, I love that it is part of Gracie’s room. I also have keepsake books that hold special meaning to us. Normally, this little collection of books includes a set of three books that were mine when I was a baby, but Gracie loves those and she was reading them when I took this picture so they aren’t shown here.
My favorite, though, is this bunny lamp. My mom made it for my nursery when I was a baby. It was in my bedroom from the time I was a baby until I left for college. I can’t tell you how much I love that it now sits in Gracie’s room.
Besides the bins under the bookshelf which hold an obscene amount of toys, we are also using Gracie’s closet for toy storage.
We have things she can’t play with on the top shelf, and then her clothes and shoes, of course. Her clothes hamper is also in her closet now, instead of sitting in a corner of her room. But we decided to use the bottom shelf for toys instead of clothes. I keep larger toys that would take up a lot of space in her room if we left them out in the bottom of the closet. We park her grocery cart and baby stroller there at the moment.
On the shelf itself are toy storage bins that both the kids use to sort and collect small toys. I have one for her tea sets (she has three; we drink a lot of tea…), one of little figurines and small dolls, and one for her Mrs. Potato Head and all its pieces. She and Bean both are really good about only taking out one bin at a time, and that helps keep those bins organized and cleaned out.
So, that’s Gracie’s big girl room. I really love it, but Gracie loves it most of all. It is the perfect, quiet retreat for her when she needs some space to herself, but it is also the central playground these days when she and Bean are playing together, too. I love a cute, functional room!
This past weekend, Bean had a birthday party for one of this classmates at a petting farm. I had never been to a petting farm before. In fact, when I got the invitation, I had to Google it before I found out that petting farms are real farms that kids get to visit. Only, they are allowed to touch everything and try it all out.
It was such a fun party! The kids got to actually milk a cow, for crying out loud!
This particular cow was seven months pregnant, and I don’t know about you, but I was not patient at seven months pregnant. Especially not when it involved someone pulling on my ta-tas. Bless this cow.
(Sorry it’s blurry. As soon as the milk came out, Bean squealed and ran!)
There were also horses they got to ride, peacocks that paraded around, bunnies to pet, and even baby chicks and ducks to hold in our very hands!
And there was this enormous goat pin we got to walk in, too. I had never seen so many goats in one place! They would walk right up to you and let you pet them all you wanted. Even the babies. Though, this one momma goat got a little irked at me when I petted her baby goat a little too long. She came moseying over, headbutted me right in the thigh, and then stood between me and the baby, giving me this look like, “Back off, crazy!” I don’t blame her.
Bean had no need for me that day. He was off with 10,000 of his closest friends from school, blowing easily from this group of friends to that, enjoying being with everyone. Everyone, that is, except for me. Because the farm was so well contained and the tour so well led, parents really got a nice break. We just followed the “herd” around (see what I did there?) while the tour guide kept everyone in line. It was nice for a while, but about halfway through the morning, I thought, “This is what it is going to be like soon. The kids will be off with their friends and I’ll be left standing here, just wishing they’d come back.”
I got very sentimental as we boarded the farm train, which would take us on a tour of the property. I walked up to the train with Gracie (who stayed with me all day since she wasn’t really a “guest”), only to find Bean sitting in a row with four other boys. When I poked my head in, he said happily, “There’s no room, Mom!” and I happily responded, “Okay, Gracie and I will be a few rows back if you need us.” But inside, I cried a little. I’m always Bean’s train conductor when we ride trains. When we play trains at home, I’m Percy and he’s Thomas. When we pass trains on the street, we count the cars together. And now, my seat was being taken by four preschool boys.
Gracie and I headed to the back of the train until we found a free row where we could both sit. I was just snuggling her in next to me, fully prepared to force her to cuddle until my maternal meltdown passed, when I heard the sweetest little sound. From three rows up, I heard Bean call out, “Mom?”
I looked up, and there he was, all by himself. He was walking down the train platform, looking in each row and calling, “Mom?”
I called out to him, “I’m right here, buddy!” And he met my eyes, smiling as he climbed up in the row with us.
“Hey, Mom,” he said, as casually as if he hadn’t just melted my heart into a giant puddle of goo.
“Hey, buddy,” I said, as casually as if I didn’t care that the first born fruit of my womb actually needed me. “Whatcha doing back here?”
“I just wanted to sit with you and Gracie,” he said. “Did you see that big turkey back there? He was huge!” And the conversation moved on as quickly as it started.
We spent the train ride together, laughing at the funny things the animals did and showing Gracie everything Bean could name. And I know it meant nothing to Bean. I know he didn’t think twice about coming to sit with me. But it meant the world to me. It meant that maybe, one day, far, far away, even when Bean is off with his friends living the life that I so want him to enjoy, maybe he’ll still call my name every now and then and come sit with me. Just because I’m his mom.
I guess that’s really why we do it, isn’t it? Why we let them pull on our ta-tas, why we headbutt people to keep our children safe, and why we love them up so they can go out into the world all by themselves. Whether we are cows or goats or humans, we do it all because we are their mommas, and we know they will always return to us.
And that’s what I learned on a farm.
This past weekend, Chris was in tech rehearsals all day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Which left me to fend for myself with two wee ones that weekend. Luckily, they are getting to great ages that make getting out and going lots of fun, so we did a fair amount of running around town to keep us entertained.
There were a few hours on Sunday, though, when I really needed to get some work done, and Gracie was having none of it. She followed me around the house whining. She sat beside my desk whining. She was bored and clingy and driving me crazy. I tried giving her all her favorite things – crayons and paper on her art easel. Stickers. Magnets. Baby Tut Tut. She wanted to play in the sink, but I just didn’t have time. Finally, with nothing left to offer, I hit up my go-to place to find random toys in a pinch – my kitchen. Pots for carrying things, baking pans for magnets, colanders for pipe cleaners, you name it and it’s in my kitchen. On this particular Sunday, I happened to find a half empty pack of cupcake liners. Perfect! Now all I needed was something she could put in them.
A few months ago, one of my co-workers brought me a bag full of over 500 pogs. That’s right. Pogs, my friends. Straight out of 1992, and complete with slammers. She thought my kids might want to play with them. I have brought them out a few times for the kids to play with, and they love them because they are small and easy to manipulate. They make a big mess, so those stay in our toy closet where I keep all the toys that require supervision. So, I busted out the pogs and Gracie went to town!
She had trouble at first with the cupcake liners standing up, so I also gave her a muffin tin to put them in. She sat there for almost an HOUR, people. An HOUR! She sorted and re-sorted and stacked and re-stacked.
I knew she was going to her little introvert place because she really didn’t want me to help or play at all. She wasn’t showing me things or asking for help. She just immediately sat down and played intently and quietly for almost an hour. Bean came downstairs a few times and tried to play along with her, but I asked him if he could find something else for a while to give Gracie some time by herself. Normally, she only gets the pogs when he thinks to ask for them, so this was her first time having total control and I didn’t want her to have to share at that moment. She was taking a little break to play by herself, and I wanted to make sure that we all gave her that space. Bean was a good sport and played with the crayons and art easel that I had set up earlier for Gracie instead.
For almost an entire hour, there was peace and quiet in my house. And I think we all enjoyed it, but especially Gracie. The more I observe her, the more I am keenly aware of her need for personal space. I love that about her, and I’m having a great time helping her figure out what kinds of different activities she can do when she needs some time to herself.