Elf Breakfast (Elf on the Shelf)

Every year on December 1st our family gets a visit from Wally, our Elf. If you haven’t started an Elf on the Shelf for your family, it is equal parts pain in the you-know-what and magic. Every morning my kids jump up searching for Wally and hoping he has brought some sort of fun and shenanigans with him. The best day, however, is that first morning. Because that is the morning that Wally always welcomes us into another holiday season with his traditional Elf Breakfast. It also the most work I put into the Elf all year, and it has become a labor of love.

Every year the breakfast includes Wally’s traditional Elf Pancakes and a letter from Santa. He also always brings other items like chocolate chips, marshmallows, powdered donuts, peppermint sticks, and our advent calendar. Below are pictures of the last 5 years we’ve had our Elf Breakfast and the ways we switched it up.

Our first Elf Breakfast in 2014. Wally introduced us to Elf Pancakes! Just make your favorite pancake batter and use your Tbsp to cook them. I will make them all the night before and put the plate in the fridge. Wally also brought Reindeer Poop (chocolate cereal), mini chocolate chips, and Snowmen (powdered donuts).

Elf Breakfast 2015; Elf Pancakes, Snowman Stacks (donuts), peppermint balls, M&M’s, and strawberries.

Elf Breakfast 2016; Elf Pancakes, Snow Balls (donut holes), candy canes, peppermint pretzels, and grapes.

Elf Breakfast 2017; Elf Pancakes, marshmallows, and Reindeer Poop (chocolate cereal).

Elf Breakfast 2018; Elf Pancakes, raspberries, marshmallows on a stick (festive paper straws for the win!), and mini chocolate chips. The presents are Lego advent calendars for the kids and their annual tree ornament.

This year is a little different, since we sold our old dining table before our big move. We still had Elf Pancakes, as well as Snow Balls (donut holes), peppermint Milano’s (my 8 year old said those are his new favorite part!), strawberries, pop rocks, chocolate Santa’s, and peppermint sticks for stirring our hot cocoa. Obviously this year December 1st was on a weekend so we were more lax on the sugar intake!

Every year my kids start wondering out loud around Thanksgiving if Wally is going to bring them breakfast soon, and they will start talking about the favorite things they remember he has done. I’m not going to lie, as I’m in the kitchen at 11 pm making dozens of teeny tiny pancakes I always question why I do this to myself. But the next morning when I wake to the sounds of them giggling and gasping as they see that once again Wally has come to visit us makes it totally worth it.

Road Trip With Kids

As a military family, it feels like we are constantly loading up the car for a road trip. Whether it is traveling home for a visit, a few hours away for a weekend trip, or one of our big PCS (permanent change of station) moves that happen every few years, we have picked up a trick or two that really helps us feel like we have the chaos under control.

Travel Bag

We have traveled from California to Indiana and back again no less than 5 times since our 8 year old was born. Between moving from California to Missouri and back, and all our visits to Indiana just to visit family, we have pretty much memorized the route (it is long and boring, just in case you were wondering). I pack a big bag with entertainment/survival things for my kids. With having such long stretches of nothing to look out the window at, I put together travel binders for my kids to help keep them occupied. I always tailor them to what is age appropriate to hold their interest at the time, and they are so easy to customize!

The current contents of our travel bag look like this. I have a zipper ‘travel binder’ for each kid, with a lap tray, and snack bucket. I prefer the zipper binders because I can keep all the pieces contained, but we have used the open sided binders previously and they worked fine.

Here’s a peak inside my 8 year olds binder. He has a workbook, a few card games, a small deck of cards (from Halloween), some Wikki Stix, chapstick (my kids have CONSTANT chapped lips), a tick tac toe game, a small lap tray, markers, and paper. I always scour the Dollar Spot at Target before a big trip because they always have a great (and cheap!) selection of things for the kids. The Wikki Stix, card games, workbook, lap tray, and tic tac toe game all came from Target!

Here’s the inside of my 5 year olds binder. It’s a lot of the same stuff, but she has her own set of card games (I’m sure both kids will be playing them together anyway). She also has a sticker face book in lieu of a workbook, she is absolutely obsessed with these books and it will entertain her for HOURS.

I found these large lap trays at Target (the Dollar Spot is my happy place) last year when they had their back to school things out. They were $3 each and we have used them dozens of times! They are great for holding drawing materials for coloring, building Legos, doing Wikki Stix…they are so great. And they are a really sturdy plastic so they don’t bend and they are so easy to wipe clean.

I bought these containers from our local dollar store probably 3 years ago. They have 3 compartments in them (1 large and 2 smaller). I usually use them for road trips (they fit a Happy Meal and drink perfectly!), but we have also taken them to the movie theater to help contain kid drinks and snacks.

Here’s how I load it up in my big ThirtyOne bag. In the past we did all of our traveling in my husbands truck or my tiny hybrid, so the bag would sit either on the floor at their feet or in the seat between the kids. We just traded my car in for a van this year (I love it) so my kids might actually have leg room for this upcoming road trip! That small round thing in the snack container is an inflatable solar light. We put it in the window while we drive for the day, and then we let the kids use it either as a car light at night, or as a hotel room nightlight. It has come in so handy so many times! We will also have the kids tablets and headphones in there. We don’t limit screen time as much when we’re traveling, but without any internet available in the car they’d rather color or do an activity anyway.

Here’s some old travel bag things from our PCS back in 2015 when my son was 4 and my daughter was almost 2. You can see Finn with his travel binder in the top left. I went to the dollar store and bought 2 sheet pans, various magnets (these I made from wal mart), window clings, and sticker activities. We also had the portable dvd player, which is a lifesaver on long distance trips! (I think we watched Mighty Machines on repeat for 5 days)

Car Emergency Kit

One thing you learn quickly as a mom, is that they are unpredictable. The one time you load up your kids for a quick trip and you forget the diaper bag, is always the day they decide to have a blowout. It’s like they can sense it. So, I have started keeping an emergency kit in my van. I keep things like chapstick, toothpicks, sunscreen, baby wipes…anything I can think of that my family will save us a stop at CVS along the way.

Here’s a quick inside view of our car kit. I have antacids, feminine products, floss, q tips, throat lozenges, baby wipes, chapstick, sunscreen, tissues, antibacterial wash, adult Tylenol, children’s cough n cold, bandaids, and these amazing things my good friend (who is an avid hiker) gave me that help women pee standing up. I figured the only chance I’d get to use it would be a side of the road emergency! Everything fits nicely in this small container and I keep it in between the front seats.

Organize, Organize, Organize!

I am a stickler for organization. When our house is messy, it makes me feel like I can’t function properly. Clutter instantly makes me uptight and cranky. So for me, when we’ve got the whole family of 4 (5 if we bring the dog!) practically living in our car, organization can make all the difference between success and chaos. I always have containers to sort and store everything, from the kids car entertainment to separating our suitcases, I need it to be in order to take one less stress off my plate. Organize your hotel clothes in a separate suitcase to minimize how much you are loading and unloading each night. In fact, we like to bring an empty bag or suitcase with us to keep our dirty clothes separate from the clean ones. This also helps when we reach our destination to make laundry so much easier. Store snacks in a designated container that is easily accessible. If you are traveling with pets, keep their water/food bowls and leash somewhere where you grab them quickly (the car door works perfectly if you have a cubby in it!). Bring a handheld vacuum to help clear away any messes or spills easily. I promise that taking a few minutes to organize as you go, it will make your trip will feel less chaotic!

Each kid has one of these seat organizers at their seat. The tray can Velcro up to save space, and there are so.many.pockets! We keep them in the van for every day, and I love that they can put their mess in the pockets and close it up to help keep the floor uncluttered.

My husband found someone giving away this hand held vacuum a few weeks ago and I am a little too excited to bring it with us when we travel across the country next month! A quick vacuum each evening as we unload for the night will help keep the crumb mess to a minimum and my sanity in tact.

Plan ahead

I am the kind of person who needs a set game plan before we travel. With our PCS moves, we like to have everything laid out before we leave. That means planning our route, picking the fun stops along the way, and booking our hotel stays. We also like to plan ahead for meals. We will book hotels that offer breakfast, pack a large cooler with sandwich materials for our lunches, and eat dinner at a restaurant before we hit up our hotel for the night. This helps us keep the cost down, and we use our lunch break as a time to let the kids run for a bit. There are lots of great rest stops that have small playgrounds for the kids, or we will stop at an attraction we want to see and have our picnic in the parking lot. This way we can bust some boredom, load up on lunch, use the restrooms, and (sometimes) fill up the tank before we start the next stretch of driving. Another tip for planning ahead, is our gas stops! Now, I don’t mean you should map out your gas stops ahead of time, that would be exhausting. What our family does as a general rule of thumb is never let our gas get below a quarter tank. Once we notice we are close to the 3/4 mark, we start scouting for gas stops. I ran out of gas ONCE when I was in college and I vowed to never let it happen again, so a quarter tank is always when I fill back up. Another part of planning ahead is planning for emergencies! During our last cross country PCS, I made small ID kit for each kid. There was a picture of each kid on one side and their personal information on the back (allergies, emergency contact numbers, height/weight, notable scars or birthmarks) that I laminated together. I even made one for our dog! I was not about to lose anyone along the way (I know…anxiety). But having that information just in case we needed it made me feel much better!

Here we are, stopping at Bedrock City outside of the Grand Canyon back in 2015. I’ve heard it has since closed down, but it was a fun spot to spend a few hours!

We were given these ID kits at a back to school event, and I held onto them for our upcoming PCS! It has a spot for fingerprints, a photo, medical information…even dental records! It may seem like overkill, but I truly feel it is one of those things that only takes a few minutes to put together and would be invaluable if I were to find myself needing it. If it’s not your jam, then don’t sweat it.

Do you have any tips or tricks that you have picked up while traveling with kids? I’d love to hear them! We are almost exactly one month away from our next big road trip (moving from California to North Carolina!) so I’m going to be pulling out all of these tricks and then some to help ensure my sanity survives the trip!

When Mom Takes a Sick Day

I don’t get sick that often. I think my body just knows that, as a mom, I have far too many things to get done and it is just not allowed to be sick. Us moms just tough it out. The kids still need to eat and get to school, errands still need ran, baths given and teeth brushed-we just aren’t allowed a sick day. The night before last, I went to bed feeling off. I knew I didn’t feel right. I had a lot to get done the next day and a few hours of sleep should set me straight.

It did not.

I was up and down, hot and cold, sweating and shivering all night long. When my husband got up at 530 for work, I was still curled up on the bathroom floor. About 630 when my alarm went off (not that I was asleep anyway), I hear our son say those 4 words that make all parents cringe….’Mommy, my tummy hurts’. As I crawl out of bed to bring him a bucket and check his temperature, our daughter jumps out of bed perky and ready to start her day. It’s too much energy for one child to have, but it’s spirit week for her at school and she is dying to have crazy hair today, so I get her some breakfast (dry cereal-I forgot to get milk yesterday and of course had it on todays agenda) and we put her clothes on. She is rapidly telling me how she wants her hair done and my brain is trying it’s best to keep up while focusing on not vomiting. We finally get her ready and my husband walks in the door, he came back to take Emma to school for me and he sent me back to bed.

By now it’s after 8. I have texted the bus driver to not come get our oldest and I have called the school to let them know he is out of commission today, and we both decided to curl up on opposite ends of the couch and watch some Netflix and recuperate. He throws up a couple times but seems to be feeling much better by lunch. I, however, can’t seem to get enough sleep, but every time my eyes close I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach like I’ve been in a wave pool at the water park all day. My husband comes home for lunch and after one look at me, tells me he will pick up our daughter from school. I guess I look as bad as I feel at this point.

A few hours later, in bounces our eager 5 year old. She hasn’t lost a bit of her energy today at school, and now that our son is feeling better they both start to wrestle on the couch. Right next to where I’m trying not to die. I try to get up and manage the chaos, but I feel more like I’m herding wet cats than actually accomplishing anything. My head is pounding from dehydration and my whole body is achy. I think to myself ‘this is it…this is how I die…dehydrated and yelling for kids to clean the water off the bathroom floor’. My saint of a husband walks in the door with a gallon of milk, he’s home early from work because he knew I was probably needing some help (boy was he right). He shooed me off to bed and said he could handle dinner from there.

Now, my husband is a Marine. He can handle pretty much anything that is thrown his way. The problem is, he handles it like a Marine would. So when it was time for dinner, he did what any Marine would do-he gave the kids MRE’s. It would not be my first choice of healthy dinners, but the kids thought it was amazing and I was in no position to demand anything else. I popped my head up a few times to check in on them, but every time I was sent back to bed. My husband then tucked the kids in early and our whole family was asleep by 630 pm.

Photo by Izzie R on Unsplash

I woke this morning with my husbands alarm at who knows what time, finally feeling like a human being again for the first time in over 24 hours. As I went through the house getting our day started, I was greeted by crumbs on the floor, a sink full of dishes, something red staining the kitchen counter, and blankets and shoes everywhere. I sighed at the sight of all the things I get to clean up today to make up for my day off yesterday, but I also was so grateful. See, as a military family, we don’t usually have Dad around to help on sick days. We get so used to taking it all on by our selves that we don’t realize just how lucky we are when they are around. Sure, he gave the kids MRE’s, but they were fed. He put them to bed early and didn’t follow our usual routine, but he snuggled with each of them and gave them his undivided attention. He left a mess of a house for me to clean today, but he took so much time to check on me and pick up where I wasn’t able to yesterday. Moms don’t usually take sick days, but it’s nice to know I’m lucky enough to be able to every now and then.

Tips for Successfully Parenting the Emotional Child

The hardest part of parenting for myself isn’t refereeing the fights, doing the homework, or even the constant need for snacks (do children have 3 stomachs like cows do? I mean, where do they put all of this food?!) For me, the hardest part of parenting is helping my children navigate their big emotions and teach them how to respond appropriately to the world around them. All kids have explosive moments or big emotions, but with an emotionally sensitive child this can be a daily road to navigate. Here are some tips that have helped me while parenting my emotionally sensitive child.

Don’t ask ‘why’, ask ‘what’

Some situations are just inevitable. Siblings will fight, unkind words will fly, hands will leave their ‘bubble’. There isn’t a kid I know who has never had a moment of misbehavior. With an emotionally sensitive child, they are quick to get on the defensive. This can make it hard to find out exactly what happened when you are walking into a war zone and both sides are pointing fingers at the other person. Instead of asking why, ask what. What was happening before the fight started? What did you not like about what happened? What do you think we can do to make this situation better for everyone? I find that if I ask why, I’m always met with an ‘I don’t know’, but if I ask what was happening I can get the full story.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

How does your body feel right now?

It can be hard for children to recognize what emotion they are feeling in the heat of the moment, and putting it into words can be tricky. Most young kids won’t say ‘I’m feeling anxious’, they might say ‘my tummy feels funny’. Or instead of saying ‘I’m getting frustrated’ you may notice their cheeks are getting red and their hands are clenched. Noticing the physical signs of their emotions, and teaching them what those feel like, might help them be able to communicate better to you what they are feeling. When my son is having a rough moment, I always ask ‘what does your body feel like right now?’ and we take it from there.

”You can tell me anything”

I’m sure you have heard this one before, ‘Hey Mom, can I tell you something?’. I hear this about 394857 times a day, and my answer is always the same-‘you can tell me anything’. At the age my kids are now, that usually means stories about video games or a Lego creation or a picture that was colored at school. What they hear is ‘I’d love to hear about Minecraft for the next 45 minutes!’ but the underlying message is ‘You can come to me about anything, and I’m here for you’. Opening the lines of communication during times they want to talk just make it easier to connect with them during those times they are overwhelmed and need to talk.

Photo by Ankebi Photography on Unsplash

Give them their space, but let them know you are available

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your child when they are in an emotional meltdown is to let them work it out. Sometimes, they won’t want to talk to you about it, and trying to force your kid to open up will just make them more upset. Let them have space and time to work through it on their own, but let them know you are available if and when they are ready to talk to you. Sometimes my kids won’t want to talk, and instead of asking what happened I will simply say ‘can I give you a hug right now?’. You might be surprised that they will take you up on that hug much faster than they will want to chat about their big emotions.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

Teach you kids to take their mental health seriously.

With school violence and bullying on the rise, the world is more aware now than ever that mental health in kids is just as important to care for as their physical health. I remember during our last deployment, the kids and I were filing our calendar fast. One day I looked around and noticed just how tired everyone looked. The kids were bickering and struggling in class, I was anxious and not sleeping, and we were trying to live life like we weren’t burning the candle at both ends. We all took a mental health day. I kept the kids home from school and we said no to all of our engagements that day. We played board games, ordered pizza, and finished the day with a family sleepover. I let them know that sometimes, you need to know when to say enough is enough, and that is ok! Letting your children know their feelings are just as valid as yours are will only encourage them to be more mentally healthy adults.

When the Mom Burnout hits you

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on Unsplash

You wake up to the sound of kids screeching and fighting in the hallway. You look at your phone, you still have 10 minutes before your alarm is set to go off and another 10 before you needed to wake up the kids for school. You can feel it in your bones that it is going to be one of those days as you emerge from your room and are immediately met with breakfast demands and complaints over the clothes you picked out the night before for them to wear. You try to calmly ask the kids to just be patient as you start pouring cereal and start the coffee pot, but you can feel your cheeks getting warm. When the hungry masses are done eating, they run off to their room. You yell down the hallway to go brush their teeth, but in reply all you get is more fighting about who hit who and who is touching the others toys. You take a deep breath and start clearing the breakfast dishes, only to notice someone spilled their wet cereal all over the floor and didn’t bother to clean it up. They know that you will clean it, so why bother? Finally after teeth brushing, hair managing, 3 outfit changes (while you are still in your pajama pants and tank top from yesterday) you are screaming like a lunatic to get everyone to put on their shoes and hurry outside because the bus is here to pick up the oldest kid and you still have to drive the youngest to their school, which opens in 15 minutes (and you have yet to brush your own teeth).

It is barely 8 am and you are already mentally exhausted when your phone beeps. It’s a text from your husband asking you to run an errand for him this morning since he is at work and you are just at home all day. You text him back ‘sure thing’ and add it to your mental list of your other errands to get done-laundry, sweeping and mopping, unloading and reloading the dishwasher, finishing some computer work you didn’t have time to do yesterday, buying milk because you used the last of it in the kids cereal this morning. You sit in your van and feel the tears start to come. You feel sad, overwhelmed, underappreciated, and ridiculous. “Why are you crying? You are so lucky! You have a husband who is able to provide financially for your family so you can stay home and manage the house! THIS is your job! You have enough money to buy milk and put gas in your van. You have 2 beautiful children and a husband who loves you all, that’s more than a lot of people get in their whole lifetime! So why am I crying in the bank parking lot?”

Photo by Claudia on Unsplash

I will tell you why you are crying. Because you are human. As a mother, we spend so much of our day being many things for many people. Mother, wife, nurse, cook, housekeeper, chauffer, referee, lover. The list goes on and on and the benefits are ones that don’t give immediate gratification. You don’t get a paycheck, or vacation days, or sick days. There is no promotion ladder to climb and you never clock out. And the stakes are high, like really high. You are raising a family, molding tiny humans into what you hope will be productive members of society and you only have one shot at doing it right. The weight of this burden is heavy, and even though you may not carry it alone, it is a job that you can’t take lightly. So when you start your day yelling like a lunatic you feel like you are failing, or like this isn’t the deal you were promised when you made the decision to start a family.
IT.
IS.
HARD.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

I see you, Momma. I see you when you are crying in your van. Or when you are standing over a toddler in the middle of a meltdown at the grocery store, gritting your teeth as you try to coax them up. I see you when you are walking out of the school office after another meeting with teachers about your child struggling in class and you’re just hoping you can hold it together until you get to your car. When you are mindlessly scrolling thru Instagram at the park while your kids play because you just need 5 minutes to do anything other than being a mom right now.
I see you.
I am you.

Your feelings are valid and you have worth. Life is hard, parenting is hard, and trying to balance it all with grace and a smile is damn near impossible.

So give yourself some grace and be kind to your feelings. Not every day will be like this and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Why? Because you know eventually it will be bedtime, and if you can just hold on until then, you get a fresh start tomorrow.

And in the meantime, there is wine and chocolate.

Because you are a Mom, and you have earned it.

Top 10 Things ADHD parents are sick of hearing

October is ADHD/ADD/ODD awareness month, and with mental health awareness on the rise it is more important now than ever to make ourselves aware of the invisible struggles other people may be fighting. I know what you’re thinking, ADHD is not on the same playing field as Manic Depression or Schizophrenia or Bi-Polar Disorder. The truth is, just like any other neurological disorder, ADHD can come in varying degrees of severity and oftentimes those who are diagnosed with ADHD have other underlying diagnoses. ADHD is more than just not being able to sit still or focus, and according to the data and statistics at cdc.gov, it effects over 6.1 million children (as of 2016).

You would think since ADHD is such a commonly diagnosed disorder there would be so much understanding about it, but I can tell you first hand that as a parent of a child with ADHD (combined ADHD and anxiety diagnosis in this house) that people are very quick to judge you and your child based on outward appearances. Here I’ve put together my Top 10 list of things I have heard and am so over hearing about how to parent a kid with ADHD.

1. This one usually comes from a good place, in my experience at least. Your kid is running/jumping/climbing/completely ignoring your attempts to calmly get them to focus, and another parent nearby tries to sympathize with the old ‘I don’t know how you do it’ bit. I know they mean well, but the truth is if you have a child one day with ADHD, you will do it too, because you will love that child for who they are. My son isn’t ADHD, he has ADHD, and there is so much more to him than his diagnosis.

Do all kids behave all the time? Not at all. Does that mean that all kids who are misbehaving have ADHD? Nope. So does that mean ADHD isn’t real and just a made up illness? Absolutely not.

This is something that was absolutely said to me by a complete stranger while my son was having a meltdown at a Jiu Jitsu class. At the time I just smiled at the man and simply told him spakings don’t work with our son, but to this day when I think about that moment I wish I would have asked him if using a belt would also help him learn some manners.

This one is very common, and in my experience often comes from those friends and family that are closest to you. They aren’t saying it to be mean, but it still hurts. Yes medication may be a necessary tool your family decides to try, but coming to the decision to go that route is deeply personal and not a decision that is made easily.

If you have looked into medication for your child, then chances are really good you have heard the downsides of that choice. Usually it’s from other well-meaning parents, but this kind of choice is personal to what works best for your child and your family. And chances are, if you’re using the words ‘medication’ as a means of treatment, then you have probably already tried everything else you could think of first.

Personally our family has tried essential oils, supplements, cutting artificial dyes, flavors, dairy, gluten, limited screen time, no screen time….we have tried it all! Some of these things work, some don’t, most are great in moderation. You have to find what works for your child and go from there.

Often times, kids with ADHD are seen as being lazy or dumb. Most ADHD kids I know are some of the most intelligent and innovative people I know, they just need to be interested or engaged to let it shine. Do a google search of famous people with ADHD and you may be pleasantly surprised!

Kids make poor choices because they are learning how to make the right choice. This isn’t just an ADHD issue, this is something all parents have to deal with. And what works for one kid may not work for another, especially when you are comparing neurotypical children with those who are diagnosed with ADHD.

Any parent of a child with ADHD will tell you they have that thing they are obsessed with. Video games, Legos, dinosaurs, military vehicles, garbage trucks…we have seen quite a few obsessions with our son. And he loves to spread that knowledge all over everyone within ear shot. Yes they can talk about other things, but if you just sit and listen to them talk about their favorite things, you will see so much passion and knowledge flow out of them that it is contagious.

Yes, all kids grow and mature and develop better skills to handle what life throws at them, and kids with ADHD are no exception to that growth. However, kids who have ADHD will not simply outgrow it. There are several ways to help your child manage their diagnosis, but it will not go away on it’s own. If that were true then we wouldn’t have adults with ADHD, would we?