Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World: Which is Right for My Family?

Now that the busy holiday season has come to a close and all the decorations are put away, you may be starting to think about your family’s summer vacation plans. As an agent with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner agency, one question I hear a lot is, “What are the differences between Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World?” People want to know which is right for their family. Obviously, the answer is not the same for everyone, but there are many factors to consider when deciding which location to visit.

How much time do you have to plan?

As you may have heard, it’s best to book a Walt Disney World vacation at least six months in advance if possible. Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance, and certain dining locations fill up quickly. You can select Fast Pass+ experiences up to 60 days before your check-in date if staying on property, or 30 days before if staying elsewhere. While it’s certainly possible to plan a magical Walt Disney World trip less than six months in advance, this gives you the best chance of getting the room selection, dining reservations, and Fast Passes that you want.

On the other hand, a Disneyland vacation can be booked much closer to the travel date. Dining reservations can be made only 60 days in advance, and there are no advance Fast Passes to book. Once you enter the park, you can purchase Disney MaxPass on the Disneyland app in order to make Fast Pass selections using the app. MaxPass is an additional $15 per person, per day. If you decide not to purchase MaxPass, you can also get paper Fast Passes from machines near the entrances to select attractions and entertainment options.

How long will you be there?

First, consider how many days you will spend at the parks. If you only plan to spend two or three days at the parks, Disneyland Resort may be your best bet, as there are only two parks (Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park), which are literally right next to each other. Park Hopper tickets are a must at Disneyland Resort Parks, in my opinion, since it’s so easy to walk back and forth between the parks.

However, if you have at least four days to spend, I would recommend Walt Disney World, where you can spend at least one full day at each of the four parks (not including the waterparks, which are also great). Ideally, I recommend spending at least five days at Walt Disney World if possible, with two days at Magic Kingdom and one day at each of the other parks (Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom).

Many first-time Disney-goers assume that Disneyland Resort is a good place to start because there are only two parks. However, these two parks are absolutely packed full of rides and attractions and can be quite overwhelming! My family and I spent three full days at Disneyland Resort in 2019, and we still did not see and do everything. However, seeing most of what you want to see in Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios in one day is perfectly reasonable if you plan well. Because of this, I actually think many families with young children might do better exploring the more manageable, individual parks at Walt Disney World (if time permits) rather than taking on Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. Going back to your hotel for nap time can be a factor (Many kids will nap in the stroller!), but walking (or riding) back to your Disneyland Resort hotel can also take a considerable amount of time unless you are staying very close to the parks. If you have the time, I find it much more relaxing and less overwhelming to spend one full day exploring one park where you can see most everything in one day. Then move to another park the next day. Also, while the Disneyland Resort parks are magical in their own way, there’s just something special about being immersed in the magic at Walt Disney World.

Where will you stay?

Staying on property at Walt Disney World is a must if you can afford it (in my opinion). If you fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), you can ride the complimentary Disney’s Magical Express to your resort without even stopping at baggage claim! That’s right—Disney picks up your bags for you, and they will magically appear in your resort room a few hours after arrival. This is a great perk, as you are immersed in the Disney magic the moment your plane lands in Orlando.

There are more than 25 Walt Disney World Resort hotels to choose from, including Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas categories, so there is something to fit most budgets. And these resorts are full of Disney’s special touches and hospitality, including complimentary transportation to and from all of the parks and Disney Springs, and Extra Magic Hours (extra time at a selected park each day for resort guests). And, as I mentioned previously, Disney resort guests can make Fast Pass+ selections earlier than non-Disney resort guests.

The Mad Tea Party at Disneyland is a colorful classic.

In contrast, Disneyland Resort has only three Disney-owned resort hotels in which to stay, and staying at these three hotels can be quite pricey. All three hotels are within walking distance to the parks (and the Grand Californian has its own entrance into Disney California Adventure Park), which is a great perk, and they also include Extra Magic Hours on select days. These hotels are gorgeous and wonderful options if your budget allows. However, there are also almost 50 Disney Good Neighbor Hotels, which are Disney-approved hotels in close proximity (some within walking distance) to the Disneyland Resort parks that can be much more budget-friendly.

What Do You Want to See?

While both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort have many of the same rides and attractions, there are some that are unique to each park. For example, Disney California Adventure Park has Cars Land, which can be a dream come true for avid Cars fans. In fact, my daughter’s very favorite ride from all of the Disney parks is Radiator Springs Racers, which can only be found in Cars Land. Similarly, Indiana Jones Adventure, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Incredicoaster, and many of the classic Disneyland dark rides (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, etc.) are examples of rides that can only be found at Disneyland Resort parks.

Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World is home to Toy Story Land and the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (set to open in Spring of 2020). Epcot boasts the popular Frozen Ever After ride. Animal Kingdom is in a league all its own with the Kilimanjaro Safari adventure, where no two rides are ever the same, and Pandora—the World of AVATAR. And the Magic Kingdom has the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Enchanted Tales with Belle, and the gorgeous Be Our Guest restaurant, among others.

One of my favorite things about Walt Disney World is that there are many character meals available, both at the parks and the resort hotels. My family generally books at least one character meal per day because we enjoy the nice break it gives us; they are entertaining; the food is generally better than the quick service restaurants, and we can see/get autographs from characters without having to wait in line! We always purchase the Disney Dining Plan, which can be a great deal if you plan to book a lot of character meals since these add up quickly. Disneyland Resort currently has only one character meal in the parks, as well as a few at the resorts. And the Disney Dining Plan is not available at Disneyland Resort.

If you or your kids are huge fans of a particular Disney movie or character, look into (or ask your Disney Planner!) which park has the most attractions related to your interests.

What will the weather be like?

The time of year you will be visiting the parks can be a factor in deciding which to visit. The temperatures in both cities can be comfortable year-round, but in general, Anaheim doesn’t feel as hot during the summer months as steamy Orlando. In fact, the evenings can feel cool even into the summer. The wettest months in Anaheim are typically December, January, and February, whereas the wettest months in Orlando tend to be the summer months.

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World is ready for the holidays.

Should I wait until my kids are older?

I hear this question all the time, and my answer is no! Both of my daughters visited Walt Disney World before they turned three years old (one of them visited twice before turning three!), and we loved every minute of it and cherish those memories! Many people argue that the kids won’t remember it at such a young age, and while that may be true, it’s also true that YOU will remember it! You will remember how their faces lit up as they hugged their favorite characters in person or when Snow White came over and left a red lipstick-stained kiss on your daughter’s cheek at a character meal. You will remember their wide-eyed wonder at the sight of Cinderella Castle covered in lights for the holidays and their innocent grin throughout the entire It’s A Small World ride. YOU will remember these precious moments, whether they do or not. And the best part is that children under three years old do not need a park ticket, so you can save some money by taking your kids before they turn three!

You may be surprised to know that young children can ride most of the rides at Disney parks. Disney has designed the parks to be family-friendly, and very few rides have height restrictions. Out of the 34 attractions currently listed on the Magic Kingdom web page, only six have height restrictions, and two of those are only 32 and 35 inches.

So yes, you can and should take your young children to the Disney parks! But take my word for it and bring a stroller, even if you think your kids are too old for a stroller! You will thank me later.

So many factors go into deciding which Disney location is right for your family. However, with some research and the help of an agent from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner agency, you can plan a magical vacation that will be etched into your memory and your heart for a lifetime.

I’m Too Old for This….

Last September I began my 38th trip around the sun, and in many ways, you could say my late 30s are turning into the best years yet.

Many of the things I strove for in my 20s have happened. I have kids, a husband, a home, a career, and my wrinkles are still in their early years. I’m old enough where VSCO girls are now wearing my high school trends, but not old enough where I don’t know how to hashtag or throw out some asinine terms like “totes obs” or “meta.” (Those probably are no longer a thing, but again, I’m now 38, so go with it.)

These days, when I want to feel young, I simply throw on some old-school gangster rap and try to roll deep in my crossover SUV. The moments when I own my old age come when I enter a rooftop bar filled with 22-year-olds and realize I’m technically old enough to be their mother.

While I still feel pretty hip—and I fully recognize just saying “hip” makes me old as dirt—many moments in this new age have me shaking my head while whispering to myself, Yeah, I’m too old for this.

For example, self-help books for confidence. Last summer a friend recommended a best-seller claiming it changed her life and how she approached her work, friends, and more. One chapter in I closed the book because I’m too old for this. At this point in my life, I don’t need cheerleaders telling me I’ve “got this!” and that I’m “powerful and can be [myself]!”

The beauty of this season in my late 30s is I’ve stopped caring about other’s expectations and judgments of me. While juggling children, a marriage, a career, and life, who seriously has time for that? Who has time to let these things creep in and steal your attention from what’s really important in life?

Not this lady.

I definitely needed the cheerleading book when I was in my 20s and a walking ball of insecurities and anxiety. But at 38? I’ve got this. I know who I am, faults and all.

What else am I too old for?

Sleepless nights.

My kids are now 6 and 9, and occasionally we’ll have a night when someone is sick and I get zero sleep. When I was in my late 20s or early 30s, I could muster through the next day with additional coffee and manage just fine.

These days, it’s as if Madea and Ursula had a baby. If you look at me wrong after a night of no sleep, I just might steal your soul or slap you with my purse. Ask my husband.

While we’re on the topic of no sleep, I’m also too old for cheap vodka of any kind and hangovers. At 38, it’s no longer just a headache in the morning. It’s now a two-day affair, and I can no longer sleep it off or eat ramen because of kids being kids.

Thinking I could drop five pounds by dieting for 72 hours is also a thing of the past, and after four kids I’d be a fool to think I’m ever wearing low rise anything again. Say no to crack, people, especially when sitting on the park grass at a play date.

When surveying my friends on what they’re too old for, the responses were hilarious: husbands who don’t load the dishwasher, people taking PTA way too seriously, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and thong underwear topped the list. I agree.

It’s funny how you spend your youth worrying about getting older, but then the life train pulls into this new station and it’s wonderful in its own, unique way. I had a complete freak-out on my 30th birthday, worried about the future and what it would look like. If I could write a letter to my younger self now, I’d tell myself, “It only gets better, and you’ll feel more like yourself than ever, in even comfier underwear.”

Three Things to Consider Before Changing Jobs While Pregnant

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I recently left my job at 31 weeks pregnant. Leading up to this decision, I probably searched Google, mom blogs, baby blogs, and a variety of other resources at least 38,597 times. Examples of said searches include: “Is it smart to change jobs while pregnant?” “Am I being ridiculous to change jobs while pregnant?” “Should I try to hang in there until after maternity leave?” “What are the implications of a job change this late in my pregnancy?” “Will I bankrupt my family?” “Will the world stop spinning?”

I had questions. So. Many. Questions. And, no one on the interwebs could answer them. I would find either outdated insurance information or a bunch of fluff from people I deemed independently wealthy who didn’t have a financial concern in the world. Example: “My heart was set on it, so we made it work and just paid the hospital in cash!” How nice for you, but not my reality.

I had to make the scary decision to go with my gut. So, I took a very scary leap: I left my job and started a new one. Full disclosure: I started a new, old job, returning to my prior firm. I waddled back in on my first day eight months pregnant and hoped for the best. In my case, I’ve only hit a few minor snags, and yes, my situation is unique in that I went back to an employer with whom I was familiar, but the concerns and risks are the same whether you are looking for a new job or returning to a new, old job.

Therefore, if you end up in my shoes, pregnant and either wanting a career change, needing a career change, or considering a career change, here are three things to consider before taking the leap:

  1. Consider your “why.”

The “why” is the biggest component of leaving your current job. Why do you want to leave? Are you unhappy? Has a better opportunity come along? Do you work miserable hours and want a better situation for yourself before welcoming your new tiny nugget into the world? All reasons are valid.

But, why now? Will this opportunity be available to you after maternity leave? Are you OK with waiting if you have to? Will you encounter any hardship if you take the leap now versus later? What is the impact of that hardship on your family and new baby? Going through this list of questions could put a stop to the search pretty quickly or encourage you to keep going.

My concern, at first, was that I was making a purely emotional decision. (Looking back, I made the absolute best decision for myself and my family, but those pregnancy hormones can be confusing.) I also knew what I wanted to do but had to wait for approval to see if returning to my prior position was even a viable option. (THANK YOU, GUYS. I’M NEVER LEAVING AGAIN.)

In my case, I had switched jobs shortly before finding out I was pregnant. The new job was not a fit for me, which became very clear, very fast. I remember sitting on the couch telling my husband that I would rather take an hourly, seasonal job to get me to maternity leave than stay in my position. (Like, why wouldn’t I want to work at Target and get a discount during Christmas season? My husband quickly pointed out that would cause me to bring home zero paychecks because I’d spend it all even with a discount.) I remember telling my husband that no amount of money or fringe benefits could make me want to stay even one more day in my current position, and that’s when it clicked: my “why” was about my mental health and where I saw my career heading. In my eyes there were zero benefits to staying a single extra day where I was, and I wanted to go now. I had the opportunity now. Luckily, my husband went along with my decision and supported me, and together we decided that, as soon as we did our due diligence (see items 2 and 3 below), if it worked, I could make the leap.

  1. Figure out your insurance basics.

The insurance was the scary part for me. I had insurance through my employer with a low deductible. I had already paid my OB financial agreement and met my deductible for 2019. I also had my three-year-old on my insurance plan. She is a very expensive three-year-old from a medical standpoint.

So, time to get to work.

If you find yourself in step 2, these are the insurance considerations that turned out to be crucial:

  • Is there another health insurance plan you can switch to? I knew my daughter could be covered under my husband’s insurance. What I didn’t know is whether I could be covered. Spoiler alert: even after the Affordable Care Act, some employer-sponsored plans still consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition. You need to know how the plan you’re moving to handles this.
  • Is pregnancy a pre-existing condition on the new plan? This question kept me in a sweat for a solid week. Lucky for us, pregnancy was not considered a pre-existing condition under the new plan, and I was able to get coverage under my husband’s plan.
  • If the pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition, what are your options? During the week I had to wait to see if the pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, I researched other options in the event of a worst-case scenario. What would I do if I could not get coverage under my husband’s plan? I found two options. First, I found that I could enroll in the marketplace for a special enrollment plan due to loss of coverage. Problem was, my OB was not an in-network provider for the plans for which I was eligible. Yikes. Changing jobs my third trimester was one thing, but switching doctors so late in the game was another. Second, I could enroll in COBRA, which is a continuation of coverage from my employer-sponsored plan. COBRA would have set me back a cool $1600 or more per month, to be paid at the beginning of the month. Could I scrape that together while also paying medical bills, daycare, a mortgage, and still eat? Questionable.Although I didn’t get this far, a colleague of mine shared that he and his wife actually negotiated a cash price with the hospital and OB when their son was born, which ended up being a relatively reasonable amount considering the cost of childbirth in the United States. This would, of course, be provider dependent, and I may not have been so lucky. I knew at the end of the day, for my family’s situation, that I was at the mercy of the HR department of my husband’s firm. It would decide whether this could realistically work for us.Thankfully, it did.

    Still, one thing that caught us by surprise was the cost of some of the medications we use, especially my daughter’s medication for asthma. One of her medications, the one she absolutely, positively cannot go without, is about $200 more per month on my husband’s plan. Not ideal, but definitely could have been worse, and while the cost increase would not have changed my decision, I wish I would have also looked at pharmacy benefits just so I didn’t let out my shock on the pharmacy technician at CVS. He handled me and my above-referenced hormones like a champ.

3. Figure out maternity leave.

The last scary step into the unknown was maternity leave. This is where I felt very, very lucky. Since I was returning to my prior employer, they never even batted an eye and worked with me from the get-go. Have I mentioned how grateful I am for them? How bad I feel for leaving in the first place? These people are my work family; they are my home; and time and time again, they show me how much I’m loved and cared for. And for an employer, that is just so hard to find. This also goes back to my “why.”

But enough of the mush. Maternity leave is a huge component of switching jobs late in pregnancy. Had I gone anywhere else, these are the things I would want to know:

  • Will I have maternity leave?
  • Will maternity leave be paid or unpaid?
  • If maternity leave is unpaid, can I afford it?
  • If I can’t afford it, are there any workable, creative solutions to lessen the impact?
  • Is my job secure while I’m on leave?
  • If I have to leave earlier than expected, will the employer work with me?
  • What if complications arise and I cannot return when I plan to? How is that handled?
  • What policies are in place to protect my position?

While the United States does indeed have the Family Medical Leave Act, FMLA only applies to certain employees and typically requires an employee to work for a full year prior to being eligible. This fact can be very scary when you’re pregnant and thinking about changing jobs.

Still, if you find yourself in this position, know you are not alone. It also worth noting, which is easy for me to say now, that most situations are temporary and will work out. And, as always, if you need someone to hear you out, you can find me over at Alamo City Moms!

“All the Good You Cannot See”: Reminders for Mom-fail Moments

It is definitely a new year. How do I know? The tell-tale signs include the suddenly popular planner aisle at Target, the unusually crowded gym, and the abundant use of words like “savor” on social media. The type-A goal setter in me loves this time of year.

Nothing gets me going like a productive day of checking items off my to-do list. When I taught school I was fascinated by the process of measuring what my students had learned and accomplished because in a sense it also showed what I had accomplished. Similarly, I loved planning day: a day when I could dive into state standards, write out my curriculum, make one thousand copies, and pat myself on the back for being uber-prepared.

Has anyone else noticed that parenting doesn’t work this way? As in, you set out with perfectly reasonable goals and your children derail them within seconds. Whether it be the poopy diaper explosion, the hour it took to get a gallon of milk at the store when you’d planned for 10 minutes, or the attorney-level negotiations at dinner time to convince someone to take one bite of a freaking pea. When the fun-suckers are finally asleep, you realize you accomplished nothing on your to-do list and your messy house probably needs a hazardous waste sign on the front door. 

This has been a recurring struggle in my motherhood journey. When I have one of those days, I tend to feel like a failure with a capital F. Really, what am I doing with my life?

Here’s what I often forget. Much of my mothering is not captured on the to-do list. There is a lot of good you cannot see. As parents, we do many things on autopilot. If we wrote out a to-do list for every little thing that we actually do, it would be crazy long and ridiculously detailed:

  • Make breakfast for child, keeping in mind her preferences, her dietary needs, her ability to chew/swallow large pieces of food, and the amount of time available to sit at the table.
  • Serve said breakfast to child with favorite plate/cup/spoon/fork. If these exact utensils are not clean, wash immediately. If child claims her favorite has changed since yesterday, adjust. 
  • Ask child how she slept, what she dreamed about, if she’s excited for the day. Ignore requests to watch TV or call Grandma. Express affection for her. Inquire about the status of her appetite.
  • Guide child toward ending the meal. Wipe mouth, hands, feet, belly, and any other body part now covered in breakfast food.

AND THAT’S JUST BREAKFAST!

If I took the time to list out every literal thing I did to parent my children, it would perfectly explain why my other to-do list went untouched. Feeding, clothing, transporting, bathing, and getting children to sleep are all feats in themselves. Add in all the emotional life-lesson stuff; moments spent working through their feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration; time taken to teach how to use manners and look both ways before crossing the street; efforts to coach children on advocating for themselves, showing kindness, knowing they are enough, and overcoming adversity… I mean, really. Who does all that in one day?! WE DO! And yet we feel discouraged when the laundry basket(s) are overflowing or when we haven’t created a booming side hustle yet or whatever.

Unfair comparison is the root of my problem. Comparing myself to JoAnna Gaines, to a friend, to my unrealistic expectations. The truth is that everyone has their struggles, and simply put, comparisons are dumb.  

Instead of wasting my precious brain power on comparing and regretting, perhaps I could spend it looking for the good that did happen. How did I connect with my children today? Who in my circle did I pray for this morning? What did I do to show my spouse I love him? That’s the stuff that really matters anyway, right? I’m not going to throw away my other to-do list, but on the days it goes untouched, I hope to focus on all the good I cannot see.  

What to Do With Your New Camera

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Over the years, I have been asked more times than I can recall, “Which camera is best?” Or, I’ll be approached by someone who just acquired a new camera and wants to know how to use it. It’s nearly as impossible for me to teach photography in a few short minutes or in messages, as it is for me to know which camera would be best for your needs. But, I get that it’s hard when you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m going to give you all the links, keywords, and clues you need to set you on your photography journey. Or, just to help you familiarize yourself with your camera well enough to take the photos of your kids that you want. 

What camera should I buy?

Without knowing your budget and your needs, I cannot answer this nearly as well as as a Google search can. From experience, though, I’ve learned that moms who are looking to take better photos of their own children, need to get something lightweight that they’re likely to throw in the diaper bag or purse when heading out. If you purchase something so fancy and bulky that you’re scared to take it on a hike, or to the pumpkin patch, it will end up not being used. 

I’m usually all in for online shopping, but there is merit to holding several different cameras, feeling their weight, getting to know their buttons and switches, and asking questions. Check out a local camera or tech store and spend some literal hands-on time with a few different cameras before you buy. 

OK, I found the perfect camera! Now what?

You probably won’t like this, but..read the manual! Yes, I’m serious. The internet will really come in handy for figuring out your new toy, but the first step is familiarizing yourself with the basic buttons, and the easiest way to do that? Read the manual. 

Next up, play!

Take some “low pressure” photos—think landscapes and still life. Maybe not running, busy kids yet. Practice getting the results you want by snapping lots of basic things, and keep a notebook of what setting you’re using that you really like. 

Once you’re feeling adventurous enough to start selecting your own settings in manual mode, which will give you more creative control, these are the three settings you’re going to want to understand:

  1. ISO: This means how much light you let in. The higher your ISO number, the brighter your image. All cameras and lenses have an ISO limit. Your camera may allow you to turn your ISO way up to photograph something in a dark room, but when you edit it you may see that your image is very grainy. The better quality camera and lens you have, the better low-light capabilities it has.
  2. Shutter speed: This refers to how long you let light in (aka: how long your shutter is open). If you want to capture fog rolling in over the river during a sunrise or a blur of rain, you will want your shutter open long enough to capture that movement. If you’re photographing moving, grinning, busy little humans? You’re going to need a FAST shutter speed—think 250th of a second or above.
  3. Aperture or f/stop: This is the third and final number you can adjust, and this one is my favorite. It’s there to be fun and artistic. It controls what is in focus in your image, your depth of field. A low number (this will vary depending on your lens’s capabilities) will put what you choose in focus, and everything around it will be beautifully blurred out. The more money you spend, the better quality blur you get. A smaller depth of field, a beautiful “bokeh” (when the blur makes those creamy, glowy, dots in the background). Lighting plays a big part in pretty creamy backgrounds too. 

All of these number combinations might seem intimidating and like they involve too much math at first, but I promise, they’re easy and fun to experiment with. Remember, I’m not here to teach you, though—just to point you in the right direction. I made a Pin board of “cheat sheets” for beginners: Beginner Photography Charts.

Also, keep in mind that all of the above settings will have an effect on each other. If your shutter is open longer (capturing movement), you will be letting in light longer and have a lower ISO number. If your shutter speed is fast (freezing the movement of a running child), you will need a higher ISO number to compensate for the short time the shutter was recording light. 

Utilizing Google, Pinterest, and YouTube have been some of my favorite resources for learning photography. But you can also find online groups to have fun, learn with a local photographer, or check out online classes at places like creativelive.com or lynda.com.

Once you have mastered control of your camera, the two things you will want to focus on are lighting and composition. (And for portrait photography, posing.)

I always thought the “rules” of composition that I read about in school were kind of silly, because shouldn’t that be up to the artist?

Lighting tricks, however, will certainly come in handy. If you’re thinking of going beyond amateur, you may want to purchase a reflector. They’re inexpensive and work wonders. You could get cozy with a flash or just learn how to work a window really well. 

What about editing?

Nowadays, you can edit photos for free with simple tools or apps available on your phone. Again, I’d consult Google for this one because I’ve barely begun to try all the editing apps available. For little snaps on the go, I frequently edit my photos in social media with the available filters and settings. I use Aperture, Photoshop, and Lightroom for my professional photo edits. You can access these with a monthly subscription. It can be as fancy and complicated as you want, or you can buy a pack of presets that you like, download them, and have simple on-click editing options at your fingertips. 

Here is a nifty list of free editing apps, courtesy of our friend Google: 11 Best Free Editing Online.

I hope this helps, and I wish you well on your photography journey! The biggest mistake you could make is to not pick up your camera and use it! So don’t worry about being perfect; just snap the photos you want and enjoy the journey of learning as you go. 

True Confessions of a Guilty Mom

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When’s the last time you felt guilty as a parent? I can probably fill up both fingers counting the number of times I’ve felt guilty today and it is not even noon. Why does no one talk about the things they do wrong as a parent? Why do we allow ourselves to be shamed by social media, telling ourselves we won’t ever be as good as Mom A or as creative as Mom B? Why do we hold in all the bad stories, allowing ourselves to feel isolated, rather than share those scary or hard moments with others and find unity in our faults? I’m only a year-and-a-half into this journey of motherhood and let me tell you, the number of things I’ve done wrong is innumerable. Despite my short time in this role I have quickly come to realize we are all far from perfect, and when we share our imperfections we start to feel a bit less alone.

In hopes of spreading this message, I decided to step out of my comfort zone a bit more and share my biggest mom guilt story on social media. I posted a photo and explained that at the beginning of June my son crawled into the bathroom while I was getting ready for the day. He then pulled the cord of my hair straightener, causing it to fall directly onto his right arm. It took about two seconds for me to realize what had happened as his scream began to fill the room. I quickly scooped him up, ran to the freezer for an ice pack, and frantically searched the house for his paci. We sat down on the couch; I shushed, rocked, and hugged him tight as I applied the cold pack; and the tears started streaming down my face.

How could I be so stupid? How could I let the cord dangle from the side of the sink, basically asking him to pull it down atop himself? Why didn’t I put it on the other side? Would we have to go to the ER? Would his skin ever be the same? What would I tell people at his birthday party in just a few weeks?

I was mortified and devastated. I called the doctor and somehow stifled the tears for long enough to set up an appointment. Then I called my husband and bawled while trying to explain what happened (I’m surprised he could even hear me through the ugly sobs). We went to the doctor, and he told us it happens more frequently than I’d think (which still didn’t make me feel any better). Wylie acquired the first-degree burn with two second-degree spots. He sent us home with a silver cream prescription and instructions to follow up with our normal doctor in a week. From that point on I didn’t want to leave the house. Every time we discussed going somewhere the wave of guilt washed over me again and the idea of anyone seeing his arm and asking me what had happened was enough to make my stomach knot up. I reluctantly shared the story with my closest church friends, asking for prayers for no pain, no infection, and total healing, but that still didn’t make me want to get out in public.

Eventually, the shock and newness of it all wore off. After I had some time to process and was encouraged by some wise women to be vulnerable and share the ugly, difficult moments, I decided to release the story to my online world. In posting my moment of deep guilt, I also wanted to give other moms a safe space to share their own stories. I prefaced my request with a no-judgment guarantee and a promise to change names while including their stories in this article. I was shocked by the openness and courage of the moms who shared. It’s amazing how freeing it can be to share difficult moments with others, so I hope these stories ease your woes and remind you that we all struggle and make mistakes.

I was quickly encouraged, that I was not alone, with multiple stories of children grabbing curling irons or putting hands on a hot stove. One son reached for a boiling pot of spaghetti sauce which toppled over and severely burned his knee. Another mom told this story (I’ve changed the wording a bit for flow and names for anonymity):

“Linus used to ‘help’ me make my coffee by sitting on the counter while I stirred the cream. One day, [when] he was about two-and-a-half, he started falling off the counter. (I was right next to him, leaning on his legs.) His instinct was to reach out. He pulled the coffee with him as he fell, and it splashed all over his chest. I immediately knew it was BAD and rushed to the ER, where I found out he had acquired second-degree burns. He was sedated to clean the burned area and put on stronger drugs than I have ever been on! It was a freak accident with the way he was situated on the counter and how far the coffee was from him, BUT there were also things I shouldn’t have been doing (letting him on the counter or even near my hot coffee).”

While I can only imagine how devastating this moment must have been for the mom and her son, it was still a great reminder that things can happen in an instant and despite our best efforts we will inevitably make mistakes like in the following two stories:

“My husband and I went on our first vacation ever without the kids a few weeks ago. I was already dealing with some guilt about leaving them for six days, knowing how sad they would be without us. The night before we left, my husband took the two-year-old to run some errands while I stayed behind with the three-year-old and one-year-old ‘Jason’ to do some cleaning.

All of a sudden I had that funny feeling we are probably all familiar with: ‘It’s too quiet…’ Jason was out of sight. ‘I wonder if he’s in the bathroom again?’ I thought. He is OBSESSED with toilets. I raced to the bathroom and found him standing at the toilet, lid open, choking. Not only was he playing with toilet water but he had grabbed the cleaning tablet that hangs on the rim and was eating it! His hands and mouth were covered with the residue and he was screaming and struggling to swallow. I’m not sure at this point if he was just sucking on it or bit some off. I frantically washed his hands and mouth and made sure there was nothing blocking his airway, but he continued to scream every time he swallowed and was gagging and choking. I called 911 in a panic. The situation escalated because they said he needed to be seen immediately but we only have one car and my husband was 30 minutes from home. They said, ‘All right, ma’am, the fire department in on the way. Call us if he stops breathing. Either way, he will be screaming because it’s probably burning as it’s going down because it’s a harsh cleaning product.’ Cue waves of guilt that would wash over me for the next several hours. Lots of praying in the 13 minutes it took them to get to us. Luckily by the time they arrived, he had stopped crying and they felt it wasn’t going to cause any long-term damage.”

She continued to mention that she collapsed in her husband’s arms when he arrived home, tears streaming down her face, and even more guilt washed over her wondering how she could let it happen in the first place but also thinking, How could he even look at me again if something tragic had happened? He reminded her that these things happen, but it didn’t take away that nauseous feeling and the lingering question of “What if?” which leads us into our next story:

My husband and I had just returned home from a date night. He headed upstairs while I paid the sitter and got ready to walk her out through the garage (which I’d left open so she could leave). She told me her shoes were by the front door, so I walked with her and let her out that way instead. Then I turned out the lights and headed upstairs to check on my two- and four-year-old boys before heading to bed. The next morning, bright and early, my four-year-old burst into our room and said, ‘Mom, I told you about leaving the garage open…’ As soon as we heard that, my husband and I immediately jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. He went outside toward the back yard and I went toward the front. My two-year-old had run out of the house and we could not find him anywhere. After ten long, excruciating minutes I hopped in my car to cover more ground and saw my neighbor’s daughter coming out of her house. In tears at this point, I frantically asked if she had seen my son. She exclaimed that she thought her mom had him in the house. I pulled into the driveway, burst through her front door like a crazy woman to find my safe and content two-year-old humming a song and eating a banana in her living room. At this sight my legs collapsed from under me and I burst into tears. When I regained feeling in my legs, I scooped him up and ran to my house to give him to his still-frantic father. We took measures to make sure our house was extra secure and now I double and sometimes even triple check to make sure things are locked up at night.”

Story after story I quickly came to see many moms have a laundry list of things they feel guilty about, from bumps and bruises to moments of panic, to feeling like you’re starving your baby by trying to force breastfeeding (I’m saving that story for a time when I can work up the nerve to share my own breastfeeding trials and tribulations). We should view these moments as situations to learn from and remind ourselves that they could happen to anyone. It’s so easy to share all the happy, fun moments of motherhood, proudly posting them on Instagram for all the world to see. But when we open up and share our flaws with others you’ll find a lot more people are struggling and making mistakes alongside you, and maybe, just maybe you’re doing all right at this whole parenting thing.

Spring Break Camps in San Antonio

We’re thrilled to share our annual Guide to Spring Break Camps, presented by Highland Homes. Alamo City Moms has partnered with a variety of local businesses to provide you this list of area camps being offered during the school break week of March 9–13, 2020.

Thinking ahead to summer? Stayed tuned for our Guide to Summer Camps.

More posts from ACM about Spring Break and/or day trips in the area:

Spring Break Fun in the Alamo City

Spring Break for Cheapskates

Off-the-Beaten-Path Family Day Trips That Will Make the Whole Family Smile

Daytripping to Austin Is “Capital” Fun

Free and Cheap Activities for a Fun Spring Break in San Antonio

Five(ish) San Antonio Restaurants to Try Over Spring Break

YMCA Spring Break Camp

Spring Break Camp 2020 - YMCA

During the Y’s Spring Break Camps, youth will enjoy enrichment activities in STEM, arts and crafts, and outdoor play, in a safe environment where they can be, belong and become. All of YMCA of Greater San Antonio branches offer Spring Break Camp for youth 5 to 14 years of age during the week of March 9 through 13. Times vary by location. Register today. Please visit your local Y or ymcasatx.org for details.

Country Home Learning Center

Spring Break Camp 2020 - Country Home

Country Home’s extremely popular Spring Break Camp program includes all of our regular activities, our Kids’ Choice Special Interest Clubs, regularly scheduled field trips to swimming, skating, bowling, and movies, as well as special field trips to a wide variety of exciting local destinations.

Camp Classic:
Shakes Break

Spring Break Camp 2020 - Camp Classic

Shakes Break (March 9-11, 2020 at The Classic Theatre of San Antonio)- Performing Shakespeare in minutes! Using a sorting hat, campers will randomly pick a Shakespeare play, a time period, and a location. Could it be Hamlet in the roaring 20’s set in space, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 70’s set in the wild west? In this Spring Break camp, campers learn how to make a story come to life by using elements of the theatre to create their own characters, props, and costumes, culminating in a final performance. This 3-day camp, running 9am-3pm, for ages 8-15, based off of Shakespeare’s plays, tackled in a kid-friendly approach.

J-Camp

Spring Break Camp 2020 - J Camp / Barshop JCC

Are you looking for something fun and exciting to do during Spring Break in San Antonio? Why not spend the week at the J! Spring Break J-Camp is a week of fun, arts & crafts, friendship, and most importantly, making memories. Spring Break Camp is Monday through Friday, 9am-3:30pm at the Barshop JCC, 12500 N.W. Military Highway San Antonio, TX 7823.

Want to see YOUR camp listed here?

Please contact us for partnership details.

Celebrate the Year of the Rat! The 2020 Asian Festival Brings Culture and Family Fun to San Antonio

Alamo City Moms is happy to partner with the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures to promote the 2020 Asian Festival.  This is a sponsored post. 

The 2020 Asian Festival brings together San Antonio’s many diverse Asian communities, giving festival attendees a glimpse into authentic Asian culture and cuisine without the need for a passport and jet-lag.

On Saturday, February 1st from 10-5, the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures grounds are filled with the sounds of cultural music, the smells of authentic foods from more than 15 cultures and a myriad of different performances and displays. People of all ages celebrate the Lunar New Year and the many rich cultures of Asia.

With represented cultures spanning the globe from China, to the Indian Sub-continent, and the island nations of the Pacific, this is an incredible opportunity to learn or try something new and to revel in the rich traditions of countries thousands of miles away in one spot.

The Festival features two stages, a martial arts demonstration area, children’s hands-on crafting area, anime activities, bonsai and ikebana displays, mahjong table and more. Click here for a guide to performances and food offerings at this year’s festival.

 

Also, children under the age of five are completely free! To learn more about the 2020 Asian Festival, visit https://www.asianfestivalsa.com.

Date: Saturday, February 1st
Hours: 10:00 A.M.–5:00 P.M.
Tickets: Adults: $12 ($15 at the gate), children (6–12): $5; children under 5: free
Location: Institute of Texan Cultures (801 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd.)

 

 

Father/Daughter Dances in and Around San Antonio

Father/daughter dances have become a common, special event in which dads and daughters spend time together. Some are dressy events, with dads in shirts and ties and girls in fancy dresses; others are casual or themed, such as Cole Elementary’s father/daughter luau last March. But whatever the dance dress calls for, attendees will be looking for fun. Moms, get those cameras ready for the “before” pictures. While there is usually a photo booth to capture a snapshot from the event itself, the best parts of the night will be captured in the sweet memories shared by dads and daughters.

My daughter and husband have been attending a father/daughter dance put on by my daughter’s school district every year. I must admit that I might have “nudged” my husband to go the first year. But they both now look forward to it every year. I have pictures of the first dance with my daughter missing her front teeth. Later, I have her with her first pair of glasses. I love hearing the stories of how she got him to dance or put on a silly hat for the photo booth. I know that if I had been there the night would have been different, but I relish in the fact that it was their very own night.

If you are looking to start this tradition or just want to try one out, you might call your child’s school to see if the campus/district hosts such an event. Some churches, YMCAs, municipalities, and even local parks and recreation departments have added these dances to their annual calendars. The Mays YMCA in Stone Oak has been hosted a similar event for the last few years.

If dad is leery of the “dance” portion of the evening, there will be other activities to keep everyone happy. There are usually crafts, games, snacks, and of course, photo opportunities. If there is a particular theme, there may be some additional activities to go along with it. Also, if dad is unavailable, an uncle, grandfather, or any other male role model can step in as an escort.

Because Valentine’s Day is coming up, you might want to keep your eyes peeled to see if one of these events is happening in your area. Sweetheart Dances are a fun theme for father/daughter dances. My daughter’s district always schedules the dance around March. The YMCA and other local gyms often host father/daughter dances in the summer.

Here are a few father/daughter dances that are coming up relatively soon:

New Braunfels Parks and Recreation’s “Under the Big Top” Father/Daughter Dance

Date/time: Saturday, February 1, 2020; 4:00–6:00 P.M.
Location: 110 Golf Course Rd., New Braunfels, TX 78130
Ticket info: Dance ticket: $25/person. Dance + carriage ride ticket: $30/person. Limited ticket sales.

Spring Branch Middle School’s “How Sweet It Is” Daddy/Daughter Dance

*Limited to students enrolled at Comal ISD.
Date/time:
Saturday, February 1, 2020; 5:30–9:00 P.M.
Location: Spring Branch Middle School, 21053 Hwy. 46 W., Spring Branch, TX 78070
Ticket info: Tickets available online only. Dinner + dance: $70 for father and daughter; $30 for each additional child. Dance only: $45 for father and daughter; $20 for each additional child.

City of Live Oak’s Daddy/Daughter Dance Masquerade Ball

Date/time: Saturday, February 8, 2020; 5:00–8:00 P.M.
Location: Hilton Garden Inn Live Oak, 8101 Pat Booker Rd., Live Oak, TX 78233
Ticket info: $15 for Live Oak residents, $20 for non-residents

Maggiano’s Little Italy Daddy/Daughter Dance

Chef-selected appetizer bar, DJ, dancing, and more!
Date/time:
Saturday, February 15, 2020; 11:00 A.M.–1:00 P.M.
Location: Maggiano’s Little Italy, 17603 IH-10, San Antonio, TX 78257
Ticket info: Space is limited, and tickets will need to be purchased ahead of time. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children.

St. Luke’s Catholic Church’s Father-Daughter Dance

Hors d’oeurves, dessert, dancing, and a live DJ.
Date/time: Saturday, February 15, 2020; 6:30–9:30 P.M.
Location: Parish Hall, 4603 Manitou, San Antonio, TX 78228
Ticket info: Father and daughter: $25.00; father and two or more daughters: $35.00. Please email [email protected] with any questions.

City of Schertz Parks and Recreation Department’s Under the Sea Daddy Daughter Dance

Date/time: Friday, February 21, 2020; 7:00–9:00 P.M.
Location: Schertz Civic Center, 1400 Schertz Pkwy., Building 5, Schertz, TX 78154
Ticket info: Tickets are available for purchase via eventbrite presale only from January 6–February 14 while supplies last. Tickets are $30 per couple, and each additional family member is $12.

Know of any other scheduled father/daughter dances? Have any stories of these special events? Comment and let us know!

To the Mom Who Doesn’t Know Who She Is Anymore

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I see you because that was me two years ago. I was three kids in, deep in the waters of parenting during the phase where you don’t know what day it is. Knee-deep in diapers and toddler fights and never. putting. the. baby. down. I had left a job I loved to focus on my family—my decision, my choice. So why did I feel so confused? That’s when I realized I didn’t know who I was.

But it could be different for you. It might be during the 56th hour of your work week, away from your children, nipping away at the tasks at the office. The work on your desk is piling up, but so is the laundry pile at home. Your commute is the quiet time of your day, which you easily fill with worries and planning and phone calls. There is no quiet. Where did you go?

Maybe it’s the moment you realize you have been working so hard to maintain a shell of a marriage that you’ve become part of that empty shell. Every day you wake up worried about the mood of your spouse and the temperature of your relationship: walking on eggshells, hoping the kids don’t make the tension between the two of you explode. You are exhausted and feel like you’ve been running a marathon, when in fact you haven’t gone for a run in years. When did you disappear?

It doesn’t mean you aren’t happy. It doesn’t mean you are depressed. You might even think this stage is a phase.

But it’s not a phase. It’s the way life happens if we aren’t paying attention. Your kids’ behavior might be a stage, but not knowing who are you happens over time. It feels deep and unfamiliar and gray and…forever.

In the distance, you can remember what it felt like to be you. You can remember how it felt to get dressed up and dance with your girlfriends. You can remember the passion and date nights of a long-ago friendship that sparked a forever love. Your joy of music, quiet nights spent reading by the fire, and a morning workout and brunch date.

Ahhh, there you are.

You never left. You just lost focus. You left yourself there to care for others. And it’s a beautiful gift to give someone: a piece of yourself. Do you know what’s not so beautiful? Giving someone else ALL of you. Don’t do it. Save some for you.

Give your family the best version of you. For me, that includes my morning coffee, good music, and a hot shower, preferably in that order. I have to work hard to drink a full cup of coffee in the mornings, and reheating is a must. But, I do it because I enjoy it. Whether that means I get up before them to drink in peace (not probable) or carry it from room to room while I pick up the house, I make it happen. Also, music is on at all times. Music flows throughout our house. During the day, it’s my music. My happiness, my joy. My family knows the artists I love. They sing along or just complain—either way, I don’t care. It fills my soul and then I can fill theirs.

I figured all that out on a weekday, two years ago. I was crying a lot, but I would tell you I was happy. And I believed that. I was done having kids. I have three healthy, beautiful children and a husband with whom I woke up in love every single day.

But, somewhere along the line, I realized that I had left some of my identity at the door to make sure all their needs were met. I was physically exhausted due to my third little love. I didn’t realize how drained I was just from all the touching. All. The. Touching. I never worked out because I was too tired. I never wanted to cook because I was usually breaking up fights between my two older kids from the moment they walked in the door after school.

I was spent, and I noticed when someone asked me if I was OK. I was clearly and most definitely not OK. The dam broke and couldn’t be rebuilt. I knew I had to divert the waters elsewhere or I would drown.

So, I did. With the help of my family and my partner, I diverted those waters back into familiar ground. I spent more time with my friends. No excuses. No “catch ya later.” I went out. I laughed. I dated my husband. I put my baby down and slowly started to fall back in love with myself.

I highly recommend dating yourself again. Find out what you like, what you don’t. What turns you on and off? When do you feel safest, happiest, most excited, and most at peace? What are your favorite smells? When is your favorite time of day? If you have a quiet house, what’s the first thing you want to do? Table for one at what restaurant? Let your partner know these things, too. Share who are you are now. Maybe it’s the same, maybe it’s different. Either way, you deserve to know.

Perhaps you don’t get to enjoy these things all the time. But at least know them. Know you. And know that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Joy fills your soul. It’s deep and hard to extinguish. Our kids bring us joy, but they don’t always bring us happiness. (And that’s OK.) Happiness is the small stuff: day-to-day tiny lights that make you smile. Coffee, music on your commute home, lunch with friends. Find your happy to light your joy on fire.

Because, I see you. You are quiet and tired. You fill up your schedule with PTA, awful conference calls, and bedtime stories. Your kids are OK, mama. Put the baby down, and you’ll be surprised how quickly he stops crying. He’ll learn that you’ll always be there. But now you won’t just be there; you’ll be there happily. Your family wants to see you smile. They need to see the real YOU.

She’s there, and she’s fabulous. Find her again and show her off.

Pregnant and 45

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I am the product of a mother who gave birth at 15. Being just a child herself, she didn’t have much background knowledge to pass down to me the essentials of what makes us girls…well, girls. I never wore dresses, and I still do not. I never wore bows in my hair or frilly Holly-Hobby-type pinafores to school. My feet never landed in a pair of fancy side-buckled shoes that the rest of the fifth-grade girls sported come the first day of school. I was probably one of the very few girls in middle school who didn’t shave her legs (which earned me the nickname Chewbacca) or wear makeup, even though deep down I wanted to have those things because the other girls so effortlessly did.

But more than that, though, my classmates had female role models who instilled in them the feminine qualities that make us the wondrous creatures we are. My mom, not having had those things herself, made the delicate and life-altering choice to have a baby instead of growing into a woman herself. In my adulthood, I’m convinced that maybe this is why I wasn’t such a girly girl myself.

This formative experience heavily influenced a few things in my life. The first was purposely waiting until my early 30s to have children. The second was wishing and praying that God would recognize my handicap in not being fully versed in all things feminine and bless me with sons instead of daughters. And He did: two boys, who are now in their teens. I would have been equally blessed with either, but wanting to do a girl justice, I knew that I was probably better suited for the easiness of boys. The obligatory t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap ensemble? That I can handle. The rough and tumble playing? I can handle that too. The “hey mom, pull my finger!” I find hilarious. I build a mean fort, know all the lyrics to Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine, and not a whole lot scared me back then.

Yes, I was built to be a boy mom.

But you know how they say that God has a wicked sense of humor? Well, He also has a way of making His point, which I would learn on February 11th of 2016. That’s the day I reached for the stapler on my desk and felt something shift inside of me that caused me to fall back into my seat in utter shock. I have a tumor, I thought to myself. I frantically picked up the phone to call my husband and tell him that there was something seriously wrong with me. He obliged and listened to my self-diagnosis. He countered with a question that I found so asinine that I laughed out loud, despite my health concern.

“Could you be pregnant?”

I was 45. The past several years we had tried and struggled, as many older couples do, to become pregnant. Where had he been? Didn’t he remember the doctor’s visit in August of 2015 when the doctor suggested we give up trying and counseled that the five children between us were blessings enough? Didn’t he hear her tell me that she wouldn’t be putting me on birth control because I had less than a 3% chance of getting pregnant? Couldn’t he see how deflated I had become at hearing that I was just too old to become pregnant? He was lucky that a landline separated us at the moment because I was ready to shank him in the groin for the suggestion. He told me to leave work and come straight home, which I did.

When I arrived, he had a pregnancy test waiting for me…and here I am today, writing about my re-entry into motherhood at 45.

It was a traumatic delivery. Through the short duration of the pregnancy I was being treated for placenta previa, but come delivery day, the doctors realized I actually had something called placenta accreta, a much more serious condition which only happens in two of every 1,000 births. If you’re wondering how I go about defying such incredible odds time and again, I wonder that too.

I should play the lottery.

Placenta accreta happens when the placenta invades and attaches to the uterine wall, sometimes even the bladder. The biggest risk this condition poses is the significant amount of blood loss that occurs. As my OBGYN recounts, a team of over 20 health care professionals would fight for over four hours to save my life after my daughter was delivered by Caesarean and immediately taken to the NICU. In attendance, one of the most renowned oncologists in the U.S., called in by the hospital team to take over only in the most complicated of medical situations.

I don’t recall very much about that day. But I do recall the worry on my doctor’s face as she said she would be performing an emergency hysterectomy to stop the bleeding and that she would also have to put me under. I also remember turning to the anesthesiologist, a handsome young doctor who looked to be plucked from the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, and asking him to tell my children that I love them. He reassuringly whispered, “You can tell them yourself when you wake up.” I remember his gentle stroke on my arm as he told me to count backwards from ten.

In all, they would pump a total of 18 units of blood into my body while the doctor team tried to stop the bleeding and maintain my blood pressure. The anesthesiologist would monitor my blood pressure and announce to the team that I was “thready,” a term used to describe a declining pulse. The doctor would leave the operating room to explain to my husband that it didn’t look good and that the team would continue to work on me. My husband would recall the uncertainty in her voice and the tears in her eyes.

I don’t do anything profound for a living. I’m not a doctor; I don’t research cures for cancer; nor do I lead peace-keeping missions in war-ridden countries. For as many things as I have accomplished in my life, I have also faltered a great deal. I was and am just an ordinary mom faced with an extraordinary circumstance, whose life on this random day was left in the hands of the strangers in that hospital room. Beautiful, under-appreciated, overworked strangers.

For some reason that day in May, God decided that He wasn’t finished with me yet.

I heard a profound quote the other day: “Sometimes our children have to finish our journeys.” I love to think I am on the journey now to finishing what my 15-year old frightened yet resolved mother started with me. What I lacked in learning about the intricate nuances of growing up a girl, she made up for in making the ultimate sacrifice.

No, I wasn’t raised to learn the things you were probably taught as a girl. I never learned how to bake, don’t know how to sew a button. I would never grow up to have tea parties or wear pigtails, nor did I learn how to dress with an inkling of fashionable sense or aptitude. I never learned how to properly accessorize and never once visited a spa with my own mother…

But 45 years later, now that I have my own daughter, I will.

Why We Have a Toy Cleanse After Christmas

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Every January my family goes through what I like to call a “toy cleanse.” We do this annually after the holidays and sometimes after my kids’ birthdays. There’s no science behind it: after they are gifted tons of new toys to play with, we (kind of) organize their current toys while they set apart the ones they don’t really play with anymore. No mercy. We then donate the discarded toys to make room for new ones.

My boys are lucky to have an amazing big extended family that loves them and spoils them rotten with gifts, especially on Christmas. My kids love it! Their excitement every time they find out what’s under the wrapping paper is priceless. This past Christmas my little one had some health issues so we had to stay home and missed the big family celebration. My son was devastated, but everyone was kind enough to send the kids their gifts. As he was opening his presents my son kept saying, “Thank you, [insert family member’s name here]! Thank you wherever you are!” I really appreciate everyone’s thoughtfulness.

But usually, the result of all of this excitement is a bunch of new toys: toys that they love and can’t stop playing with, but in the end, too many toys. I could easily just keep piling toys in the playroom and keep everything forever, but I actually look forward to this yearly activity that we do as a family.

I know a lot of people just take out some toys without the kids even noticing, but I like to get my kids involved. Here are some of the reasons I do this:

Visual Proof 

As much as I keep telling them, “You have a million toys to play with,” every time they say they’re bored, there’s nothing like taking every toy out of the bins and lining them up on the floor: visual proof of the amount of toys they have. You’d be surprised how many toys those IKEA’s Expedit units can hold!

Rediscover Old Toys

Sometimes a favorite toy gets lost at the bottom of the drawer and stays there for months. Taking everything out helps them find lost treasures. Every time we do this I find them playing with an old toy that they thought was lost.

Less Clutter

Clutter attracts more clutter. It’s easy to pile toys on top of toys, but if we do this, my kids wouldn’t even know what toys to play with. Avoiding having an unlimited number of toys helps us declutter and attempt to maintain an organized playroom.

Sharing the Good Stuff and Helping Others

My husband and I encourage our kids to donate all the toys they don’t use anymore. That means anything from Happy Meal toys to former favorite ones, even if those are the big, expensive, fancy toys. They recently donated all their Paw Patrol toys, including some big gifts from Santa from a few years ago. I’m not gonna lie; as I saw the humongous box filled with their big collection, I couldn’t help but think, What a waste! But they hadn’t played with those in years, and those toys served their purpose. They made my kids happy for a while, and now it is time for other kids to love them as much as my kids once did. A little Toy Story inspiration here.

Detachment

A lot of people hold on to material things and have a hard time letting go. I firmly believe that if you have a hard time letting go of things, you will also have a hard time letting go of negative feelings, thoughts, and other things that hold you back. I hope that if my kids learn to part with a favorite toy at a young age, they won’t depend on material things as they grow up, and they will eventually know how to let go of everything they need to let go of, in a healthy way.

Awareness When Buying

My kids ask for a toy every time we go to the store. Sometimes it’s a toy they don’t even like; they just want to buy it for the sake of buying something. Plus, they want to collect every single thing. First it was Thomas the Train mini blind bags, then it was Disney Tsum Tsums, dragons, dinosaurs, robots, Hot Wheels, Pokemon cards… You name it, they’ve collected it. A few months later, these toys are forgotten at the bottom of the toy chest. My hope is that this activity will make my kids and us parents more aware of our consuming habits and the waste those habits create. And also remind them (and us) that more things does not equal happiness.

I encourage you to try a toy purge every year. There’s no set number of toys you need to discard or a certain number of shelves you need to clear; it’s just whatever works for your family. In the end it’s all about perspective. While some people have stated that my kids have a lot of toys, others are impressed at how very few toys have. Me? To be honest, I still think they have too many toys, but my kids think they have just what they need. I guess I’ll just enjoy this clutter while it lasts and do my best to keep it organized.

Las Ventajas de Hacer una Limpia de Juguetes

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Durante los últimos días de diciembre, en mi casa tenemos una “limpia de juguetes”. Hacemos esto cada año después de Navidad y algunas veces después de los cumpleaños de mis hijos. No tiene mucha ciencia: después de que los niños reciben un montón de juguetes nuevos, tratamos de organizar los juguetes que ya tenían y separamos los que ya no usan. Sin piedad. Al final, donamos algunos de los viejos juguetes y hacemos espacio para los nuevos.

Mis hijos son muy afortunados de tener una gran familia que los quiere y los consiente, especialmente con muchísimos regalos en Navidad, ¡a mis hijos les encanta! Y a mí me encanta ver su cara de emoción cada vez que abren un regalo. Esta Navidad tuvimos algunos problemas de salud y nos perdimos el festejo navideño con toda la familia, mis hijos estaban muy tristes, pero todos pensaron en ellos y les enviaron sus regalos. Mientras abría sus regalos, mi hijo menor no paraba de gritar “¡Gracias tío/tía donde quiera que estés!”. ¡Cuánto agradezco estos grandes detalles!

Usualmente el resultado de toda esta emoción es un montón de juguetes nuevos. Juguetes que les encantan y los entretienen por horas, pero al fin de cuentas muchos juguetes. Para mí sería más fácil guardar todo con los demás juguetes y dejarlos ahí amontonados para siempre, pero ahora me emociona esta limpia que hacemos cada año en familia.

Sé que muchos papás de deshacen de juguetes sin que sus hijos se den cuenta, pero a mí me gusta que mis hijos se involucren porque creo que hay muchas enseñanzas. Estas son algunas de las razones por las que lo hago:

Prueba Visual

Por más que les digo “Tienes un millón de juguetes” cada vez que me dicen que están aburridos, no hay nada mejor que sacar todos los juguetes de sus cajas y acomodarlos en el piso, una prueba visual de la cantidad de juguetes que tienen y que a veces olvidamos. ¡Es impresionante cuántos juguetes puedes guardar en los muebles de IKEA!

Reencuentro con Viejos Juguetes

A veces un juguete se pierde en el fondo del cajón y se queda ahí por meses. Sacar todo de su lugar ayuda a encontrar viejos tesoros perdidos. Cada vez que organizamos sus juguetes, mis hijos terminan jugando con alguno de sus favoritos que creían haber perdido.

Menos Desorden

El desorden atrae más desorden. Es facilísimo amontonar juguetes encima de otros juguetes, pero si hacemos esto, mis hijos no sabrían ni qué jugar. El evitar tener un número ilimitado de juguetes nos ayuda a mantener el cuarto de juegos limpio y ordenado, o al menos nos ayuda en nuestro intento de mantener las cosas su lugar.

Compartir lo Bueno y Ayudar a los Demás

Mi esposo y yo incitamos a nuestros hijos a donar todos los juguetes que ya no usan, todo desde juguetitos de McDonald’s hasta los que alguna vez fueron sus favoritos, sin importar que sean los más grandes y costosos. Hace poco donaron todos sus Paw Patrols, incluyendo algunos regalos grandes de Santa de hace un par de años. No voy a mentir, me costó mucho regalarlos cuando vi la enorme caja con toda su colección, pero no los habían tocado en años, y todos esos juguetes cumplieron su propósito de hacer felices a mis hijos por un tiempo. Ahora es momento de que otros niños los disfruten tanto como hijos algún día lo hicieron, estilo Toy Story.

Desprendimiento

Muchas personas se aferran a cosas materiales y no pueden dejarlas ir. Creo firmemente que si batallas para deshacerte de cosas, tampoco podrás deshacerte de sentimientos negativos, pensamientos negativos y otras cosas que te hacen daño. Yo espero que si mis hijos saben decirle adiós a sus juguetes desde pequeños, aprenderán a no depender de cosas materiales mientras crecen, y que eventualmente sabrán cómo dejar ir todo lo que no necesitan y desprenderse de manera saludable.

No Comprar por Comprar

Mis hijos quieren comprar juguetes cada vez que vamos a la tienda. A veces ni siquiera es algo que les gusta, simplemente lo quieren nada más por comprar algo. Además, quieren coleccionar todo lo que existe. Primero eran los mini trenes de Thomas the Train, después los Tsum Tsums de Disney, pasaron por dragones, dinosaurios, robots, Hot Wheels y tarjetas de Pokemon. Después de algunos meses, los juguetes terminan en el fondo del baúl. Esta actividad la hacemos con la esperanza de crear conciencia (tanto en mis hijos como en nosotros como papás) de lo que consumimos y el desperdicio que puede representar. Y de pasada recordarles a ellos (y a nosotros) que la felicidad no se mide con cosas.

Estas son sólo algunas de las razones por las que hacemos esta limpia de juguetes cada año. ¡Te invito a intentarlo! Y no se trata de cierto número de juguetes ni un número de cajones por llenar, se trata de lo que funcione para tu familia, porque al final todo es cuestión de perspectiva. Algunas personas me han dicho que mis hijos tienen demasiados juguetes, y al mismo tiempo hay quienes se impresionan de que “mis hijos casi no tienen juguetes”. Si me preguntas a mí, yo pienso que tienen juguetes de más, pero mis hijos dicen que tienen justo lo que necesitan, así que voy a disfrutar el cuarto lleno de juguetes mientras dure, y voy a hacer mi mejor esfuerzo por mantenerlo en orden.

Is Your Teen MediaWise?

We are 10 months away from what will certainly be a contentious election, and candidates are spending millions of dollars every week to catch our attention and tempt us to engage on social media. Many people find themselves reading and sharing information that may or may not be accurate. How can we help our kids learn to decipher facts from fake news? I just recently learned about an incredible organization called MediaWise that aims to help you and your teenager.

MediaWise is a “groundbreaking digital media literacy project that’s teaching millions of teens nationwide” and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, and YouTube. Just search for the username @MediaWise or you can see tons of their work when you use the hashtag #IsThisLegit. MediaWise has a network of fact checkers across the country that quickly post content to help clearly show which news stories are reliable. One of their ambassadors is the author John Green, who offers an excellent 10-part video series on YouTube to help you navigate digital information. I highly recommend that you watch it with your kids and talk about your thoughts and experiences together.

MediaWise offers clear and helpful tips that are put into easy terms. I think we could all benefit from a healthy dose of “lateral reading,” their term for fact-checking a news story by looking at other sources to see if the facts differ from the original version. If there is only one media outlet focusing on a particular issue, it may not be a fully verified story or could be altogether incorrect. They discuss what makes sources automatically seem suspicious and untrustworthy, like spelling errors or garbled website names. They also cover how to spot misinformation in both images that have been Photoshopped as well as deep fake videos, which are expected to dangerously increase in frequency since the technology to create them is readily available. In a time when we have more information than ever at our fingertips, we must learn how to sort through the junk to get to the good stuff.

If your child’s school or group would be interested in learning more from MediaWise, reach out and see if they have ambassadors in your area, or your teen can even volunteer to help out! MediaWise has a goal to reach 1,000,000 teenagers in 2020, with half of those being in underserved communities. You can email your request (and also story recommendations) to [email protected]

Here are three more resources that I found interesting and helpful:

  • This super detailed chart of media outlets organized by their partisanship, veracity, and fairness. While I am not endorsing it as the absolute and only way to gauge your media diet, I found it to be thorough and well organized.
  • This podcast was where I first heard all about MediaWise’s mission. You can either listen or read the transcript. If you have one hour of time to listen, this can be a great way to absorb a lot of information.
  • This article goes into great detail about the increase in fact-checking that Facebook has instituted over the last year. It is helpful to better understand the process, but we also must acknowledge that this rise in checking is only needed because of those who purposely put misleading and false stories out on Facebook to stoke division and cloud the truth.

As parents, we want to model for our teenagers that there are healthy and responsible ways to engage with social media and understand things happening in the world. I genuinely hope that these tools can help us all find sources of news that we can trust and rely on when there is so much at stake. We would love for you to let us know in the comments if you or your teen are following MediaWise’s tips and how it impacts the way you engage with social media.

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