a farewell to kindergarten

To my (almost) 1st grader:

How did we get here? How in the world is it remotely even possible that we are celebrating your very last days of Kindergarten this week? Diplomas and graduation caps and parties, oh my. Your excitement is palpable: every day at school is bursting at the seams with fun for you, as Kindergarten should be. That has only intensified with the end of the year hoopla: crafts and parties and bubble day and cupcakes and sing-a-longs. While I am grateful for your enthusiasm to bolt out the door each morning to see what each day has in store, and while I am just so selfishly excited to have you all to myself this summer, part of me feels so very sad knowing the year is almost over.

Kindergarten didn't come naturally to me, like it did for you. I was reluctant to let you go. We began your schooling as homeschoolers, but you wanted to attend school -- and so you did, and you nailed it, like you do with just about everything. Of course, we were spoiled by the most warm, nurturing Montessori preschool and I was worried Kindergarten would be different. I was worried the kids would be too big, and the school would be too big, and the teachers would expect too big things, and that you'd be lost because you're just so small. But you wanted to go to school and so you did. I didn't sleep at all the two days before Kindergarten began. I cried next to your bed and stroked your hair and tried not to wake you with my sobs. How did we get here? How could we be here -- Kindergarten? I thought of every memory we ever shared, the years we spent together, how lonely your sister would be without you at home and I cried. Still, you assured me you would be fine and you were. More than fine, you were great. You nailed Kindergarten with an unrivaled joy and suddenly I realized my tears were for my own selfish reasons. I missed you, but you were thriving. We lucked out with the most incredible Kindergarten teacher and you saw each day with a joy that I admired. You met the newness of Kindergarten with excitement: first dances, first bookfairs, class parties, field trips and cafeterias. You were eager to see it all, explore it all, be a part of everything. You were ready, even if I wasn't. And, my star, you shone so brightly each day. You made friends, you became part of a class, you learned new things and you stepped out into an independence that fits you perfectly.

But now the year is winding down and it's obvious how much you've grown. Your new-ish shoes are too small. Your backpack is ripping. The gaps in your mouth are slowly beginning to be filled with adult teeth. You have lost so much of the baby look that you began Kindergarten with and now you're one step closer to becoming a first grader. And as a mom, "first grade" feels a lot like "senior year" and I just want to pout a little and curse time for flying by so quickly. In my heart, I know you will meet first grade with the success, happiness and bright-eyed eagerness that you do everything else in your life. But my heart? It just keeps remembering you learning to crawl, and walk, and ride the carousel for the first time on meandering afternoons when we had no place else to be.

My precious boy: may you take all of the empathy, compassion and sweetness you have with you into first grade. May you continue leading with kindness. May you continue to know how perfect you are the way you are, and to continue seeing the best in everyone even when it's difficult. I hope you begin first grade with the same zest for learning and life that you have this past year. And, selfishly, I hope you begin first grade still wanting your sandwiches cut into shapes and your lunches made into themes and lunchbox notes from me to you.

I realize that our home has seen a mass shooting since your school career began and things are different than I would have liked, and some of that starry-eyed innocence has been taken from you and your classmates. But, my love? Please cling on to whatever little bits of that innocence are left and let it surround you. Let your wild-eyed childhood carefree spirit guide you into first grade and beyond, as long as possible. Let that spunk, that fight, that desire to do good and be righteous -- let that lead you, too, into this new normal that is our home. You are a difference maker. Keep shining, my baby boy. Don't let anyone dim your light.

I'll sit here eating my feelings in bundt cake and wondering where the time went, while we plan our bucket list summer activities and look forward to trips and traveling and beach visits galore. Know as you grow, as I stand back and let you spread your wings despite how unnatural it will always feel, that you'll always be my baby. Forever and ever. I'll just keep blinking, and you'll keep growing.

All my love always, sweet boy.


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ethan's nightmare before christmas 7th birthday party

Ethan's actual birthday isn't until the end of June, but he informed me a few months ago that having a summer birthday is the worst thing ever. All of his classmates were discussing their summer travel plans, and he realized early on that no one was going to be in town for his actual birthday. I heard his request loud and clear, and so we had his birthday party a month early before school let out. This year, he requested a Nightmare Before Christmas theme and, as usual, we held his party at My Gym here in Coconut Creek, Florida.

The party was at 10 a.m. so we went with bagels and cream cheese, plus other snack-y foods. My friend made us Ethan's beautiful cake and also the Oogie Boogie cupcakes. I got the cake toppers from Etsy and they were the perfect touch. I made a bunch of Halloween-themed chocolate lollipops and attached them to a giant cut-out of the hill from the movie. I also set out jars for Sally's spells and little trick or treat pumpkins for the kids to use at the candy buffet (er -- spell counter).

I turned part of the gym into Christmastown and used that for my party favor themes. Each kid was sent home with a Christmas stocking filled with Playdoh and shape cutters, coloring pages and crayons, slime, Halloween tattoos and a gift card for a free Italian ice from our favorite local shop, Cecilie's Italian Ices in Coral Springs, FL.

As I do every year, I insisted we needed a photobooth area. I scored this Jack and Sally shower curtain off Amazon for super cheap, which made the best backdrop.

As always, my sweet little Jack Skellington had the best time ever -- and I couldn't ask for anything else.

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roadtrippin' with kids

Let's talk roadtrips with kids, shall we? Right now, it's a little past noon on a super rainy Tuesday afternoon and my heart is a little weary after sending Ethan back to school today. Carmen is napping, I've prepped meals for tonight and tomorrow, and right now I just want to close my eyes and pretend that we're all together in my faithful minivan embarking on some adventure somewhere. Work with me, okay?

Now, car travel wasn't always easy. Ethan was one of those babies that would scream so hard he would vomit, even on a five minute drive to the grocery store. What grief he gave me in infancy he has fully made up for because dude is one hell of a passenger. Aside from having to pee every so often (okay, I'm guilty of this, too), he is the ultimate roadtrip partner. Carmen's first cross-country roadtrip was at 7 months old and I have to say, for a child so filled to the brim in never-ending energy, she seems to love our car trips. Regardless, our first cross-country roadtrip was a little daunting thinking of all that could possibly go wrong with two small kids in a car for so many hours, but it instantly proved to be worth it.

People ask often, so I thought I would throw together this post. Here are some tips and tricks for road trips with kids, zero screens and lots of quality family time instead.

1. Activities

I load up on activity books before we go. My favorite are these by Usborne. Sure, you can go to the dollar store and load up on cheap little maze books but these? These are gold. Ethan worked on one for six hours straight. What I love about these Usborne activity books is each page is something new, something that requires thinking or switches things up a bit. One page may be coloring in a picture and the next may be designing your own car. The Usborne activity books range in books for all ages, from little ones like Carmen (she loves the coloring and sticker books) to kids even older than Ethan. (Click here to browse!)

2. Books

Piggy-backing off my last post, sometimes you just want to chill out and read. Ethan is reading chapter books and loves trying new series, so I tried to find a new series for him to begin and read through on our driving. He fell in love with the Isadora Moon series and couldn't wait to pop back into the car after each stop to continue reading.

3. Pre-plan the playlist

Now, on parts of our route to New Mexico we travel through some rural areas where all signals just end. We learned our lesson the hard way the first time and were prepared with an XM Radio subscription for our second cross country trip. This way, when you lose your signal, you will always ensure you have some music playing. That said, none of us listen to the same music. I'm obsessed with everything from Iron & Wine to '90's hip hop and R&B, Ethan is partial to anything that would be playing over the speakers at Hot Topic, my husband loves Rancid and anything loud and punk rock-ish and Carmen would be happy to listen to the Doc McStuffins theme song over and over (and over and over) again. Yes, we usually rotate but something fun that drums up learning, conversation and exposure to new music? Listening to the artists from wherever you're driving through. It became a game on our first road trip, when we crossed into Oklahoma and I forced -- I mean, gave everyone else the privilege -- everyone to listen to Hanson. If you're unfamiliar with an artist in the city or state you're passing through, a quick Google search will turn up a bunch of results. We listened to a whole lot of new songs written about places we drove through or performed by musicians from wherever we were at the time. This gave Ethan some love for Elvis as we crossed into Tupelo, where Elvis was born. And Ethan and I also made a deal to make Corpus Christi on our route next time just so we can enjoy some more Selena.

4. Find the playgrounds

Whenever the kids are starting to get antsy, be prepared. Use your GPS to look up some nearby parks and playgrounds. Sometimes we would set goals, like five straight hours of driving before a stop and then making plans to stop for lunch. Others, the kids would just feel antsy and want to burn off some energy. By plugging in playgrounds into the GPS, the kids not only got to spend 10 minutes or so running around and getting that energy out, but they got to experience some really cool new parks along the way. If I was able to plan ahead enough, I would seek out some fun parks located near a restaurant the kids would like, and we would turn it into a productive little stop. Seeing what each park would look like was exciting for Ethan, too, and brought some fun energy to the drive.

5. Postcards

Before we left, I made a little address book for Ethan with all of his friends names and addresses, and I picked up a book of postcard stamps. We would try to find postcards at each stop (this is a little more tricky when you hit some more rural areas) and read some neat facts about where we had stopped. He enjoyed sending messages home to his friends about something he had done, learned or saw while he was gone (though he got a little creative on his postcards from Roswell about the aliens he "saw"...).

6. Pack a map

Pack a US map, but not for navigating. This was suggested to me before our first trip and I am so glad I did this. It was a hit the second trip, too. I printed out a simple US map and at each stop, Ethan marked where we had stopped. When we arrived, we connected the dots to see our route and just how far we had gone as well as how many new places we had been! This really puts the driving distance into perspective for kids.

7. Hotel Points

We decided to open a Marriott credit card to earn ourselves Marriott points. While we did stay in an Airbnb at our final destination, having points helped us get free rooms along our journey. This was super convenient because there are Marriotts all over, so one night in particular when we got a little lost and wound up in a Georgia town we didn't intend to stop at, we were still able to find a place to crash for the night (at no cost) and then continue on in the morning.


Call me crazy, but I cherish this time in the car with family so much. I will never fly if I don't have to and am so content just having these wonderful bonding times taking in all the new experiences, scenery and places with those I love the most.

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