Firetruck Birthday Party!

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What kid doesn’t love firetrucks?! With their universal appeal, firetrucks are the perfect theme for a preschool-aged party (or even older)! Here’s what we did to throw an incredible firetruck celebration:

Decorations and details:

  • We stuck with red, orange and yellow to mimic the colors of fire. These bright colors showed up really well in pictures!
  • Fireman straws and fire hydrant cups added to our overall look.
  • Fireman badges stuck to a cork board served as both a partial favor and a fun decoration.
  • Dalmations with fire hats wearing a “thank you” tag collar were the perfect favor for this party.
  • We used a picture of the birthday boy in his fireman dress-up gear to round out our table decor.

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Food:

  • The cake was really the focal point of the food table. A local baker did an AMAZING job!
  • We didn’t worry about serving fire-themed food, but instead focused on food that kids would really eat.
  • A fire-hydrant shaped drink dispenser added an extra touch to the drink area!

Activities:

  • Hello firetruck rides! A local company has a firetruck for rent, and they offered the kids rides, let them spray the hose, and let them operate the ladder. So fun!
  • The company also brought a fire dog bouncy house, which was fun for the kids while they waited for their turn on the firetruck.

This party was a huge hit for kids and parents alike! We loved this firetruck birthday, and might even recreate it for our youngest son.

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Construction Birthday Party!

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This week I’m counting down my five favorite kids’ birthday parties I’ve thrown thus far, and I’m starting with my Shepherd’s construction-themed party! We had this party when he turned two, and he specifically asked for a construction theme. At the time he was obsessed with construction sites, so it was a perfect choice.

With its bright oranges and yellows, a construction party can actually be really adorable. And with all the potential activities, your guests are sure to have a great time. Below is a breakdown of how we threw one epic two-year-old construction birthday party!

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Food:

  • Food is the heart of any party, so I always try to make the spread both tasty and cute. I also try to incorporate the theme wherever I can.
  • For our construction party, we used construction cone cups (which the guests were able to take home), and we served food like pretzels in buckets with shovels.
  • The cake was adorable but SUPER SIMPLE! I had a grocery store do a plain two-level chocolate cake, then I added crumbled oreos as dirt and a few little trucks. We found the most perfect construction cone candles on Amazon!
  • I like to use a backdrop behind my table, and for this party we used a pegboard and hung a banner with the birthday boy’s name as well as actual tools. Using tools we had made decorating so much cheaper!

Activities:

  • No matter how cute a party is, it won’t be a success unless the kids have FUN!
  • We were able to find a construction themed bounce house. When you’re trying to stick to a theme, you may have to shop around more, but it’s definitely worth it.
  • We bought a white cardboard house that kids could paint (with washable paint, of course).
  • Kids could also use the digging area (mulch in baby pools), or practice hitting nails into foam blocks.

Details:

  • Sometimes the details really make the party. Some of the little things we did at our construction party included having construction themed lollipops, making a caution-tape welcome wreath, having construction hats for all the kids, and serving drinks out of a wheelbarrow. 
  • I like to keep our favor on-theme, so for this party each child took home a little dump truck or excavator.

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We had a great time throwing this party, and I would definitely recommend this theme. Our two-year-old couldn’t have been happier!

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Back up moms.

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The big three in the middle became friends when they were two, and because of their little posse I found one of my favorite people. There’s a rare magic that happens when the moms click, all the kids get along, and ages and parenting styles match up. I’m lucky to have found that magic.

When we moved to Nashville almost six years ago, I thought my friend group would look a certain way. I thought my days would be filled with old friends, but that’s not how life happened. And honestly, I was disappointed. I had dreamed of coming to Nashville and reconnecting with my college girls, and I felt a little lost and rejected. But I knew that finding my people was a critical task, so I kept trying. I said yes to play dates and park meet ups. I volunteered at preschool. I went through the awkward friend-dating moments that precede any good relationship. And in the end, I emerged with a few treasured old friendships and a few amazing new ones, my own ideal motherhood support crew.

Motherhood can be a lonely place. Maybe you’re the first one of your friend group to have a kid and you’re having trouble connecting. Maybe you’ve just moved cities or schools. Maybe you’ve lived in the same place for 15 years but still feel like you’re the only one at the pool without a mom friend.

Please know this—every mom has felt that tinge of loneliness, that nagging feeling that they don’t belong. You are not the only one. But also know this—keep putting yourself out there. Keep having the awkward, broken conversations between saving your respective children from life-threatening danger. Keep plugging away until you find that one mom you connect with, because it is so so worth the time and effort. Mothering is immensely better with a back up crew.

Disneyland Paris- Tips from a Disney World Lover

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Our family loves all things Disney, and though Disney World will always be our “home park,” we were thrilled to visit Disneyland Paris this spring! I read everything I could find before our trip. Based on most articles, I was expecting to be a bit underwhelmed by Disneyland Paris, but friends, I was completely charmed.

First, the basics. Disneyland Paris has two parks–Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios. Disneyland is very similar to Magic Kingdom, and Walt Disney Studios is most comparable to Hollywood Studios. The gates to both parks are very close to each other (maybe a two minute walk), and outside the gates is Disney Village, which has retail and restaurants. If you are staying at a Disney property other than Disneyland Hotel, you’ll walk through Disney Village to get to the parks.

Much of what I read online recommended no more than 1-2 days at Disneyland Paris. Because our trip was in the off-season, Disneyland was offering a great deal on rooms and tickets, so we decided to stay 4 nights. We had five day park tickets and used every single day of our tickets, never once getting bored! I honestly don’t think two days would have been enough for us, at least not with young kids (all ages 7 and under). Yes, we were in Europe, and yes, there are lots of historical things to see…but we were also on family vacation and found our days at Disneyland full of joy and fun!

Below are some of our thoughts and impressions, what we loved, what we didn’t love, and what you need to know if you are planning your own trip.

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Know before you go:

  • As with any Disney experience, do your research BEFORE you leave home. Know the Fastpass system, the most popular rides, and any reservations you might need beforehand (hotel, dining, etc.).
  • When we visited (March 2019), Disneyland Paris was still using a one-at-a-time paper fastpass system, but they were also beginning to experiment with a pay-for-fast-passes system. Check online for the current status before your trip.
  • If you’re a Disney World or Disneyland California regular, realize that some things may be familiar but not quite the same. For example, we often utilize the Photo Pass system in Florida, but after researching Disneyland Paris’s Photo Pass, we determined that it was not economical for us, as they only offer photos at a limited number of character meet-and-greets.
  • Much of what I found online made me think that the park would be super low-key, with very few lines and very little waiting. We definitely did not find that to be true. We found the lines comparable to what you would see at Disney World, with some substantial wait times at popular attractions.

What we loved:

  • Everything! No really, we loved it. I cannot recommend Disneyland Paris highly enough!
  • We really enjoyed seeing characters that we don’t normally see in Florida. Minnie in a princess dress, Goofy in a beret, plus Spiderman and Captain America were huge hits for our kids!
  • Hearing the shows/characters speak French was really a treat. Most stage shows were done in a mix of French and English–you didn’t know exactly what was being said at all times, but you could always follow along.
  • We loved experiencing new rides! Some big hits were the parachute drop in Toy Story Land, Ratatouille, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, Snow White (Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains), Pinocchio (Les Voyages de Pinnochio), Crush’s Coaster, and the RC Racer.
  • Possibly even more fun than new rides was comparing the rides that exist in both Disneyland Paris and Disney World and noting the usually subtle differences. Things like an extra drop in Pirates of the Caribbean, an extra scene in Peter Pan, and a totally different feel in Small World were so fun! Oh–and Big Thunder Mountain, which is a family favorite, boards on the mainland but then goes underground to an island, which was very surprising!
  • The theming in Disneyland Park is very impressive. As you move from land to land, you are completely immersed in new decor and vegetation.
  • We stayed at a Disneyland property (Newport Bay), and we were glad we did! Being able to walk to the park (about 10 minutes) and getting to enter an hour early were super helpful.
  • The Disneyland Paris parade was EXCELLENT! It was short, but the floats were large and impressive. The fireworks were also a big hit. We found it easier to find a good viewing spot for the fireworks show, and because they didn’t use the ones that go really high, the show was a bit quieter for the kids.

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What we didn’t love:

  • Our biggest disappointment was character dining. In Florida we love character meals, so we immediately reserved dinner at Cafe Mickey. Although the kids loved meeting the characters, the food itself was very underwhelming (some was even bad), and the price was extraordinarily high. We were glad to experience it but wouldn’t necessarily recommend a character meal, especially if you are trying to stick to a budget.
  • We also found the park dining to be lacking. The quick-service meals we had were pretty bad, but we did have better luck with food from the carts in the parks. The best food we found was a croque monsieur food cart, a crepe cart, and a waffle with nutella on top!
  • While we enjoyed our hotel, we were surprised to find that it offered no casual dining or snacks. We had to walk over to Disney Village (about 8-10 minutes) and go through security to get anything other than sit-down restaurant food.
  • Walt Disney Studios closed early in the off-season (5 pm), which pushed everyone to the same park for the last few hours of the day. This closure felt a bit too early, even in March.

Some tips we learned:

  • While the park food was expensive and underwhelming, we did find a perfect breakfast spot–McDonald’s. There is a McDonald’s in Disney Village, and it has a bakery inside with fresh croissants, pain au chocolats, other pastries and even macaroons! For just a few Euros, our whole family could pick up a fresh pastry to start the day!
  • Another food trick we learned was to take advantage of the small convenience store in the train station. There is a train station located directly beside Disney Village, and the convenience store inside has great snack options.

As with any Disney trip, your experience at Disneyland Paris depends largely on your own attitude. Things will go wrong, you will wait in line, you will overpay for something, and your child will have a meltdown, but…..you’ll also get to hear your kids giddily describe Hyperspace Mountain. You’ll see their eyes light up when Darth Vader asks them who their trainer is. You’ll notice them smile the first time they hear Mickey speaking French. You’ll have a video of them exploring the dragon’s cave under the castle that you watch on repeat. And you’ll make memories that can’t be replaced.

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“Camping”

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When we asked Ellis what he wanted for his birthday, he immediately said camping in a camper. My first thought was gratefulness that he asked for an experience (don’t worry, he’s a normal 4-year-old and listed some toys too), but my second thought was that a camper weekend wasn’t really in our budget this month.

After a little research, though, we found an inexpensive room at an inn in Montgomery Bell State Park, so we named it the camping hotel and Ellis was sold! So far today they’ve jumped on the beds, fed ducks, picked out a stuffed animal to buy with birthday money, explored the property, swam, and ate a ring pop….pretty stellar day for the birthday boy.

Adventures with kids don’t have to be long and crazy and expensive. A little research and creativity can create the perfect memory for your little ones. I’ve said it a million times, but we all need to be reminded occasionally… kids don’t need everything to be fancy! Fancy is fun sometimes, but so is the state park inn!

Childcare Changes

Today I turned in a contract for my littlest guy to start mother’s day out in August. He’ll be over one, and he’ll only go two days a week, but I’m feeling some serious mom guilt. None of our other kids started until they were two, and I feel like I’m failing him a little bit.

In my former life I was an attorney, and I still work a little. As the big kids have gotten bigger and busier, finding time to squeeze in my work has gotten harder. That, plus the difficulty of finding a reliable sitter, made starting preschool seem like our best option.

Whether you work full time, work part time, work from home, or only work in your home, making childcare decisions is hard! Whether your child had to go to full time care from the time they were born or has never had a sitter a day in his life, I feel like we all second guess our choices. What childcare options have worked well for your family?

The Traveling Mom- Part Four: Rachel Hubbard

For our last installation (for now) in our traveling mom series, we’re hearing from Rachel Hubbard, a busy, successful mom of four. With four kids ranging from six-years-old to just one, Rachel is great at balancing work and family, and she was gracious enough to share some insight with us below.

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Tell us a little about you and your family (ages, what you do, etc).
Hello, I’m Rachel! I am married to my favorite person and we have four little kiddos – three girls (6, 5, and 3) and one boy (1).  I am in technology sales covering our key strategic accounts, which means large demanding companies!
I understand your job includes some travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?
I recently switched to a role that allows me to travel a bit less (although I’m typing this from a plane to Miami), but prior to January I was traveling about ever other week for the past few years. The longest I have been away from kids is a week, but that is a rarity. I really try to limit my trips to two days and one night away.
What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?
Since my husband and I both work in pretty demanding jobs, planning is crucial to keeping our household going. I *try* to make sure we are stocked on groceries, the meals are planned, the clothes are clean, and the house is somewhat orderly before I leave on a trip. We also make a point to talk about anything upcoming that we need to be aware of so we can prep for things like snack days, gymnastics events, friends over, 100 days of school events, etc. Also, we live and die by our family google calendar. It is truly the brains of our operation.
What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?
I try to facetime every night so I can stay connected. If there is something that is coming up, I typically try to text my husband and remind him the morning of or night before, but if we’ve planned properly it’s pretty smooth sailing.
Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize? 
I don’t know a mom that doesn’t suffer from mommy guilt on some level! Of course, I struggle with being away sometimes. But in terms of getting out of work mode and into mom mode, I don’t struggle with that too much. I view it as these are just two facets of who I am as a whole. I love being a mom more than anything, but also firmly believe that working makes me a better mother, wife, and person.
I do set some rules for me, but they are less about work related activities and more about distractions in general. For example, I minimize the amount of email and phone interaction from the time the kids get home until after bedtime. My bosses, clients, and co-workers know that if they email me during this time that I will not respond until after the kids are in bed. That is my time with them. And I am a big believer in quality over quantity. I get a limited amount of hours with my kids each day so that time is critical that I am completely focused on them.
I do share some high level details about my job with my kids. They know my boss’s name and I’ll tell them if I have a big meeting or am working on a big project. I think it’s so importantly for kids to understand that parents feel the same emotions as they do. I tell my kids when I’m nervous about a big meeting, frustrated about something that I didn’t get right, or excited for a big win. I think open communication with kids (on their level of course) encourages open communication and sharing of their emotions.
Plus, the feminist in me loves my girls seeing their mom have a career.  I am still shocked how many meetings I am in where I am the only woman at my level – and very often the only mom. I love showing my girls that you can be both a mom and have a career.
Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly? 
Of course! I’ve forgotten permission slips, snacks, special outfits, etc. I think my biggest parenting fail was my initial attitude that my kids would just be dying to tell me all the details of their day. In reality, their attention span for facetiming with me at the end of their busy day is about 35 seconds. A few years ago, I would leave every conversation a little disappointed. What I realized is that I have to set realistic expectations and now I’m happy if I just get to see their little faces. I’ll ask them to tell me one thing that happened that day. It’s hilarious. Some days that leads to full conversations and other times they say, “I ate lunch today”.
Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom? 
Give yourself a break. I think as parents, especially moms and wives, we are so hard on ourselves. We want to be everything for everyone, especially our children.  But that is not reality and, I believe, not a healthy standard to set. Relax. Your house is going to be a wreck and laundry will pile up. Sometimes you need to pull an audible and give you kids PB&J for dinner.  You have lots of balls in the air and inevitably sometimes something will drop. Just pick it up and move on.
Ask for help. In that same vein, ask for help. I learned this the hard way. I can’t possibly keep everything going and there are certain things that I can outsource – house cleaning, groceries, etc. Once I realized this, I felt my anxiety level instantly come down. I also have a great network for friends, family, and sitters that I call on frequently for help. Amazon prime everything. 
 
Team work makes the dream work. Having a supportive husband has been one of my biggest blessings. Work as a team with your husband and trust him to parent the kids while you are away. He’s been doing this just as long as you have!
Take care of yourself. My pediatrician has a sign in her office that says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. This is SO true. Take some time for yourself. It can be something big like a girls trip or something as small as a 20 minute walk by yourself. Take time to recharge.
Do what you love. I love my work, and I think that is crucial to balancing being a working, traveling mom. My philosophy is that if I am going to spend 40+ hours a week away from my kids, it’s going to be for something I enjoy. Find something that makes you happy and that will spill over to your family.
Happy travels!

The Traveling Mom- Part Three: Julie Morris

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Today we’re hearing from our third “traveling mom,” Julie Morris. Julie has been very successful in her career, and she’s a fantastic mom to her two adorable boys. Julie’s job has high travel demands, and her years on the road have taught her valuable lessons that she shares below.

Tell us a little about you and your family (ages, what you do, etc).

My husband and I have been married for 13 years and have two beautiful boys.  Our 7 year old is in 2nd grade – he is the funniest kid in the class, and loves playing with his friends.  Our 5 year old is in Junior Kindergarten – he is so excited to learn to read and gives the best hugs in the world.

My husband and I both work, so finding balance is often difficult.  Balance for our family, for each other and for our careers is like spinning plates in the air.  Kirk works for the USDA and I am VP of Brand Research and Strategy for Scripps Networks.

I understand your job includes some travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?

Last year, I assumed a larger position in the company, responsible for research for six cable networks.  This meant doubling my workload, my team, and my travel.  In 2017, I averaged travel about every two weeks.  Typically, I am gone most of one week – typically missing 4 mornings and 4 bedtimes.

I have been gone for a full 8 days before.  It was when a last-minute work trip backed up to my 20 year high school reunion.  It was a really long time and having both of us away for a portion of it made it even harder.  I attempt not to do anything like that, but like I said balance is important.  My husband and I both believe that doing things for ourselves can make us better parents.

What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?

In our house, I am responsible for laundry and groceries (I do more, but those are very delineated).  So I always make sure that every stitch of clothing, sheets, etc are clean before I leave.  I also stock the kitchen and sometimes do an online order of groceries for my husband to pick up.

Typically my goal is to cause the least amount of disruption to my kids’ and my husband’s schedules.  Obviously, it’s not 100% possible, but I plan for what I can.

Another rule we have in our house is that there is no judgement for what it takes to survive a week alone with the kids.  I don’t gripe about Chick-Fil-A being a major source of nutrition or the iPads being in overdrive while I’m gone.  As long as everyone is happy, safe, and gets to school, I’m happy.

What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?

I’m a backup scenario planner.  I am lucky enough to have a “tribe” of people that are more than willing to jump in to help.  So I’ll create back up plans if it looks like pick ups could be tight or sports practices will overlap, etc.

My one suggestion for this back up scenario is to make sure and not overstep your spouse.  I was away during a snowstorm once and school was being cancelled and I stepped in and made plans from afar.  My husband had already made alternative plans and my stepping in just caused confusion and frustration.

It goes without saying that FaceTime is an absolute must in my life.  My kids enjoy “traveling” with me.  They want to see the hotel room, Times Square, the skyscrapers, etc.  Because this is fun for them, they have less anxiety about me being gone.

Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize? 

The Mom guilt is real, as all Moms know!  Leaving my kids in tears on the way to airport is hard and it still sometimes happens even with frequent travel.

I think you have to be the best you can be wherever you are at the moment.  When I’m home, I attempt to be home – be present with my kids.  The same is true at work – everyday and on trips.  I’m not 100% successful, but it is something I work toward.

I’m lucky enough to work at a place that has my kids’ birthdays, school holidays, and other milestones on the working calendar.  They know that I can’t be at everything and appreciate that sometimes I just have to say no.

As much as possible, I try to let the guilt go and feel confident that my husband and I have made good decisions for our family.

Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly? 

When my youngest son was a baby, he was a really tough baby.  Having spent an extended time on maternity leave, he and I were in a groove together.  My husband did not have as much practice in comforting him as I did.

Mistakes were made on both ends.  I went on a business trip right after I was back at work after maternity leave, which likely was too much schedule change at one time.  Secondly, my husband called me multiple times every day with the baby screaming in the background saying he didn’t know what to do.  This basically just left both us arguing and in tears, with no solution to any problem.

We now try to make sure that trips are timed appropriately if at all possible.  And my husband tries to avoid calling with problems that I cannot fix from 900 miles away.  Obviously, if he has questions that I can answer – call as often as needed.  But if it’s something that will just cause an argument or make me feel guilty with no solution, he does not call (though we address later).

Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?

Give yourself grace.  It’s a simple directive, yet oh so hard to do. I’m going to miss things at home, my kids have a different relationship with me.  We are close, but they often choose Dad over Mom because he is ALWAYS there.  It does hurt, but it is what they need and it is NOT the fault of my husband.  I fully believe that I was not built to be a stay-at-home mom.  I am a better mother because I walk out of the house each day and successfully do a job that I love.  Again, it’s about being wherever you are at the moment.  I’m great at my job and I hope that I’m a great Mom, I work hard at both.

I also have a group of working moms surrounding me, whose shoulder I can cry on when the guilt is overwhelming.   I’m not sure what I would do without this kind of support – I found my group at daycare, but I know there are groups for professional mothers in many cities.  I also enjoy my adult time away from home – I used to just go back to the hotel and FaceTime the kids and feel guilty about being away.  I now make sure that I meet friends and have good dinners, and make the best of the time away from my family.

Finally, your partner has to be in lockstep with you on this front.  My husband and I talked a lot about my position before I took it.  We ultimately decided it was the best decision for our family for me to take the job, even with the travel.  We work hard at making sure that we are being supportive of each other, even when the idea of another business trip makes us both groan.

The Traveling Mom- Part Two: Adele Hixon-Day

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Today we’re bringing you our second of four “traveling moms,” each with their own perspective on balancing family and work. Adele Hixon-Day is a fundraising professional, mom of four, and resident of Memphis, Tennessee. She’s a fellow mother of twins (though hers are her two middle children), and she works hard to be a successful businesswoman and mother. Though a new position has allowed her to travel less often, she has some great tips for working parents.

Tell us a little about you and your family.

My husband and I have four kids; 9,5,5,18 months. I am a Director of Development (fundraiser) and my husband works in banking. Working in fundraising there are a lot of nights and weekends when I have to be away from home. I am fortunate to work for a family oriented non profit where I can bring my kids to some events to help out or they can hang around the office when school is out. My 9 year old is officially a Jr. employee with all the help she provides (child labor???) :^)

I understand your job includes some travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?

The longest I have been away was 7 days and it was terrible. When traveling for work I had to learn what my threshold was for being away from my kids. Most of the time they cared that I was gone, but I also need their hugs and kisses to make it through the week. When I was traveling for work I would be gone for 3-5 days a month every other month. There is a bright side to traveling for work that I miss. Quiet nights in a hotel room by yourself is quite restorative.

What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?

Being a tightly wound “type A” individual I would set their clothes out for the week for my husband, make the meals and freeze them, (always something easy for him to throw in the oven) and ask my mother-in-law to check in on my husband and the kids. Most of this was to make me feel better about leaving them. My husband enjoyed the ability to have cereal or Eggos for dinner while I was gone.

What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?

Facetime is KEY. I would call to wake them up, or they would call me, and I would call to put them in bed. With four kids in three different after school activities, I would reach out to some of the other moms to check in in case my husband needed help with drop of or pick up. Sometimes we would choose to skip activities that week if it was too much.

Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize? 

I am always in mom mode. Sometimes when I am super stressed at work I send old pics of the kids when they were babies to my husband to reminisce and make me happy. My cell phone (apple watch) is always on and the school or daycare’s number are set to ring no matter what. It can get incredibly stressful; working, mom”ing” and being a wife. A lot of my kids classmates don’t work so I feel additional pressure to attend their events at school so they won’t be the only one without a parent there. I missed a Valentine’s Day party once and I still hear about it today. I also try to manage my kids expectations. When I know I can’t be there at a program I lean on the teachers or other moms to send me pics so I can still see it and let the kids know that even though I wasn’t there I know what happend. I try to let them know ahead of time that I won’t be a parties or programs if I know I can’t make it. I also love bringing them to (family friendly) work events so they can see me in action and see that work is important and fun for me as well.

Quiet time is very important to me. As a mom and a supervisor I am constantly solving problems, putting out fires, and keeping an eye on what is coming up. I like watching TV to decompress (Scandal!!). I also try to carve out time at work to get personal stuff done. It’s hard to pay bills or review homework at home because everything is a coloring book with my toddler and any paper is fair game for my son to turn into an airplane. I also find I am in a more organized mindset sitting behind my desk than I am at the kitchen table.

I also depend on my friends and other moms A LOT. I believe it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a tribe to support a mother. I am never afraid to ask for help or check in to see if I’m being crazy. Above all I try to remember what is most important and that time is fleeting. I want to enjoy every laugh, tear, and sibling squabble.

Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly? 

Being gone for 7 days was a fail for me. I was a complete mess couldn’t concentrate on my work, and I was really grouchy because I just wanted to be home with my family.

Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?

My advice is you can do it! Stay organized and be flexible. Being a working mom is so hard, but for me it is so worth it. I love what I do, I love my work team and I absolutely love being a mom and a wife. I couldn’t do any of it without my husband and I try to praise him every chance I get. Also never be afraid of asking for help. Reach out to people on FB or other moms and dads at the kids school. Teachers are a good resource too because they have seen it all!

The Traveling Mom- Part One: Ellie Holcomb

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Raising Explorers is all about intentional parenting, and that often includes being intentional about the time you spend away from your children. Many of today’s careers include necessary travel, which can present interesting challenges for parents. We’ve had the opportunity to speak to several moms who travel for work, and we love the advice they have about balancing your time and preparing your family for success. (Dads, we love you as well, but we feel that the traveling, working mom demographic is underrepresented). 

To kick this series off, we’re talking to Ellie Holcomb, a singer/songwriter, wife, mom, and friend. Ellie’s job is unique, but the challenges she faces and the perspective she brings to balancing her time are oh-so-relatable. 

Tell us a little about you and your family.

Hey! I’m Ellie. I’m married to my best guy friend whom I swore I’d never date. Real glad we got married! Going on 12yrs this June. We have two sweet kids, Emmylou (5),  & Huck (2). My husband (Drew Holcomb) and I are both singer/songwriters who travel both separately and together making music and playing shows all over the country.

You have a very unique job that obviously requires some extensive travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?

Our jobs are somewhat seasonal and ever-shifting. Depending on the year and whether or not we’ve released a record that year, our travel changes. Drew travels with his band The Neighbors about 80-100 days a year , & I travel about 50-75 days. Drew’s trips are often 4-5 says, but some tours last up to 20 days at a time! I’m usually gone anywhere from 1-4 days at a time.

Drew and I never go longer than 2wks apart, but we’ve had a few stretches where he has been gone for 20+ days from the kids. My longest stents away from the kids are 7-10 days. I start missing them pretty badly at 4 days away, so 10 is always a real stretch for me !

What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?

We have an incredible community of people (an amazing nanny, sweet friends & family) who love us and our kids while we are both at home and away. We’re very aware that it takes a village, & I’m always deeply grateful for that village especially when Drew and I have to travel. We do lots of things to help our kids process where we are and how long we’ll be gone .

We have a big family calendar with both my schedule , Drew’s schedule , & our family schedule written and color-coded. Below the calendar we have a dry and erase map of the country. It’s been really fun and educational to have the kids draw where dad or mom is and where they are going. It also gives them a visual of how many days until we come back home. We’ll go through the travel schedule before we leave and the kids keep up with it as we’re gone .

If I am really on top of it, I’ll make a meal calendar for whoever is keeping the kids & have all the shopping done for them. This does NOT always happen though 😉

What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?

My daughter often gives us some token of her love for us to travel with (an animal, a picture, or a toy). As she gives it to us, she always tells us to take it so “we don’t forget her”! Hilarious, but it’s oddly comforting for her to get pictures of us with these objects wherever we go.

We’ll often bring back a small token or souvenir from longer trips we take (shells or rocks or some souvenir) from the place or places we traveled to work , & that has been a fun thing for them to look forward to as well. It’s not usually anything fancy, but it helps them know we’re always thinking of them when we’re gone. If I ever see a train, I take a picture or video and send it home as well because my son is obsessed with them.

We also keep our kids enrolled in a Mother’s Day out program a few days a week and a few activities that they love as well to keep them plugged & social while we’re away, which always seems to help when they don’t have to pause their lives while we’re gone .

We love FaceTime as well, which is a huge gift.

Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize?

It’s easier for me to get into work mode when I travel. My mindset is that if I’m on the road, I’m working, so I get a lot of writing and email work done while I travel , which is wonderful.

It’s harder for me to put on my work hat while at home . I have a vey non-traditional job, so scheduling work hours for Interviews, writing, blogging, & emails is a game changer for me. Otherwise, it all blends together and I end up not doing the mom thing or the work thing very well.

I am a late night person as well, so often I’ll get most creative or schedule co-writes at my house after I put the kids down for bed.

Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly?

Too many to count!! 😂 Our kids are very well traveled and are generally flexible souls , for which I’m grateful, but man I have made some  mistakes! The mistake I make the most often is packing too much, which turns especially airline travel into a much more stressful situation than it needs to be! I’ve learned that it is always important to pack LOTS of snacks when you travel. I’ve booked several trips that didn’t give us time to actually eat a meal all day, & those travel days were NOT my favorite.

I’ve also learned to never overload the stroller because when the kids get out , it completely falls over. Actually, I still overload the stroller… but I make sure the kids are buckled in and don’t get out until I unload the stroller  first 😂 .

I can also tell you which airports have great places to pump if you are a nursing mother away from your baby…random things you learn on the road !!

While work takes you away from your kids sometimes, I know it’s also given you and your family some amazing opportunities. What are some things your kids have gotten to experience with you because of your career?

We are so thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to travel with our kids. They have both had the chance to visit about 20-30 states, & when we have them out with us, we go visit all sorts of museums and parks, and we always try to learn something about the city we’re visiting.

My favorite tour we’ve brought them on was one this past fall when Drew was opening up for Willie Nelson. They had the opportunity to meet Willie , to watch several of his shows, & to see the beautiful way a crew and team can work together on tour. Willie’s team has been with him for over 50 years, & they are truly like a family on the road. They get to interact with and meet so many people from so many places, which is always a gift.

We also got to take the kids on a cruise we were playing a few weeks ago. It was like a music festival on a boat! That was a beautiful thing to get to expose them to so much music , & to see Mexico and Belize while we were at it!

Since your husband also travels for long periods for work, you also have experience as the parent on the home front. Has being at home alone with the kids changed the way you approach traveling for work? Are there things that a partner can do before leaving for a trip to help?

Yes! Our schedule is absolutely crazy. We both have stents of single parenting while the other is working on the road, & so there is a pretty beautiful understanding of both the exhaustion that comes from holding down the home-front alone and from touring and playing shows. Gratitude is a game changer. We try to be intentional about acknowledging what the other spouse is doing, whether it’s keeping the pace of a crazy work schedule or taking care of the kids at home.

Drew is an incredibly intentional human as well, which is huge. So during seasons that are really busy , he is always scheduling rest and fun for our family on the days we do get together. A lot of times , because our work schedule is non-traditional, our “weekend” is on Monday/Tuesday. I’d say that intentionality with the kids and with each other before you leave and when you get home is a big deal.

We also try to set each other  up for success before one of us leaves. For example, Drew will always try to do an extra load of dishes and take out the trash before he goes, and those small acts of kindness go a long way. He’ll also try to have the house somewhat picked up before I return from a trip , which is a huge gift to a momma, so you don’t feel like you’re cleaning up a disaster zone when you get back from a work trip!

Also, if there are ever longer stents when one of us is keeping the kids alone, we try to schedule some childcare so the parent at home gets a few breaks and also has time to keep up with the work we have to get done at home.

Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?

1. You are not alone.
2. It takes a village. One of the things I love about working is that there are many other loving adults in my kids lives, whom they learn from and benefit from knowing. I remind myself of that often when I get sad that I’m not with them at home.
3. You are more than just a mom, whether or not you’re working, you have passions and gifts and ideas that make up who you are and I think it’s a really beautiful thing to let your kids see you for who you are as a complex human being.
4. My faith has been a huge part of my role as a mom, mainly because if I can remember that before I am a working mom with lots of responsibilities, I am first and foremost a beloved daughter of God, it changes my perspective on everything. I love better when I remember that I am already deeply loved.
5. One of my favorite things that Drew tells our daughter when she gets sad we are leaving for work is that we go to work to use the gifts God has given us because one day we want her to go use the gifts God has given her to make the world a more beautiful place. It is a sweet thing to see her get excited about the adventures she’ll take one day, & it shifts her perspective on us having to leave as well. We want to be role models for her and her brother, putting family first , but also going out into the world to offer what we can to make it a better place.