Review: Raised Real baby food

Food and feeding have always been a part of motherhood extremely close to my heart. From nursing my daughter moments after she was born to introducing her to her first spoonful of pureed carrots, I’ve delighted in watching her voracious appetite and helping to develop her sense of taste.

The more we ventured into the world of real food, though, the more I was surprised to learn how few resources there were supporting parents. It shouldn’t be, but first foods can be a really stressful time for parents. Babies are messy and still learning how to control their tongues, and it can be easy to interpret this as distaste or “picky eating.” Plus, there are myriad rules and restrictions for parents if you want to dive down that rabbit hole, and it can all feel incredibly overwhelming.

I was extremely fortunate that our pediatrician was very helpful with feeding. Not only did they encourage me to try a variety of foods multiple times, but they never seemed fazed by the idea that she might not like something right away. I had also read a book that mentioned that a baby needed to try something up to twenty times before you could really be sure they didn’t like the food, which was helpful for me mentally on the days it seemed like she was being overly picky.

As a result, Vivi has always been a kid who eats just about everything (some of her favorite foods are raw bell peppers and raw onions, which always blows my mind). Despite our good experience, though, I know feeding and especially first foods can be a difficult transition for a lot of parents.

That’s why I was really interested in the company Raised Real when I first heard about them. Raised Real is a baby food delivery service that provides flash-frozen, organically sourced meals for parents to prepare at home. Not only are they on the same page as my former pediatrician when it comes to what kids can eat and when, they also live by a pretty simple philosophy: There’s no such thing as a picky eater baby.

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When they asked if I would be interested in trying a box in exchange for a review, I jumped at the chance.

Each delivery box comes frozen on dry ice and has 20 pouches. The meals themselves are put together by Raised Real’s co-founder and registered dietician Dr. Michelle Davenport, which means they’re not only rich in vitamins and nutrients, but the ingredients are paired in a way that makes them most effective to digest (for example, iron is always paired with Vitamin C for easier absorption). Plus, there’s no added sugar, preservatives, or funky ingredients you can’t pronounce—just like the meals you make at home already.

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As much as I love the food, though, I really love the Raised Real Meal Maker. I used a different steamer/blender when Vivi first started eating solids, but it was fairly cumbersome because it had a separate steaming basket you had to empty when you were ready to blend (AKA, more dishes to wash!). RR’s version steams (most recipes take 20 minutes), and then you simply flip the switch to blend to your desired consistency. New eaters will most likely prefer smooth purees, whereas toddlers can enjoy steamed ingredients whole.

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Parents will like that there’s no need to source, clean, or prepare the food before you start to cook. And clean up? The steaming/blending cup and blades go right in the dishwasher. (Cleaning up your baby is another story, but you probably already knew that.)

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What I love most about Raised Real‘s service is the empowerment it lends to parents. Even if you only used the service for a few months, you would learn so much about nutrition (what your babies could eat and when) as well as get tons of inspiration for recipes you could then make on your own. Plus, every subscription comes with unlimited access to the Raised Real Help Hotline, a number you can call or text to get help from a real RR staff member if you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused by any part of feeding your little one.

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Convenience and peace of mind for parents + nutrition and delicious options for babies and toddlers? Now that’s something I want to dig into.

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19 tips for going to Disney with a toddler

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Our little family recently went on our first real vacation in…four years? More? Typically our trips are centered on spending time with out-of-state family, so we rarely get a chance to do anything that feels like a true getaway.

Until a few months back, when two friends decided to plan a trip to Disney World and asked if we wanted to go too.

Um, that would be an affirmative.

The last time I went to Disney, I was about 12, and I certainly didn’t have a toddler in tow.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I immediately set out to gather tips and tricks from people who know a lot more about the parks than I do.

I’m thrilled to report that our trip went even better than planned–and we escaped without any real toddler meltdowns or disasters.

So while there are plenty of Disney blogs out there you can read (written by what I’m sure are people who know a lot more about Disney than I do), I thought it might be helpful to share my tips for making the trip go smoothly with a toddler.

Ready, set, DISNEY.

1. Go in January.
I’m not sure Disney really has an off-season anymore, but if it did, it would be January. The buzz of the holidays has died down, and there are no major events in this month the mouse deems worthy to celebrate. As a result, you are more likely to get some kind of discount, particularly if you book your hotel, park tickets, and meals together like we did.

Plus, think about it: It’s January in FLORIDA. While the weather was pretty chilly at night an in the early morning (pack legitimate jackets and sweatshirts, folks), the rest of the day was perfect. No one wants to be dripping sweat when they meet Ariel, you guys. Even better, the parks tend to be less crowded, which is great for people who hate crowds so much they actually moved states to avoid them.

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2. Stay on-site if possible.
Yes, I’m sure you can find a cheaper hotel in the Orlando area if you need to, but hear me out: Not only are the Disney hotels extremely accommodating, the convenience can’t be beaten.

Let me tell you a story. It’s called: Parents Always Have to Carry Too Much Crap. I may have given away the ending. The point is, as a parent, you are constantly carrying other people’s junk. Disney gets this. They feel you. Which is why, when you stay on-site, they offer this magical gift: They pick up your luggage from the airport. And deliver it to your room. And then, when you check out, they check it in at your hotel so you can go to the airport without your luggage and not need to carry it again until you land in your home airport.

Can I just tell you that these facts were three of the top five things I was most excited about experiencing on my trip to Disney? (The other two were meeting princesses and Tower of Terror.)

Even better, you don’t have to rent a car because the Disney Magical Express takes you to and from the airport, and the shuttle service takes you to and from the parks each day. No fighting traffic, no searching for parking. It’s like you’re way more important than you actually are.

If you factor in what transportation (and mental duress) would cost you to do all those things yourself, you might just find that this actually is the best deal out there.

3. But be sure to pack what you need immediately in your carry-on.
The only downside to having someone else pick up your luggage like you’re Beyonce? You’re not actually Beyonce, you so have to wait about three hours (or sometimes a little more) for your luggage to be delivered to your room.

To make sure you’re not left without anything essential (like a swimsuit if you want to hit up the pool or your Disney gift cards if you plan to go to Disney Springs), pack it all in your carry-on.

4. Do. The. Meal. Plan.
I really can’t emphasize this enough. Since I’m not a Disney fanatic (merely an enthusiast), it’s not terribly hard for me to imagine why there are people–and parents especially–who hate Disney. One reason? The food is expensive, yo. I mean, $9 for a basket of fries? I get it.

That’s why the meal plan is essential to enjoying your experience. If you follow my previous tip and go during the off-season, you’re more likely to get a packaged deal that includes meals. The plan is extremely generous (one quick service (or counter service) meal, one sit-down, and two snacks a day, plus your refillable mug for the resort), and some of us didn’t even have enough of an appetite to eat everything. PLUS, as of 2018, patrons over 21 can get an alcoholic beverage with their quick service an sit-down meals, which is basically an unheard of deal.

Trust me when I tell you that your enjoying every meal at Disney hinges on you doing this plan.

5. Use Instacart to get groceries delivered.
Whether you use the meal plan or not, there are undoubtedly a few grocery items you’ll want to buy outside of Disney. (Think: bottles of water, baby food, milk, etc.) Instacart lets you outsource your shopping. A real, live person will go to your desired store (even Whole Foods!), make your purchase, and deliver it to you at your hotel. They even text you if an item isn’t available anymore to have you okay a substitute.

It’s a genius way to avoid having to buy bottles of water or unnecessary breakfast items that you know you can get cheaper elsewhere.

6. Get a rolling bag or strap for your car seat.
Truth talk: You don’t need a car seat at Disney unless you plan on driving yourself (see tip #2), but I wanted to bring ours for the plane since Vivi needed her own seat for the first time and a) I knew this would be safer and b) I thought she might stay seated easier if it was a comfortable chair. (I was right on both counts, for the record.) Either way, anyone who has been a parent for more than five seconds knows that car seats are a pain in the rear to transport (remember that instant classic Parents Always Have to Carry Too Much Crap?).

The last thing you want to do is lug one around in your arms through the airport. Solution: a tether that straps it to your rolling carry-on. I’ve also heard this backpack version is good, but truthfully, I think that would be way more tiring than simply rolling it along.

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7. Invest (or rent) a lay-flat stroller.
I knew that our having a good time on this trip would completely hinge on whether or not I could get Vivi to nap every afternoon. I may have (ironically) lost sleep worrying about whether or not it would happen.

To parents who are also worried about this, I offer this reassurance and suggestion: For one, your kid is most likely going to be exhausted each day. The constant mental stimulation of Disney tires everyone out, not to mention the excitement and actual physical effort required to spend the day there. Make it work for you by ensuring your stroller is a stimulation-free environment. It is essential that it lays flat and has an oversized hood to shut off your child from anything visually exciting.

Our stroller is small and compact, which is perfect for the city, but didn’t provide the aforementioned necessities. So we rented a City Mini Baby Jogger from Rent Baby Gear of Orlando. Their service is great–they dropped the stroller off at our hotel and then picked it up on the last day. My friend also rented a crib for her baby. It was convenient, easy to steer, laid back totally flat, and had a spacious sun visor that cut Vivi off from the characters and sun so she napped a couple hours each day.

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8. Make sure those princess dresses are comfy.
Vivi is just now entering the world of loving all things Disney princess, but she’s also a toddler who hates if there’s an itchy tag in her shirt. That being said, I knew she wouldn’t be able to stand a full day in an official Disney princess dress dripping with tulle and rough edges.

So I was so excited when I discovered Little Adventures princess dresses and dress ups on Instagram. Their dresses are all machine washable and made from soft materials, and the quality is (I think) even more authentic looking than some Disney versions. Vivi loved her dresses, wore them the entire day at the park, and still wears them now for play time.

Tip: Before you buy, do a little digging online and on Instagram to make sure there’s not a coupon code available. She does a lot of blogger collabs, and I ended up getting two for the price of one.

9. And plan your outfits around the weather.
We were probably slightly unprepared for how cold it got at night, but in general, each park also tends to be hotter or colder depending on its makeup. For example, Animal Kingdom has a lot of open-air, cement areas, so it holds a lot of heat. Epcot has a giant lake in the center and generally feels cooler than whatever the temperature says. Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios can be crowded, but they have a good mix of indoor-outdoor rides and events to keep things balanced.

No matter the time of year you go, keep that in mind when planning Disney outfits. (Oh please, like you’re not planning Disney outfits.)

10. Buy souvenirs ahead of time.
Remember when I talked about the reasons people hate Disney? Souvenirs are one of those reasons. Because, truth talk? Those little plushies and pins are dang expensive. Get around it by buying yours before you go, and then presenting your child with a new toy each night.

We were actually extremely fortunate to have friends who love us and our daughter who bought her gifts before and during our trip. Vivi had the bubble wand, a light-up toy, and received three “buddies” throughout the vacation that she still loves on regularly. So get awesome friends, or bargain shop before you go.

11. Prepare for the fireworks.
Vivi actually LOVED the fireworks every night, but some little ones are overwhelmed by the noise. Pack a hat with earflaps or buy a pair of these noise canceling headphones to keep little eardrums protected during the booms.

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12. Simplify your bedtime routine.
Everyone will be exhausted by the end of the day (yourself included), so don’t feel bad about keeping your bedtime routines short.

We simplified ours by giving Vivi a good swipe with a baby wipe, having her wash her hands and brush her teeth, putting her in her jammies, and then lights out. If you want to really do Disney at an expert parent level (or if you’re just dealing with a really little baby), bring their jammies to the park and dress them for bed right before the fireworks each night. That way, you can easily pop them into bed as soon as you get back to the room. Then in the morning, make sure everyone gets a real bath before you dress for the day.

13. Use the Disney app to plan rides and character meet-and-greets you don’t have FastPasses for.
FastPasses are truly wonderful (we only waited in about two lines the entire time), but since you only get three per park, you’re going to have to be strategic about the rest of your stay. The Disney My Experience app lets you not only track characters and navigate to rides, but it also gives you an estimated wait time for each thing. So if the line for Avatar Flight of Passage or to meet The Little Mermaid is under an hour, get over there now. (Just kidding, Avatar is NEVER UNDER AN HOUR.)(But it’s worth the wait in line, trust me.)

14. Wake up early to book FastPasses.
Speaking of FastPasses, they are no joke. You’re allowed to book three per park, but there are rules about the tier of the ride (aka, you can’t book all three roller coasters in Magic Kingdom because they’re top tier). And most of the rides you would actually need a FastPass for book up fast (no pun intended).

So make a plan. Because I was traveling with a group, we broke up the parks amongst three of us so we could book everything at once (you just have to link your reservations so you can add names outside your immediate family). Decide what is most important and book them as early in the day as you can. Once you use up your FastPasses, you’re allowed to book more later in the day. You can book your passes as early as a month before your trip.

Do NOT slack on this. These suckers are gone in a flash, so it’s worth setting an alarm so you’re up the moment they open up to you. Disney will send you about three letters and emails reminding you when the day is coming, but put it in your calendar too. As much as most normal adults hate waiting in lines, toddlers HATE waiting in lines, so the happiness of your trip depends on this.

15. And when all else fails, child swap!
Add this to the list of things Disney knows are annoying for parents on vacation. Because there are obviously rides that your little one won’t be big enough to go on, Disney will have one parent wait in line and then be given a Child Swap pass for the other parent to skip the line to ride. That way, someone is always available to watch your toddler, but you don’t have to wait in line twice.

It’s as genius as it sounds. Plus, each Child Swap pass is good for up to three people, which is how I got to go on Flight of Passage TWICE. #winning

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16. Prepare your child to meet characters.
It’s not at all out of the ordinary for little kids and babies to be scared of the characters. Vivi was basically terrified until we went to a Winnie the Pooh-themed lunch at Magic Kingdom (they all look like giant stuffed animals, so I think they were less scary somehow). After that, she was generally great but sometimes needed a way to break the ice.

It’s a good idea to prep your kid to meet their heroes so they don’t panic or freeze up. Autograph books are good because kids don’t really have to say anything, but it can also be helpful to have your child prepare a question (great for the princesses who can talk) or a high-five (for the mute characters). For Vivi, a nose boop was the perfect ice breaker. Once she booped Piglet’s snout or Mickey’s nose or Olaf’s carrot, she was good to give hugs and smile for photos.

And for my final three tips, a few safety suggestions:

17. Write your phone number inside your child’s Magic Band.
In all honesty, Disney is not the worst place in the world to lose your kid. Just kidding: EVERY PLACE IS HORRIBLE TO LOSE YOUR KID. What I mean is, Disney is what you’d call pretty serious about having a good image with families, so if a kid goes missing, they shut that park down until the kid is found.

They also tag..er…give everyone a Magic Band (which operates as your room key, holds reservations and Fast Passes, and links to a credit card to make purchases). What they don’t advertise as much is that your Magic Band is really a tracking device. They use it for a variety of innocuous reasons, like tracking traffic in the park and being able to show you the professional pictures you take throughout the day. But it could, in an emergency, be useful in finding your kid as well. (Disney, if you’re reading, I also think the children’s bands shouldn’t be able to be removed by anyone other than the parent. Put a code on that thang. Just saying.)

Aside from that, a simple thing you can do to help your kid be found if they wander off accidentally is to write your phone number inside their band. Vivi was actually pretty good about keeping hers on (Tip: Tell them it’s their MAGIC PRINCESS BAND! in an excited voice when you give it to them.), and slightly older will most likely have even less of an issue.

18. Take a picture of your kid every morning.
Listen, you’re probably going to do this anyway (see the aforementioned planned Disney outfits!), but it also has a really practical motivation: If your kid goes missing, you can’t be expected to remember every detail about what they were wearing in the middle of that emotional strain. Now you’ll have a super-current photo to share with park authorities at a moment’s notice on your phone.

19. Don’t be ashamed to use a harness if necessary.
No judgment, folks. Disney can be a wild place, and toddlers are wild people who don’t understand most boundaries. If you’re raising a roamer, consider a lightweight toddler harness to keep them close and safe. We actually bought this one. We didn’t end up using it since she was either held or in the stroller most of the time, but I liked knowing we had it if things got hairy.

 

Dance like a two-year-old who doesn’t care if anyone is watching.

A couple of nights ago, my parents were in town and we took them to one of our favorite local restaurants. It’s an Irish pub, and every Sunday a few musicians set up camp for an hour or two and play traditional Irish music.

They were just setting up when we arrived, so we were happy we’d get to hear their whole set.

Vivi has always loved music, but the moment they started to play a little jig, she instantly started to dance. For the next 20 minutes, she stomped and kicked and jumped with complete abandon.

I was transfixed by her incredible confidence. The room was filled with strangers (who were very much watching her little display), but my daughter danced on, unafraid of what anyone thought of her. It embodied this remarkable age, where self-esteem is arguably at an all-time high.

It nearly took my breath away.

Beneath my joy, though, there was a small catch in my throat. Because I wondered, “When will she start to care? When will she start to worry what other people think? When will she lose this magical confidence?”

I’ve written before about how motherhood makes me want to be braver, if only because it will hopefully lead to braver children. Vivi’s impromptu dance recital was a sharp reminder to me of that promise I made to her and to myself.

Because I nurse a bubble of hope. That while she will probably start to care what other people think, she will always be confident enough to be herself regardless of her critics. That the conviction she now reserves for refusing to clean up her toys will one day help her stick to her guns over much more important issues of character.

At the risk of sounding too much like a country song, I hope my sweet girl will always dance when the music moves her. I promise I’ll do my best to be there to cheer on every step.

The bad week.

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Last week was arguably one of Vivi’s and my worst weeks. I mean, really I should say it was one of her worst weeks, behavior-wise, but I don’t feel like I handled everything as well as I could have.

I know, I know, I just got done telling you how magical two is. But while all I said in my last post is true, the fact is, two is still really challenging.

Two doesn’t reason. Two doesn’t bother with logic. Two commits wholeheartedly to the strangest things and fights, teeth (literally) bared, to get its way.

That was my daughter last week. Her sass has been at an all-time high, bordering on disrespect to both her father and me, but also our adult friends. Every instruction provoked an argument, even when I tried this that would normally get her to happily acquiesce.

For example: We have a hard and fast rule that, if you made the mess, you clean it up in our house. While Vivi is never thrilled to pick up her toys, I can usually cajole her into cooperating if I first sit down by the mess and say, “Can you help me clean this up?” Then she’s usually pretty happy to be involved.

Yesterday? Nah.

People who follow my Instagram stories saw my series about Vivi’s meltdown over picking up the potty she had flung across the floor. It was pretty epic. (I won’t share here to avoid triggering stressed out parents 😉

After that 30-minute screamfest (that ended with her wetting her pants to spite me, hoo-boy), Vivi managed to maintain her bad attitude through gymnastics (her FAVORITE thing), lunch, and most of the afternoon. We finally went to a friend’s house to at least give us a change of scenery, which seemed to help.

The thing is, toddler freakouts? Pretty normal. Whenever my husband or my parents or a well-meaning person asks, “What is wrong??”, the answer is (99.9% of the time), “Well, she’s two.”

What I want to get better about is my reaction. A lot of people who witnessed yesterday’s stand-off complimented me on my patience, which I appreciate because OH MY GOODNESS SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY SOMETIMES. My patience is a constant work in progress.

But what didn’t make it to the Instagram reel (because, let’s be honest, I’m only going to show the #truelife moments that I think will entertain) was the moment she wet her pants out of spite, and I lost my cool. After cleaning her up and then making her clean up her toys in the living room (I had to win SOMETHING here), I took a minute to sit with Vivi. I apologized for losing my temper. I reminded her of our house rule about cleaning up after ourselves. We hugged and kissed and said we loved each other.

Life went on, and a few minutes later she was wreaking some other kind of terror.

Honestly, we’ll both probably forget this week, this “fight” we had. (Well, maybe not since I’m memorializing it here.) One day, very soon, Vivi won’t be two anymore. One day, she’ll be able to reason. She’ll bother with logic. She’ll probably always be a tough cookie, but she won’t be a terror.

In short, it will get better. But for now, for those of us still in the thick of it, here’s a video of us taking deep breaths to calm down (you’re welcome):

The motherhood metamorphosis

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the subject of identity and motherhood.

Partly because it’s my job. But partly because I feel like it’s one of those things I’ve slowly been working out for the last two years.

When I first got pregnant, I was so absorbed by the process. I’m one of those freaks who LOVED being pregnant 99.9 percent of the time, and I was fascinated by every single bit of it. (Classic nerd.)

After Vivi was born, I had no other choice but to be consumed by mama life. And here’s a fun fact about me: When I see no way out, I find a way to love it. Really, I’m too Type A to see all these lemons sitting out and not try to make them useful. Ergo, the lemonade of early motherhood.

Longtime readers will also remember that I made a very active effort to truly appreciate every bit. Loads of people want to be parents and can’t for whatever reason; who am I to take this actual miracle for granted?

And I can’t honestly say that I HAVE enjoyed every stage of Vivi, despite those “the days are long” moments that surely I did not enjoy at the time. I recently told a pregnant pal that my strategy for pregnancy and babies (and toddlers) has been to go in with the lowest expectations. After that, anything seems pretty okay!

But another fun fact about me: I commit…and not always in a good way.

I go all in. I’ve done it with jobs, I’ve done it with relationships. There have been so many times in life I’ve gotten six months into something and then paused to think, “Wait…what happened? Who am I? How did I get here?”

It’s a weird quirk, and it has led to some difficult self-reflection moments.

So going into motherhood, I made a conscientious effort to NOT do that. I made balance one of my top priorities.

That’s why I kept the jobs (Okay, that was also to pay the thousands we owed the hospital/buy groceries). That’s why I went back to working out as quickly as possible. It’s why I clung to the little things that made me feel like post-pregnancy Justine.

But, here’s the funny thing about motherhood: It’s not like a new job. It’s not even like a new relationship. It’s not about giving things up or even really adding things in.

Motherhood is a metamorphosis. You enter one thing, but you emerge something entirely different.

I hear so many people say they don’t want to lose themselves in motherhood, and truly that was one of my concerns too. But, really, that’s not what happens. You are not getting lost—you’re becoming an entirely different creature. It’s an evolution that would never have happened if you took a different path.

Because you actually get to keep the parts of yourself you like. And everything else gets refined.

Mamas are efficient, so we are skimmed down to our most necessary parts. We are adaptable, so we grow the new abilities we need to do and thrive. We are resourceful, so we develop the skills necessary and walk away stronger than we could have ever been.

Truth is, I can’t actually stop being who I am. But whereas that realization usually came in a jarring moment with other life transitions, with motherhood, it was a gentle waking up. A stretch where I suddenly realized new muscles had developed overnight. This new “Mama” on my resume makes me look and feel more powerful, not less.

The fact is, I never lost my identity. I let it grow.

What they don’t tell you about two

The terrible twos carry a lot of noteriety. They’re called “terrible,” for goodness sake.

Everyone tells you the same things, but they all carry the same message:

You’re in for it now.

You’re warned of tantrums and fights and struggle. You’re warned that you’ll just have to bear through them.

And while it’s true that two comes with an abundance of challenges and steep learning curves, there’s so much more to be said about two.

No one tells you that this is the age you get a person. This is the age you get a side kick, a partner in crime, a fellow adventurer.

This is the age of silly, nonsense conversations, stories of horses and planes only she seems to see. This is the age of requests for tickles and cuddles and cookies, for serious chats about pretending to be bears and pies made out of pancakes.

This is the age of mischevious, toothy grins and dancing with abandon. Of singing made up lyrics at the top of lungs and crayon scribbles that are actually people and pets.

This is the age of belly laughs and whispered secrets never told. This is the age of the sweetest “dank you, momma” and the sassiest “I gon ticko you, mommy!”

It’s also the age you enter a new season of mamahood. When you start knowing the solution more often than you don’t. When you catch the sippy cup before it hits the ground and stop the speeding toddler before she knocks the plate off the table.

It’s the age when you carry less and sleep more. When you find yourself relaxing more often than you leap. When you start to trust yourself as well as your child. (Okay, your toddler isn’t still probably lying about not needing to use the potty, but #winsomelosesome.)

Two is the age when you start really parenting, which is great timing because you actually start to feel like a capable parent at the same time.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about two, and there’s a lot I can’t tell because it would take ten thousand words. But suffice to say, it’s a special, frustrating, magic time.

And I wouldn’t trade two for the world.

It’s been a long time. I shouldna left you.

Oh…hey. It has been a while, right?

The first post back after a blog hiatus is always the hardest, so here’s to leaping in with both feet.

As you’ve probably noticed (if you’re my dad because you set aside a day each month to catch up on my blog), I haven’t posted in a while. A minute, as the kids would say.

I could give a lot of reasons for it, valid and lazy, but the truth is that I just didn’t feel like it. The last few months have been so busy, and in a lot of ways tumultuous, and I didn’t feel like I could adequately get it all straight in my head, let alone in an online post for the world to see.

To be blunt: I sort of dreaded the idea of blogging. It felt either insincere (SOMETIMES THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON I DON’T WANT TO SHARE) or just not good enough quality (which is saying something considering the random stuff I’ll post on here).

So…I just didn’t.

But then, lately, I started to get the itch again. I also don’t want to jinx myself, but I started to feel a little more settled. I don’t ever really feel like I’m in total control of my life, but I started to feel like I was in a groove again, probably for the first time since Vivi was born.

There were a lot of elements that played into that, and as a means of a brief catch-up, here are a few:

Vivi turned two.

And while this new stage is by far the most challenging I’ve encountered, I think it’s also (dare I say it) my favorite stage so far. Because, you guys? Vivi is a legitimate person now. She has always hinted at her budding personality, but the last few weeks have brought such a burst of new language and actual conversation, and her spunk frankly wows me every single day. She is so funny, both intentionally and unintentionally, and she just brings sunshine and charm wherever she goes. I officially feel like I’m spending my days with a sort-of friend and not just a mostly needy baby. That connection has caused a powerful shift in my own mood I didn’t expect.

Vivi was potty trained.

Um, hi, talk about a shift in my mood/relationship with my kid. I was honestly super nervous to potty train this time around after last time’s PTSD-inducing experience. But this time, things actually went pretty smoothly. (Weird how not being stressed to the point of tears can have that impact, huh?) Vivi picked up on the basics on the first day, and now, a couple of months out, I actually feel we can pretty solidly call ourselves potty-trained. (At least 99.9 percent!)

We’ve been in our new home for five months.

I’m not really good at giving myself time to adjust to anything. It’s the curse of the chronic planner—by the time I get to any moment I’ve been waiting for, I’ve already planned five years past that. So I rush myself. I don’t usually take the time to even realize that I’m overwhelmed until I have some kind of breakdown.

So, yeah, super healthy.

This move was actually fairly seamless for us (and so many things about my life got better and easier), but it’s only recently that I could honestly say I felt settled and in a comfortable routine. I’ve started exercising regularly again, which is such a key thing for my mental health, and I have a schedule I can count on. It will probably never be perfect, but it’s good to be here, folks.

I entered my second year of pioneering.

For those not in the know, I spend about 70+ hours a month in a volunteer ministry service doing a Bible education work. This was my first year dedicating myself to that hourly commitment (840 hours for the whole year), and, while I felt confident I would give it my all, I wasn’t really sure what to expect—or if I could even do it. Now that I’m in the second year, I feel like I can relax a bit. Which isn’t to say I’m easing off the time commitment (I’m trying to cram the beginning of my year with as many extra hours as possible with hopes of taking it easy in the summer), but I’ve lost all of the trepidation and feel like I can spend more time this go-around focusing on others and helping to encourage them. That’s a nice feeling.

I have a job I actually love in every way.

I’ve had lots of jobs that I loved…mostly. But with every role I’ve taken on, there were always things I didn’t like. Things I hated, even. Working at Motherly has been a total dream. I get to be creative and write, and I get to do it part-time so I can focus on being a mom and my volunteering. Plus, my coworkers are these amazing, brilliant unicorns who are incredible at their jobs and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. That’s pretty special, and it fulfills the part of me I know I would miss if I ever quit working completely. So if you’re a mom not reading, you should be.

I turned 30.

I mean, finally, right? I’m one of those weirdos who actually looked forward to 30. I hear mostly good things. And while it has come with a few negatives (I’m officially one of those people who can “do something” to their neck that puts them out of commission for a few days), by and large, 30 came with a quiet confidence. I’m excited to see what this decade brings.

The funny thing for me is that I don’t know if I would truly say I know who I am—completely, 100 percent. But not in that lost, dramatic “I don’t know who I am!” kind of way. More in the sense that I’ve been surprised by myself a lot in the last couple of years. Things I never thought would happen have happened. Things I never thought I would do, I’ve done.

I feel confident and comfortable in myself, but I’m also open-minded to the idea of changing. That maybe who and what I am now isn’t who I’ll always be. And that’s okay—good even.

And while we’re only just entering November 2017, I’m already looking forward to next year. (Chronic planner, I told ya.) We’re hoping to have another baby. (NOT PREGNANT, JUST HOPING.) We might buy a house. We’re discovering new things and new friends in our new home.

Heck, I might even start blogging on the regular again.

Anyway, I wanted to check in. Partly because I do feel like you’re owed an explanation for where I’ve been all this time, but also because, well, I wanted to.

It’s good to be back.