Toddler Travel Tips

Vacation! So fun! So relaxing!

Just kidding. We are going on vacation with three kids four and under. Traveling with kids. Oh so fun. Not kidding. I love showing them new adventures!

To be perfectly honest, we have never driven more than four hours with our children. From where we live, driving to Florida would be two full days each way, and we don’t have that kind of time (or patience). I have several sweet friends who do the driving through the night so kids sleep trick. But if you follow me on Instagram you know that I turn into a pumpkin at 9pm so that option isn’t available to us. Therefore, every tip or story you see here is from our flying adventures.

The first time we flew with children they were 2.5 years, 18 months, and 5 months. On top of their young ages, we had only known each other for three months. We were straight in the middle of figuring everyone out and learning how to trust. Before we flew I did a ton of research, some helpful and some not so much.

Here is my complied list of helpful tips if you’re flying with littles (especially if you’re also traveling with special needs and trauma):

1. Know your airline!

Researching your airlines policy on traveling with children is extremely helpful. We’ve only flown Allegiant with our crew. Allegiant only allows one lap child per row because of oxygen masks. But they do let each child have a free diaper bag. Knowing these kind of policies before arriving will put you at ease. Or, when someone tries to tell you that you’re not allowed to do something, you’ll be armed with policy language.

2. Don’t arrive too early.

Has anyone ever told you that littles are squirmy? Having time to kill at the airport is the worst. Airports are not sensory friendly and cause a ton of anxiety for a couple of my small humans. If you can, leave just enough time to get through security and let everyone pee.

3. There can never be too many snacks on travel day.

A couple of days of snack overload will not kill your routine. And trust me, we are the house where snacks are on a timer, and I still believe this tip. Snacks distract, but they also help clear airplane ears, and keep blood sugar high. Many a travel meltdown has been cured with a box of raisins. I put a gallon zip lock of snacks in each child’s backpack for easy access.

4. Pack brand new never seen before toys and activities.

This might be the most circulated tip but I believe it with all my might. I grab activity books, tiny stuffed animals, and trinket toys after major holidays when they are on super clearance and save it for travel days. Small children don’t care if they are coloring Jack-o-lanterns in June…for them it’s a brand new experience and keeps them engaged longer.

5. Stickers.

Same concept. Melissa and Dog have some awesome reusable sticker books. The reusable stickers can stick to almost any airplane surface and can easily be removed and restuck for at least 12 minutes.

6. Must have Accessories.

Blow up footstool, everyone’s favorite blankey, water cups with straws (again, help those babies clear their ears!), earplugs/headphones (my oldest has a hard time with noises, headphones make all the difference), socks.

7. Breathe.

Hey moms and dads! Take a breath, give grace, breathe. People are going to be grouchy and rude. But guess what, even if they never had annoying loud kids, at one point they were an annoying loud kid. Although we try our hardest to make sure our children are respectful and quietish…is that really legitimately possible at all times? No. So go ahead and plaster a smile on your face and enjoy the fact that your children get to experience the wonder of travel at a young age!

In travel, and in life, your mood and attitude will be reflected in your children. If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, your children will pick up on that energy and everyone will start to spiral. You can real and absorb all the travel knowledge. However, if you haven’t figured out what keeps you cool and calm, do that first. Find an essential oil to wear around your neck, do a breathing exercise, eat a snack. You can do this! You can make adventure fun for your family!

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Standing on the Sidelines

This is a story of amazing grace.

In this story I am standing on the sidelines, like a background mom or a funny best friend, and taking in the scenes between the hero and main characters. Although I’m right in the middle of all the action, and feel the effects of the storyline progressing, it isn’t my story being told.

It’s a story of a hero pursuing a princess. A beautiful, perfect, spunky princess with hurt and emotions far beyond her age. The hero reminds her she’s beautiful and shows her safety. The hero listens as she wines and even lets her stomp a bit. He wipes her tears while weeping alongside her.

The princess loves the hero but can’t know for sure if he’s safe.

Here come the supporting characters. Surrounding her and speaking with love of the hero. She hears of how he keeps showing up to save them. They sing his praises.

Her head and her heart meet up and decide he truly must be good and safe.

The hero shows up over and over and over for this princess. Gently pushing her to be brave and wrapping her in his arms when she isn’t. He catches her when she falls. He laughs when she’s silly and cries when she hurts his heart.

Jesus loves her. He pursues her. He rejoices when she jumps in the pool. He weeps when night terrors rage through her body. He is angered by the injustice in her story. He is her perfect Hero and she is his beautiful princess.

This story is far from over. But as each chapter is written there are endless signs of truth and love. How amazing is the grace that Jesus has given me that I am able to be here, in the middle of her story, standing on the sidelines.

Perfect power.

Quite often in foster care I get bogged down with the paperwork, constant unexpected interruptions, and so many appointments. I certainly could go my whole life without hearing the words “status hearing” again. The hurry up and wait is never ending. The rules and regulations and standards we are held to can be exhausting.

But even as all the stuff swishes around us, their eyes are filled with wonder. Their voices are filled with questions. And their laughter is free and bubbling. The wonder of everything. Every snowflake, every time we drive by a cow, every time we sing Jesus Loves Me. There is excitement and expectation. Their sweet little faces light up. It keeps me smiling. It keeps me breathing.

Simply stating that it’s “worth it” seems so thin. But it’s true. I would fill out a thousand pages of paper a day if it meant being able to hear his giggle. I would drive across the country for her appointments if it meant hearing her sing bedtime songs with me. And I would invite daily I interruptions if it meant snuggling brother with a football game at the end of the day. It is worth it. It is worth it. It is worth it.

But foster mama, it’s also exhausting. And that’s ok. It’s ok to get tired. It’s ok to admit you’re angry at the system. It’s ok to beg for permanency. It’s ok to advocate loudly. It’s ok to serve frozen pizza for the third time this week. It’s ok to take respite. It’s ok to ask for your village to step in. It’s ok to take a nap. It’s ok to take a break.

They are worth it. And we will never be able to unsee the children, unknow the statistics, and unfeel the call. But maybe tonight you need to remember how full your cup was before you starting the process of emptying all you have. Give yourself permission to leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed early. Allow your phone to sit in the other room while you soak up scripture. Take a bath and listen to worship music. Read the twilight saga (again).

Because Christ is glorified and honored even when (especially when) I am at my weakest. So tonight I am going to rest in the power of his grace. Because, dear foster mama, today my weaknesses did shine through. And tomorrow isn’t looking any easier.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Passion and Fire

16406678_10155036637612792_5087112724171773469_nIt wasn’t an “ah-ha” moment, a sermon I heard, or a book I read. I cannot even pinpoint a moment in time when it was decided. It was just in me and slowly it bubbled forth. I knew long before my sweet husband knew. And even with every conversation that ended opposite of how I envisioned…deep within me…I knew. Someday we were going to be foster parents.

Maybe it was in junior high when my first close friend entered foster care. Maybe it was highschool when I went on short term mission trips and saw the brokenness of hurting children right in my own backyard. It possibly was college as I wrestled with what my purpose was and if I even wanted to be a mom someday. All I know is when we started dating and soon got married, it was a pretty constant conversation. We were going to be foster parents.

It took a few years of conversations, and moves, and strategically placed scripture for us to be on the same page. And even in that season of waiting, God was preparing our hearts. For heartbreak, hurt, and unmeasurable joy. God was preparing us for foster care.

Our journey to foster care wasn’t exciting or attention grabbing. But it might be right where you are. With a tug on your heart without a place to land. Maybe your spouse is so not on board you think you’re hearing wrong from God. Or maybe you are passionate about orphan care and aren’t sure if it’s the right time.

Just know, God does not make mistakes. He does not place a passion in your heart or put a fire in your belly without purpose. Our journey to foster care was long. Our journey in foster care is hard. But God did not make a mistake in calling us here. Because without this journey…we would have lost out on knowing some pretty amazing children.

Christmas Treasured in my Heart.

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

I believe this is one of the most beautiful parts of the Christmas story. Mary, a teenage virgin mother, just gave birth to the Messiah. Around her are animals and visitors worshiping her little baby, it smells weird, it’s loud, and maybe she was a little overwhelmed (she just gave birth in a barn for goodness sakes). But I imagine Mary sitting back and taking it all in, treasuring and pondering in her heart, and my spirit is filled.

This was my first Christmas as a mother. And as I watched my sweet children decorate cookies, open presents, and wonder at Christmas lights I started to understand a sliver of the emotions Mary must have felt. Amongst the hustle and busyness and flu that hit all five of us there was a peace and pondering in my heart. I had so much joy watching others love on my babies. We loved sharing the magic and excitement and singing happy birthday to Jesus.

Baby got to experience his first Christmas with more snuggles and tissue paper than he could ever want. Sister opened a baby doll that cries until you give it a bottle and has yet to set her down. And brother carried enough excitement in his face for the whole family. It was a Christmas of navigating big feelings and needing many breaks. Our babies each needed a little extra love and Chris and I were exhausted by day’s end. It was wonderful.

We may not have next Christmas together…but I’m taking a page from Mary’s book and treasuring every moment in my heart.

Third Trimester.

Third Trimester.

It’s almost time.

Nesting tons.

Crying more.

 

We have three bedrooms (mostly) ready to receive children. The paperwork is nearing the end and sooner than we know it our big house is going to get a little fuller.

Buying our home was a dream that started before we moved back to Illinois, before we were married, and before my sweet husband even had the fuzzy start to facial hair. Growing up, Chris had said plenty of times how neat it would be if someday he bought the “grey block house” down the road and fixed it up to live in. Once we were married and looking for farm homes (first in Tennessee, then in Missouri, and most recently in Illinois), we would always compare the property to the land the Reynolds have lived on since the 1800’s. Little did we know just exactly how perfect is the timing of our God. The “grey block house” is a three story stone home that sits on the county line surrounded by cornfields and pasture. It has a large barn (that Chris’ great-grandpa and grandpa built in the 40s) and several other out buildings on the property. The grounds are covered with juicy strawberries, blueberry bushes, apple trees, grapes, and many other snacks to munch on while playing outside. The home was built in 1913 and has the original wood floors, corn stoves, and many original windows. It’s the kind of place you walk into and know it is full of life and stories. And it is all ours.

One of the best features of this beautiful place is the five upstairs bedrooms. When we started the process to become foster families one of our main prayers is that we would have the ability to keep siblings together while their parents work to get them back home. Many times siblings are split up because of a shortage of beds in any given foster home. We knew with five bedrooms we would have the space to keep larger sibling groups in tact! Praise the Lord! For the past month we have worked hard to maintain the integrity of this beautiful home while also getting it prepared to take on a new mission as a safe place for the hurting. And now, in our “third trimester” of foster care prep, our prayers are stronger than ever.

Both Chris and I have seen God work mighty miracles in providing for us over the last six months as we embarked on this journey to foster care. The prayer and tangible gifts have been such a blessing to our souls. It has been such a process and at times quite stressful and disheartening…but at those moments are when we feel the village supporting us. I can literally feel the presence of prayers surrounding us. Like a barrier between us and the worry/anxiety/fear/hurt that the enemy wants us to feel.

My spiritual gifts (both to give and receive) are gifts and words of encouragement. Man, how my cup is full! Furnishing three kids rooms (five beds total) is no easy task…yet we have seen God’s had in that as friends have come together to make sure our little ones are loved before they are even known. Support is such a key part of what makes foster care tick. I challenge you to find a way to support the foster care community in your community because without the support we have, I am sure we wouldn’t feel this peace.

For us, as it does most expecting parents, the third trimester brings on a ton of waiting. We still have a decent amount of running around to grab needed items and make sure our freezers are full. And there are a million check lists on our kitchen counters. But mostly, it just feels like waiting. I’ve decided that the waiting is beautiful. Because in the waiting I find quiet and in the quiet I find Jesus.

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Join us in prayer:

-For last minute details and purchases to be finished.

-For our hearts to be quieted and softened for the days ahead.

-For our children who are loved but not yet known by us, but loved and known by God.

-For the foster families in your community who may be overwhelmed, tired, or weary from the waiting.

Preparing and Praying

Waiting. 

I am pretty sure there is no one in the history of the world who has said to themselves “Wow, waiting is so fun! I just love waiting!”. If you have ever been through the foster care or adoption process you know how this particular waiting feels. The emotions flow every time you meet with your DCFS agent, licensing worker, or attend a class. We are thankful for all of the screening and training, but we would also love to just have a child in our home.

On the flip side. It gives us time to pray and prepare. The most pressing realization during the wait is the sheer amount of things we have to have. Because, we realized, we aren’t just preparing for a newborn (although we are), but we are also preparing for a terrible two and a kindergartener. We know brothers and sisters and babies will enter our home without carseats or clothing or school supplies. So we work our hardest to be prepared. If I am being totally honest…I am a pretty terrible preparer. I stand in the camp of “just throw some things in the car and go”(anyone else in my camp?!). Thank you Jesus for pairing me with a over-planner planner! Chris makes lists and correctly labels things and keeps us on track. He makes me think through new ideas before I run with them. He is going to be the best daddy.

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As I sit here folding and labeling clothes, shoes, and hats I am reminded that it does not matter how much we prepare…there is so much unknown. We have no idea the amount of children who will be reunified with their family vs become ours forever. We have no idea the depth of hurt sweet babies will come to us with or the disabilities that will require endless doctors and therapy visits. This is when I remember the prayer. When I become overwhelmed with the unknown and the financial aspect and the lists that need checkmarks, I am learning to take a timeout and pray. God is so near in these moments. In this stage of our life. Even with all of the moving pieces and transitions and heartbreak we have been given an incredible gift. The gift of peace that passes all of our understanding.

So while we are in this season of praying and preparing: I also wanted to say thank you. All of the books and classes make it evidently clear that this foster care thing takes a village. Out of all of the things that we worry about, our village is not one of them. I know there are some of you who have specifically prayed for peace. Thank you. Thank you for loving our children before we even know them. And thank you for pouring your heart out to God on our behalf. We can feel it.

Now onto more preparing…

 

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Organized Chaos

 

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Anyone have a baby sock folding trick?

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Specifically Praying for the 3 year old who will wear this shirt. ❤