Monday, August 12, 2019

The Last First Day of Kindergarten

Being a Stay-At-Home-Mom was never part of my plan.

But six years ago, I was being laid off for the second time in as many years, and I was 23 weeks pregnant with my third child. I felt as if the universe was trying to tell me something. It seemed the universe was saying that home with my girls was exactly where I needed to be.

So six years ago, I embraced being home with three girls under 5 (and I will never forget the complete panic that consumed me when my husband left for a business trip three weeks after I gave birth to our youngest. He was only gone four days but it seemed a lot more like eternity then!). I joined playgroups and made mommy friends and scoped out every single kids activity west of the Mississippi to fill my days with my girls while my husband did the 9-to-5 thing.

And I fell in love with being with my girls.

Not that it was easy. I think that was the first thing that hit me like a wrecking ball in those early days of being home. When I was a working mom, I'd guiltily drop my girls at daycare and wonder what it must be like to simply get to hang out with my kids all day. To not have to go anywhere or do anything or answer to anyone. As a working mom, it seemed like the dream.

Man oh man, did those years of being home fly by, much like everyone warned me they would.



And now, days before I'm about to send my darling youngest girl off to kindergarten, I'm left to wonder when I entered this season of life. Somehow, I'm no longer the mom of little kids. It' happened both so quickly I didn't have time to notice and so slowly I didn't think it would ever happen. My household has long since been free from pacifiers and bottles and diapers and nap times. Last year, I stopped shopping in the toddler section at any given store. This summer, we gave up puddle jumpers at the pool. And I both mourned and celebrated each of these small stepping stones as they became obsolete to my family.

But nothing, nothing, has hit me as hard as preparing to send my youngest to kindergarten.

The first emotion I feel is guilt. Guilt because, for the past few weeks, I've been telling my youngest I'm simply not going to allow her to go to school. She's ready, you see. And she has been for more than a year now. She has been up at her big sisters' school for all the events and activities. She knows the halls and some of the teachers. She knows her sisters' friends. She is already feeling like a big woman on campus and she hasn't even arrived. She has looked forward to joining her sisters at school for a while now.

So the guilt comes. The guilt comes because, for the past couple of years, I've tried to ease my way back into working. I've done contracting jobs here and writing jobs there. She's gone to preschool a couple of days of week, but it never felt like enough. It wasn't enough time to get the house clean or finish the project I was working on or finally purge my closet (like I've been promising my husband for ages!). There were so many days when I would stick her in front of the TV or the iPad and attempt to finish whatever "super important" project I was working on. I wanted her to be at school like her sisters were so I could accomplish more during the day. There were days when I just needed her to be... not home with me.

The guilt comes because her big sisters notice me telling my youngest she can't go to school and they say "You never said that to me." And they are right. They are right because, with my oldest, I was so excited for school. It was the beginning of a new chapter, a new adventure. A new family, a new village, to be a part of. I was sad that she'd be gone from me for eight hours a day but I was so excited for all the doors it was opening that I didn't mind. And for my middle daughter, it was a mix of exciting and sad. Exciting because she, too, was going off to school to make new friends and be a part of the village my oldest was a part of. Sad because I knew. I knew that sending her off to kinder was one step closer to the end of my "little kid" days. Middle kids hit the sweet spot because it's easier to just enjoy the ride. You don't get the constant worry you did with the first. The fear of "Am I doing this right?" And you don't get the sadness you do with the last. The heaviness of "This my be her first time, but this is my last first time." You can just enjoy the ride.

But my youngest... Where do I start? She has been with me since her first day of life. I never worked, at least not full-time, once she came into the world. I never had to tear up because I was dropping her at daycare. She has been by my side all these years. She has accompanied me out of state for a wedding and two funerals. She has slept in my bed, as close to me as humanly possible, for so many years that I don't honestly think she knows where her bed even is. Each and every day after we dropped sisters at school she would turn to me and excitedly ask what our plans were for the day. She came to crave the Mommy and Me Days as much as I did, and, on days when I felt I didn't have "time" for a Mommy and Me Day, I would feel guilty about disappointing her.

She will turn six in October, and, I know it sounds cliche, but I don't know where these years have gone. Five years ago, when friends with older kids would tell me I'd miss these days once they'd gone, I would literally laugh. Nope, I would think, not me. I won't miss the diapers and the nursing and the sippy cups and the cranky kids who didn't nap.



But I do. I miss them already.

I'm excited for my youngest to go off to school because the excitement she feels is palpable. She picked out her backpack from Justice and packed it full of "necessities" as dictated by her sisters just last night. She's put lots of thought into her first-day outfit and memorized the names of her sisters' kindergarten teachers in hopes that she will end up with one of them. She has the shoes picked out that she will wear for PE and talked about which friends she hopes she has in class.

But for me, the last first day of kindergarten is the end of an era. No longer will I need to scour Facebook to look for fun activities to fill our Wednesdays or ask friends if they mind watching her for the day so I can get my hair done or work on a project or do whatever oh-so-important things I've had to do all these years. No longer will I need to stick her in front of the iPad so I can finish up some work or ask my dad to watch her so I can go for a run. She will be in school eight hours a day, and it will feel like an eternity.

I suppose, after the first few weeks of school, we will settle into a pattern. We will figure out our routine and make it work for us. But those first few days, I know I'll have a hard time. A hard time admitting that the season of my life where I'm at home with my littles has passed. That Wednesday playdates are out of the question except for in summer. That I can go back to work without worrying about where to send my kiddos. Suddenly I'm going to have 40 kid-free hours per week. Three years ago, I would've lived for that kind of freedom. Right now, I'd give anything to rewind three years and savor those moments again.

Parenting is hard. And I know the easy years, the ones that felt impossible when I was knee-deep in them, are behind me. I will no longer worry about whether my 4-month-old is eating enough or if my 3-year-old is napping enough. Now I have to worry if I'm allowing my kids too much screen time or if they are being bullied at school. Now I have to worry about social media and smartphones (although we aren't quite there- yet).

For now, I suppose, I'll have to put on my brave face when I walk my final baby into her classroom for that last first day. I'll hide my tears when I let go of her hand and probably be the one crying to loudest at the school's Boo Hoo Breakfast. I'll count down the hours until all three girls return from school and try to be grateful for all the years I got to be home with them full time.

And then I'll start counting down the days until Summer Break.




Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Final Bump: A Farewell to Pregnancy

"So I guess you must really like being pregnant then?," is a question I'm frequently asked when people find out that the baby I've carried for nine months isn't actually mine.

I suppose that yes, I do like being pregnant. Although my body has never been particularly great at the delivery portion of child-bearing, it sure knows how to successfully navigate nine months of growth, discomfort and all-around awesomeness.

Tomorrow I'm waddling into the operating room for my final delivery. A c section, another one. My fourth in five total deliveries. Two months shy of exactly 10 years since I delivered my first. I've had babies in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016 and now 2019. I have three girls of my own and am now delivering my second baby boy who will go home with his mom once the doctors okay his hospital departure.

And guys... It's all so very much more bittersweet than I was ready for!



I have a much different perspective on pregnancy as a surrogate, and I guess my emotions start there. Because, for most pregnant women, pregnancy is just the beginning. A small portion of the enormous journey that is motherhood. There isn't much time to think about delivery because it will ultimately be so short-lived. Once baby is here, mom (and dad) will be knee-deep in diapers and up-all-nights and onesies and worry. C section scars or stitches you-know-where will be forgotten when that precious newborn coos and smiles.

But for surrogates, the pregnancy is the journey, wholly and completely. Don't get me wrong- this isn't a sob story. Although newborns are wonderful and incredible and there is always part of me as a woman, as a mom, who will miss those early days and weeks of life, I'm in no way sad that I'm not bringing home a baby when I leave the hospital. The baby days for me are long-ago over, and that is truly something I'm okay with.

But there is magic in pregnancy, and in surrogacy especially, that I'm far more attached to than I've been able to admit to myself.

Because I've had three c sections and am having a fourth tomorrow (!!), my doctor has told me he simply will not sign off on any more surrogacies. And my husband years ago told me that he feels our family is complete and doesn't want any more littles. Both of these statements, these realities, I'm okay with. For the most part.

But concluding my fifth pregnancy feels like the end of an era. The end of a 10 year journey I truly never knew I would embark on when I took my first pregnancy test in early 2009. It's the end of maternity jeans and blossoming bumps and caffeine restrictions. It's the end of wondering who baby will look more like and if baby is a boy or a girl and feeling those kicks and flutters.

There is so much I look forward to in the upcoming days. A good glass of wine, for starters! Sleeping on my stomach. No more heartburn (I hope, anyway!). My expansive wardrobe that's been neglected for the past several months. Sushi, unlimited amounts of caffeine, a giant margarita from Fuzzy's.

Someday, I'm sure, I'll look back on all these years, all these pregnancies, and realize how fortunate I was. To carry life five times. To add five more amazing kids to this earth. But for now, I'm going to be a little sad, a little emotional (and extremely, extremely hormonal!) that tomorrow my journey comes to an end. All good things, right?



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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Galveston Island: Escape to the Beach

Throughout the years I've lived in DFW, I've always gotten mixed reviews of Galveston, some five hours south of DFW on the Gulf of Mexico. While some have told me it's a fun beach getaway, many have rolled their eyes at the destination. I've heard comments about how the beaches aren't very pretty and there isn't much to do.


But my family decided to book a large beach house and enjoy a week together in Galveston, hanging out, splashing in the water, building sandcastles and just unwinding. At 34 weeks pregnant (with a kiddo who isn't mine), I thought sitting on the beach and staring at the waves sounded pretty wonderful, and Galveston was close to great hospitals in Houston should I need one, so I was in.



We stayed at a large AirBnB house on the west end of the island, meaning we weren't super close to all the usual tourist haunts. We brought in a lot of our own food so we wouldn't need to eat out for every meal. The rental house had a garage full of boogie boards and sand toys, and we brought beach umbrellas, chairs and towels to make the most of the bright, sunny days.

We loved the west end of Galveston Island. It was never as crowded as the areas near Pleasure Pier, one of the largest tourist draws in the area. We would claim the spot directly out from our rental house each morning with chairs and umbrellas and then wander out at our leisure. My girls could run back and forth from house to beach (as long as an adult was at either location) to use the bathroom, grab a snack or take a break from the sun without worry. We spent our days searching for crabs (and hoping to not find any jellyfish!), catching minnows and enjoying the endless waves and shallow water in the Gulf. The water was often incredibly warm, which was great.



We did venture into town several times to check out recommended hot spots and kids activities, so I do have a few recommendations!

For food, we loved The Spot. It is ranked the number one eatery for tourists, and it's a well-earned title. The Spot is five venues in one that serves up yummy food in a laidback environment. I had a yummy island salad, and my girls loved their generously-portioned kids meals. We watched the waves roll in from our table on the porch. Highly recommend! http://thespot.islandfamous.com/



Another eatery we loved was Jimmy's on the Pier. It's small and requires a trip up steep steps, something to consider if you have strollers or others who have a hard time with stairs. But the views of the water are outstanding and the food (and drinks, so I'm told!) is great. The seafood is fresh from the Gulf, and, after you dine, you can get a free pass to walk out on the fishing pier below the restaurant. My girls loved watching fishermen and trying to spot fish in the water. https://www.jimmysonthepier.com/



Other spots we recommend checking out are Woody's and The Sand Bar.

We never made it to Pleasure Pier because the weather was really, really warm, and I am really, really pregnant, although my girls whined quite a bit about not being able to ride the rollercoasters (next time!). We did try out the Shark 5D movie, which I sadly don't recommend for $7 per person, and the Rainforest River Adventure Ride at Rainforest Cafe, which we actually did enjoy for $6.49 per person. Magic Carpet Mini Golf is a fun outing for $10 per person ($7 for kids) for 18 holes of mini golf. It's a great course, but there is little airflow even in the shade and I would not recommend it on a really warm day.



Our favorite activity was riding the Galveston Island/ Port Bolivar Ferry. Check the Website for times, but the ferries run continuously and frequently and are totally free. You can drive your car or walk on. Because it was a busy day, we decided to walk on to save time. The ride each way took about 15 minutes and it was so worth it. We saw countless dolphins dancing through the waters. My girls loved this! We also got a look at the SS Selma, a sunken ship from World War I that is somewhat of a local legend. I cannot recommend this ferry ride enough. It was probably my girls' favorite thing that we did, and it was free (and had bathrooms on board!).
To learn more about the ferry, go here:
https://www.galveston.com/galvestonferry/
To learn more about the sunken ship you will see on your ferry ride, go here:
https://crystalbeach.com/selma.htm



We went to The Strand, the downtown main street, early in our trip, and enjoyed La King's, a well-known ice cream shop and confectionery on the island. Not only did we enjoy yummy ice cream and fountain Coke with cherry syrup, we were able to see a taffy pull and discover how salt water taffy is made. The store is stocked with every sweet treat you could possibly imagine- my girls were in heaven! This store is also dates back to the early Twentieth Century and is well worth a visit! https://lakingsconfectionery.com/visit-us/



My big girls took a Harry Potter-themed cooking class while on vacation at the cutest cooking store I have ever visited, The Kitchen Chick. For three hours they made and enjoyed lunch treats such as Butter Beer and Cauldron Cakes. If you are looking for a few hours without the kids so you and your SO can enjoy a meal together, I recommend looking into classes here. My girls raved about how much fun they had! http://www.thekitchenchick.com/



We also enjoyed souvenir and window-shopping downtown, as well as a few fun photo opps in the downtown square. But really, we enjoyed our time on the beach the most. You can drive on the beach (near the west end, at least), making it easily accessible for everyone. Closer to Pleasure Pier and downtown Galveston, there are umbrellas and chairs to rent so you don't need to haul your own, and lots of street parking (for a fee). We drove by lots of great hotels and RV parks that we may check out next time we make the drive. We saw fantastic fireworks on the 4th of July and loved watching the waves roll in each day.



Are there any spots I missed? Any Galveston recommendations you would add to my list?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Exploring the Metroplex: A Weekend in Mesquite

When I think of Mesquite, Texas, the first thing that comes to mind is the rodeo. Maybe also barbeque, if I'm honest. But here in North Texas, I feel confident in saying that Mesquite is synonymous with its famous rodeo. So when I was invited on a media trip around the city in late June, I was excited. I love exploring DFW and beyond, and I couldn't wait to see what makes Mesquite unique!




 Located about 40 miles east of Arlington, Mesquite is an eastern suburb of Dallas proper. As of the 2018 census, the city has more than 140,000 residents and is declared the "Rodeo Capital of Texas." The city has been named a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Founded in 1878, Mesquite even has its own airport. Mesquite got its name from locals who named the town after Mesquite Creek.

During the media tour, I was able to tour the Opal Lawrence Historical Park, a fun piece of Mesquite's history that is part of the National Register of Historic Places and a great local spot to learn about life in the city during the early Twentieth Century. Local groups (think schools, daycares, scouting groups, and so many more) can tour the historical property and learn about the family that grew up here. The house itself has been wonderfully preserved and offers a glimpse into life 100 years ago. The part my youngest found most fascinating (me, too, if I'm honest!), is that this house was occupied by members of the family until 1995 and did not have any indoor plumbing! Can you imagine? For more information, visit https://www.visitmesquitetx.com/business/opal-lawrence-historical-park.


We also got to see Downtown Mesquite, which, not unlike Arlington, is undergoing a revitalization. The historic downtown square is ready for new businesses to delight locals and visitors alike. We got to visit Bear Cave Coffee, one of the new businesses hoping to revitalize the square. We enjoyed listening to the owners speak about their passion for java while the kids on the tour were able to draw and play in the Cubs Cave, an area designated for kiddos inside the shop. For more information, visit https://www.visitmesquitetx.com/business/downtown-mesquite.


Other awesome places I highly recommend in Mesquite (especially if you are visiting with kids!), are City Lake Park (bring some seeds or other approved foods and feed the ducks or pack a lunch and play on the playground or bring some cash and splash around in the adjacent City Lake Aquatic Center, which charges an admission fee) and the Mesquite Arts Center, which offers lots of fantastic programming for residents and visitors. This is the awesome spot where we got to screenprint shirts, which was so cool and new for us! My youngest has been proudly wearing hers for a week now, telling everyone she made it herself. For more information, visit https://www.cityofmesquite.com/214/Parks-Recreation.


But certainly, if you do anything while you are visiting the Metroplex's other half, I recommend it be the rodeo. The Mesquite Championship Rodeo, we got to attend in June was literally my youngest's first rodeo, and it did not disappoint! Doors open about an hour before the events begin to allow kids to check out the Kid's Zone. Little Miss was able to ride a pony, pet animals, and bounce in a bounce house. She got her wiggles out so she could sit (somewhat) still and watching the cowboys in the arena try to last eight seconds on a bull, rope calves, barrel race and so much more.


The rodeo runs June to August and is such an up-tempo, high-energy event for all ages. The rodeo clowns are a hoot and kept us entertained during slower moments of the rodeo (hard to believe slower moments even exist the rodeo life is so fast and exciting!). There was an intermission halfway through, and kids were included in the show! During the second half, any kiddo who wanted could go down into the arena and chase after two calves that had ribbons tied on their tails. The two kiddos who snagged these ribbons won gift certificates to Shenaniganz in Rockwall. You could also sign up for a chance to participate in mutton-bustin', which my daughter was so bummed she wasn't picked for! (Names are pulled at random from all kiddos who sign up) We got to watch a few adorable kids try to last eight seconds on the back of a sheep! Throughout the rodeo, things such as t-shirts were tossed into the crowd, so she was always trying to catch goodies. The rodeo has drinks and snacks for purchase, as well as a number of vendors you can shop before and during the event. The last rodeo of the summer on August 24 even features a post-event concert by Clay Walker! Tickets prices vary but start at $22 for a given Saturday night's event. For more information, https://www.visitmesquitetx.com/p/events/mesquite-championship-rodeo



If you need a place to stay after the rodeo, check out the Hampton Inn & Suites in Mesquite- it's just a quick walk to the rodeo from there! (And the pool is great for kids!)


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*Please note, I was hosted in Mesquite by the Mesquite Visitors and Convention Bureau. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Photo-editing & the Digital Age: What is too much?


I remember, back in 2005, watching Carrie Underwood win American Idol. This was back when social media was barely a thing and American Idol was still a big deal. When she won, she was just a smalltown girl from Oklahoma. In the months that followed, she signed a massive recording contract, glammed up and slimmed down. I remember reading an interview with her in some magazine I used to love (probably Cosmo, as this article dates back to my younger, wilder, kid-free days!) about how she felt about having to succumb to the pressures of Hollywood. You know- about having to put in hair extensions, drop a bunch of weight, bathe in self tanner and so on down this line. Her response (this is not a direct quote, just me remembering it as best I can), was something along the lines of, when people turn on the TV, they want to see a pretty picture. If they don’t see a pretty picture, they change the channel. It’s all part of the game.

I suppose nowadays, with Instagram and Facebook dominating our daily lives, this rings even more true. If people don’t like the picture, if it isn’t pretty enough, glamorous enough, they swipe it away.

In an effort to put myself out there and ease back into the workforce (my youngest starts kindergarten this Fall!), I was hired to write for a new local Website. I was excited when the owner decided to take me on and was hoping to bring my knowledge of all things DFW and all things kid to her site.

She asked me to send her a bio and headshot to put up on her site, not something uncommon. I’ll be honest- I haven’t had a headshot taken of myself since my sorority days at the University of Missouri (and I’ll spare you the details about how long ago that was!). When people do ask for a headshot, I generally find a selfie taken within the last few months where I have on makeup and my hair looks decent and send that over. After all, I’m a writer (or an aspiring writer. Or whatever). The words you are reading are rarely attached to my face. Meaning I don’t have to look like Kate Middleton or Carrie Underwood (both of whom I absolutely adore and simultaneously envy the pants off of!) to be able to write a decent, coherent piece about… well, about anything.

So that’s what I did. I sent over a selfie taken a few months ago in front of the bluebonnets in Ennis. I’m pregnant (and I was then, too), so my cheeks are fuller. While I rarely leave the house without makeup, I prefer a more natural look, using foundation and concealer mostly to cover the acne that has plagued me my whole life and, more recently, the signs of aging I can no longer ignore. So, in this shot, I was wearing sunglasses and some makeup. My hair was blowing in the breeze (and the roots needed a touch up!). We had just hopped out of the car, so I wasn’t wearing lipstick. But overall, it’s a pretty good shot of me. One of my, all things considered, better shots recently.



I woke up the morning after I sent it over to an email from the site owner. The owner had friend-requested me on Facebook several days prior. I have a private Facebook account, and she had gone through my pictures (which is fine, I put them out there) and found one and sent it to her photo editor, and the editor had added a few enhancements to both it and the one I originally sent over, and did I mind if they used one of those?

Now, I’m eight months pregnant. Admittedly, I’m a reactive person. I’m passionate and often hot-headed and I tend to react before I really digest. But when I opened the email and saw the photos, my initial reaction was “What is wrong with me the way I am?”




Because the photos, especially the one they found on social media, were enhanced to a degree that the girl in the photos didn’t look anything like me. The one they so over-edited was a selfie of me on a rainy day at the State Fair back in September. It wasn’t my best selfie, but it was one I felt confident in sharing and portrayed me in real life. With the enhancements, I was wearing extremely heavy eye makeup. My skin was airbrushed to perfection. My lips, which are small and thin, were fuller and wider. The girl in the photo was gorgeous.

The girl in the photo, though, wasn’t me.

Even if I had Carrie’s full team of hair and makeup artists, I don’t think I could achieve this look. Not that I wouldn’t love to! But… It’s not me.

Even the one that I sent, the one of me with the bluebonnets, the photo editor took and retouched. Smoothed my skin. Gave me lipstick and blush. Added bangs. Again, to make the photo prettier.
But all I could think was… What was wrong with the photo the way it was?



I went to the contributors’ page on the Website and thumbed through the photos. Most of them were professional headshots. Perhaps a few of them had been retouched, but they didn’t visibly appear to be that way. They looked professional but natural. One writer had a photo where she was smiling to the point of laughing. She wasn’t coated in makeup. She looked happy and pretty and natural. She didn’t look retouched.

So why had they taken my photos and retouched them so much?

Genuinely, it hurt my feelings. I’m in my mid-thirties, and I’ve come to embrace myself as is. Sure, there are things I wish I could change. There always have been. My laugh lines are becoming harder to ignore. I’ve tried every product on the market to plump my thin lips. I have thin eyebrows. I have chubby cheeks. That’s just me. I have friends and a husband and kids and family who love me the way I am. Half my mom, half my dad. And now half of each of each of my three girls.

So what was this photo retouching, without first asking me, saying about my appearance?



My husband said the photo looked beautiful, although, he admitted, it didn’t look very much like me. He told me if I didn’t like it to tell the owner. To stand up for myself and say no thank you, don’t use these photos, please use the one I sent you as it was.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Was I overreacting? Was I making a mountain out of a molehill (something I often do)? Was I just hormonal and sensitive? It was, after all, a gorgeous photo that looked at least a little tiny bit like me.

So I posted the photo to my private Facebook account, asking for opinions from my 800 friends. The site owner, whom I had admittedly forgot was now a Facebook friend, was privy to the firestorm of responses that ensued.

The resounding opinion was that the retouching in itself was bad enough (that photo isn’t you, said so many) but without my permission made it worse. Some people questioned whether I should even write for the site. Many took it as I did- why did they feel the need to edit the picture? What was wrong with the average me? Were they really concerned people wouldn’t read my words if I wasn’t pretty enough?

I did have a few people express that I should just go with it. That life on the internet is all about putting your best face forward. I admit, I fall victim to it. I won’t post photos where I don’t look my best. I’ll take a picture 10 times before I’ll find one that I like. I share my bests. I boast about how well my kids did in school, the awesome vacation we are planning, the cool event we just participated in. I don’t talk about the nitty gritty of everyday life. Few do. I rarely see my friends posting about the fights with their husbands, the money struggles, the struggles with kids and bullies or kids and school. Social media, especially, is an account of your best life, with few exceptions.

The owner was quick to message me. She was sorry, she said. The photo editor is new and she will talk to her so this doesn’t happen again. She seemed to realize she made a mistake, even if it wasn’t intentional.

I had friends (some I haven’t talked to in years) message me, text me, comment on my post. Almost all telling me I’m beautiful the way I am. That I didn’t need these false image of myself out there. That I should demand more for myself, value myself more than some overdone photo of me.
But it wasn’t really that I needed affirmation that I was enough exactly as I was. I have a husband who regularly tells me I’m beautiful and girls who adore me even after my long runs where I look (and smell!) like something that crawled out of a sewer.

But it had me thinking more about the digital age, the age in which we are raising our kids. This age in which remastering someone’s entire look takes a $5 app and a few taps of a finger- and, most alarmingly, does not require consent or permission. Where, all of the sudden, being gorgeous beyond words and airbrushed to perfection isn’t just for magazines trying to sell you a new pair of jeans or brand of makeup.



Nope. All of the sudden, everyone can be crazy-glamorous without any real effort. We can alter the versions of ourselves we set out there into the world. I can take my selfie in front of the bluebonnets and retouch the background. Was I in Paris? Or maybe in front of the Taj Mahal? I could change the color of my hair or skin to look like someone else entirely.

I guess what I’m left wondering is, why, exactly? Why do we feel the need to alter our lives?
Instagram seems to perpetuate the worst of this. In this age where so many people are trying to become “influencers,” to get freebies or because it seems so glamorous to have thousands upon thousands of people turning to you for advice on what to wear and how to do your makeup or which vacations to take, how do we know what’s real? It took us so long to embrace that the images we were being fed in magazines weren’t real. Hips were trimmed and lips were plumped. Makeup was touched up and skin was unblemished. And it took us so long to say “Even the models in magazines don’t look like their magazine counterparts in real life!”

But now it’s filling up our Instagram feeds, on our phones and our computers and in our faces constantly. Beautiful pictures of beautiful people in exotic places. I once read an interview with an Australian Instagram influencer who admitted she normally took 200-300 photos before she got the perfect shot she retouched and put on Instagram. Three hundred photos? Are you joking?! And then you still retouch it before you put it out there? Who has time for that? So the photos I see of her, all dolled up and gorgeous and relaxed on the beach are completely fake. No way is she relaxed after snapping 300 photos! And she retouches the pictures, so perhaps her smile isn’t genuine, her chest isn’t that big, her hips aren’t that slim, her skin isn’t that flawless. I hit unfollow after I read that. I didn’t need to spend my days comparing even my best version of me with this version of her that didn’t really even exist, apparently.

But this is what our kids are seeing. These people who are famous just for being gorgeous on a beach somewhere. Who are holding sunscreen or mascara or pretty dresses in their hands as they lay casually on a beach. And because they aren’t “models,” they don’t walk catwalks in Milan or pose for the cover of Glamour, we are supposed to think, oh, this girl is just like me!

I follow several local Instagram Influencers in the DFW area, most of whom I have met in real life. One of them explained to me that I needed to get the PicMonkey app if I planned to be featuring a lot of myself on my Facebook blog page or public Instagram account. Because it would make me look flawless. Each time I see a stunning photo of her I cringe. Because each time, each and every single time, I can tell how much it’s been retouched. She’s beautiful, but she’s not flawless. She isn’t in her 20s anymore and doesn’t have perfect skin… But that’s not what you would think if you saw her on Instagram. Another Dallas influencer just started following my page so I flipped over to her profile. Several of her photos were so altered that the faces she had retouched on her photos didn’t even align with her actual face in the pictures. Literally, she looked like a creepy, crazy cartoon version of herself. Do brands really want to work with influencers like this?

Back to that photo…

I’ve saved it on my phone. The Website dropped me, citing creative differences. I guess that is putting it mildly, anyway. But I saved the photo on my phone to be a reminder. To remind me constantly that the way I am is okay. That these laugh lines have come naturally from a life well-lived. That the creases in my forehead have come from traveling with my family and enjoying the good life. That one or two coats of mascara is really all I need- no one wears that much mascara daily, especially not an average, happy-go-lucky suburban soccer mom.

But most of all, it’s a reminder that I have to lead my girls by example. I have to tell them- show them- that they are gorgeous and perfect exactly as they are. They have my husband’s fuller lips and his bright blue eyes. They have my round face and very fair skin. Maybe they’ll never be on the cover of a magazine, but they are wonderful just as they are.

Just like their mama.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Peppa Pig's World of Play- a World of Fun for Tots!

Peppa Pig is a character my girls have adored for many years. We used to watch her on PBS Kids back before the adorable animals with British accents were well known here in the US. We are thrilled Peppa has finally become a household name stateside!

Peppa Pig's World of Play opened earlier this year at Grapevine Mills, and my 5 year old and I had the opportunity to visit on Tuesday. Grapevine Mills is only about 35 minutes from our house in south Arlington, and it offers so much to do with kiddos! Our experience was every bit as fun as we anticipated!



A few things to know before you go:
~ No outside food or drinks. But there is a "picnic" area in the middle of the playarea with picnic tables where you can enjoy food bought onsite. You can buy picnic lunches for adults and kiddos as well as snacks, coffee and other drinks.
~ The World of Play opens at 10a most days (11a on Sunday) and closes at 6p most days (8p on Saturday, 7p on Sunday).
~ You are allotted two hours of play time with your admission. This is the perfect amount of time for your kiddos to enjoy the play area!
~ Closest area to park at Grapevine Mills is near Rainforest Cafe or Neiman Marcus Last Call.
~ It is $25 for one child and one adult. Additional adults are $5 and additional kiddos are $15. You can save 10% if you purchase tickets ahead of time at www.peppapigworldofplay.com

Peppa's World is an interactive, imaginative space for kids to roam and explore. Upon entering the play area (You enter by taking a "bus" to arrive, which my youngest loved!), you come to Danny Dog's Garage and Mr. Zebra's Post Van. Kids can ride bikes or trikes through a "car wash," gas up their bikes or sort mail in the back of the mail truck before venturing on to the sensory garden.



Next, you can enter Peppa's home and car and pretend to be part of her family! Kids can enjoy George's Dinosaur Discovery and then climb through Rebecca Rabbit's Underground Adventure (just remove your shoes first!). You can catch Peppa on the screen in the theater or jump in muddy puddles and watch Peppa and friends get all dirty in the interactive experience.

My daughter loved Peppa's Treehouse and George's Fort, both large climbing structures perfect for kids 0-5. I got to sit and watch while she explored. She loved the fort because it looked like a castle and had lots of fun features inside.



We also enjoyed the supermarket, where we had to look high and low to complete Peppa's family's shopping list. We then circled back to explore the school bus trip and Miss Rabbit's taxi. Peppa's world is really brought to life in this interactive World of Play!



There are circus tents to host birthday parties for true Peppa fans, as well as activity lanyards to add on to your experience and give your child a few more things to do and see inside Peppa's World.

We highly recommend experiencing Peppa's World. As a seasoned mom of three, I recommend this place most for kids 6 and younger. While my oldest daughter, who is 9, likely would have enjoyed interacting with her younger sisters here, this facility is a big, soft, safe playground perfect for younger ones. If my kids were still small, I'd be buying season passes!



Make a day of your trip to Peppa's and stick around Grapevine Mills for lunch! Try the food court or Rainforest Cafe. Shop at nearby Carter's or OshKosh. Let's Pretend Tea Parties is coming soon next door to Peppa's, making Grapevine Mills an awesome destination for all things kid!



*Please note- I did receive complimentary admission to Peppa Pig's World of Play in exchange for my blog and social media posts. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*