DIY Sensory Bottles – Cheap, Quick, & Easy!

Just a quick “toy” to make with so many options and benefits.  Who says that great toys have to cost lots of money!?

Below are the sensory bottles I made for Tayler awhile ago.  Since she could grasp toys, she’s loved things that make noise.  I found small 6 ounce water bottles at Meijer, took off the labels, and filled them with various items that make different noises when shaken. Once filled, you can super glue them shut (I haven’t yet though – Tayler still likes to chew on them and I hate the thought of any glue getting into her mouth!). They are the perfect size for infants to practice their grip strength and coordination, and a side bonus is they are great to take when traveling and you need 6 ounces of water to make a bottle! Some of Tayler’s favorites are filled with: corn kernels, coins, different beads, jingle bells, and coffee grinds.  She will shake, shake, shake for days!

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As our kiddos get bigger, however, there are several other ways to fill your sensory bottles.

Some other object ideas to fill with: 

  • buttons
  • feathers
  • paper clips
  • foam cutouts
  • rice
  • pebbles
  • confetti
  • dice
  • seashells
  • pipe cleaners
  • pom poms

Just about anything that’s small enough to go in, make some noise, and peaks the interest of your child!

Some other themed ways to fill your bottles: 

  • By color: fill several bottles with different items so they can practice identifying their colors.
  • By shapes: For example – dice for squares, buttons for circles, foam triangles, etc.
  • By season: For example – jingle bells, snowflakes, red and green pom poms for winter. Acorns, mini pine cones, sticks, and a few fake petals in autumn colors for fall.  Etc.
  • Add water.  It takes away the auditory element of not having water, but it sure does add a visual element!
  • Floating: add liquids and items of different densities – see what floats the best and what doesn’t!

If your child is big enough to open the bottles, make sure they are secured shut with hot glue or super glue.

If your child is developmentally ready, you could also use your bottles to open and practice counting items and sorting!

Get creative, have fun, and play, play, play!

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You Were Given Maternal Instincts for a Reason

I’ve recently read a lot of articles and blogs that talk brutally honest about “things they don’t tell you about being a new mom” – all of them accurate, informative, and things I can easily relate to. Things new moms should definitely know. Things like…

  • Despite your urges to try and clean or get things done, sleep when the baby is sleeping and don’t feel guilty for one single second.
  • You’ll find yourself scarfing down your food faster than you knew humanly possible.
  • Your boobs will be out. All. The. Time. And your stomach will frequently be sticky from the breast milk that Will. Not. Stop. Its very National Geographic.
  • You are in survival mode at first. You’re learning and your baby is learning too. Be patient. And if all you get done every day is feed yourself, feed your baby, and take naps on the couch together – so be it.
  • Your heart is now permanently worn on your sleeve. Everything will make you emotional. Seriously, everything.

The list goes on and on. One thing I didn’t see a lot about, however, was the maternal instincts that we as moms are blessed with. The “I can’t explain in words – I can’t tell you how or why I know – I know it defies all logic – I know I’m new at this but I just know” instincts. You have them, you’ve probably already heard them, and when you do – trust them. Yes, you’re a first time mom. Yes, you still have a lot to learn (that learning never ends). And yes, there are no shortage of “experts” who will tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. Be it doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, your parents, or a plethora of strangers who take it upon themselves to tell you what they think. Don’t get me wrong, many of those people will be incredibly knowledgeable and will give great insight and advice to soak in. But if that voice in your gut and in your heart ever tells you different, listen.

Women have been having children for thousands of years. They didn’t always have the consultants, doctors, and self-help baby books to read – and yet somehow, they managed. Obviously the quality of life and life expectancy of our children has increased dramatically since then, but the point is that being a mother and knowing what to do is an innate gift that we are given for a reason. We know ourselves, we know our baby, and we know what’s best if we trust ourselves.

This lesson has been tough for me. I’m a text-book first born child. I’m a little neurotic, I hate doing something “wrong”, I want to please everyone, and any confrontation scares the living shit out of me. This type of personality coupled with wanting to “be doing this mom thing right” per others’ standards all the time has been challenging. The first time a stranger stopped me to tell me I shouldn’t be out running with my daughter because it was too warm out (despite the fan on her face, shade over her whole body, it being only a 15 minute outing, and the laughs and smiles on her face) – I stressed over it for days and I was genuinely scared to take her back out on warm sunny days although I knew she was fine. (Don’t worry, I don’t let this stuff bother me anymore).

Then when Tayler was 5 months, we had two days that taught me my lesson for good. The two days that taught me to trust myself. Nothing major, but significant in my motherhood journey nonetheless. We had finished sleep training Tayler about a month earlier, and for a few weeks she had been sleeping 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. consistently. At this point she already had two teeth, and when those first teeth were coming in she was up every single hour for three nights straight. Her gums looked a little swollen, and you could visibly see the teeth about to cut through. She was a gnawing, drooling mess. Then randomly one night a month later Tayler started to act a little differently. She was a tad bit needier than usual, didn’t go down at bedtime the same, and was up twice that night. She wasn’t running a fever, she hadn’t just gotten shots, there were none of her normal signs of any new teeth, and her eating was completely normal. Everything checked out. My husband chalked it up to her just being fussy, and we should let her work it out herself. All the signs pointed to him being right, and despite feeling sick over it, I agreed. The second night was the same song and dance. She was up twice again out of nowhere and while my gut was telling me she needed me, I let it go and let her work it out herself for the sake of consistent sleep training. I barely slept that night, and when she started fussing to get up around 5 a.m. I couldn’t go get her soon enough. We went downstairs for breakfast, and as soon as I brought out the goods – there it was. A new tooth. For the past two days she was working on cutting that tooth with none of the same signs as her first two teeth, and because I didn’t listen to my screaming instincts, she was uncomfortable with a mother who wouldn’t show up to help her. I still get upset about it, and it pains me greatly to admit it.

Motherhood is jam packed with tough decisions daily. There’s always more than one perspective and viewpoint on every single issue. Sometimes you make decisions on blind faith, and sometimes its simple trial and error at its best. If I have any advice for new moms, however, it is to learn to trust yourself right from the get-go. You’ve known your baby long before the two of you met face to face, and whether you’re a first time mom or a fourth time mom, you know more than you think you do. Listen to those maternal instincts that you were given for a reason.

To illustrate the point that this is something all moms deal with, I want to share just a few stories from some of the incredible first time moms in my momtourage. Some of their “instincts” stories were much more significant than my own.

  • A mom was home with her brand new 5 day old, and her baby became increasingly fussy very quickly. For two days, her baby boy was screaming non-stop. The doctor’s office chalked it up to him just being a baby, and some babies cry. Mom knew something was wrong, and demanded an appointment. The next day after meeting with the lactation consultant and observing her nursing, they found that for two days her son hadn’t gotten any food. While he appeared to be nursing every few hours, he wasn’t getting anything and was essentially starving. Way to go momma – you knew better.
  • Another mom was in the same boat as above. Screaming and crying that she thought was atypical for a newborn, especially around times he was eating. Like the mom above, she fought for what she knew in her gut. After calling her pediatrician several times a week and continually being brushed off, she finally brought in a soiled diaper. Sure enough, he was allergic to his formula. Way to go momma – you knew better.
  • One of our moms had a newborn that was continually losing weight in the hospital and despite the advice from the lactation consultants, he wasn’t nursing well. In her gut she felt he needed a different schedule, but listened to the consultants in the hospital nonetheless. Once home, she let him nurse on demand at the schedule he wanted, and sure enough – he began gaining weight and nursing beautifully. Way to go momma – you knew better.

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating going rogue on your motherhood journey – the experts are experts for a reason. But when that beautiful gift of an inner voice speaks up, don’t silence it – listen. You were given maternal instincts for a reason.

Saving For College – Starting Now!

Planning for your children’s future college expenses can be very overwhelming.  It’s a lot of money, its a long way off, and there are so many options out there on how to go about it! One of the best things you can do, however, is start early.  Start big, start small – whatever you can do, but start now.  Even modest savings can add up.  If you invested $100 a month for 18 years, you’ll end up with around $48,000 (assuming an 8% average annual return)!

We did not seek advisement from a financial planner, so once our daughter was born I started to do some searching around. I wanted to know what options were viable for us, what advantages/disadvantages the different options had, and things to consider as we started mapping out how we are going to contribute to our children’s education.

I am not a financial planner.  Let me repeat that.  I am not a financial planner.  The information below is simply what I’ve come across in my search for our best option, and if anything, I am hoping to get you thinking about yours.  It is important to consider your own financial situation and circumstances.

Before you choose the best route for your family and finances, some basic questions to think about:

  • How much time do we have to save?
  • How much can we contribute at this time?
  • What do we hope to be able to contribute in the future?
  • Do we only want in-state options for schooling, or do we want options across the country?
  • How much risk are we comfortable with for our investments?
  • How much do we hope to cover? All expenses? We pay half, our child pays half? We pay four years and anything beyond that is up to them? Or whatever we can manage – we’ll see!
  • How much control do we want over the investments?
  • Is it important that you ensure the money will be used for college expenses?
  • Will we be the only ones contributing to the fund? Or are there family members who would like to contribute as well?
  • Will we be able to keep the money in the account, or are there anticipated future events that will make us withdraw early?
  • Do we need to seek advisement from a financial planner? Or is this something we can comfortably plan for on our own?

A few options to look into (not a comprehensive list!): 

  • Roth IRA. More of a last minute strategy.  Child must have their own income.
  • Pre-paid plans.  If your child is most definitely going to school in-state, lock in state tuition prices now.
  • Custodial accounts (UGMAs and UTMAs).  Set up a trust for your child and when they reach 18 or 21 depending on the state, they can use the money however they wish.
  • Coverdells.  Set up at a bank or brokerage firm.  Similar to 529’s below, but more restrictions on things like how much you can contribute, your income, etc.
  • 529 Plans.  Perhaps the most used, and for good reasons.  Sponsored by 50 states – you’ll need to check your state’s options and terms. These are easy to access and have great tax benefits. If you look into anything, look into 529’s.
  • Also check with your employer to see if they offer different savings options

Things to remember:

  • You most likely won’t need to cover all the cost.  There are federal, state, and private grants and loans to bridge the gap.  There are also many many scholarships out there!
  • Saving for your retirement is more important than covering all of your children’s college expenses.  Your children will have access to more sources for money for college than you will for your golden years.  Do not sacrifice any retirement savings!
  • Don’t think that putting money into a 401(k) will be held against you if you apply for financial aid.  Formulas used to assess need generally don’t consider retirement savings as available assets.
  • On the opposite end of the coin, don’t think that saving nothing will mean you should qualify for a lot of financial aid.  You will have been expected to contribute some with your income taken into account.

Below I’m going to share the route we decided to take, and the advantages it had that were important to us and our personal financial goals.  It is an example of a Michigan 529 plan, and if anything will show you different advantages, terms, and restrictions to look for.

We chose the Michigan Education Savings Program (MESP).  Some of the reasons we chose it are briefly listed below.

  • Tax Benefits. Contributions and any earnings used to pay for qualified higher education expenses are Federal and state income tax-free. Michigan taxpayers may also be eligible for a Michigan income tax deduction on contributions made.
  • Anyone can open an account as long as they are 18.  For example, your parents could open an account with your child as the beneficiary from any state.
  • Anyone can contribute to your account.  Think birthday and Christmas!
  • Nation-wide options. Whether your beneficiary decides to go to a private or public college or university, in-state or out-of-state, trade or graduate school, funds in the account may be used for any type of degree program at any eligible higher educational institution in the nation and many abroad, not just Michigan institutions.
  • Funds can be used for a variety of expenses. Funds can be used for tuition, mandatory fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance; certain room and board costs, and certain expenses for “special needs” students.
  • Can transfer to another beneficiary. If your beneficiary does not attend an eligible educational institution, you may name another eligible beneficiary for your account.
  • You don’t need a lot of money! The minimum contribution is $25 per beneficiary, per investment option. There are many ways to contribute including personal check, electronic funds transfer, automatic contribution plan from your bank account, payroll deduction, or a transfer of funds from another qualified 529 college savings plan.
  • No Income Limitations
  • Choice of Investment.  You’re given nine investment options so you can find one (or multiple) that fits your tolerance for risk and financial circumstances.  You can change your options once a year.
  • Low fees. There are no sales charges, start-up or maintenance fees.
  • Its easy.  Set it up online in a few minutes (as long as you have the beneficiary’s social security number), you can access it 24 hours a day, and many account transactions can all be handled online.

Take a deep breath.  Review your options.  Find the best fit for you.  And remember, start early – no matter how small! 🙂

The Family Countdown to Christmas and List of Ideas!

Can you believe December is only 12 days away?! I just finished putting out some Christmas decorations (yes, we are that family that does it before Thanksgiving), and stumbled upon our advent calendar.  Like a lot of advent calendars, I used to fill each day with a little piece of candy.  This year, however, I was totally put off by the idea.  First, I do not need any extra candy in this house (and why are we rewarding ourselves with junk everyday?).  Second, why not countdown to Christmas doing fun things together as a family? I know doing things together as family in December is far from a novel idea, but I thought I could share some ideas of things to do together and how I plan to set up our new advent calendar.

As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter is only 8 months – she won’t remember any of this! But if you want to do a Christmas activity countdown, this is how I plan to do it in the future (with an adapted version this year!).

No matter how much you plan and prepare, just remember life happens.  Kids get sick, tantrums are thrown, surprise plans come up, and early bedtimes are sometimes necessary – so have a flexible mindset and be sure your kids understand that too.  The countdown activities are things we hope to do each day, but if something comes up – that’s ok! Also remember this doesn’t have to cost money.  Ideas can be small and simple – the point is they are things to do together!

I used white post-its do jot down ideas.  They’re small, fit into our type of advent calendar, and can be easily moved around our big wall calendar as we lay out the month. (I wrote ideas down under the sticky strip so that once we were done I could fold them up with the idea hidden on the inside.  I also took our wall calendar down and laid it on the table so I could see the idea in each box).

First, look at all of your Christmas/travel plans you already have leading up to Christmas.  Think about city parades, when Santa will be at the mall, when your library will have Christmas activities, Christmas parties you plan to attend, etc. Jot them down on individual post-its. If you have a wall calendar, stick them over the days you plan to do them.

Next, count and see how many days are left before Christmas where you can fill in other activities.  That number will be your goal.

With your kid(s), sit down and brainstorm or look over a list of some things you’d like to do together.  First decide on what kinds of activities are best suited for weekends when you have extra man-power and time.  Fill those days in first, each on a post-it, and put them over the days you plan to do it.  Move on to weekday activities next, and do the same.

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Once you have your 24 days filled on the calendar, take a picture of it or write it down.  This will be really important for planning and being prepared for each week.  Before each week begins look over the activities and see if there’s any prep to be done or items to collect. Nothing worse than picking out the “make cookies for neighbors” activity and realizing you need to run to the store for supplies.

Once you’ve got the lay-out of the 24 days recorded, fold up the post-it with the idea hidden inside and transfer to the corresponding day on your advent calendar.  Although your kid(s) may have been part of the planning process, they surely won’t remember when everything is happening and will add a fun element of surprise for each day.

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(each activity tucked neatly inside!)

**Another way to do the countdown would be a chain link countdown.  Write down ideas on strips of paper, and staple/link them in the order they will be taken off as you countdown to Christmas.  Rip off a link and read its activity each day!

Below is a giant list of ideas.  Pick ones that best suit your family, and have fun spending this magical month together!

Weekday Ideas:

  • Write letters to Santa
  • Make cookies for neighbors
  • Watch one of your favorite Christmas movies
  • Make Christmas cards for family members
  • Make Christmas cards for soldiers
  • Make a playlist or CD with your favorite Christmas songs (beginning of the month to enjoy later!)
  • Have a sing-off or dance-off to your favorite Christmas songs
  • Read a Christmas book selected by each family member
  • Make homemade apple cider
  • Make your house smell like Christmas
  • Make green and red play dough
  • Make reindeer “food” for Christmas Eve
  • Color Christmas pictures
  • Cut out and hang snowflakes
  • Make ornaments
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Wrap gifts
  • Build a snowman (snow dependent!)
  • Go on a winter walk in a city park
  • Make gingerbread cookies
  • Decorate gingerbread houses
  • Check out Christmas books from library
  • Write letters to sponsored children
  • Write New Year’s Resolutions and put them in your stockings – open them next year and see how you did!
  • Christmas Eve church service (or any other Christmas Eve traditions already in place)

Weekend Ideas: 

  • Snowball toss competition
  • Go sledding
  • Make a living room movie theater with your favorite holiday movie (think lots of pillows, blankets, snuggles, and snacks!) Ok, so maybe do this one a few times! 🙂
  • Visit a tree farm and if getting a real one, pick out a tree!
  • Drive through favorite neighborhoods while in pajamas and rate your favorite Christmas lights
  • Bring toys or food to shelters, food pantries, or donation centers
  • Family Christmas pictures
  • Trip to the Dollar Store to pick out gifts for siblings
  • Family Cookie Decorating Competition
  • Go on Christmas Train Ride (location dependent)
  • Decorate your Christmas Tree!
  • Go to a Christmas Play or Musical
  • Try and learn a Christmas carol in sign language (youtube!)
  • Make your own Christmas Play or Musical!
  • Visit your downtown (if they have lights or events going on)
  • Have a sleepover around the Christmas Tree
  • “Elf” your neighbors
  • Have a runway show of your ugliest Christmas attire
  • Visit Santa at the local mall
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or place of need
  • Family “minute-to-win-it”  competitions
  • Have friends over for a Christmas party potluck

Just remember anything is special, as long as its done together! Have fun making holiday memories and creating your own traditions! 

The Thankful Tree

One of the exciting parts of having a new family is deciding what family traditions you’d like to incorporate.  The things you’ll do together each year as family, and that you’ll look forward to as the holiday season rolls around.  Traditions can bind a family together and are what a lot of kids remember most when reflecting back on their childhood.

Although my daughter is only 8 months old, I am all too excited to start our traditions this year.  No, she won’t remember them, and no, she won’t have a clue to what’s going on, but I figure it’ll give me practice so when she is of age – they’ll be perfect!

I saw the idea for the Thankful Tree on Pinterest, and fell in love immediately.  It’s easy, doesn’t cost much (if any) money, is something the family can do together, and gets kids (and adults) reflecting on what they’re thankful for in their lives.  Doesn’t get much better than that!

So here is my first stab at it.

I used: 

  • An old vase in the cupboard
  • burlap I had in the basement (tied around the neck of the vase)
  • sticks from outside (make sure they have lots of little branches!)
  • a black pen
  • my cricut
  • different colored card stock I had

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(It’ll be more full once we’ve written on all of the leaves!)

Seriously, so easy.  Luckily I had everything I needed, so it cost me a grand total of $0.  I used my cricut to cut the leaves you see below, but if you don’t have one, you could either:

  • print a leaf or different shape off your computer and cut them yourselves
  • use a paper punch (you could get a circle one from Joann’s for $10)
  • draw your own leaves or shapes

I put the leaves in a bowl with a pen so anyone can write things they think of down at any time, and once written on, they are hung on the branches.

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Some different ways you could incorporate the leaves are: 

  • Every family member writes on one (or however many) leaf at dinner time for the whole week leading up to Thanksgiving
  • Each family member is given a certain amount of personal leaves to write on, and a certain number of family leaves to do together
  • Guests or family members who come over could write on leaves when they come over
  • It could solely be a Thanksgiving day activity, where all leaves are written on the day-of
  • You could have a theme each day for the leaves (A person you’re thankful for, a toy you’re thankful for, an opportunity you’re thankful for, etc… )

How you do it is totally up to you and how you want to fit the needs of your family.

The last thing I think I want to do is get a little index card file box, and each year collect all the leaves and store them by year.  I think it would be pretty awesome to be able to look back one day and see how your lives and priorities have changed!

Enjoy!

11 Reasons Why You Should Rotate Those Toys and How To Do It!

Lets just jump straight to the goods. Rotating your children’s toys will not only benefit the play and growth of your children, but it will benefit you and your home as well! Here are some reasons why:

  1. It helps de-clutter your home.  The sheer volume of toys that are out will decrease, which will help keep your home looking somewhat like adults live there too.  Everything will have a home (which does not include your kitchen counter, under the couch, in your closet, in your dog toy basket, and in the hallway).
  2. Too often a child has too many options of toys to play with.  Too many options can lead to anxiety, frustration, over-stimulation, and feeling overwhelmed.  Adults feel this too when faced with too many options, and our kids are the same.  Simplify.
  3. Toys that have several pieces or moving parts will be used again.  Have you noticed that a shape sorter is rendered useless because the shapes are always nowhere to be found in the mass of chaos? A puzzle is pointless when half the pieces are missing.
  4. Fewer toys encourages focused play, not scattered play.  Does this image seem familiar: your child picks up a toy, looks at it for 20 seconds, drops it, moves to the next toy, looks at it for 20 seconds, drop its, and within 10 minutes they’ve gone through the entire playroom and they are bored.  Which usually causes them to go find things they shouldn’t necessarily be playing with or demand that you entertain them.  Fewer toys lets our children fully engage with a toy, learning its inner workings.  Skills and concepts can now be mastered instead of quickly being passed over. 
  5. Rotating toys allows your child to use the same toys in new ways.  Its exciting when a toy they haven’t seen in a month appears again.  Its almost like new! As they develop and grow, they can start using the same toys in different ways which encourages creativity and inventiveness.  
  6. Clean up just got a lot easier.  Instead of picking up an entire room of toys, you and your child have significantly less to pick up – which makes cleaning up a lot less overwhelming!
  7. You can more easily pick-up on what toys are ready to be donated or sold.  When there are less toys to monitor it’ll be easier to see which ones your child has outgrown. Condense, clean out, and stay organized.
  8. They will be engaged longer as their time is used more productively.
  9. Toys that were once overlooked and lost in the chaos will now be played with.  All toys are now more visible and available!
  10. It encourages independent play.  While playing with your children and engaging them is incredibly important, it is equally important for them to be able to play independently.  They’ll be better able to master this skill when they aren’t feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed.
  11. It provides a healthy attitude towards their toys.  When rotated, their toys are tools to play with that come and go – not their possessions that can’t be taken or shared.

If I’ve convinced you at this point, the next step is how to do it.  There are several ways, and you’ll really need to do it in a way that fits the needs of your home, children, toys, and family.  I’ll give some general suggestions and guidelines, and then you can make them your own! 

  1. Start by sorting your toys into categories.  Put those category piles spread out in a room. Categories to consider are things like: Stuffed animals, books, puzzles, games, costumes and make believe, stacking and building, sorting, music/sound, etc.
  2. Once you’ve got your toys into categories, bring in several clear, stackable bins.  (However many you think your toy supply will need).  Take the first category of toys, and put one in each bin until they are all gone.  Move onto category two and do the same.  The point here is that your children have different types of toys and skills to master in each bin.
  3. Take into consideration seasonal toys, toys that foster their current developmental skills, and their absolute must-haves.  When spring rolls around, bring out the bugs, balls, nets, etc.  When its summer, bring out shovels and pails, water toys, etc.  There are also some toys that should stay out all the time.  If your child is starting to sit, leave a few toys that encourage that skill.  If they are starting to pull up, leave out the toys to pull up on, etc.  And if your child has a toy or two that they love and have all the time, leave it.  No need to cause stress or anxiety.
  4. Decide how often you want to rotate.  Every week? Every day? Once a month? Once every few months? Depending on how much are in your bins and knowing your child, use your best judgment.  Do what works for you!
  5. Big toys will stay.  If you have a kitchen set or a tool bench, leave it.  Moving the giant things would get you frustrated with rotating real quick!
  6. Consider typing or writing up an inventory of each bin and taping it on the inside of the lid.  Helps keep track of toys and where they go.  Not necessary, but an option.
  7. Number your bins so you remember which ones need to be brought out next and rotated through.
  8. Make your children a part of the process if they are able.  It’ll be fun and give them ownership over the process!
  9. Tweak the rotation and organization as needed… your toys, uses, and circumstances may change – be flexible!
  10. Enjoy!

Celebrate the Moment

Now that the holidays are fast approaching I’ve recently started thinking about the new traditions our family would like to start and the perfect gifts to get Tayler for her very first Christmas.  How much will we travel? When will we be sure to spend time with just our family at home? What Christmas Eve tradition should we take on? How many gifts should we get Tayler? Not only Christmas, but a few months from now we’ll be celebrating Tayler’s first birthday. (Where does the time go?!).  How many people could we accommodate here? Do I want a certain theme? What kind of cake? How many presents? How much should I budget to spend?

After giving it all some thought, I found myself filled with anxiety and uneasiness.  Sad, huh? I found myself feeling pressure to put on some big, elaborate show.  For who I’m not sure, but my feeling nonetheless.  This pressure I was feeling to put on a picture perfect Christmas and first birthday was taking away from what my real focus should have been on – celebrating milestones and traditions with the people we love most.  Instead I was thinking about what her big gift should be, what kind of party favors would be appropriate, and where on Etsy I can find chic but kid-friendly decor.  Before Facebook and Pinterest I know the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” ideal existed, but now in a time when everything is shared for everyone to see, it sure does feel amplified.

What was the purpose of all these gifts? How are all these things and theatrics going to play into the growth and development of my daughter?  What was the message and feelings I want her to take away from future holidays and birthdays? What are we really celebrating here?

I don’t have all the answers yet, and I’m sure my thoughts will evolve as she grows up and I get a bigger dose of reality as a parent, but I do know a few things right now.  I know that consumerism is rampant and out of control, and I want to try my best to not feel obligated to play into it.  I know I want Tayler to appreciate what she has, and not feel entitled to a giant mound of gifts every time a holiday or birthday rolls around.  I know I want her to look forward to the love she feels through the people that celebrate birthdays with her.  I know I want her to feel joy from a few select gifts that have significant thought and meaning, not numerous gifts that mean nothing.  I know I want her to feel humbled by how blessed we are when we take some of her old toys to children who need them more than we do. I know I want her to find stimulation and creativity through giving the same toys new meaning, as opposed to needing new toys all the time to keep her attention.  I know I don’t want to stretch our budget just to fulfill some idea of what Pinterest tells me a birthday party should look like, when some of that money could be going into her college fund.  I know I want to create memories that are filled with laughter, love, friends, and family – that’s what she’ll remember.  

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I want to celebrate the moment, not the stuff.  I want to celebrate all of the joy she brought to so many lives during her first year, and the simple fact that we are fortunate enough to celebrate a first birthday with her.  I want to celebrate that special time at the end of every year where our family gets to stay in our pajamas all day, watch Christmas movies while snuggling on the couch, and share drinks, food, and laughter with those that fill our hearts.

I need to let that pressure roll off my shoulders just as quickly as I let fall there.  She will surely know how much we love her, and it will be through the time we spend together celebrating the moment.

Simplify.  Appreciate.  And be grateful.

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