The Joy of Traveling With Our Children

This post is sponsored by Holiday Inn brand. As always, thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that make this blog possible!

A few stray Fruit Loops add a pop of color on the tan leather seats in the minivan. Crushed Cheerios are now woven into the dark fabric of the floor mats. And a handful of gooey, melted fruit snacks are wedged between the car seat buckles and underneath their bases  -- all stale yet fresh reminders of our first road trip as a family of five.

It's funny how traveling changes once you have kids.
Road Trip with Kids
Years ago, we'd hop in the car and stop wherever it took us with no real agenda.

Now we plan our sight-seeing around nap times, convenient locations with access to kid-friendly amenities (like a good breakfast with coffee...lots of coffee for us.) and family-friendly entertainment.

To be honest, life with three kiddos still seems a bit surreal at times. It's been a whirlwind adding three daughters to our family (two via adoption and one via pregnancy), and as exhausted as we are from our first family road trip this weekend, we had so much fun together!

The heaps of dirty laundry waiting for us -- the missing shoes, the dirty bottles and sippy cups, the pile of mail waiting to be sorted -- they're worth it all to see new places through the enthusiastic and eager eyes of our daughters.

The joy of traveling with our children is something we'll never take for granted. Especially because we weren't always sure we'd be able to have children in the first place. Now, we get to experience the world through their eyes, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

We've been to Chicago a handful of times [I was there with some girlfriends last year]. But spending Father's Day weekend in Chi-town as a family gave us a great opportunity to connect with our children and see the city a bit differently than we have in the past...

What we saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago
A 2-hour wait outside Lou Malnati's Pizzeria for dinner a few blocks from the hotel.

What our kids saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago
The perfect opportunity to hop on Dad's shoulders and see trains, people and cars from a higher vantage point.

What we saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Cubs
A traffic jam outside Wrigley Field (thank you, construction), a lucky parking spot across the street from the stadium and the sun beating down on our sweaty selves while lugging two strollers up and down staircases inside the ballpark.

Oh, and the diamond where catcher Willson Contreras hit a home run in his first major league at-bat. ;)

What our kids saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Cubs
Lots of Cubs fans, green grass, and BASEBALLS. And a big open space to throw Fruit Loops (Sorry, baseball patrons, if you lucked out and sat in one of the many piles of fruity O's our two toddler's left behind...).

What we saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Holiday Inn
Gorgeous views of the Chicago skyline outside the front doors of the Holiday Inn hotel.

What our kids saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Holiday Inn Hotel
Trains. Lots of trains to wave at. All. The. Time.

What we saw:
Much gratitude for the kind folks with the Holiday Inn hotel for hooking us up with tickets to Shedd Aquarium so we could bypass the long lines and big crowds. Apparently everyone wanted to visit prior to a big country concert across the street.

What our kids saw: 
Travel With Kids - Chicago Shedd Aquarium
Fun family time at an afternoon aquatic show learning all about water habitats, penguins, belugas and fish.

What we saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Holiday Inn Hotel
A thoughtful, complimentary sugar high left in our hotel room after we arrived back from dinner. And a potential mess ;)

What our kids saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Holiday Inn Hotel
A sweet, giggle-invoking snack with lots of sprinkles to eat in their PJs on top of comfy beds.

What we all saw:
Travel With Kids - Chicago Holiday Inn Hotel
Countless adventures as a family; lots of laughs, a little sleep, lots of coffee and a fantastic breakfast buffet...but perhaps best of all, memories we'll treasure for a lifetime.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.


Surprise At The Supermarket

Surprise At The Supermarket
It was a Sunday.

We had a stack of legal documents from our attorney we needed notarized.

You see, we've been trying to sell our house for eight months, and for one reason or another it hasn't panned out.

But on this particular Sunday, we were optimistic that a close date was pending our signatures in the presence of a notary. So that's what we set out to do.

We made a few phone calls, piled our crew into the minivan and drove 30-minutes to a branch of our credit union tucked inside a local supermarket.

Get the groceries purchased for the week and finish up house documents in one trip? Psshhhyeah! That's a no-brainer.

By the time we were able to lug ourselves, our kids and the paperwork inside the store, though, we had a 20-minute wait at the bank. And -- as if on cue -- two of our three girls started crying.

Their tummies were rumbling. They were hungry.

So we chauffeured them to the in-store restaurant and ordered an early lunch.

As we sat down, I noticed an older couple starring at us.

While our 1-year old was screaming for mac & cheese in her highchair, our 2-year old dumped ALL THE SUGAR PACKETS onto the floor and started stomping her feet when we told her she couldn't eat them. After 30-seconds of unintelligible shrieking she announced to the entire restaurant: "GO POTTY, GO POTTY!" And as if there wasn't a minute to spare, my husband shot up from the table, grabbed her and ran to the bathroom while our 1-year old continued screaming for mac & cheese and our 2-month old started wailing for a bottle I still had to shake up.

It's no wonder that couple keeps starring at us, I thought.

When my husband and our 2-year old made their way back to the table, we exchanged high-fives, finished a quiet-ish version of the "Potty dance," and then it happened.

That older couple that kept glancing over at us? Well, that woman was now standing at our table looking at us through her bronze-rimmed glasses with a smile on her face.

"Do you do foster care?" she asked calmly as she leaned down to get a better glance at our 1-year old pounding her hands on her highchair tray as if to be louder than our 2-year old who was back to counting dozens of sugar packets on the floor.

Chris and I looked at each other. We had a feeling we knew where this conversation was going.

As a transracial family, we've had people assume we saved two at-risk kids from an awful home life. We've had people assume we rescued them from a poverty-stricken orphanage in a third-world country. We've had people assume they weren't our children.

So when this woman asked us if we were foster parents, I felt my internal defenses go up in full force.

"No, we aren't foster parents," I said. "Maybe someday!"

My answer wasn't good enough for her, though.

"Did you adopt them?" she pressed some more.

"Where are they from?" she pried.

I answered politely; Yes, we adopted them. The one on the floor obsessed with sugar packets? She's from Texas. And this one screaming in the highchair for her mac & cheese? She was born a couple hours away.

And just when I was about ready to shut the conversation down, she told us her daughter's family had adopted from foster care. They, too, were a blended, transracial family.

Then she said words I will never forget:

"We've been watching you and think you're doing a great job with all of your girls. You've been so patient with them, and you're just doing a marvelous job."

The waiter brought out our lunches, and tears started welling up in my eyes.

Not because my daughter finally had her mac & cheese on the table in front of her, but because this woman -- a complete stranger -- was so gentle and genuine with her words. Because this woman -- who I unfairly assumed was going to make her own unfair assumptions about my family -- only wanted to tell us we were doing a good job. Because this woman -- who I'll probably never see again -- has no idea how badly her words were needed and how powerful her validation was for us.

The truth is, having 3 kids under the age of 3 is amazing, but sometimes it's really stressful. It's hard and chaotic and fun and exhausting all at the same time.

And sometimes, when you're feeling like you're not cut out for this whole parenting gig -- when you're overwhelmed and ready to throw in the towel -- when you feel like the world is looking at you and judging the chaos that has become your life...a complete stranger will show up in front of you. She'll look you point blank in the eyes and tell you YOU ARE ENOUGH. You are MORE THAN ENOUGH. You are GOOD. You are GREAT. And your children? They're beautiful.

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In An Instant

Mom's Lessons From Children's Hospital
In an instant, all of our comforts and familiarity can slide out from underneath us.

Trust me. We know.

A few months ago -- while we were already navigating some complications with my pregnancy -- we found ourselves at the local children's hospital trying to process some hard, unexpected news about one of our daughters.

We watched our beautiful, courageous girl get pricked and prodded with more needles and blood draws than I can count. The 3-hour appointment felt like an eternity.

We waited tirelessly by our cell phones day-in and day-out to receive updates on test results and referrals for specialists.

We scheduled appointments and waited, scheduled more appointments and waited.

We put on brave faces for our daughter while she underwent uncomfortable and scary procedures that no child should have to go through.

We cried. We cried a LOT.

We held onto hope that we were not being thrown more than we could handle, and prayed that our precious daughter would be okay.

That we would all be okay.

We were tired.

We were worried.

To say this particular season was isolating and overwhelming and terrifying and emotionally draining...those are all understatements.

The emotions we processed were hard. The list of possibilities we could expect in the future was daunting. We found ourselves digging deep into a pot of strength we didn't even know we had.

We leaned on family members and a handful of dear friends for support, childcare and unexpected but thoughtful pick-me-ups like meals and snacks and flowers to help us feel like we weren't completely falling apart.

Those moments and these people made our daughter smile; they made us remember that even in the midst of chaos and hard times -- very hard times -- there is still so much good.

In the past few months, we've gone through various procedures and testing. We've put on brave faces even though our hearts were breaking.

And while our daughter will be okay -- we'll all be okay -- we've been reminded that not all children are.

And not all families are so lucky.

We've seen families in the lobby of the children's hospital in tears. We've seen parents on cell phones pacing the hallways. We've seen courageous faces of beautiful children in wheelchairs getting on and off elevators. Waiting to get labs drawn. And clenching the ribbon of a bright balloon bouquet as they make their way back to their home away from home in the hospital.

We've watched parents in waiting rooms with tired, worried eyes brew pots of coffee at all hours of the day.

We've walked by the chapel and prayed not just for our daughter and our family, but for every family facing a level of uncertainty and fear; for every family in a season of waiting. In a season where they, too, may feel overwhelmed.

If you are one of those families, my heart and my prayers are with you.

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