12 Things to Do at Home with an Active Toddler

I know we each are affected by the coronavirus in very different ways.  Some in life-changing types of ways, and others in smaller disappointments.  I know there is this temptation to down-play our own feelings right now, with the preface of with everything going on, it feels silly to… or I know others have it a lot worse, but… 

I know that temptation well because I have most certainly felt it in the past couple weeks.  It feels silly to complain about a postponed marathon, when others are losing jobs, weddings, graduations.  It feels silly to complain about not getting to play at the park when we have a cozy house full of toys to play with. It feels silly to feel the pressure of keeping up with all the other moms that appear on social media to be handling it so much better than you. 

All of it can feel silly, especially in the face of death and unemployment.  But, it is your feelings and your situation, and it is okay to feel real sadness, disappointment, and anxiety over things that may feel small in comparison with everything else that is going on.  It is okay to own our struggles, even if they may be small.

With that said, in the past couple weeks my emotions have been all over the map.  I have felt a whole lot of disappointment. Disappointment over the marathon.  Disappointment in not being able to attend church in person. Disappointment over not being able to go that basketball game or have that couple over for dinner or attend that birthday party.

Then, I went from disappointment to determination.  Last week, especially, I was determined to make the best of these situations.  This means keeping my whole routine as normal as possible. These choices have helped the initial disappointment to fade, but it also has created some unrealistic expectations. 

The fact of the matter is that we are living in a global pandemic. This is new territory for all of us. It is new, weird, strange, scary, confusing, and uncertain. While I still stand on the fact that it is important to keep things as normal as possible and still goal-set and look ahead to the future, I am learning I need to add room for grace.  

To give you an idea of how my brain works… 

Circumstance: Race postponed.

Response: Keep training hard and run a sub-80 minute virtual half-marathon.

Circumstance: All classes, parks, museums, and stores closed.

Response: Be the best Pinterest-worthy mom.  Do ALL the sensory bin activities. Do a craft every day.  Read ALL the books on the shelves. Create fun learning experiences.  Avoid screens at all costs.

Circumstance: All restaurants are closed, except for takeout.

Response: Bake and cook gourmet recipes for every meal.  

Circumstance: Quarantined.

Response: I must learn to knit, organize every cabinet/drawer in the house, and finally finish Hudson’s baby scrapbook.  

Get the picture? 

Not a whole lot of room for grace.  This is new. This is weird. I am doing my best and God will fill all of the holes.  He always does. I don’t need to put added pressure on myself to be super-mom, super-wife, super-human. This pandemic alone is pressure enough.

Before getting into ideas to keep an active toddler busy at home (I promise, we are still heading in that direction), I wanted to preface it with the fact that I too am struggling and feel this weird sense of pressure to do all the things. I am learning daily that the mundane elements of our day: taking a bath, watering the grass, calling a grandparent are enough. We don’t need to get crazy.

We Are Still…

We are still good runners during a pandemic if our mileage suddenly drops drastically.

We are still good moms during a pandemic if we do not always have a scheduled craft for the day.

We are still good wives during a pandemic if we become a bit more reliant on frozen pizzas than we did pre-pandemic.

We are still good productive humans during a pandemic if we have not acquired a new skill and the junk drawer is still full of junk.  

Let God’s grace enter.  You don’t need to be all the things or do all the things or learn all the things.  Keep it simple. Keep folding the laundry, washing the dishes, reading bedtime stories, running, and cooking.  In other words, keep doing the normal life stuff you would do all the time, no need to add the pressure to become a gourmet chef, a Pinterest-perfect mother, or super fit.  

With all that said, here are some very simple things I am doing with my very, active, almost-2-year old that is keeping us both sane and happy, mostly.

1. Keep a routine

Keep waking up at similar times, keep changing out of pajamas, keep snacks, lunches, and dinners at normal times.

2. Walk/Run Outside 

Take the jogger out for a short run or walk around the block.  The days we go out for a morning run always seem better because it really breaks up the day.  We have been calling our runs around our neighborhood, “dinosaur runs” because we stop by a nursery with giant, metallic dinosaurs and Hudson gets to roar at them. It is the small things!

Also, the sunshine and fresh air does a whole lot of good for the both of us. If you’re new to the baby jogger, I have some tips on running with the stroller, you can find here.

3. Take Long Baths 

We now take baths in the morning and the evening.  If Hudson is acting crazy, the bath is always a sure way to calm him down and get some sensory play as he plays with the bubbles and his bath toys.  Typically, we will take a quick shower and rush out the door to our scheduled outing. It has actually been a real joy to embrace these slower, bubble bath type of mornings.  If you are looking for more bath activities, here are some of my favorite products that always make bath time more fun:

4. Chores Around the House 

There is always a chunk of our day scheduled for getting things done around the house.  I try to always incorporate Hudson. Sometimes he just watches me or wanders off to play independently in the playroom, but sometimes he grabs the broom or his pretend lawn mower and goes around the house “working.”  This is a win-win because I get things done around the house, while he imagines and helps me through play.

5. Bounce House

Set up something fun in your living room or playroom that is typically not up.  It could be a tent, a fort, a ball pit, or a bounce house.  We have this bounce house.  It is not very big, but it already has been a well-worth it investment.  As a family, we seem to always end up hanging out in the bounce house after dinner.  In these scary and uncertain times, I feel pretty certain I will look back to our evenings spent in the bounce house with great fondness. There has been a whole lot of laughter happening in that little house- Nala (our 80 lb. golden) even joins and things get real crazy.

6. Songs + Dance 

We usually break out the Greg & Steve tunes midmorning.  This is a fun way to transition between activities and is a great way to burn off some extra energy before nap time.  Here are a few songs, that are especially great for dancing with your toddlers:

7. Leave Things Out 

Here’s the honest truth, our house currently is chaos.  And this is entirely intentional. Part of it is laziness, but part of it is strategic.  There are TONS of invitations to play all over our house for Hudson. He can jump in his bounce house, he can color on his chalk board, he can pretend play with his trains, he can practice his baseball swing on his tee.  I am simply leaving things out all over to invite him to play. This creates a very messy house, but it is not like we are having guests over anytime soon and it takes the pressure off of me to constantly entertain.

8. FaceTime Family/Friends

This has been a great way for him to still have social interactions and see the people he loves most!  We have been doing this almost daily. It has been the perfect way for both of us to feel more connected. Not to mention, great for him to practice names.

9. Make Cards

So far, we have made 2 birthday cards and one thank-you card to our amazing pool man.  This is an easy “art project” and Hudson is at the age where he LOVES giving things to people he cares about.  We don’t have a ton of art supplies, so I have kept it really simple with crayons and card stock. For auntie’s birthday card, we even broke out the water colors.  I am not very creative or artsy, so making cards is a great way to incorporate some art + also teach Hudson the importance of appreciating those we care and love for.  

10. Scooter 

Self-explanatory. Lots of indoor and outdoor scootering happening over here.  

11. Mud Play

I will be honest, I have been on Pinterest more than ever recently.  And it gets pretty overwhelming. I am all about simple activities with few supplies and ingredients needed.  When I saw this mud play recipe, I knew it was perfect.  You just combine water, flour, and cocoa powder.  And there you go, the best smelling mud ever. It was perfect for creating dinosaur and truck tracks on paper.  

12. Window Clings 

If you are able to make a quick trip to the dollar store, they have really cute Easter window clings.  This was very entertaining for Hudson.  He especially likes the gel clings, which I am not crazy about because it attracts dog hair and H always ends up ripping them.  But it is just $1 and entertains him, so still worth it in my book. The day we brought them out, he kept going back to the window to rearrange the bunny and the chick. 

Okay, I am going to stop here. This is becoming too long.  Here is the bottomline: use this time wisely. Soak it in and appreciate it for what it is.  Sit in the quiet, the slow, the mundane. Don’t feel like you need to do all things.  Keep it simple. Invite your little ones along in your ordinary days and take lots and lots of bubble baths. 

Grace in the Kitchen

This mama needs grace in the kitchen.  I am a pretty average cook in the kitchen.  Thankfully I have a husband who is incredibly non-picky and gracious when it comes to my cooking.  He is the type of guy that is happy with a meal made up of quinoa, sweet potatoes, and brussel sprouts. He is not your average steak and potatoes type of guy.  And for that I am thankful! I can do veggies. I can do salads. I can do stir fry. Those are my things. I work well with vegetables. Chicken on the other hand is a different story.  I have a deep fear that I will serve undercooked chicken. I am always amazed when I watch cooking shows and they just seem to know that the chicken is cooked all the way through. I am the type of person that basically ends up cutting the entire breast of chicken before serving it up on plates because I am absolutely terrified there will be that ever-so-slight tinge of pink in the center.  I so wish I could be like those chefs that slide the chicken right onto the platter. I wish I had that type of chicken confidence. “Being a chicken” is typically considered to be the opposite of confident, but for these purposes, chicken confidence is someone who is so trusting in their own skills, they serve the chicken without even cutting into it. I long for this. Because what happens when undercooking chicken is your fear, you end up overcooking it by a long shot.  I never serve undercooked chicken, but I often serve devastatingly dry chicken.  I am not sure which is worse. Well, probably undercooked chicken because salmonella, but dry chicken is pretty depressing.  As I am sitting here thinking about cooking chicken, my memory is flooded with failure. I am brought back to my college apartment when I attempted panko-crusted chicken tenders and they came out of the oven looking strange and rubbery.  I think about cooking chicken on the stovetop and having beautiful golden crusted chicken with a middle that was entirely pink because I was not applying the right amount of heat or patience. I am reminded of battling with a rotisserie chicken uncertain as to how to navigate around all the bones.  Chicken often makes me feel inadequate in the kitchen. Actually there are a lot of elements in the kitchen that make me feel less than the perfect homemaker. Like, tonight, when I was “roasting” vegetables in a cold oven. Right when dinner was to be served, Lance went to take out the pan of veggies and found cold, sad sweet potato, zucchini and mushrooms drowning in olive oil.  Sometimes I forget to turn the oven on and we end up having to wait an extra hour for dinner. Sometimes I burn the quinoa, the rice pilaf, the fill-in-the blank. Sometimes I dry out the chicken. I am an average cook, just like I am a pretty average person. No matter how hard I try, the results of my cooking never seem to look like the images in Bon Appetit.  Just like my face never seems to look like the ones I see on Cover Girl commercials.  Or how my life never seems to look like those perfectly curated squares those bloggers post.  My cooking, my face, and my life are often not magazine worthy. All three of them are quite messy and dry at times.  But here’s the thing, I don’t stop. I keep making the dinners. I keep living our life. Do I burn things? Yes. Do I fall short? All the time.  But I promise you, tonight I will make dinner again and I will try my very hardest to remember to turn on that oven and watch that quinoa better.

The kitchen is just a microcosm for my whole life.  Some days I am going to feel like a Top Chef as I serve our family the perfect berry crisp after a turkey, brown rice dinner we all loved.  As my spoon scoops up hot berries and chisels into perfectly golden crisps, I am going to have those moments of I am killing this mom/wife game.  There will be those berry crisp type of days, but there also will be a whole lot of burned rice pilaf, cold vegetables type of days.  The beautiful thing is that on those burnt out and dried up days, we can rest in the grace of Jesus. He does not care that the chicken is dried up.  He cares about our hearts. When I mess up dinner, I need to remind myself that God does not see a burnt meal, he sees a heart desiring to serve her family well.  This is what matters to Him.

My bible has two ribbon bookmarks in it.  I love this feature because it allows one to be wherever I am currently reading and it allows the other to always remain in Proverbs 31.  For me, this is my grounding chapter that inspires me, but also points me to the main purpose of my life: fearing and serving the Lord. I know these verses have been reprinted on mugs and canvases and quoted often and even criticized at times for putting pressure on women to be a certain way, but the reason I love this chapter so much is because it reminds me that praise does not come from what I produce.  

The Proverbs 31 woman is awesome.  I love her. I love her selflessness.  “She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household” (Proverbs 31:15).  I love her resourcefulness. “She makes and sells linen garments; she delivers belts to the merchants” (Proverbs 31:24).  I love her boldness and decisiveness. “She evaluates a field and buys it; she plants a vineyard with her earnings” (Proverbs 31:16).  She is much more than a good homemaker. She is a business woman. She is smart and adaptable. She loves and serves her family well. While this list of everything she does can feel daunting and make us women feel like we are not doing nearly enough, the reason I love these verses so much is because her praise from the Lord does not come from all that she is doing.  It comes from being in right relationship with Him. “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). To me, this verse so beautifully captures my whole point that the small things in life, aka the chicken and rice pilaf, do not matter, and what really matters is our hearts towards the Lord. There are days where I feel paralyzed to even think about all that the Proverbs 31 woman does.  She rises in the night. I have trouble getting up at 6am. She plants a vineyard with her earnings. I have a dead garden and do not make money. She has everyone in her household doubly clothed. I sometimes forget to pack Hudson an extra jacket and hat. I could go on. But, I fear the Lord. And I love Him with my whole heart. This is what matters. This is what He sees. This is what my children and Lance will see and remember as well.

You might be wondering, how did we go from cooking chicken to Proverbs 31?  Hopefully I have not fully lost you because I think this is important. I think it is important that we are striving for the right things.  I think some (including myself at times) read Proverbs 31 and think well, I could never measure up to that standard.  I think our brains get filled with everything that is listed out that we do not hear verse 30 as strongly as we should.  A woman who fears the Lord will be praised.  It does not say a woman who has it all together and sews and gardens and cooks gourmet meals will be praised.  No. A woman who fears the Lord will be praised.  I can do that.  Not always well, but thankfully He gives so much grace in this area as well.  

All of this to say, I need grace in the kitchen, aka my entire life.  

Rest

This mama needs rest.  

Resting is something that does not come naturally to me.  I really wish it did because it is so important, but it doesn’t.  In the moments of my day that actually lend themselves well for rest, I seem to resist real rest in place of what I am calling “pretend rest.”  I think we all have a tendency to do this.  Last night, I had an unexpected window of free time.  This could have been an ideal time for rest.  I could of curled up and read more of my book.  I could have just laid down and turned on a show.  I could of just closed my eyes for a few minutes and prayed.  I could have done all these activities of rest, but instead I chose “pretend rest.”  I chose to fold the laundry, while watching “Tidying Up.”  What I really wanted to do was just lay there and watch Marie Kondo perfectly fold laundry, but that is too restful.  I must do that plus something productive.  Why do we do this?  In my life, I seem to always blend rest with what actually needs to be accomplished, which ultimately results in mediocre rest.  I don’t want mediocre rest. I want real rest.  I want the type of rest where you just nap in the middle of the day, not because you are sick, but just because.  I find the only time I truly grant my body rest is when it is fully in need of it.  When I am hit with terrible body aches and feel sick, then I can just lay there and rest.  However, if I am feeling good, I forget that I am still in need of rest in the middle of my days. I need to better grant myself permission to fully rest, not pretend rest.  Pretend rest looks like folding laundry and watching a show.  It looks like laying down while going through emails.  It looks like emptying the dishwasher while listening to a sermon.  Don’t get me wrong, these things listed above can be great ways to get things done while also relaxing or doing something more fulfilling, but I think the issue is when we deem these things as our true rest.  Rest plus something else cannot equal pure rest. Rest alone equals pure rest.  It is that simple.

I need a lot of grace in this area of my life.  I need to not just rest and turn everything off, I need to rest in the fullness of what God has already accomplished and done for me.  Everything I could do will never be enough.  It will never save me.  I am enough and I am saved solely through the grace of God.  I was reminded of this truth as I read Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:5-8 earlier this week:

“You are saved by grace!  He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift- not from works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:5-8).

I feel like I can end this here.  There is not much else I can write that is not perfectly captured in those verses from Ephesians.  It is all God.  It is all grace.  And it is all good.  We are so little and are to-do lists are so insignificant to what has already been accomplished.  Therefore, there is no point in filling our time with pretend rest when what we truly need is to fully rest in the goodness of God and his ever-sufficient grace.

This Mama Needs

This mama needs a lot of things. Coffee, patience, rest, gratitude, exercise, time. Amongst those things, the first and most important is Jesus and His abundant grace. I need His new mercies every. single. day.  Actually, I need them every single moment. Becoming a mom has shown me a lot about the current state of my heart.  It has shown me I am more selfish than I realized. That I have way less patience than I thought.  And it has ultimately shown me the really ugly parts of my heart that I have not needed to deal with for a while.  Becoming a mother has shown my deep insecurities.  It has revealed a heart that is so attached to the approval of humans. It has shown how uncomfortable I am at getting out of comfort zones.  It has shown me my longing at being perfect for my own self glory. Before Hudson, I could much better pretend that I had things together.  Now I have a 4-month old that is not intuned to my ever present needs to be perceived as perfect.  I have lost all control and through this loss I am left with a heart that is full of anxiety, stress, and insecurity.  This mama is tired. This mama is burnt out at trying to be perfect. This mama needs grace.

I feel so overwhelmed with this new role of motherhood.  While I also have a new type of joy I have never felt before, I also am living through a season where my needs are outweighing my haves.  Thankfully I only need one have: Jesus.  And I already have Him.  He has me.  And while I have a mighty long list of needs, I can rest in the knowledge that Jesus knows each of my needs and His love for me remains constant. My prayer is through this blog of grappling through my own ever-present need for Jesus’ abundant grace, that you too can remember that even when it feels like you have nothing together, that God loves you with a crazy love and He showers you with grace in all of your imperfections.