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. 

When You Don’t Feel Like It

All day I have been planning on sitting down to get some writing in. It is now nearly 9 pm and these are the first words I am creating all day, minus the numerous text messages I sent out. The thing is I could of easily squeezed in an hour of solid writing, but instead I dilly-dallied, I mindlessly scrolled and consumed social media, and I watched unnecessary drama on the Bachelorette. The task of writing has been in the back of my head all day, but I seemed to put everything ahead of it. The 9 miles, the loads and loads of laundry, the dirty dishes, the grocery list, the dinner, the banana bread, the party planning. I think what I really needed today was to write. I needed quiet. I needed time alone, time to string words together. I needed the steady rhythm of finger tips tapping away. I needed to sort things in my head through. I needed reflection and revision. This is what I needed. But instead, I avoided it. I clicked on Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Netflix. Anything, but write. I did not feel like it today. I did not want to write another post that only my husband, mother, and a few kind people will read. I did not want to write today, but here I am, at 8:50 pm, writing. And with each passing word, I feel better. That is what I want to talk about today. How do we do the things that are good for us, even on the days or weeks or years when we simply don’t feel like it? That is a loaded question. And to be honest, I don’t really have an answer, but I have a few thoughts.

Right now you could probably name a handful of things you don’t feel like doing. I sure can. Going on a run. Making the bed. Folding all those loads of laundry I previously mentioned. Emptying the dishwasher. Waking up early. Eating healthy. Being kind. Reading a book. Writing. And the list could go on. Those last three might be the most surprising, but if I’m being honest, right now, kindness does not feel natural to me, nor does reading or writing. Here’s the thing, if I lived my days off of my current feelings, not much would get accomplished. I would eat a lot of sugar, watch Grey’s Anatomy, and be alone in my room. That’s the truth. Clearly, my feelings can’t be trusted. Watching endless hours of hospital drama and consuming lots and lots of sugar is not a recipe to a fulfilled life. This is why I have such a problem with the phrase “follow your heart.” Follow my heart? Really? My heart can’t be trusted. It’s broken, sinful, selfish. My heart will lead me astray. Every. Single. Time. Sure, it might feel right in the moment, but long term, the feelings of my heart won’t satisfy. Only Jesus will. I need to follow Him, not my heart. And the thing with Jesus is that He is in the business of people and serving. So following Him, naturally revolves around these two things. For an introvert, this is not always easy. Following Jesus is not always the easy thing to do, it actually rarely is, but it is always the right thing. My heart can’t be trusted, but He certainly can.

So, returning back to that question. How do we do the good things, the things our soul longs for, even when that is not our natural inclination? I think the first part to answering this question, is learning how to differentiate between what our human heart longs for and the calling of Jesus in our lives. This is a good time to mention that I do believe that these two things can and should line up at times. This is the mark of a mature faith that is immersed in the Word. However, I am coming more from a post-vacation mindset. We just got back from a trip to NYC. We had the best time, but I fell completely out of normal rhythms. We squeezed a ton into our few days into the city. We even made a relatively detailed itinerary to ensure we got all the things we wanted to eat, see, and do in. We had full, fun days. We stuffed our faces with lobster rolls and cookies the size of our faces. We rode the subway back and forth, all over the city. We ran along the Hudson River, did loops in Central Park, and walked all over. My Fitbit has never hit such high numbers. We did all the things, but there was a sacrifice. My quiet, morning devotional time. That vanished. We forgot to include that in the itinerary. And if I’m honest, it put me into a bit of a slump. I forget how important some of my daily patterns I place into my life are. I need time alone with God. I need to be in the Word daily. My heart gets weird without this. I become lazy. I desire tv over discipline. Especially as I recover from this post-vacation hangover, my daily patterns and routines become even more important. I need to get back into these rhythms. I need to wake up early, even though I definitely do not feel like it. I need to open my Bible, not Instagram. I need to write, even when the words seems to not be there. I need to run hard, even when I want to just stay in a comfortable pace. And most importantly I need to love. I need to love and serve the people in my life, even though what my heart really desires is to retreat and be alone. There are seasons where everything I listed above comes so much more naturally. I leap out of bed. I enthusiastically open my Bible. The words come easily. The miles do too. And kindness is my attitude of choice. However, again, if I’m honest, there are more days where this is not the case. This is where patterns of discipline become so important. I write a lot about routines and daily rhythms, and the reason is because they keep me on track. They help me to do the good things I need in my life, even when I don’t feel like it.

I know I began by saying I didn’t fully have an answer to the question, but I think this is my answer. Establish daily, weekly, monthly, yearly patterns in your life and stick with them. Do them with a no matter what-ness attitude. The thing that I love about routine is that it takes away some of the thinking and decision making. This could be why I thrived in high school. A lot of my days were determined by a pre-existing bell schedule. The bells have faded away. Now, it is up to me to create the bells, the rhythms, the patterns. All this to say, vacation and stepping away from normal life is a good thing, but if you’re anything like me, it can be harmful to step away from the patterns that keep you grounded and rooted. So, when you don’t feel like doing all the things, check the patterns in your life, check what is taking up your minutes, check what it is you are consuming. Are you taking in Truth or bad television drama? It may seem like a small choice, but it is these little choices that make all the difference. It could be that you need to make just a few small adjustments to get back on track. Or, it could be that you just need to do the thing even when every fiber of your body and mind is fighting against it. This morning, I had a long tempo run I was supposed to do. I have done this tempo run for the past three Wednesday’s, except I missed it this past Wednesday due to travel. This small break in routine, made me really not want to run it today. And along with that deep, internal feeling of dreading something, there were things that happened along the way that made me want to choose the easy thing: skip the tempo. I was very close to choosing this option, but something kept tugging me along. And I did it. I did it even though I lost a contact in one of my eyes, the route I normally do was completely closed off, and my breathing was much harder than normal. And here’s the thing: my pace was slower than previous weeks, my focus was slightly fuzzy (probably due to the fact I had clear vision in only one eye), and I wanted to just stop basically every mile. But, I did it. To me, this tempo was my best so far in training. Again, it was not the fastest one. I actually felt the worst on this one, but I pushed through. I did not let go of my no matter attitude. Outwardly, not the best performance, but inwardly, it required way more focus and discipline than the days where the miles and pace were effortless. The thing I kept thinking about when I was running this morning was about how a lot of people can do the things when it comes easily, but what really allows you to stand out from the crowds is when you do it on the days where every part of you is fighting against it. This is where true character is built.

So, if you’re with me, and don’t feel like doing all the things, especially the things you technically don’t need to do, you should. Run when it’s the last thing you want to. Write even when the words flow as slow as molasses. Just start, and you will find your rhythm, it might just take until mile 9 or the 1,000th word.

Routines Pt. 1

For the month of February, Saturdays will be all about routines.  This will be a four part series exploring ideas for morning, midday, evening, and weekend routines.  I am all about routines, especially recently with baby H.  Are you with me?  Do you love routines too?  Read on, then!  Are you more of a go with the flow type of person and tend to be against routine?  Still, I would say, read on!  I think routines are obviously going to look very different based on lifestyle, but I do believe routines are essential regardless of life status.  We all need them.  From the college student to the SAHM (stay at home mom) to the CEO to the freelance photographer, even to your toddler; routines are for everyone.

The Morning Routine 

I used to believe to my very core that I was a morning person.  I lived for early morning wake up calls.  I loved getting up before everyone else.  I loved the quiet and the early morning coffee time.  Don’t get me wrong, I never leaped out of bed ready for the day (except maybe for a select time in college when I had less responsibility).  I did however, want to get up early and enjoyed it after I was out of bed. Then I had a baby.  I was no longer a morning person, nor was I night owl; I was not really sure what I was.  Maybe an afternoon person.  Is that a thing?  It took a few long months for me to realize that the lack of a morning routine was really messing up my whole day and leaving me feeling cranky, unproductive, and dare I say, mad.  Mad does not look good on me, or really anyone for that matter, but the early days and months of Hudson, I was not as joyful as I should have been.  There are many reasons for this shift in mood and attitude, but I do think a large part of it had to do with not having a good morning routine that put me in the right frame of mind to face whatever that day held for me.  What works for you is likely to be quite different, but here are 5 general tips to start building your morning routine that gets your day started right.

1. Set an Alarm

Trust me, I hate the sound of an alarm going off as much as the next person, but I learned that even when you don’t need to, setting an alarm is one of the best ways to start the day.  Why?  I think part of the reason alarms can be so important to a morning routine is because they help you start your day off demonstrating discipline.  We are faced with thousands of decisions per day, research even concludes that the average adult person makes about 35,000 decision in a day.  That is a lot of opportunities to either demonstrate discipline or not.  By choosing to get out of bed when your alarms rings, you are allowing your first decision making opportunity one in which you are saying yes to your day and no to the comfort of continuing to sleep.  We often focus more on the big decisions in our day like where we are going, what we are doing, and who we are seeing, but tend to not to give as much weight to the smaller ones that fill our days.  These smaller ones are just as important and can make or break a day. All this to say, that setting an alarm is important and actually listening to that alarm is even more important.  I definitely have noticed a difference with my days where I stop or snooze my alarm versus the days I get up right when my alarm sounds.  Set an alarm, get up early, start your day saying yes.

2. Make Your Bed

I have gone in and out of bed making phases.  I sometimes fall in the trap of believing the lie: “I don’t have time to make my bed”.  Time how long it takes to make your bed.  For me, it takes about 1 minute.  Granted, we have a pretty simple bed, you might be fancier with more throw pillows and such, but the reality is that making your bed does not take long at all.  No matter how crazy life can feel, we can always choose to make our beds.  It seems like a small choice, but starting the day by completing a task is extremely satisfying.  In the matter of the first 10 minutes of waking up, I have already made two positive choices.  Gotten out of bed and made it.  When the morning starts rolling and the anxiety begins to creep in that I am a failure of a mom/wife/person and can’t get anything done, I can at least catch a glimpse of our neatly made bed and tell myself, “You made your bed! You’re doing awesome!”.  Also, a point of clarification, when I say make your bed, I don’t mean just pull up the covers.  I mean really make it.  Fold the sheets precisely.  Fluff the pillows. Flatten out all the wrinkles.  Be able to step away, not only feeling like you accomplished something, but that you did it with quality and care.  This makes a difference.  Try it.

3. Get Grounded

After making my bed, I cannot just begin on my to-do list.  I need to first ground myself.  Again this is going to look different from person to person, but the best and only way I know how to truly stay grounded and reminded of my purpose is spending time in the Word.  This will look different depending on the season I am in.  There have been seasons where I honestly was not in the Word.  And this greatly affected me.  Just like taking vitamins every day in the morning, reading scripture is a necessity for me.  I desperately need the Word of God to remind me who I am.  I need scripture to give me a more heavenly perspective.  Sometimes I read just a few verses, sometimes I read a Psalm, sometimes I read multiple chapters.  Regardless of season, the importance is being in the Word.  For me, part of my routine is also avoiding any screens in this early time.  Therefore, I always read scripture in the Bible during this morning time.  Again, this is just a personal choice, but I really enjoy physically opening it up.  About a year ago, Lance gave me the She Reads Truth Bible for a Christmas present.  I love this bible for many reasons.  It is pretty and inviting.  It has excellent devotionals interwoven throughout.  And the CSB translation feels very accessible to me.  Obviously, how your bible looks does not matter.  All that matters is the Truth contained within the cover, but there is nothing wrong in finding a beautiful bible, especially if it helps you get in the Word on a daily basis.  Maybe you are reading this and thinking: “getting grounded sounds great, but I am not religious.  I don’t even own a bible!”.  I could then go on to tell you that as an alternative, you could read a quotation that inspires you.  There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel like I would be remiss in not encouraging you to try reading scripture.  I love literature and I love a good quotation, but the words of an author simply do not compare to reading the living Word of God.   It is amazing how wherever I open up my bible to, I am met right where I am and given the words I so desperately needed to hear.  If this is something you have never done, I think the Psalms  is a great place to start.  Read just one verse, maybe read more.  God will meet you where you are.  He can ground you.

4. Find Your Morning Place

I sit in the same chair every morning.  I light the candle.  I pour my coffee. I sit in my flannel pjs.  Your morning likely will look different.  Maybe for you, you are already dressed in work attire and you are sitting in your car.  Maybe you are out walking on a trail.  Maybe you are lying on a yoga mat.  However you start your morning, I think there is something nice about creating a very similar atmosphere every morning, even if it lasts for just a few moments.  It does not need to get crazy.  It can be simple.  For me, it is a familiar chair, the flicker of a candle, and coffee.  Pick a couple things that will help create a morning environment that brings you peace and calmness.

5. Pray and Plan for Day

If you have just read a couple of posts, I think the fact that I am a woman of prayer and planning has come across.  I hope it has! If not, I am not conveying who I am very well.  My morning routine typically ends with me praying for the day and mapping out in my planner the tentative time schedule for the day.  I always start with gratitude.  I thank the Lord for giving me a new day.  I then pray for the things ahead in the day.  I pray for my attitude.  I pray for people.  And then I always end with love.  I tell the Lord of my love for Him and ask Him to help me better love the people in my life, and ultimately thank him for the love He has given me.  Also, just want to clarify this looks different based on the day.  This is real life.  I don’t want you to falsely get the idea that every morning I have a full block of time where I perfectly get to do everything I outlined above.  I don’t want you to think every morning I am in fervent prayer.  I wish I could tell you I was, but here’s the truth: some mornings, Hudson cries.  Sometimes (actually many times) I am interrupted.  Sometimes I don’t get to sit in quiet and converse with the Lord.  Sometimes my prayer time is simply “Lord, please help me” as I attempt to not break down as I try to console Hudson.  The point here is that, yes, some mornings I get amazing quiet time filled with scripture reading, reflection, and prayer.  Those mornings are great!  But the reality is that those mornings do not happen every day.  They may not even happen for days.  This does not mean that I throw out the whole routine and I hope I can get in good quiet time with the Lord tomorrow.  “Quiet time” does not always have to be quiet.  As I type this, I know that I am still attempting to learn this lesson.  I am learning to be okay with the noise and chaos and being out of control.  If I only prayed in the morning when I had 15-20 minutes of quiet, I would not be praying very much at all.  I hope these words can encourage you to be less focused on finding “quiet time” and more focused on communicating with the Lord regardless of how crazy or calm your morning looks.

Along with prayer, I also try to squeeze in a couple minutes of writing out time blocks for the day.  I am linking to a youtube video that has helped me re-think how I chunk my day.  She has some good insights that I found helpful.  Writing out my time schedule for the day, even if it does not go exactly as planned, helps give me direction and focus for the day.  By writing down what needs to get done, I am so much more likely to actually accomplish it! Also, sometimes I end up doing things that I did not initially write down, I try to record these once I finish them so I can give myself proof that I am in fact being productive, even on days I do not feel like I am.