Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guarding my daughter's heart

Want to meet a real momma bear? Talk to me! You will never find a fiercer child advocate. I love my daughter beyond comprehension (as do many parents with their children), and I will do absolutely anything to keep her safe and secure. Especially in the wake of the chaos and back-and-forth that she's forced to endure as the product of a split family.

What kinds of things do I do to protect her? Let's walk through a few!

1. Tell her that I love her no matter what. I recently read a great book called The 5 Love Languages of Children, and I highly recommend it for every parent. It stresses that each child has different ways that they feel loved, and it's up to us parents to recognize those needs and consider how our actions will make our children feel. Some children have many love languages; some have 1 or 2 that really speak to them. Kimmy has some of them all, at least right now.

The main theme of the book, though, is this: your child needs to know, hands down, unequivocally, fully, always, that you love her...no matter what. It's not tied to actions, behaviors, physical things, money, mood, stress, or any source of outside influence. Kimmy loves to talk--not just to talk, but to engage in back-and-forth conversation with question after question fueled by her curious little mind and often even if she already knows the answers. That lets me know that one of her love languages right now is words of affirmation. I tell her frequently that I love her. Even if she's mad or I'm mad or something's not going right. I let that little sentence--"I love you, Kimmy."--stand all by itself.

2. Give her structure and a solid routine. I can't control what goes on outside our house, but I can control our home. Toddlers are emotional little beings, full of fluctuating levels of feeling understood, appreciated, and confident. I happen to be blessed with an incredibly articulate little girl who is low on the mood swing and tantrum spectrum. (In lamen's terms, she's an old soul and has this amazing aura of emotional maturity that very few toddlers have. So cool to witness!)

However, as a child of custody and visitation and being passed back and forth and having her comfort disrupted, she is susceptible to deep unsettling feelings on the inside. I see it when she bursts into crocodile tears once in a blue moon when I come home for lunch and have to leave to go back to work. I see it when she stalls at bedtime and bolts up to ask in a slight panic, "Am I staying at Kimmy's house tomorrow?", "What am I doing tomorrow, Mommy?", or "What time/day is it? Do you have to work tomorrow, Momma?" At our house, she is safe and secure. We have rules and bedtimes and regular meals. We have playtime and talking time; reading time and praying time. Kimmy and Mommy's house is safe and sound.

3. Give her thoughtful surprises! This is my favorite thing to do as a mom. Every time Kimmy comes back home from being at her dad's, I make sure to do a little something to welcome her home and let her know how happy I am to see her again. It's not about gifts or spending money; it's about being present in my daughter's life--showing her that her heart, time, thoughts, ideas, and actions are safe with Mommy. I don't want her to ever be spoiled or to expect things, so I mix it up a lot and make sure that I'm giving her a wide array of little surprises and activities. The point is to make her feel loved and to welcome her back into quality time with me with open arms.

Here's a list of some of the things I've done so far:

  • Pick up a fresh stack of books from the library
  • Grab a donut with chocolate and sprinkles (Kimmy's favorite kind)
  • Get a decaf Frappuccino and pour some in a kid cup, then scoop all the whipped cream on top just for my little lady
  • Clean her room and lay out a favorite pair of PJs to wear at bedtime
  • Write her a card and let her open it when she gets home
  • Bake cookies or muffins and have them ready for her
  • Go straight to the playground when we get home
  • Set up a coloring station on the dining room table to spend time talking and coloring
  • Visit the grocery store, let Kimmy push the cart (seriously, Kroger and Sam's Club are her 2 favorite places on earth right now), let her carry in a bag when we get home, and let her put the items in the bag away. (Okay, I'm aware this one sounds lame, but she loves doing this. I can tell it makes her feel so important, and she knows she will have yummy things to eat at her house when we arrive!)
  • Put out all the ingredients for dinner and let her help me cook a meal (even if it takes 4 times as long and my hair turns gray in the time it takes for dinner to cook)
  • Tell her a surprise (like plans I've made to do a future fun thing...in this case, Disney) and spend time looking at pictures and videos of said fun place online
  • Give her my phone to play with for a little while when we get home. Those eyes light up, and she always feels so special that she gets to use something of mine!
I imagine this could get hairy if I ever surprised her with something drastic like re-arranging the living room or getting rid of half her toys. That would kind of defeat the purpose of welcoming her back to a safe place. For a more drastic surprise, I would probably have to create a longer period of easing her into it...or just un-surprise it and let her help me with whatever the drastic thing is. More on this later, I guess. For now, those happy smiles and excited words at all the little surprises are all my heart needs to know I'm doing something right.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Single momma crash course: how to do Disney for 2 for $1,500

It's no surprise that my 20-something self is broke as a joke more often than not. I'm still in that awkward financial phase where I'm finding my footing and paying off debt like crazy to be free from the stress.

I've also got a severe case of wanderlust. More so than any other person I know, I'd venture to say. Couple that with the forced routinization of raising a toddler, and I'm absolutely desperate to travel and explore at all times with little need for justification or external motivation.

So, imagine my surprise when I received an email from Frontier Airlines nearly a month ago advertising $29 flights to/from many major US destinations. YES, PLEASE!

I tried to talk myself out of it. I tried to refrain from digging deeper and doing that research. I just couldn't stop myself, though. Nope. Couldn't do it.

I booked that IND --> ATL flight for my daughter and me for $166 (taxes and fees included), and I haven't looked back since. One heavenly week in August on the books, and we're Georgia/Florida bound. Let the vacation planning commence!

Mmk. So I've been dying to go to Disney World since I had my precious daughter. As she grew, so did her love for Disney movies and Disney characters and all things Disney. And, I mean, I haven't been to Disney in 10 years now, so I thought, "Why not?" But, wait. Atlanta is not Orlando, right? Right. After running through all my options and trying to optimize on having the ultimate flexibility on this trip, I opted for getting a rental car to travel from ATL to Orlando. I actually discovered that it was cheaper to rent a car for the entire week than to rent it 2 separate times to travel from the Atlanta airport at the beginning of our trip and again to Atlanta at the end. This immediately opened up a world of possibilities for maximizing our fun!

Let's talk budget. I'm determined to do this trip and clock in around $1,500. I may sound crazy, but I think it can be done.

One little tidbit before I delve into numbers: I'm working on repairing my credit--an ongoing goal. I'm doing well, so I keep getting these pre-approved credit card offers in the mail. I did a lot of research, especially where creditkarma.com consumer reviews are concerned, and I decided to sign up for a credit card that offers a pretty generous 9-month introductory 0% APR period. This will allow me to "pay" for and plan most of my trip in advance and pay it off on a rigorous schedule after we return to still come in under the cut-off for the no-interest period. I'll be drastically improving my credit by making these monthly payments on time, I'm going to be careful and closely monitor my balance, and I'm going to have the peace of mind needed to enjoy my daughter's birthday at Disney and not blow the bank. This was a really good decision for me! I feel confident with this little cusion under me.

1. Airfare was step 1. Easy peasy.

Total cost (including tax, fees, and baggage): $166

2. Like I said, we'll be traveling for my daughter's 3rd birthday. ("But she might not remember your trip! Don't do it! She's much too young!" Don't care. Your advice is not solicited or welcome. She will have an amazing time while we're there, and so will I. Also, we will have amazing pictures to look back on, and we'll cherish them always. Oh, and did I mention we're saving about $300 by taking advantage of doing Disney at her current age?) Our first Disney day is August 6, and Kimmy turns 3 on August 7. It's no secret that for Disney World guests under the age of 3, their visit is on Mickey Mouse. Fuh-ree! I talked to a Cast Member through Disney's online chat and confirmed in writing that since she'll be starting her visit at age 2, she's going to be free for her whole trip. Boom! Park-hopping would be overwhelming with a toddler, so not having to spring for that option on my ticket offers even more savings. I purchased my 5-day Disney base ticket from Undercover Tourist and saved about $13 off the Walt Disney World website's cost. They're an authorized vendor, so I'm good to go without worrying that my ticket is a gimmick. In fact, I've already successfully linked it to My Disney Experience account!

Total cost (including tax and fees): $321.95
Running total: $487.95

3. I booked our rental car not long after purchasing my Disney ticket. I used ebates to get my cash back, and I went with the always-reliable, always-economical Enterprise. 7-day rental: check!

Total cost (including tax, fees, and a toddler car seat): $373.41
Running total: $861.36

4. With the flexibility of having a rental car in mind and the ability to drive beyond the realm of Orlando with ease, I reached out to an awesome friend in Tampa, who agreed to host us for 3 of our 6 nights of travel. (Side note: never cut ties with people who were once great people in your life, even many years ago. This summer camp friend and fellow arts lover has popped up with an amazing act of generosity at a really cool point in our adult lives, and I'm so excited to see her again! Bonus awesome thing: her name is also Kelsey. Very cool.) Next, I scoured the web for hotel deals for our remaining 3 nights and came across a golden nugget of information: Caribe Royale, a very fancy-looking Orlando conference hotel, has a deal where with proof of identity/birth date, any guest in your party with a birthday during your stay earns you a FREE night. That's 3 nights for the price of 2 for Kimmy and me. Plus, parking is free, the hotel will be sending a birthday cake up to our room on her birthday, and we'll get 20% off all food/beverage within the hotel during our stay. All I have to do is bring along a copy of her birth certificate. It's a really well-reviewed hotel, and unlike many Orlando hotels, they don't throw in a hidden nightly resort fee. I priced our our stay and compared to some other hotels I had been considering, and we're coming in about $100 under the total for what 3 nights at a Best Western in the same zip code would have been.

Total cost (including taxes and fees): $290.25
Running total: $1,151.61

That covers all our big expenses and leaves me with about $350 in flexible spending.

Here's a rundown of what I'm budgeting out for the rest of our trip expenses:
Additional trip necessities/grocery items (a leash/harness style backpack for my Kimmy, Magicbands, a cheapo umbrella stroller from an Orlando Walmart, and enough grocery items for cereal breakfasts and packed sandwich lunches in the parks): $80. 
Georgia visit to Lane's Orchard en route to Florida: Let's face it: I need some Georgia peaches in my life. Pronto. Roadtripping 6 hours from Atlanta, through the land of heavenly peaches, and down to Tampa/Orlando presents a perfect solution to this problem. A friend recommended an orchard/cafe/store (comparable to the Apple Barn in Pigeon Forge, TN) that's just off I-75 on our route to Florida, and we're going to stop to buy enough peaches for our whole week and have dinner there that night, as well. $50.
Disney character breakfast: I wanted one really special meal for Kimmy on her birthday, so I booked a character breakfast at Chef Mickey's. With tip, I'm estimating we'll dine for $40.
Dinners: I'm looking into a lot of "kids eat free" fast-casual restaurants (Sweet Tomatoes, Steak 'n' Shake, etc.), and I estimate $16/dinner spent on the two of us. 16 times 5 will put us at $80.
Souvenirs/in-park snacks: I'm doing my research and pre-selecting most of our souvenirs. That way I have good estimates of what I'll be buying for Kimmy and me, I'll know my price point if I need to swap anything, I'll know how much money I should aim to save, and I'll know how much flexible spending I have in the midst of my overall trip budget. Since it'll be Kimmy's birthday, I'm just going to route our souvenir budget to gifts for her, especially since I don't need anything (you've seen one souvenir; you've seen them all):
  • Definitely doing the pack-your-own-box of Disney-speficic Mr. Potato Head parts for $20.
  • Pick-a-pearl at Japan in Epcot: $15.
  • A light-up thingamajigger at the Magic Kingdom fireworks show: $25.
  • Minnie Mouse ears w/embroidery: $15.
  • In-park snacks (let's just call this our Dole Whip and ice cream budget @ 1 to share per day): $24.
Total of all extra expenses: $349
Running total: $1,500!

Side note: I participate in online surveys for a little extra side cash. I'm planning on cashing in for enough Visa gift cards to totally cover our "additional trip necessities" category and any in-park ice creamy snacks we purchase.

Other side note: This trip will include all kinds of free activities, too, like collecting seashells at Clearwater Beach one evening when we go to meet up with some of my friends from college and playing with Legos in Downtown Disney. There are plenty of memories to be made without spending extra cash!

Final side note: Hopefully my wonderful parents will agree to cover the cost of our 3 tanks of gas needed for our fuel-efficient "Toyota Corolla or similar" for the roadtripping portion of our vacay. It is their only grandchild's only 3rd birthday celebration, after all. (Love you, Mom and Dad!)

And there you have it. How these 2 are gonna do Disney for $1,500.

What do you think, fellow Disney lovers? Am I right on the money, or am I totally clueless? What's your #1 tip for this single momma's first Dynamic Duo Does Disney vacation with her little lady?

More later.