Dear Katie: A Letter to Pandemic Me

We’re heading into the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, of COVID-19, of the pandemic – what seems like the end of life as we knew it. I was newly post-partum, heading back to work, and all of a sudden the world shut down and people were dying. The fear was real, and for my newly post-partum self, the emotions were visceral. In the beginning, we laughed it off, not really knowing or understanding the reality of it and the long journey that was just beginning. Some days were great, and I was able to find the silver linings easily – more time at home, more time with the kids, a comfortable house, sweat pants every day, curbside delivery, and Dine In CT. Some days were hell – WFH while caring for 3 under 4, a hubs who at times might not have understood I needed space, and the literal prison of not being able to leave my house or my yard, never mind the moments I CRAVED separation from the very beings who carry my heart outside of my body. And then the weeks turned into months and the humor turned more to normalcy, some days we were sane and some days we were not. Don’t get me wrong – we were fortunate then and we are fortunate now, and there are many others who have had it way worse than us. But if I were to go back and tell my pandemic self all the things I I realize now, this is what I would say:

Dear Katie,

Let. it. go. That load of laundry that sat wet in the washer overnight? Run it again. It’s not worth coming down on yourself for that. One musty load is a heck of a lot better than the MOUNTAINS of clean laundry that now sit in the hamper unfolded for days at a time (mostly till the kids run out of clean clothes to wear and we realize we have to get ‘er done). The fact that your husband can’t seem to find the hamper, and most of his clothes end up on the ground right next to it rather than inside of it? Leave it alone. Who cares, no one’s coming to the house these days anyway. The bruises put the Playmobil away the wrong way? They’re just going to play with it again tomorrow. If you fix it now, it just gets messed up again the next time around. At least they’re playing, and at least they’re attempting to clean up after themselves. One day you’ll realize these things really weren’t the end of the world, and your house was more than liveable, even when you thought you couldn’t go another day living in the mess.

Stop spending. It’s a pandemic and the world is shut down. Instead of buying 34059845098 new sweatshirts and sweat suits so that you can look like a scrub in style, save that money for things that will suit your family more. You aren’t seeing anyone anyway, and the few people you do see could care less what you look like. They just want you to be their wife and their mom. Plus, that temporary happiness you get from rocking a new sweatshirt is a lot less valuable than the long term wealth you gain from having more for your family down the road, even if it means less for you right now.

It’s ok to struggle. You will question your own mental health many days. You will wonder if you need to seek professional help, but never actually take the initiative to get it. You will experience middle of the night wakes with a racing heart and a racing mind, mostly as a result of the work/home stress and anxiety. And it will be an anxiety you aren’t used to, one you haven’t experienced before. One that triggers migraines and forces you to call out of work because you just can’t work up the courage to face the world that day, to do your job that day, to show up for your kids that day. And you know what? It’s ok. This is the hidden side of life. You’ll dig yourself out of it each time, and you’ll figure out a way to keep moving forward. You’ll find yourself again one day, and you’ll find ways to manifest that crippling stress and anxiety into something good.

Take care of yourself. And when you do take care of yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re selfish, or you’re less of a mom, or you’re less of a wife, or you’re less of a professional, or you’re less of a woman. And stop looking to social media or pop culture to figure out what it means to take care of yourself. If taking care of yourself means eating cookies and candy, do it. If taking care of yourself means finding time to exercise again, do it. If taking care of yourself means letting go of the expectations society has set for you or if taking care of yourself means embracing the expectations society has set for you, do it. If taking care of yourself means saying yes more or if taking care of yourself means saying no more, do it. And don’t feel badly about it. And definitely don’t apologize for it. Those littles who need you most will get a better you if you start taking care of yourself. You’ll be better for yourself and you’ll be better for them. It’s a win-win.

Be more present and practice patience. Stop thinking that things will go back to normal tomorrow. Don’t plan any parties or book any vacations. When you look up the definition of pandemic, believe it. But don’t let it consume you. Take things a day at a time, and work on managing the present moment in a way that helps you all survive that moment, or better yet, be happy or content in that moment. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and do a craft even if your two year old can’t handle it, or play a board game as a family even if turn taking is hard. Live in the moment, stop thinking about the past or the future.

Show your teammate you care. Your number 1, your ride or die…he always shows up. Remember that. He puts up with your moods, your anal retentiveness, your stubbornness, and your princess requests. Go out of your way to make sure he knows how much you appreciate him and how much you value his teamwork. Stop comparing how much you do to how much he does. It’s not a competition, you’re on the same team, and you help each other out.

Play. Play with your kids, play like your kids, play like an adult. Do things that bring you joy, indulge in more wine, be silly, dance like a goofball. Now is a better time than any to literally dance like no one is watching – because literally no one is watching. And stop feeling guilty if you played more than you should have. Who cares if you’re 33 and have a hangover, or who cares if you have work in the morning. Because literally the world is at a stand still and we are living a new normal one moment at a time.

Accept yourself for all of you, and don’t feel guilty, shameful, or worthless because of it. You are you and no one and no thing can take that away from you. Live your life the way you want to live it, and stop putting pressure on yourself in comparison to others. Your hair’s falling out because it’s postpartum 3 and it’s the worst yet? Flaunt it. You have a pouch for a belly because your skin just won’t go back to normal anymore? Be proud of it. You can’t get that extra work done at night or on the weekends because your family needs you more? The world goes on. And don’t judge anyone else who may be doing things differently than you, or worse, don’t feel less adequate by what others are able to do that you can’t.

Enjoy the snuggles. The lazy mornings laying in bed. The pillows being thrown in piles for the world’s biggest “the floor is lava” game. The leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The flat yard with the swingset. The dog who follows you and the kids around all day, just like the 6th family member he is. Pick up the phone calls and facetimes from family and friends. Ask others how they are doing and listen to what they say before moving on to the real reason you called. Be thoughtful. Say I love you. Accept criticism with grace and make an effort to make change. Grow instead of staying status quo.

You got this, I can’t wait to see who you’ve become on the other side, because if it doesn’t seem it now, I know you’ll be someone you’re proud of, someone you’re inspired by, and someone you’re empowered from.

Your same self,

Katie

Process Over Product, People!

The bruises and I set out to do some fun salt painting this weekend. I was originally inspired by an amazing Instagram account I follow called @mothercould. The mama behind the handle, Myriam, has amazing, easy ideas for kids and also is just downright real and authentic. All we needed was permanent marker, watercolor paper, glue, salt, food coloring, and medicine droppers. We had everything except watercolor paper, so I opted for paper plates instead (I’m a big advocate for using what you have!) and I didn’t bother trying to dig through our junk drawers for a permanent marker, so I just went with a black Mr. Sketch. We were aiming for a product like the one below, except I was substituting name practice instead of flowers – starting to get the little bruise into name recognition and learning the letters that make up his name.

The inspiration by @mothercould

In hindsight, I went wrong in two places: definitely should have used watercolor paper…the watercolors didn’t really absorb into the salt or paper plate and I definitely should have used permanent marker…the black washable ink was overpowering because it bled. But do you think the bruises mentioned…even once…that their “salt paint” wasn’t working? NOPE. Because the product didn’t matter to them. They were in it for the process, contrary to what my little mama heart might have desired. This was a weight lifting off my shoulders, fellow mamas, because it was all I needed to make the excuse to let go of expectations, perfection, and the pressure to produce these amazing projects. I’ll say it again: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE PRODUCT, IT’S ABOUT THE PROCESS! Sure, sometimes I’ll end up with beautiful, silly, authentic, save-worthy products that I’ll pull out when they’re 21 and moving out, but most of the time I won’t and that’s ok.

I’m veering from the beaten path a little bit and contradicting what I’ve previously posted about using models (I still believe in models too though!). Because this time, I didn’t show the bruises a model of what their project “should” look like at the end. And let me tell you, letting go of my expectations for a product let me live in the moment of their process. I watched them carefully and delicately fill up their medicine droppers with vibrant colors, only to meticulously drop a single drop down on to their salt until their dropper was all out of colored water. Then they’d go back, choose another color, and repeat this process again another 100 times. They worked in silence, carefully attending to each move they were making, occasionally breaking their concentration to shout, “Look it’s tie dye!” or “It’s turning geen Mommy, it’s turning geen!”

And finally when their attention span drew them away from the medicine droppers and the salt paintings in front of them, they asked, “Mommy, can we just be scientists?” Puzzled, I said “Sure, how are you going to do that?” And they proceeded to move the salt paintings to a different table and just started filling up their medicine droppers with colors and mixing them in bowls, trying to ‘discover’ (their words, not mine) all the colors they could make. And then they dropped the medicine droppers in favor of just dumping the whole cups into the bowls, and slowly but surely ended up with one big bowl filled with brown water. They BEAMED.

Quickly they started to realize they couldn’t make the water ‘unbrown’, and their experiment was over. Cue the meltdowns. How dare their science experiment be over when they weren’t ready for it to be over? Despite the monumental tantrum the abrupt end to their science experiment caused, we’ve now ‘been scientists’ – doing the exact same thing – two more times. And I’m literally seeing their brains work together in front of me. “Why don’t we just mix three colors and maybe we’ll get purple?” (Nope, still brown.) “Hmm, maybe we should try three other colors?” (Nope, still brown.) “Maybe we should just try two colors?” (Well it’s not purple, but it’s orange! Red and yellow make orange Mommy!)

Here’s the evolution in photos:

So. Let’s recap. We went from @mothercould inspired salt paintings, to salt painting duds, to science experiments, and there was never a single mention of how their salt paintings came out (or didn’t come out for that matter). In fact, they ended up in the trash. But instead of some pretty paper plate crafts to hang on the art wall, we ended up with some new brain synapses, a heck of a lot of fun, and some memories we’ll look back on…remembering the day they first realized they were scientists. Worth it, my friends, worth it.

Pre-School Quarantine: (Winter-Themed) Easy & Independent Learning Activities for a Week

Pre-School Quarantine: (Winter-Themed) Easy & Independent Learning Activities for a Week

For those following me on insta (@bruisesbowsandbooks), you may have seen my stories last week: Luca’s pre-school class was quarantined. So while Tessa, Dominic, and I still had to get up and go to school and work every day, Luca was resigned to life at home with Daddy, while he had one of the busiest work weeks of the year. The day he got quarantined, I told hubs I was going to leave things for Luca to do each day just to keep his brain active. Hubs had one stipulation: “I have a sh*t ton of work this week so I can’t be doing stuff with him all day long.” Noted.

I made it my goal to leave activities each day that Luca would be able to do entirely on his own, and that he wouldn’t need many instructions for. I wanted him to be able to look at the set-up, and know exactly what to do, so he could navigate from activity to activity while hubs worked in the other room. The activities were a combination of open-ended play based activities, dramatic play, literacy, math, sensory, and arts and crafts with a winter theme if I could manage it. Rather than write about each one, I figured I’d just post a photo list below.

Snow globe: Glue, construction paper for base and sphere, scissors, pulled apart cotton balls, and printed photo of your little in snow gear. Cut out photo, glue to sphere, decorate with cotton, attach base to sphere. Done!

Upper and lowercase letter match: Took the puzzle pieces from an uppercase alphabet puzzle we have and a lower case alphabet puzzle we have and laid them out in the correct direction. Little just matches upper to lower in the center of the table.

Sticker math: Separate paper into boxes, label each box with a number. Little practices counting and 1:1 correspondence by placing the number of stickers noted in each box. Spin it wintery by using winter themed stickers. (He only made it through 5 all week…it was definitely the least preferred activity but that’s ok. It’s actually still up right now if he ever wants to come back to it!)

Invitation to read: If you’re familiar with breakfast invitations (dayswithgrey) or play invitations, simply displaying books in a new and novel way can be very enticing for little readers, inviting them in to read the moment they lay eyes on the featured books.

Hot chocolate stand: I wish I remembered to take some before pictures, but this was a fan favorite this week and was the EASIEST thing ever! I set out squares of different colored brown paper, leftover pulled apart cotton balls from the snow globe and white pom poms, old plastic cups, and old straws. Crumple up the brown paper squares to fill the cup, add cotton balls and pom poms for marshmallows, top with a straw, and serve to all your furry and fluffy friends. Create a sign for your stand with bubble letters and dot markers.

Snowman: Blue paper, pulled apart cotton balls, 2 googly eyes, black beads, red pom poms, pipe cleaners, white crayon, and glue. The key to independence is leaving out only the needed materials and not any extras. Hubs said he came into the room to find Luca quietly working on this one all by himself.

Fingerprint lights: So simple – little uses his finger to make lights along the strand. I just spiced it up a bit by adding letters in a pattern to build in a literacy and math experience, and get him going on a simple beginners code activity. Every letter of the alphabet is coded at the top, telling him what color each letter needs to be. He can identify the pattern either by color (red, blue, red, blue) or by letter (a, b, a, b).

Illustrating a poem or book: Adding illustrations to a poem or book is a great pre-writing activity. It helps build concepts about print (pictures match words) and gives your little ownership in creating/writing.

Ice fishing: Cover box in white paper, cut hole in the top. Crumple blue paper and put in the box for water. Cut out paper fish and tape paper clip onto each one. Write a letter (upper or lower) on each fish. Build fish buckets out of playmags or just use smaller boxes. Create fishing pole (we have some play ones…) by attaching string to a stick and putting a magnet on the end of the string. Fish for letters, match fish to correct color box, and when finished, count all the fish you caught! Bonus – match the uppercase letter fish to lowercase letter fish! Literacy, numeracy, and sensory all in one. The little bruise got a kick out of this one too!

Winter wonderland sensory station: Sensory bin, fake snow (we use Be Amazing! Super Snow Powder: just add water and it grows to 100x its size) or anything that can double as snow (cotton, white rice, white beans, quinoa…), scoopers and spoons, loose parts, old cookie sheet with thin frozen layer of water (literally put mine outside the night before to freeze). Throw it all together and you’ve got the sweetest winter wonderland, with its own ice rink and everything. We still have this set up, and we’re going on day 5. It’s a HUGE hit!

Iceberg jumps or ice skating: Draw some footprints on some paper plates and spread out on the floor for iceberg jumps. Or, grab two – one for each foot – and they double as perfect indoor ice skates! Love this one because it keeps your little moving and active even if you don’t make it outside to play.

Igloo build: I didn’t get any photos of this one, but I just put out our Crazy Forts builders and some white bed sheets. Build a crazy fort, top with white bed sheets for your very own igloo.

As I posted on my insta stories throughout the week last week, I got a ton of feedback on my DMs. Lots of friends commenting on how amazing it was, lots of friends feeling guilty or overwhelmed, and lots and lots of questions…Where do you get your ideas? What materials do you need? Do you buy everything you need? At what age should I be doing this with my kid? How often do you do this? How do you prep everything or how do you find time to prep everything? I’m going to answer one of these questions per night on my stories this week, so head over to Instagram and follow @bruisesbowsandbooks if you haven’t already.

I did want to answer the ones about materials on here. I never ever buy materials for each individual project. Instead, when Luca was two, I started building a bulk stock of random supplies and materials that I keep in storage. A lot of these materials were gifted over time to the boys in their Snow Day Boxes that Santa brings every year (see my previous post called “The Snow Day Box“). When I get ideas for a project, I’m always thinking about what we already have or have lying around the house that we could use. Very rarely have I thought of something and haven’t had what I needed on hand – and if I did, then I just didn’t do that project. To help, I created a list on Amazon linked here of most of the supplies and materials I have on hand and in storage. Head on over and add them to your cart…you’re welcome!!

Right from Terrible Twos to My Little Threenager

The middle child. The younger and far more spicier bruise.

HOLY MIDDLE CHILD!

No seriously, I don’t know if it’s just a stereotype or some funny joke that people make but our middle child is the epitome of MIDDLE CHILD. And I’m tired. Like I can’t fight the exhaustion any longer. And when his daycare provider starts asking me questions about his ability to listen, attention span, you know, all the things I’m frustrated with at home, I get that pit in my stomach like oh gosh here we go he is that child.

A few nights ago we started weaning him off the pacifier. And he was addicted so we fully anticipated it’d be hard. We used the “snip the tip” trick. If you don’t know, now you know. Our pedi recommended it when the oldest bruise was having trouble weaning from his…after we had tried both cold turkey and the binky fairy. And it was a miracle. But we also weaned the oldest at just over 2 years old, and Dominic is closer to 3 years old right now (I know, I know, we’ve been lazy about it but ehh who cares!). He’s only been using it at night/naps since turning 1, but still he was addicted.

Honestly, it’s been easy…he whined a little bit night one, but we told him his binky was getting smaller because he was getting bigger and offered him his favorite stuffed dino instead and eventually he went to sleep. And then he was fine at daycare and each night as I’ve snipped a little bit more off the 5,000 binkies he has, he’s been totally fine.

BUT let’s talk about awake time, because since the first snip, during awake times he’s been a monster. He’s always been our more emotional, loud, intense, mischievous, physical (any other adjectives I’m missing?) child but these past 5 days have been a whole new monster, a bigger one. Of course I love this monster with all my heart so please don’t take this post that way. I’m really wondering if this new monster was birthed out of the pacifier transition. Could it be?!

It’s this new monster that inspired me to write this post because it also got me thinking about terrible twos and threenagers. And I realized we’re probably in the heat of it because we have the best of both worlds colliding since he is turning three in a few months. I feel like we were lucky with Luca because he didn’t really give us a terrible two phase or a threenager phase. Maybe that’s just because he was the first child. But it’s got me thinking and I want some advice. Here are the things we are struggling with right now:

  • Voice volume: On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no voice and 10 being outdoor-voice-scream-as-if-you’re-in-trouble, he’s at a hard 10 most of the time.
  • Patience: If he asks for his water and I don’t give it to him before he’s done asking, it’s an immediate whine fest, which leads to the next one.
  • Whining: 24/7 whining to the point where he needs to be reminded to “speak like a big boy” or “ask nicely”…I’m at that point where I model for him what he should be saying/doing, and it often sounds like this: “Dominic, try saying ‘Mommy can I please have a snack?’ instead of ‘I WANNNNTTTTT SNACKKKKK NNNOOOWWWW!'”
  • Anger and Biting: The oldest bruise was long over the biting phase by now. But when Dominic is really, really, really angry – at his brother – he still bites, and he bites hard. We have had a handful of occasions where he has bitten Luca so hard that there is blood, and a full teeth circle bruise left over on Luca for weeks. The good news is he hasn’t done it to anyone other than Luca in a year, but I still worry so much about his anger management if, at his worst, it comes to this.
  • Listening: This one doesn’t make me lose my temper, instead it just makes me worry. Any time we give him a direction or ask a question, he definitely hears us, but doesn’t actually listen to us. We have to tell him to get his shoes from the bin 20 times, each time more aggressively and loudly before he actually gets his shoes. His daycare provider says he’s always the last one that everyone has to wait for during transitions (because, and I quote my daycare provide, “He’s usually still in the middle of the room dancing or jumping around.” Yup sounds about right). Or sometimes we will even tell him something, he’ll look at us and smile, and completely ignore (or do the opposite!) of what we just asked. It’s maniacal actually.

Before I go running to the pedi at our three year appointment with all of these concerns (that are probably just normal but when it’s your kid you worry way more right?), what’s your take? I want all the tips and tricks for everything above, because I can’t keep losing my patience any longer. Is this all related to the binky? Or some type of bigger developmental phase? (Usually I’m pretty good at understanding these phases, but this just seems kind of out of the blue.) And if it’s some bigger developmental change, what can I do that’s different from my usual lose-my-patience-then-lose-my-sh*t approach? Help a sister out because I need it!

Would You Rather, Mom Edition: A day with kids or a day without kids?

Name something better for a mom reset than time away without kids. Time AT HOME without kids. Seriously, time at my own house with zero kids around comes rarely, if at all. So when hubs offered to take the kids to Nana and Papa’s just to give me some time alone…at home… I just about burst. He rightfully instructed me to rest and relax and do all of the things I never get to do. But here’s the thing, I think the reason why time at home without kids is so appealing to me is because I can do all of the normal things that need to get done in a normal amount of time with a normal amount of sanity. Maybe a little rest and relaxation if I have time, but really that’s a bonus. To illustrate my point, here’s two normal days at home…one with kids around, one without kids around…which one would you pick?!

A Day With Kids

6:00am Wake up. Most likely to the bruises chanting, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” or “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” Get kids up, bruises get their iPads in Mommy and Daddy’s bed while we hang there for as long as we can manage before the bow is too restless to sit still anymore…which is like five minutes. We’re lucky if one of us gets back to sleep. (And actually I feel like a 6am wake up call isn’t half bad…)

7:15am Breakfast. Brew the coffee, forget to add cream and sugar till an hour later while you fix kids’ breakfast (one wants waffles, one wants a bagel, so you make them fight it out because you aren’t making more than one thing…). Finally remember your coffee, take a sip and put it down somewhere you’ll never remember. You may or may not remember to have breakfast yourself.

7:45am Playtime. The bruises play independently in the playroom happily for a little bit while you frantically try and wash the dishes from breakfast, put away the dishes from the night before, clean up the counter, and maybe squeeze a load of laundry in the wash if you’re lucky. The bow sits at the kitchen counter watching you work, because, well, she can’t be trusted to play on her own without eating everything in sight. An hour into playtime you hear the bruises start arguing and scuffling ensues, so Mickey goes on the TV and you promptly leave whatever chores you are doing half done because they can’t go any longer unsupervised. So you grab your ice cold (not on purpose) coffee and plop yourself on the couch to actively supervise because Mickey isn’t doing the distraction trick. So much for chores.

9:30am Snack time. Even though you just finished breakfast, somehow someway the bruises are hungry and the bow is whining for her morning nap. So you give them the choice of goldfish or cheez its because, no, chips and gummies are not a good morning snack, and while they munch for two seconds you run the bow upstairs and throw her in her crib so you can take advantage of any free time to get back to chores while the bruises are occupied with snacks. Only thing is you don’t remember what chore you were doing so the wet laundry sits in the washer for another 3 hours before being turned over to the dryer, and the loads just keep stacking up. Meanwhile you frantically try and clean up the playroom that’s been destroyed – because when they play they don’t actually play they just take everything out and throw it around the room, creating a real-life landmine perfect for shoeless feet.

11:00am Outside time. At this point you probably kicked the kids outside because now instead of playing in the playroom they are running around the whole first floor throwing pillows at each other and wrestling, which is the key sign they need to get some energy out. So you pause the playroom cleanup, take 20 minutes to get everyone dressed to play outside in the freezing cold, and they run around happily playing while you freeze your a** off repeatedly asking “Hey does anyone want hot chocolate?!” in an effort to get them to come inside but no one seems to hear you. The baby monitor stops working because it’s too cold out or it lost signal, so you hear muffled crying while you’re outside letting you know the bow has woken up from her nap. Dang that was a short one. You were hoping her nap would take her to lunch time. Here’s your first bad mom moment of the day: You can’t get the boys in so you run inside as fast as you can leaving the boys unsupervised outside, grab the bow from her crib, throw her snowsuit on and grab a half defrosted bottle and get back outside as fast as you can hoping no one died or got kidnapped while you were inside. As soon as you get back outside the bruises tell you they’re cold and ask to go inside.

11:30am Lunch. You whip up whatever leftovers you have, and if you have none then its mac and cheese or PB & J or butter noodles, and you wait to make your own lunch because you KNOW they won’t eat much of theirs so you just resign yourself to the leftovers so that you don’t waste any food. You have about 2.7 bites of mac and cheese, 1 bite of PB & J, and maybe some leftover cut up apples, and hey, not so bad of a lunch after all.

12:00pm Play time. You kick the bruises out of the kitchen so you can clean up, sending them to mess up the playroom that you already cleaned up once all over again. And it’s only a matter of minutes till the two year old is whining and crying which is your signal for his nap time. You were hoping to make it to 1 but you don’t want to deal with 55 minutes of whining so you bring him up early.

12:05pm Nap time. The two year old takes his nap early, so the four year old asks for his “games” – code for his iPad. And while you know you shouldn’t give him technology again because he already watched his iPad and watched three episodes of Mickey this morning, you oblige in another bad mom moment because if you hand the baby off to husband you know it means you get to grab a shower. While you’re in the shower you promptly sit down on the floor of the shower and let the water run down your back for as long as you can manage because it’s your one minute of peace and quiet, and by gosh you’ll take that minute and turn it into 30 because 30 minute showers are where the rest and relaxation’s at. You get out of the shower and the middle bruise is still sleeping (Yay!), but it’s time to put the bow down for her second nap and the oldest bruise is saying he’s hungry again. Didn’t you just eat lunch ten minutes ago? You deliver and serve his snack bowl and water bottle while he continues to watch games because you know you can grab 15 more minutes to get dressed and brush your hair. No time for a blow dry or make up. You lay down because everyone is content and think you might steal a few minutes shutting your eyes or scrolling your phone but within 2 minutes the monitor is going off and the middle bruise is up, cranky in his true fashion, and whining for gummies and milk.

2:00pm (More) Technology time. Because the middle bruise saw the older bruise watching his games, he of course wants to watch games too. So rather than putting the iPads away and enjoying some tech-free family time, you don’t want to hear his tantrum anymore so you give them each another hour on technology. Tantrum averted, and you pry the iPads out of their hands an hour later, when the baby wakes up from her second nap.

3:00pm Family playtime. You muster up the energy to actually play with the kids because you know all they want is for you to play with them. You prepare yourself for a few hours of outside or indoor play depending on the weather…which means hide and seek when everyone hides in the same spot or peaks through their hands when counting, or pretend play with toys and you have to show your best pink power ranger moves. Good thing the bow is such a gem because she just sits and scoots along following every move the family makes. Sometimes she’s forgotten about and you have to run to the front yard to grab her because she’s sitting there all by herself eating dirt happy as a clam.

5:00pm You’re having fun with your kids for once but dinner calls so you wrangle everyone inside with a snack and more Mickey so you can buy some time to prep and cook dinner. The bow sits with you at the counter while you cook, and if you’re lucky the boys are spent so they aren’t at each other’s throats while watching Mickey. You remember you never turned that load of laundry over so you go downstairs to flip it real quick and spy the other ten hampers lined up and you realize you’ll be lucky if you get this all done before the hampers are full again.

6:00pm Dinner. And dinner means you made it because you drag dinner out to get you to 6:30 so that right after you can get everyone in the bath and in their pjs ready for bed.

7:00pm Bed time. If you time it all right (which happens once in a blue moon), you go dinner-bath-story-bed, and you get all the kids to bed on time. But you come downstairs and realize the playroom is a mess again and there are a few lone dishes still to be done. So you clean and wash dishes and flip the laundry one more time. Only nine more loads to go.

8:00pm Adult time. Lay down on one couch while hubs lays on the other, he watches football on the big screen while you watch Tik Tok on your phone. You have every intention of just checking social media for a few minutes before watching a show with hubs, but before you know it, it’s 10:00 and you’re still on Tik Tok. So you go up to bed, but you have trouble falling asleep because your eyes have been glued to a screen for the past 2 hours. And you remember there’s still nine loads of laundry waiting to be done downstairs, and you know you’ll get them all done tomorrow but they’ll sit in hampers unfolded until next weekend when it’s time for the new loads.

You go to sleep, get up, repeat, never really getting anything done effectively or efficiently, and the cycle just keeps going.

A Day Without Kids

7:30am Wake up. Holy hell you slept till 7:30! You don’t remember what it’s like to sleep in but you’re also anxious that you’ve already wasted so much of the day. You check the monitor out of habit and are reminded that the kids aren’t here, which makes you kind of sad, but remember you asked for this…or at least welcomed it. You lay in bed on your phone for a few minutes and then facetime the kids because even though they’ve only been gone a day you miss them like heck already.

8:30am Shower. To actually have time to take a shower and not worry about anything else while you are taking a shower is heavenly. You shave your legs and pluck your eyebrows for the first time in a month, and when you get out of the shower you wrap yourself in a robe and hop right back in bed, laying there for an hour because you don’t know what to do with all this time so it feels perfectly normal to do nothing at all but stare at the popcorn ceilings.

9:30am Breakfast. Because at this point you’re starving because usually everyone is eating at 7:15, but you’re pumped because you get to enjoy a hot cup of coffee IN ITS ENTIRETY while watching the Today Show. Savannah I see you!

10:30am Cleaning and laundry. You drag your butt off the couch and away from the Today Show to clean as much of the house as you possibly can, remember to flip the laundry every single time it’s needed – it’s like you and the washer and dryer have ESP because you’re gona kill it today and get everything done that normally doesn’t get done.

12:45pm Lunch time. Before you know it, it’s 3 hours later and you realize you haven’t eaten lunch. For once you make yourself a salad and aren’t resigned to the kids’ leftovers, but you eat quick because you still have the other half of the house to clean.

1:00pm Cleaning and laundry. You clean the other half of the house, and by some miracle all the loads of laundry are done so you have all ten hampers upstairs in the living room. You go on a folding spree while watching Dateline because who doesn’t watch Dateline when you have the TV to yourself? And two hours later you’ve watched an episode, folded all the laundry, and if you’re lucky, you’ve even managed to put it all away.

3:00pm Be sad and miss the kids. So far you’ve been busy all day trying to get things done so you haven’t had time to stop and think. But now that you have time to stop and think, you realize you miss the kids, start texting the husband, who’s clearly annoyed that you’re texting so much (you can tell by his one word responses) so you lay off and wait for the night time facetime. While you wait, the TV is mindlessly on in the background while you scroll through the picture reel on your phone looking at photos of your kids because you miss them so much.

5:00pm Dinner? Do you think about dinner yet? Who eats at 5 anyway? But you’re bored and you don’t really know what to do, but you also don’t feel like cooking so you make yourself some butter noodles (lol) and are done with dinner by 5:30pm.

5:45pm. Shut down the house downstairs (most likely forget to turn off a few lights but shh hubs isn’t home so he’ll never know) and head upstairs for the night. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the facetime call from the kids saying goodnight. And you’ll talk to them for an hour before the hubs softly says, “Ok I should probably get them to bed.” So you say goodbye, turn on 90 Day Fiance, and binge watch seven episodes in bed. You did remember to get yourself a glass of wine after the third episode, but you’re too lazy to bring it back downstairs so the empty glass sits on your nightstand all night long.

9:00pm You go to sleep, with the TV on, of course, because if you turn the TV off you’ll hear every noise in the house and be convinced a serial killer is downstairs and is moments away from coming for you. You wake up on and off all night because it’s freaking creepy sleeping alone in your house, but you make it through the night and when you wake up you can’t contain your excitement because the kids come home today and OMG you missed them so much you’ll tell hubs to never take them away again!

But seriously if you compare this to the day with kids, look how much more you still have to read!

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At least if it’s the day without kids you were able to stop reading ten paragraphs ago. 🙂

So for real, which one would you pick? Kind of a trick question, maybe. Yeah it’s nice to have the occasional time without kids, and don’t get me wrong I’m super grateful I have a hubs who can recognize when he needs to give me my space and let me do me. But, I don’t think I would ever trade a day with kids for a day without kids on the reg? It’s this crazy beautiful life with kids I realize I love so much!

And on the afternoon of the second day by myself, I was able to crash on the couch!

Social Justice Through Children’s Literature Part 2: Gender Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination

Last week I wrote about ability and strength, up next is gender. This one’s personal, because, well, I am in the minority group of this category. And to give you a snapshot of myself in a nutshell, I have two profound memories/experiences growing up that really shape this part of my identity.

That’s me circa fifth grade? Spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Ts and gym shorts, and sweats are still my preferred outfits today.

First, I was a total athlete growing up — I ate, slept, and breathed sports. I worked my a** off to ‘get good’ at any sport I set my mind to, and worked my way through soccer, basketball, and eventually field hockey. Played club all the way through college, and playing sports is when I felt I was my best self. But I experienced a lot of gender crisis and coming to age moments because of this. I remember one day, high school, I think? Where I called my mom admitting I was feeling depressed and bawling my eyes out because I felt like I couldn’t live up to the girly expectations and pressure I was feeling at school. Felt like I looked like crap, was insecure, and generally just hormonal and crazy. I have the best mom ever, so she promptly took me shopping to find outfits that I thought would match what I needed to look like. She did everything for me, and I love her for it. I spent most of my high school days preferring to be in sweats and t-shirts…longing for game days because I could wear my sports gear and feel comfortable and dreading other days because I’d sweat through outfits that I thought would make me look the way I was supposed to look..feminine and composed. Obviously I’ve grown up now and realize my experience mirrors many experiences adolescents go through, and I know that it wasn’t nearly as bad as others’ experiences might have been, so for that I’m grateful. But middle and high school is hard, y’all. Because that’s when we really start to face our own identity head on, and how that identity fits in (or doesn’t fit in) with pop culture and our society.

Second, I hated — and I mean HATED — math and science as a kid. I hated it because I wasn’t good at it, and I never felt like anyone really reached out to me to help me understand it. Like really understand it. I’d stay after school with (mostly male) math teachers for extra tutoring and they’d just keep drilling me on formulas and giving me practice problems to apply the formula. And then I’d take these tests with novel problems and have no idea what to do. “Hmm I guess I’ll just use this formula and hope it’s the right one,” would always run through my mind. And then I’d fail tests, badly. I always got As and Bs because of participation and homework (go figure), but I never ever really understood the math. Still have bad number sense to this day because of it. One day I even cursed out my physics teacher in front of everyone and stormed out crying because I. JUST. DIDN’T. GET. IT. and no one was answering my cries for help. I felt so alone and inadequate. And only now do I realize that I fell directly into that trap of women in math and science. I was subconsciously driven away from the discipline by my environment and the people in it, most likely because I was a girl. No, people weren’t explicitly saying “She’s a girl, don’t bother,” but I can almost guarantee that when they saw me struggle, they didn’t help me because they wanted me to understand it, they helped me to simply get me through the class. And that, right there, my friends, is implicit bias around gender.

*If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and listening as I relived some pretty formative experiences with you.*

So, my list of children’s books that help me explore gender identity, stereotypes, and discrimination is two-fold. On one hand, I’ve included titles that address gender stereotypes and identity. On the other hand, I’ve included titles that address implicit bias, and discrimination against women, and how we might encourage our fellow male counterparts, whether they are the adults or children in our lives, to be an ally. I also included one title on transgender. This is probably controversial to some, and many would advise to ‘stay away’ from this topic until middle or high school, when kids’ brains are more developed to understand this concept. But let me tell you, this advice is once again formed from implicit bias and discomfort. If we looked at kids’ true, lived experiences, we’d realize we need to start addressing it now. In my 10 years in teaching so far, I have witnessed a kindergartener, second grader, and fourth grader (and their families) experience gender questioning and confusion. In two of these instances, these beautiful souls realized, and publicly declared, that they are transgender. And these are the ones who have felt comfortable and brave enough to go through this journey. We know many do not until much later in adulthood, and some never at all.

5 Children’s Picture Books to Support Gender Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination

One of A Kind, Like Me / Único como yo by Laurin Mayeno: A bilingual English and Spanish story about a boy named Danny who wants to be a princess for his school parade. The story features his mom, an ally to Danny, as she supports him in finding the materials needed to make his costume. At the end, there’s a wonderful exchange between Danny and his classmates about Danny’s choice to be a princess and how the other students process it. Best for grades 1-3.

ABC For Me: What Can He/She Be? by Sugar Snap Studio and Jessie Ford: Both ABC What Can He Be and ABC What Can She Be is a series of board books that teaches boys and girls they can grow up to be or have any profession they choose. It is subtle – it does not directly address the issue of gender, but the professions included in each text are ones that are often associated with the other gender if thinking in the terms of a binary gender system. Best for babies – grade 1.

A Is for Awesome!: 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World by Eva Chen: Another ABC board book, but this one showcases women from history who have overcome obstacles and challenges to achieve great accomplishments and make great contributions to our world and our society. Not only does this book support women in shattering the glass ceiling, it also features women of many different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds – kind of a double whammy! Best for babies – grade K.

My First Book of Feminism for Boys by Julie Merberg: Another board book (gee, I have a lot for babies on this topic!), this one targets young boys especially, in helping them to understand what they can do to be an ally to women, without being too pushy or direct. The language is simple, and so are the pictures, and while it is designed for babies and toddlers, I’ll still revisit it with my boys as they get older and understand this more. Best for babies – toddlers, but useful through elementary school as well.

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel: This picture book tells the story of Jazz Jennings, based on her real life experiences of being transgender, and recognizing her discomfort with her assigned gender at birth at a very young age. The story is told in a simple, clear way and has received great reviews. Jazz Jennings continues to be a spokesperson for transkids everywhere. Best for preK – grade 4.

Remember, each title is linked directly to my Amazon List for Social Justice Children’s Literature, including other titles in this topic that didn’t make my top 5 but still deserved a shout out. I hope you enjoy!

Social Justice through Children’s Literature Part 1: Ability and Strength

This is the first post of a mini-series focused on using children’s literature to discuss social issues and move towards social justice.

Preface: Throughout this piece, I use the word ‘disability’ when referring to individuals with conditions that are labeled as a disability in mainstream society. I suggest (and am trying myself) beginning to shift one’s understanding of an individual with a disability to an individual who is differently-abled. I am also committed to using people-first language, or language that puts the person first and foremost, not the condition. I try my best to stick with “individuals with disabilities” rather than “disabled individuals”.

I’m in the midst of working on a project at work involving a social-justice themed, after-school, virtual, book club (yeah that’s a mouthful). It’s year three of this club, and it has evolved so much since we started three years ago. But it feels like this year is different, given everything going on in our world right now. We’re trying to be brave and tackle social issues head on, and as a result I’m learning so much about my own identity, privilege, implicit bias, and ways I can become an ally to disadvantaged and minority groups. To put it bluntly, I’m an educated, straight, white, comfortably-living, female with a heck of a lot of privilege (that I will always be working to understand), and that makes me a member of many majority groups (with the exception of female, of course). I want to raise my own children to be able to understand and recognize their own identity, and privilege, and be thoughtful about ways they, too, can be an ally to peers and others who may be experiencing bias, prejudice, discrimination, and/or racism. So how has that landed me here, in another blog post, writing about books?

I’ve said before I often turn to children’s literature to help me teach my students and children about topics that others might deem uncomfortable, controversial, or risky. I have found that when I am discussing heavy (loaded?) and important societal issues that can also be very emotional (and sometimes trigger fear and anger), I can create a safer space for dialogue and discussion by talking in the context of a book or it’s characters. This creates a “once-removed” experience that often then opens the doors for true and honest discussions and sharing of personal experiences within the group.

When we launch Reading Club 3.0 in a few weeks, we will be targeting categories of social issues each week, ranging from ability and strength all the way to race, culture, and religion. We’ve bit off a lot, and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to chew it all, but we sure as heck will try. The other facilitator and I decided to start with ability/disability, simply because this is a category that is accessible (usually) to young children, because it is spoken about much more openly than some of the other categories like race and religion. Also, since some individuals with disabilities kids are exposed to throughout their short lives in school and at home are physical and therefore visible (think wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, etc.), we start with the concrete in order to move into the more abstract (invisible) issues later on. (And we plan appropriately to address individuals with invisible disabilities as well, don’t worry.)

So, let’s talk about the identity category of ability/disability. I have already seen my 4yo and 2yo react to individuals with visible disabilities that we’ve seen or socialized with in our own lives. For example, I have a very dear friend with CP, and we get together usually once a year. The past few years, Luca has exhibited trepidation, nervousness, and overall avoidance during our visits. I also distinctly remember one occasion a while ago at Dunkin Donuts where we were waiting in line for coffee and donuts. A little person was waiting in line in front of us, and Luca was openly scared and asking questions. My point in sharing these examples? YOUNG kids, like babies and toddlers, start to identify and feel most comfortable with people who are LIKE them (research-based, not just opinion…look it up!), so as they start to experience differences in the real world, their implicit biases can already start to show – like Luca’s did in these instances. I use these examples to show how addressing ability/disability (and any other social issue) with third and fourth graders is nothing new to them, I promise. Still, it can be uncomfortable for anyone because our society’s norm is to ignore and pretend like it doesn’t exist so as to not offend…it hasn’t been until recently where people have started to speak up about addressing it openly and head on in order to educate and progress.

I’ve been rambling a bit, so to make a long story short, here it is: I’m going to share 5 picture books I’ll use with my students and with my own kids to address individuals with a disability, both the visible and invisible kind. I’ll link each one to an Amazon List called “Social Justice Children’s Literature” too!

And I’ll create follow-up posts recommending picture books to address gender, family unit, poverty and homelessness, immigration and cultural identity, and religion and race.

Here we go.

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull: A retell/biography of Wilma Rudolph, a US female Olympian runner, who became the world’s fastest runner after experiencing polio and a resulting disability as a young child. This book addresses a visible disability.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson: Another book that addresses a visible disability, this book tells the story of a West African boy who was born with “only one good leg” and experienced prejudice, bias, and discrimination as a result. Rather than feeling resigned to his disability, he persevered to learn how to ride a bike with one leg, and set an example of how being disabled is actually being differently-abled, and people with disabilities can still do everything one without a disability can do. You might be familiar with the movie Emmanuel’s Gift, narrated by Oprah Winfrey!

We’re All Wonders: Read Together Edition by R.J. Palacio: A companion to the chapter book (and movie) called Wonder, this books shares what it’s like to be Auggie, a boy who feels like any other kid but is not always seen that way, because of his facial deformity. It shows a child’s desire to belong, and encourages all of us to choose kindness and to understand empathy.

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Cari Best: This book takes the reader along with Zulay and her three best friends, who are all in the same first grade class. She is just like her friends, except she is blind. A fun school tradition is fast approaching…Field Day! Zulay decides she wants to run a race, and the story shows her journey to doing just that, much to everyone’s surprise.

My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete: Told through the perspective of his sister, this book explores what it’s like to have Charlie, a boy with autism, as a brother. Even though he doesn’t look any different, his brain works in a different way. I like this story because it explores an invisible disability.

There are sooo many other good choices for this category, and all categories, so be sure to check the Amazon links on each title for a full list of titles!

If I had one wish for this post, and the series of posts to follow, it would simply be to encourage parents and teachers out there to be selective and purposeful with the books we might be choosing to read to or read with our kids. Children’s literature can go a long way in helping to shape and form the character and values we hope our children develop and grow up to have!

DINNER. And how I got my kids to eat it.

If you know the Nardini’s personally, then you know we are foodies. I’m pretty sure when my husband wakes up, the first thing he asks is, “What’s for dinner?” And on Saturday morning, the first thing he’s downstairs doing is planning Sunday dinner. Look at all his dude group texts and family group texts and I’d put money on most of the photos being pictures of whatever food their eating or text messages asking everyone what’s on their menu today. I appreciate having a husband who can eat because that means I have a husband who can cook. And that’s #winning.

But food and toddlers? That’s a whole different story! There are two things in raising my kids that I have been batsh*t steadfast about. Like no compromises, not willing to cave, this WILL happen no matter what: sleep and food. (Sleep is for a different post a different day.)

I remember being pregnant with Luca and making Mike promise me that when our kids were old enough, we would always eat dinner together as a family. When I was little, my family did this as much as possible and I know Mike’s family was the same way. I wanted our family to grow up like this. [No qualms against families who don’t or didn’t do this…to each his own and I respect every mama’s choice and circumstances in lifestyle and habits!] We have our fair share of food stories and food battles, but I’m pretty happy with the fact that we stayed true to that wish and eat dinner together as a family every night, and most meals on weekends and stay-at-home days too! And not only do we eat together, but the kids eat the same thing as us. (I was also steadfast at never wanting to have to prepare two dinners: one for the parents and one for the kids.) So what’s my secret? Rules. Rules for my kids AND rules for my husband and I.

Dinner Rules for the Kids

  1. You eat what I cook. No asking for something different. If you don’t like it? Tough luck, I guess you won’t have dinner tonight. (This has happened, and OF COURSE I don’t send my children to bed hungry. Instead, I make sure I clearly separate dinner from whatever food they eat later that night and I don’t call it dinner.)
  2. No dinner means no dessert. The bruises are heavily motivated by sweets (foodies!), so the mere mention of no dessert usually does the trick. The oldest bruise has gotten smarter and fresher, and even started to say “I don’t even want dessert tonight Mommy.” (LIES!) But I just say ok no problem, and make him a plate and put it to the side for later. Every. single. time. he comes back an hour later saying he’s hungry and we pull that plate out and say “Ok, here’s dinner!”
  3. The one bite rule. This is how we’ve avoided picky eaters (for the most part). For every new food we have, or every food item on their plate, there is a one bite rule. 75% of the time they take one bite and realize they like it. And if they don’t, well there’s always something else on their plate, which brings me to my next rule.
  4. We always serve at least one thing we know they like. The pediatrician told me this once a while back and for whatever reason it stuck and it works. There are plenty of meals where we have something they don’t like. But I always make sure it’s not the only thing we’re having. If they don’t like the salmon, I make sure the sides are something they like. Or if they don’t like any of the items at all, a bowl of diced strawberries accompanies dinner too.
  5. Not eating? Fine I won’t force you, but you do have to sit with us. Coming to the dinner table is a rule. And even if you’re going to throw a fit or not eat or complain, your bottom will still sit there. Coming to dinner is an expectation, not an invitation.
  6. We keep a predictable line up, changing things up every once in a while to introduce new things. I found that if I change it up too much or too frequently, they started to get anxious about dinner. So instead, every Tuesday is taco Tuesday, and every Friday is pizza Friday. We have our usual chicken nights, and pork nights, and spaghetti and meatball nights too. I’ve found that being predictable means they’re excited for dinner.

Dinner Rules for the Parents

  1. Follow all the same rules as the dinner rules for the kids. LOL, but seriously! How many times have you told your kid not to do or say something and they say, “But you do it Mommy!” I got smarter a while back and realized that if I follow the rules, then there’s no opportunity for them to say things like that. So Mike and I follow all the same rules. And yes, that means sometimes we eat dino nugs and french fries for dinner too (and shhhh! we actually enjoy it!).
  2. Keep emotions out of it. I try to take an apathetic approach to food or dinner battles. I’ve found little success actually fighting the fight. Instead, I ignore or tell them no problem, which at first came unexpectedly (I think Luca is always ready for a fight!). Now, I’ve realized they come around eventually so I don’t waste my energy.
  3. Allow cheat days because no one’s perfect. So YES we have had meals where the kids had one thing and the parents had another – sushi nights are a prime example. We’ve also had meals where we don’t eat at the table. Heck, every parent knows sometimes lunch in front of the TV is a guaranteed quiet five minutes and sometimes that’s just what we need. And usually breakfast during the week is at the island! So, I grant myself grace whenever I need it and I don’t feel bad about it.

The Bruises Take Town Sports

And why I’m annoyed AF after the last fall soccer session.

Hubs and I have been talking a lot recently about how we would really love to meet more families and kids in town. Mostly because Luca is turning 5 in April, which means he’ll start kindergarten next year. We did Little Spartans soccer this fall as our first exposure. And the program was really good! For 3 and 4 year olds, but the coach still let Dominic play from day 1, even giving him a team shirt and everything. Each session was an hour – 30 minutes of structured play around the big skills of soccer…dribbling, kicking, etc., followed by 30 minutes of free play on all the little goals that were set up. Parent on the field with the kid was mandatory. No qualms about the program, Luca really enjoyed it and was super outgoing, always responding to coach and participating happily in the activities.

Yesterday was the last session of the season, so after the normal first 30 minutes, coach actually split all the kids up into teams, and they got to play their first “game”. Here’s where I’m hot and bothered. Not a lot of kids came to the last session because it was rescheduled from a cancellation, and rescheduled to 1:30 – nap time for lots of kids. So Luca’s team was him and two other kids, a boy and a girl. The team he was “playing” against was three girls. Now remember, I’ve never actually seen my kid play in a game situation because it’s always just been these structured activities. So I really didn’t know how this was going to go.

Wait for it…

Well, turns out two things: (1) Luca was fast as hell, like a lot faster than all the other kids, and (2) I think because he was on the older side of the age range he was a lot better than the other kids just due to coordination and development, etc. I’m not convinced he was actually that good at soccer. But he spent most of the “game” beating all the other kids to the ball, winning every challenge for the ball he took, sprinting down field on breakaways, and scoring goals. Case in point in the video above. You’d think that as Mom, I’d be super pumped for the kid – and I totally was! But I became self conscious when I started overhearing other parents and grandparents talk badly about the kid who kept taking the ball, scoring the goals, beating all the other kids. I found myself actively coaching my kid to let the other kids have a turn, and when he scored, he would look towards me to see if I was cheering. And he’d be utterly confused when I was just quietly standing there cheering inside my head but too self conscious to cheer out loud. “But Mommy if I score a goal in soccer you and Gammy are gona cheer really loud for me right?!?!” he had asked me a few weeks ago. At one point, he had the ball again (because none of the other kids were even trying to get the ball) and a little girl from the other “team” ran and just stood in the middle of the goal. The girl’s mom was behind the goal and yelled at Luca, “Don’t kick the ball at her!!” At least I’m pretty sure that’s what she yelled, but I could have been in such culture shock over what was going on that I misheard her (and if so, then I’m sorry for representing her this way). Luckily, Luca listened and just softly touched the ball to the corner of the goal. At the end, Luca even accidentally knocked a girl over trying to get the ball and we yelled at him, causing him to stop dead and cry in the middle of the field.

I didn’t actually say anything to any of the other parents. And no one tried to talk to me. It was like a mob, or maybe it wasn’t and I just felt this way because I was so self conscious and protective of my kid. I was so confused. Why was I embarrassed? Why did I feel like everyone on the field hated my kid? I wasn’t even able to sort out all my emotions till afterwards on my way to Target (because who doesn’t jump in the car and go to Target when you’re in need of therapy?). And that’s when it hit me. I was legit pissed. Screw the mom who yelled at my kid not to kick the ball AT THE GOAL. It’s SOCCER. How about you tell your kid to get out of the way if she’s not going to do anything? I know I’m angry and this is probably extreme, but what the heck. These were the people I wanted to try and be friends with?! Or the parents of the kids I wanted my kid to try and make friends with?! Better yet, the parents of the kids my kid will be going to school with?! The ones that actively were cheering against my kid and making comments to each other when they clearly saw I was within ear shot. Is this really what my town is like? I think I honestly would have felt a lot better about the whole situation if my kid was the one who sucked.

So now I feel badly that I didn’t hoot and holler and scream and jump up and down every time he scored a goal. Now I feel badly that I didn’t stand up for him when I started to hear other parents mumble. Now I feel badly that he would stop and look at me sheepishly and shyly every time he got the ball or scored a goal because he was confused he might be doing something wrong. And now I feel badly that I yelled at him for accidentally bumping a girl to the ground trying to get the ball and thus making him cry.

Man, if this is what town sports is really going to be like, I’ve gotta figure out a way to grow some thicker skin, stand up for my kid, and be loud and proud when he totally kicks ass. Yesterday I just felt like a panicked hermit crab retreating into her shell, and my kid deserves more than that.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

(Picture just because.)

Developmental Holiday Gift Guide: Everything you need to succinctly know when buying TOYS and BOOKS for infants through five years old

It’s here! Because a lot of you asked for it, I put together a holiday gift guide by age with a combination of (mostly) developmentally appropriate toys and books from the teacher side of me (professional opinion) and the tried-and-true, our-family-favorites mom side of me (non professional opinion). These are by no means complete lists. I’m sure there are things I forgot or things I might add along the way, but with each age range I’ve attached a general description of things to look out for/things to consider depending on the child’s age. I’m always hoping to hear your ideas too…send them along and I’ll add them into the lists! If you actually click on each age range heading, you’ll be taken right to my Amazon lists. Amazon is great, but I’m also going to try to buy local this year, so we can try and help save some small businesses along the way!

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of limiting technology – usually one technology gift per child per year. (Also full disclosure, somehow they end up watching way more TV and movies than they should on a weekly basis so don’t let that statement make you think differently of me.) This year we’re replacing the boys’ old iPads and that’s considered a huge gift for us. But most of the time I gravitate towards simpler or more traditional toys. For infants and young toddlers, I like a lot of the wooden toys, handmade toys, or montessori themed toys. For older toddlers I start to merge what is tried and true and high quality with what is high interest – and yes, that sometimes means forgoing classic and stylish toys for tacky trends and well known brands.

We’ve also ended up with a lot of crap over the years, and our playroom is in desperate need of a clean out, purge, and re-org. I usually do this right before Christmas anyway, in order to make room for the new crap that’s about to roll in. This year I’m really thinking of moving to a rotational toy room just to make space and get rid of the clutter. You know, the kind where we store bins in the basement of different types of toys and each bin gets its monthly turn of playroom feature and you keep rotating so things don’t get old and stale (and so you have more space). But this is a topic and a post for another day so let’s get right to it…

Infant – 6 Months

Think vision, think tummy time, think dangly, think texture. For this age I really don’t/haven’t bought much. But what I DO buy are things that are high contrast: black and white, or bright, bold colors in symmetrical/geometrical patterns because for babies the vision stimulation is everything! Go with soft crib books and loveys/security blankets with lots of texture. The more texture the more comfort. Anything to promote tummy time. Activity gyms are an absolute MUST HAVE because not only are they a valuable tool for tummy time, but the soft toys that usually dangle from above are perfect for the many milestones babies will hit in the first several months of life: visual stimulation, baby push-ups, kicking and batting, and grabbing and tugging.

6 – 12 Months

Think teething, think fine and gross motor, think mobility, think strength. You need things that are both small enough for a baby at this age to manipulate, but big enough so that they aren’t a choking hazard. We love rubbery teething toys, and any type of “in and out” toy. By “in and out”, I mean toys that can be transferred in and out of buckets (i.e. shape sorters, stacking rings, blocks) because this provides not just entertainment for long periods of time, but fantastic fine and gross motor practice and coordination. If you go the mobility route, do your research. We’ve had plenty of walkers or push toys that are not built for balancing, and the minute a baby puts weight on it the whole thing topples over (including baby!). We’ve had luck with the two I specifically put on the list – baby can learn to take assisted steps without the parental fear of everything and everyone toppling over. If you go the book and puzzle route, think wood puzzles with chunky pieces, or books with bright colors and simple organization (like first word books or board books with short sentences – 3 or 4 words). At this age, they start taking in words and receptive language like crazy even though their expressive language won’t pop out for a while still. Activity centers are also a worthwhile investment because everything is usually attached (no missing pieces, no choking), with lots of fine motor practice and different activities to explore.

1 – 2 Years

Think fine and gross motor ON STEROIDS, think active and physical strengthening, think practice and patience, think the building blocks of imagination and creativity. If your one or two year olds are anything like mine, by this age they are testing out every physical skill they have and getting into everything. If there’s one word I’d use to describe them, it’s BUSY. That’s why this age is filled with toys and activities that promote open-ended exploration and lots of movement, with some more detailed, refined, and delicate fine motor skills. Old favorites like Mr. Potato Head are perfect for this age, as there are endless combinations paired with trickier fine motor. For larger movement toys, sit and push or ride-on/ride-along toys are great for promoting movement in a more controlled way. At this age kids also start to have an imagination, and begin to dapple in pretend play. This is the best age for an introduction to things like baby dolls or stuffed animals or larger pretend play toys like figurines or animals, or my most favorite gift of all time – the play kitchen and play food. Megablocks (oversized legos) come in here too, but I caution you to avoid sets that build a certain thing (your kid will never follow the directions to build a certain structure at this age) – instead opt for the general starter kits that give you all the various blocks but with no specific design. Towards the end of this age, I also start to think about sensory (more on that in the next age range) so play doh makes its first appearance here. Nothing fancy though – no need to get the big elaborate kits – just the dough with cookie cutters are plenty for this age. If you’re considering books at this age, think language development. Board books (still!) with simple story lines, seek-and-find, or rhyming patterns help kids at this age develop their language as well as a sense of story.

3 -5 Years

I really couldn’t decide if I wanted to do 3-4 years or 3-5 years for this category, as I feel the jump in development that happens in year 4-5 is massive, so what would be a good gift for a 3 year old may not be a good gift for a 5 year old. But I just wasn’t able to splice it out enough to have two separate categories.

Think pretend play and dramatic play, think energy, think creative and imagination, think longer, more extended projects and play time, think sensory, sensory, sensory, and think about massive amounts of skill and knowledge development in huge bursts and leaps and bounds. Lots of sensory options, and it really depends on how much mess you want to deal with. (Full disclosure: I recommend letting them get messy sometimes because if you avoid all things messy they are missing out on important sensory stimulation and opportunities.) I love the variety packs play doh has come out with that include their cloud, krackle, and slime. Train sets or toy car collections or animal collections or doll houses (Calico Critters is a good gender neutral option!) come in at this age, as kids are able to more successfully organize their play to be able to play with lots of things at once. This is when you start to see kids set up zoos and towns and cities and race tracks. You also start to see them assume the role/perspective of someone else – maybe they’re running around the house as Woody from toy story all the time, or they spend an hour playing Paw Patrol with their Paw Patrol figures. High energy activities like bikes (balance bikes are amazing for development of balance!), scooters, and (gasp!) bounce houses that are small enough to fit inside your basement but large enough to allow for lots of jumping and wrestling and bouncing. I also love incorporating crafts and art supplies at this age – things like crayons and markers and coloring books and sticker books and even blank artists’ pads are engaging but also help to develop more specific fine motor skills. We introduced the grand easel at 3ish (maybe it was even 2.5ish), and it was a little too soon. We spent a lot of the first few months having to hover and teach to make sure markers or chalk weren’t drawn on anything other than the easel. But once that lesson was learned it is the perfect activity center. For puzzles and books, you’re now moving into the more complex, traditional puzzles (still with larger pieces but a smaller number!) and books in a variety of genres like non fiction, traditional picture books (I still keep it hardcover at this age if I can!), and old favorites like fairy tales and books in a series (Berenstein Bears anyone?!).

Remember to check out the post about Snow Day Boxes, too!

A little while back I did a post on Snow Day Boxes – boxes that Santa brings my kids every year filled with no-tech/low tech special activities that the kids can do on snow days (or rainy days or quiet time or rest time, etc.). It’s worth a read, as it could become your newest yearly tradition! If you’re interested, click here to read that post too. Happy shopping!