Do you know about the awesome podcast, What Should I Read Next? It is the show for every reader who has ever finished a book and faced the problem of not knowing what to read next. Each week, Anne Bogel, of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, interviews a reader about the books they love, the books they hate, and the books they’re reading now. Then, she makes recommendations based on that person’s tastes and her seemingly infinite mental card catalogue of every book every published.
Inspired by that primo podcast, some bookish friends and I decided to have a dinner party wherein we played literary matchmaker for each other. Here is how it went down. A few weeks in advance of our dinner, an email (and corresponding excel spreadsheet (nerd alert)) went out with these three questions:
- What are three books you love?
- What is one book you hate / didn’t like?
- What are you reading now?
Having each person’s picks in advance allowed us to thoughtfully consider books that person would enjoy, and come to the main event armed with suggestions.
When we gathered together for dinner, we took turns going around the table telling why we loved the books we loved, and what rubbed us wrong about the books we didn’t like. We pulled out themes based on preferences (i.e. WWII historical fiction, endearing narrator in a story well told, dystopian epic, family saga, mildly disturbing memoir, etc.) and discussed favorite authors. Then we played literary matchmaker for each other by answering the big question for each person: “What should I read next?” It was so nice to hear sentences like “If you loved The Nightingale then you HAVE to read All the Light We Cannot See.” “If you appreciated The Sound of Gravel then download Under the Banner of Heaven on your Kindle immediately.” Around the table a cumulative zillions of pages had been read. It was like a live version of Pandora–but for books–with wine and dessert.
I came away from the evening with a solid list of TBR (to be read) books I know I will like, and the joy of recommending books I loved to others. The whole night was chicken tortilla soup for the reader’s soul. (This recipe, for those who’d like to know.)
For your reading pleasure, I wanted to share the books that each of us identified on our three BOOKS WE LOVE lists. I am not going the mention the books we hated because we all know the internet is a place for only kind words, rave reviews, and positivity. I implicitly trust the taste of these ladies, AS SHOULD YOU. So look no further than the list below to decide what you should read next. I know these titles will grace my bedside stack for months to come.
Books We Loved:
Definitely consider throwing such a dinner with your book club or a group of your bookish friends. It is a surefire way to reinvigorate your reading life, a new way to connect with old friends and get to know new friends better. Great conversation guaranteed.
(More into listening than reading? Here is a post about my favorite podcasts. )
We just got back from Disney World and I’m here to say it lived up to the hype. The whole trip was the thrill of our daughter’s little life so far, and it turned out to be a total highlight of parenting for us. But let’s start at the beginning. Because I want to remember all of this.
After the Christmas surprise and the weeks of anticipation, the big day was finally here. Harper’s first plane flight did not disappoint. “Blast-off” was a thrill and so was trying to find our house from the sky. We made it to our hotel by lunchtime and spent the afternoon swimming in the pool and riding the escalators in the lobby. We could have stopped there but the hits kept comin.’
My parents arrived in time for a sunset loop on the monorail. Next we took a boat ride from our hotel to the restaurant at the Wilderness Lodge, where children are actually encouraged to ride wooden horses around the table while they wait for their meal. There was a light parade in the lake outside our hotel room which we caught just as we were heading in to call it a night. “They must have known it was my first day!” Harper said. “They threw this parade for me didn’t they, daddy?” Yes Harper. Yes they did.
Our hotel was in walking distance from the Magic Kingdom so we all walked to the park together on that first day to be ready for action when the gates opened at 9am. My parents were awesome and fully committed to leaving it all on the playing field. We took Harper on the Teacups, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, It’s a Small World (had to. we’re not monsters), The Carousel and the Jungle Cruise. Harper loved her first roller coaster, the view from the Dumbo ride, the surprise dance party on the castle steps, and the chance sightings of the character celebs. “She is the perfect age for this,” I noted to my parents as our 4-year-old handed her autograph book to Belle. “I am the perfect age for this,” my 65 year old father replied.
There is a parade around the Magic Kingdom every day at 3pm so we were sure to stake out a primo spot on the route. Harper shouted and waved at each character “Hi Peter!” “Hey Piglet!” “Hi Ariel!”—truly amazed by each new float emerging containing her heroes.
We headed back to the room for a round of late naps around 4:30, but were back at it by 6:30 and stayed until the park closed. Bedtime schmedtime. There was a light show on the castle and fireworks and ice cream, and rides, rides and more rides. On our first day as we strolled out of the park at a cool 10:30pm, a tired but joyful Harper said “mommy, this was the best day of my life.”
We said goodbye to my parents and the remaining three of us hunkered down for another few days. We spent the morning at Hollywood Studios where we started the day bright and early with a character breakfast. Not sure which Harper liked more, meeting the characters from her favorite Disney shows or the Mickey-shaped waffles on the all-you-can-eat buffet. We did the Frozen Sing-a-long, some Star Wars rides, the Tower of Terror, and then it was onto Epcot for the afternoon. Lunch
and tequila shots in “Mexico” and a lap around The Test Track were highlights. Back to the room for late power naps and then we spent the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom.
Harper, it turns out, is a thrill seeker. She loved the roller coasters so naturally we wanted to take her on Space Mountain—the biggest thrill at Disney World. We measured her outside the ride and learned that she was three inches too short. John and I figured that if we gave her a big hairdo and padded her shoes a bit, she would make the cut. So we went to work to get that girl to grow.
Jury is out whether the sight of a father shoving balls of napkins in his daughter’s shoes while her mother constructs a voluminous topknot in efforts to sneak their too short daughter into a roller coaster constitutes a parenting high or low.
We will consider it a high.
By day three we were
exhausted pros. We spent the entire day at the Magic Kingdom from the time the gates opened-ish to when they closed. We were on a one word basis with the rides (Splash Mountain= Splash, Big Thunder Mountain=Thunder…Pan, Cups, The Cruise, etc.) We worked the FastPass system, smugly laughing at the schmoes waiting 130 minutes to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (ahem, Dwarfs) as we breezed through to the front of the line. We knew the fastest routes between Adventureland and Fantasyland and had front row seats for the show on the castle steps. Harper got to hug “THE REAL” Cinderella, Rapunzel, Elena of Avelor and Tiana. We found the top spot for delicious ice cream and hit up our favorite spot for above-average park food (Pecos Bill’s. Guacamole bar on point). We shut da club down.
Obviously every night at Disney involves fireworks because duh. They are truly spectacular. Buuuut, we realized that the lines for some of Harper’s favorite rides were way shorter while the masses head to watch the display. When our tiny Tinkerbell politely asked the ride attendant “can we please go around again?” he couldn’t say no. So round and round we went. We were able to take loops around Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain without having to wait in line.
Our daughter has to hold the world record for total trips taken down Splash Mountain. And her parents win the award for being willing to get soaked in recycled theme park water to make her childhood dreams come true.
The Last Day
We spent the last day in Orlando just kickin’ it poolside before packing it up to go home. When we got in the bus to head back to the Orlando airport, I noticed sweet Harper was in tears. “I don’t want to leave,” she sobbed. We had to remind her that she had a little sister waiting for her back at home, and we assured her that we would come back when little sis was old enough to join us.
On the plane flight back, I had a moment to reflect on our whirlwind adventure as my four-year old slept in my lap. Being away from the routine, the rules, (the one year old), work and school, provided the opportunity for me to simply enjoy my oldest daughter, and do so in a place that illuminates everything remarkable about this particular moment of childhood. It was a gift to see it all through my daughter’s eyes and I want to always remember exactly how she is right now…
She expresses awe and wonder when she experiences each new thing. She believes in all of it–happy endings, fairy tales, the power of pixie dust—and that possibly the parade is being thrown just for her. She is fearless and free and totally unselfconscious, feeling beautiful in her hand-me-down princess dresses and up for dance party in the street with total strangers. She thinks it is totally tops to have the undivided attention of her parents and feels on top of the world when she is on her dad’s shoulders. She makes wishes on pennies and stars, truly believing that her wishes will come true. She knows no other way than to be truly present in the here and now. Even simple things and out of the ordinary surprises (like ice cream and staying up past bedtime) are spectacular. Her imagination runs wild and she simply believes.
Through a child’s eyes, Disney is magical. But the magic for me was that our trip made me understand how magical, fleeting and truly precious childhood is. Our time away with just our sweet girl made me realize that we are in the thick of the magical years of childhood, and I want to soak up every bit.
A few tips, tricks and do’s and dont’s to consider if your are planning a trip to The Mouse House:
- Having an hour or two of downtime back at the hotel was a great way to recharge so we all had the energy to stay out late and enjoy late-night Disneyness. I’m sure this is one of the main reasons none of the children or adults in our party had meltdowns.
- Disney is not the place to try to look cute. If there was ever a time to say “F-it. I’m wearing a fanny pack,” this would be it. Dress to combat the elements: massive crowds, the Florida sun, obese people in scooters, drippy ice cream cones, sweat, and bossy moms aggressively maneuvering double strollers, just to name a few. Wear a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen and clothes that can get dirty wet and durty.
- Work the FastPass+ system. For those of you not fluent in Disney, a FastPass is basically a reservation for a ride so you don’t have to wait in line. Hey-oh. Work the system and only use your FastPasses on rides with the longest lines (like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan, etc). As soon as you check in for your third FastPass+ reservation, open the My Disney Experience app and get a 4th. And on and on.
- Download the My Disney Experience App. You can see menus, ride wait times, photos, make reservations, and manage your FastPasses. Easypesy.
- Rent or bring a stroller even if your child has outgrown the stroller phase. So much walking for little legs. Be sure to tie a colorful ribbon so that you can easily identify your stroller from the THOUSANDS parked outside the rides. Plus we used the under the stroller storage for dry layers, maps and snacks. Which reminds me:
- Bring snacks. Lollypops are great for waiting in line, and the snack bars, oranges and peanut butter crackers we packed kept us fueled between meals. And BYOB to save a few shekels. B as in bottled water. But you do you.
- I suggest watching parades from Frontierland. All parades start in Frontierland and end at the front of the park. Find a shady spot behind the white rope.
- If it can be avoided, don’t bring your smallest children. Disney, it turns out, is no place for children—I saw mothers with nursing infants and two year olds and felt sorry for them.
- Wear comfortable shoes. My dad’s Fitbit exploded because we walked so many steps on our first day. Running shoes are mandatory. After three full park days at Disney, I feel like I just completed an ultramarathon.
- Plan a trip while your little ones are in the magic years and believe in all of it. So SO glad we did.
I have a very clear memory of my first trip to Disney World when I was four-and-a-half years old. We loaded up in the family station wagon and headed south, likely without seatbelts because it was the 80s. We rode the Teacups and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (and the woefully underrated Carousel of Progress, a childhood favorite of mine where there was never a line), ate Mickey shaped ice cream, waited in line to have our turn on It’s a Small World , and chased down A-listers like Goofy and Donald for autographs. It was absolutely magical and I cried all the way home.
We knew this was the year to take our four-and-a-half year old daughter Harper for her first time. So early last fall I started looking into planning a trip. Well my friends, lesson one is that a lot has changed since the Disney trips of the days of yore. It is not as simple as it was in 1986. We started planning our February trip in October, which I found out was really late in the game—nearly too late to get a room with a park view and a meal with even a second-tier princess. So we enlisted the help of a Disney Vacation Planner (yes those exist). She helped us navigate the world of Fastpasses, character meals, MagicBands, hotel reservations, the Disney app, park hopper tickets, and all the other new-age logistics of our grand adventure. And her services are FREE–the only free thing in what is shaping up to be the most expensive trip we have taken since our honeymoon. To a private island. Basically my husband and I could go to Europe for a week or take our four-year-old to Disney for a few days. We chose Disney because…well because… childhood is but a blink. And magic!
The first decision we made was to leave one-and-a-half-year-old Hallie back at home while the rest of us fly to Florida. I am well aware that children under two fly for free and get into Disney World for free, but that is definitely a booby-trap. Free does not equal fun nor does it equal wise. Hallie is way too young to remember what would amount to a high-wire feat of A-level parenting required to keep her happy in a stroller for 14 hour days. She is also afraid of roller-coasters.
Once we had the trip logistics nailed down, we had to decide how and when to tell Harper the Big News that we were going to Disney World. We considered telling her the night before we planned to fly out. I think I saw that in a Disney commercial once and it was awesome. She would have gone BANANAS, but we would have missed out on the solid gold that would have come from her anticipating the trip. One of the things I love most about Harper is how genuinely excited she gets about pretty much everything. Birthday parties, elevators, desserts, a song on the radio, Tuesdays, school days, weekends, a new toothbrush, old goldfish she finds in her car seat—all of it. She just gets hyped up about whatever’s now and whatever’s next. On a recent Target trip, I bought her some basic white socks. She was absolutely beside herself with excitement when I pulled them out of the bag to show her. “Oh mommy, how did you know?! This is exactly what I wanted! I love them so much. Thank you thank you. And they fit perfectly!” My precious little orphan Annie. If she was that excited about new socks, I knew the Disney surprise would blow her little mind.
So for Christmas we made a plan for her last gift to tell her that we are taking her on a trip to Disney World.
Hidden in the tree was a red card with her name on it that said “open me last.” Inside was the first clue to the scavenger hunt, or “scabenger hunt” in her precious preschool pronunciation.
The first clue was in a bag that said “WHO?”
The clue inside said “You! And Mommy and Daddy” and told her where to find the next clue. It also told her that my parents (AKA Mimi and Buzzo) are joining us for part of our mystery adventure.
The next clue said “WHEN?” and the paper inside told her “The first week of February” and had a little countdown calendar with the day marked.
The next clue was in a bag marked “WHY?” Inside the paper said “Because we love you!” and told her where to find the next clue. She rushed from room to room with all of us following behind.
The next clue was in a bag that said “WHAT?” on the outside and inside said “A very special family vacation on an airplane!” At this point she started freaking out because that will be a first for her. And we should all freak out a little because flying through the air really is quite remarkable.
The last and final clue was in a big bag that remained hidden until she came back in the living room.
The bag said “WHERE?” and inside was the big reveal of exactly where we’re heading.
The video of her opening the final clue and figuring out that we are heading to Disney World is something I know I will treasure forever. (Click HERE to see it if it doesn’t load. worth it.)
That poor little orphan child who cried tears of joy when I bought her new socks has never been on an airplane before. She is beside herself with excitement about that component of our adventure. In fact, we could probably just take her to ride the big escalator at the airport and stop there to watch the planes and it would be the thrill of a lifetime for her—but we will press on to the Magic Kingdom. Hi Ho!
If I’m honest, John and I are just as excited as she is. Seeing your children experience new things with pure unfiltered joy of is one of the absolute best parts of being a parent. I’ll choose that over a trip to Europe any day.
Click HERE to see Harper talk through the details.
((And for those of you planning a trip to see Micky Mouse in his natural habitat, you absolutely must reach out to Tara Verdigets at WDW Getaways (firstname.lastname@example.org). Her services are free and she speaks fluent Disney.))
Jingle jingle. It’s Christmastime in the USA. Our consumer culture took major liberties interpreting the story of the Magi at the birth of Our Savior in a lowly manger to become the gifting extravaganza it is today, but I am totally down. I delight in the season dedicated to thankfulness, togetherness, faith, family, Baby Jesus, and PRESENTS.
I love giving (and receiving hint, hint, hint), and I put a lot of thought into the gifts I give my children, our godchildren, nieces and nephews, and other little ones in our lives. I want to give toys that will be played with, or something funusful (fun and useful), or something that can be enjoyed by multiple family members for years to come.
So here are some of the gifts we are giving others and have requested when Santa and doting grandparents have asked. Perhaps some of these may be perfect for the little people in your world. ((And I’ve done my due diligence in the Amazon Review Bermuda Triangle so you don’t have to. All of these receive top ratings.))
My daughter received the LEGO Friends Heartlake Cupcake Cafe as a birthday gift. It took us four days to assemble all 439 pieces but both the 34 year old and the 4 year old in our family loved the process and felt a serious sense of accomplishment once we had precisely placed each piece. I think I may superglue that thing together and make it a circulating trophy to be awarded to anyone in our family who accomplishes something hard. For Christmas big sis wants another LEGO set (maybe this one or this one. Learning to follow directions is important ) and I would love for our home to have a basic set of LEGO bricks for spontaneous creative builds.
Kids Digital Camera
Harper loves taking pictures on my phone. Of me. When I’m not paying attention. So I think she will really enjoy having a camera of her own. (Side note: Nothing is more humbling than scrolling through her photoshoots. Kids have an uncanny knack for knowing just the angle to capture all the chins and the lighting that really emphasizes the dark circles under the eyes.) This Christmas she will be getting a kid-proof digital camera of her own to capture those special family moments, document vacations, and immortalize those amazing family angles.
What the heck is that thing? is the common question asked when people see our 18-month-old wiz by on her pink Ybike. It is hands down her favorite pastime and possession. Perfect gift for kids, like my nephew, not quite old enough for a pedal trike. Here is another version that gets high praises too.
Games Games Games
I love gifting games because they can be played for years to come by the whole family. Playing games with my daughter is one of my favorite ways to spend time together. These all come highly recommended and many can even be enjoyed by adults when the kids aren’t around. Spot-it! (different versions for all ages ) Set (ages 6+) Hoot Hoot Owl (ages 4-9) Labyrinth (ages 8+) Enchanted Forrest (4+)
We adore reading so every year we aim to give and hope to receive some quality reading material. The picture books we are giving are Rosie Revere Engineer, Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau, and Iggy Peck Architect. And we are just dipping our toes into read aloud chapter books, so something along the lines of Anne of Green Gables or Little House in the Big Woods would great gifts that our little bookworms could grow into.
Sesame Street Letter Board
Our youngest played with the Elmo On-the-Go Letters at a friends house for over an HOUR all by herself. Yes please! Bonus points being educational and neatly packaged in in its own case.
I want my daughter to have her own pair of headphones especially designed for kids. These will be great for her to use while watching things on the iPad when we are on trips and for listening to Audiobooks.
My parents gifted the girls a set of Magna-Tiles for Christmas last year and those things get played with literally everyday by both children. Yes they are crazy expensive but dude, they are worth it. The stand up to toddler abuse and can entertain adults–My Man and I have constructed some architectural marvels. Santa, if you’re reading this, we wouldn’t be mad at ya if there was this add-on set under the tree.
There is nothing and I mean nothing cuter than precious little children in matching pajamas. I adore the Christmas PJs from Hanna Anderssen. I would totally be into the whole family wearing matching pajamas but My Man vetoed that one. But if your man is a little more open to making magical memories, then check out the selection at target. They have super cute striped PJs that come in all sizes.
I love that my oldest is at an age where she will peacefully entertain herself creating art projects up in the playroom and be trusted not to draw on the walls. Unfortunately little sis has literally sucked our markers dry (stay tuned for long-term side effects). That said, it is time to replenish the supply. I think big sis will like this Washable Marker and Paper Kit and this Melissa & Doug Stamp Kit.
Roller Skates or a Bike
A BIG Surprise
My 4.5 year old’s big gift this year is a surprise. I think she will actually explode when she opens it. Stay tuned for details…and sushhhh.
Eager for more? Here is a post about the gifting that went down last year: http://takethedayoff.net/2015/12/what-the-children-are-getting-for-christmas-shhhhh/
Last year for Halloween, my daughter was the lone chicken in a sea of princesses. I was proud that she made the choice to go as a barnyard animal, smugly thinking that she was different than the rest of the girls her age who had fallen hard for the prevalent princess propaganda. She’s unique! She’s a free-thinker! She beats to her own drum!
I am definitely doing something right, I thought to myself as my free-range chicken went door to door trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. Sure I would have been even prouder had she wanted to dress up like Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Rosa Parks, but she chose to be poultry over being a princess and that was good enough for me.
Weeeeeeeell, by Christmastime that same year, she was sitting on Santa’s lap asking for this Ariel doll, a Princess First Aid Kit and an Elsa dress. In the past year our costume basket has exploded with tulle, tutus and tiaras, and our bookshelf runneth over with books featuring princess protagonists.
She always brings home princess books from the school library and together we have read and reread no less than 6 billion pages of princess prose. And we all know how the typical princess tale goes: Meek and mild damsel in distress gets rescued by a heroic handsome prince. They get married and everyone lives happily ever after.
I’m all for happily ever after, but let’s give the damsel a little more dimension. Make her brave, courageous, creative, spunky, independent, and the hero of her own story. Here are a some of our favorite princess books that turn the tired story-line on its head, and a few of these clever tales even offer solid little life lessons for your little princess.
There are some gawd awful children’s books out there, but there are also some treasures—even, and perhaps especially, in the princess genre. I hope you enjoy these as much as we do. They will help give your daughter’s princess aspirations a little more pizzazz.
The Do Princesses… Book Series ♥ Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated) ♥ The Paper Bag Princess ♥ Very Fairy Princess series
(And be sure to check out this post featuring some of our other favorite Children’s Books)
It is never easy to know what to do when a friend is experiencing pain or a loss of any kind. And miscarriage is particularly hard to discuss openly because it affects each of us who experience it differently and it is a tragically taboo topic. It is the loss of someone we didn’t get the chance to know, the loss of a dream for the future family we imagine, and a loss of innocence for future pregnancies. As we approach the due date for the pregnancy we lost earlier this year, I wanted to reflect back on the things that other people did for me that really helped during that tough time. I felt so unbelievably supported and cared for because of the outpouring of love from my friends. Here are some ideas of things to do for your friends if they are going through a miscarriage, taken directly from what my kind, generous, thoughtful and funny friends did for me:
Send a note, email, text, telefax or telegram. It is so hard to know what to say when a friend experiences a loss like this, and it may seem easier to do or say nothing out of fear for saying the wrong thing. Not sure what to say? Then say, “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.” No matter how eloquent or ineloquent, every single letter, text, note, email and voicemail meant so much.
I was just settling into the second trimester when I miscarried, so that meant most people in my world knew that I was pregnant. I was so grateful when a dear friend volunteered to tell our nearest and dearest about our loss so that I didn’t have to do the talking. This may be a job best suited for a sister or bestie, so if that’s you, volunteer to be the bearer of bad news.
Drop by food. I was emotionally out of commission on the days following the no heartbeat news, and physically out of commission for a few days following my D&C. I so appreciated the simple meals and sweet treats dropped at the door for our family when cooking wholesome family meals was the last thing I wanted to do.
Share your story. After I shared my story about my miscarriage, so many people reached out and said “me too.” It is at once heartbreaking and comforting to know that so many of you have gone through this. Hearing your stories helped me know that I wasn’t alone.
Give a gift certificate for something your friend likes. A thoughtful friend surprised me with a gift certificate for a pedicure with a note that said treat yo self. It was such a treat, and definitely in tune with the be gentle with myself mindset I adopted as I healed physically and emotionally.
Remember the dad too. It takes two to tango, and the baby’s father experiences his own grief. It was amazing to see how supportive my husband’s friends were to him.
It’s certainly not an occasion for champagne, but a bottle of wine is always divine. A sweet neighbor dropped off a bottle of wine at my door with a simple note basically telling me that she would totally understand if I drank it all by myself that afternoon. Flowers are nice too.
A best friend who has been there before sent me a sweet care package with a cute tea cup, the makings of a vodka cocktail, cozy socks, and an awesome sticker book for my daughter that prompted hours of independent play. Getting mail always puts me in a good mood and this particular package made me feel especially known and loved.
Having a miscarriage sucked. But it was made better by the fact that I had two precious children already. That said, it is hard to be an emotional basket case in the fetal position and continue onward with perky parenting protocol as if nothing is wrong. Sweet friends took my oldest daughter on adventures, ice cream outings and playdates while I was out of commission. If a friend of yours is going through it, tell her that you are coming by to take her child on an adventure, outing, or playdate. I’m pretty sure that my oldest daughter had the best few days of her life while I was feeling low…which made me feel a little better.
In some cases, it is best to tell, don’t ask. So often we say no when someone offers to do something kind for us or offers to help us in anyway. Instead of asking, “can I bring you dinner?” “Can I come get your big kid?” Tell. “I’m bringing dinner. I’ll leave it on the back porch.” “I’m going to pick up your daughter and take her to the park. Ill have her home by 6.” Your thoughtful initiative will be appreciated.
Check in a week later, a month later, and around the due date. Knowing that we were due in September, my nearest and dearest have asked how I am doing, or simply told me that they were thinking of me this month.
* * * * * * *
Odds are that someone you know has had or will have a miscarriage. So if one of your friends experiences a miscarriage, take a page from my peoples playbook and show you care. Any little word or deed will go miles to make your friend feel loved.
My perfect day would include a long walk on shady trail, gentle breeze and 70 degrees. In this vision, I am rocking the latest Lululemon and my naturally blonde hair bounces in one of those peppy ponytails with a slight wave. I walk for as long as I please, losing myself in the gentle rolling hills and the beautiful scenery….. The realty looks a little different: These days, if I get to walk it is rarely alone. My unintentionally ombre ponytail complements my Old Navy active wear as sweat drips in my eyes because it is 106 degrees on the cement. I am using all of my might to push the stroller up hills and bribing its passenger with snacks and toys to keep her content in attempts to eek out another mile without an emotional breakdown.
But! The common thread between fantasy and reality is that in both scenarios, I am listening to podcasts while I walk. Hands down, my very favorite hobby is going for a long walk while listening to podcasts. (Actually my #1 favorite hobby is going out for dinner when someone else is paying, but the walking podcast thing is #2) Anyway, I crank up the volume
to drown out the whining, and I lose track of time as songs, stories, tips, and talks stream through my headphones.
For you grannies out there who think I’m speaking Japanese when I say the word podcast, here’s how it works. Podcasts are kinda like free, on-demand talk radio. And there are zillions out there on just about any topic under the sun. My preferred method of listening is via the iTunes Podcasts app on my phone, which comes pre-installed on most iPhones and iPads. Simply search the app and hit “subscribe” on the podcasts you want to listen to or click “feed” and choose an episode from the archives.
Because of the sheer volume out there, I wanted to share some of my very favorites for your listening pleasure…
Goodness in the form of (mostly) true stories:
This American Life. This is the gateway drug of podcasts. I discovered This American Life one Sunday evening as I was driving back to college after a spring break trip around the turn of the century. It changed everything I thought I knew about public radio. I was instantly hooked and have rarely missed an episode since then. Ira Glass is on my short list of people with whom I’d like to dine.
Modern Love– The best columns from the Modern Love section of the New York Times, read by actors. Then the host follows up with the essayist for a quick chat about the piece.
The Moth– Regular people like you and me but cooler, telling their true stories live on stage.
The Longest Shortest Time– So entertaining and enlightening for the parents among us. Definitely worth taking a trip through the archives.
Advice (Eavesdrop on Other People’s Problems):
Dear Sugar Radio– You call it nosy, I call it emmpathetically curious–but whatever you call it, I truly love hearing people talk about their problems. And there are lots of podcasts out there that scratch that particular itch. On this podcast, authors Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond give thoughtful advice in response to letters they receive.
New Life Live– An advice call-in radio show which is awesome for two reasons: 1. The people calling in have really big and messy issues 2. It is call-in (not write-in) so there is a dialogue and follow-up-questions between the caller and the experts.
Marketplace– This daily radio program is about business news and how it affects you. This one happens to be more family-friendly than some of the others, so it is a good one to listen to on the loudspeakers while I am momming. And host Kai Ryssdal’s radio voice happens to be my favorite.
Clark Howard-Consumer advocate Clark Howard helps you save more of your hard earned money and not get ripped off. I always walk away with a few good nuggets of financial savvy.
TED Radio Hour– Each show is centered on a common theme and highlights some of the most fascinating TED Talks.
Fresh Air– My favorite genre of podcasts is the interview and Fresh Air is probably the gold standard as far as interviews are concerned. A chat with host Terry Gross is mandatory on most legit press tours, and I always enjoy listening in on her chats interesting people, authors, politicians, and actors. Terry Gross has my dream job.
WTF with Marc Maron– Comedian Marc Maron interviews musicians, writers, directors, actors, and other comedians. It’s a known fact that people go deep with Maron, probably because of his self-deprecating humor and the comfortable and casual nature of his conversations.
Nerdist– I don’t listen to this one with just any ol guest, but there are some treasures in the archives. Take a look through the archives and listen to the episodes featuring your favorite comedians, actors and musicians.
Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin– Alec Baldwin is a great interviewer. He asks thoughtful questions and talks to interesting artists, policymakers, taste-makers, and performers.
Death Sex and Money– Anna Sale interviews people — both famous and not — about three of the most taboo (and most interesting) conversation topics. So good.
What Should I Read Next– Armed with seemingly infinite bookish wisdom, Hostess Anne Bogel interviews readers and asks them these questions: What are three books you love? What is one book you hated? What are you reading now? and What would you like to change about your reading life? Based on the guest’s tastes, Anne answers the big question, “What should I read next?” I get 85% of my reading list from books I learn about on this awesome podcast.
Current Events of the Pop Culture Variety:
Channel 33-Bill Simmons is the guru of sports and pop culture, the founder of Grantland (RIP), and the machine behind the recently launched site The Ringer. Channel 33 is one of the Ringer’s network of podcasts that offers unique and thoughtful takes on tv, tech, movies and music. Because I really trust their contributors’ tastes, I often turn to them to get a cue on what is worth watching next.
Pop Culture Happy Hour– is a conversation about books, movies, music and television. I like hearing this group debrief media I have recently consumed.
Dinner Party Download-It’s a podcast structured like a dinner party, and intended to make you a dazzling guest. They bring in a celebrity for a short interview, dish out interesting tidbits about current events and have a themed cocktail.
There are exactly 2.985 bazillion podcasts so this list is hardly scratching the surface, but these are on my short list of worthwhile listens. What is on your list? What do I need to listen to? I am always on the hunt for new-to-me goodness. Sound off.
As I was looking through old photos in preparation for My Man’s most recent milestone birthday, I stumbled upon a stack of pics from our dating days. We looked so young and so smitten. Man it took me back…
We started off dating long distance, swapping weekends between Atlanta and DC. I recall many tearful Monday mornings after parting ways at the airport, tears running down my cheeks that were sore from smiling so much. Our weekends together were a blast. We played tennis, took long walks, went to concerts, and danced at weddings. We talked for hours over dinner, drank wine on back porches, took road trips, and got to know each other’s friends and families. He taught me how to play guitar and talk intelligently about Braves baseball, and I taught him how to lose graciously at Gin Rummy and appreciate The Bachelor (Brad Womack round two). We publically displayed boatloads of affection, wrote love letters and mailed each other mix CDs.
Dating the person you are going to marry is the very very best.
Then we got married. And that sentence should definitely end with an exclamation point because our marriage has been pretty dreamy. I have to say that I absolutely picked the right one. We just fit. Of course we are two imperfect humans, sharing a life with bills and babies and a mortgage and car maintenance–and one of us can never find her credit cards and the other of us gets irrationally aggravated with a losing baseball team and being on hold with the cable provider—so naturally we have occasional squabbles and attitudes, but things on the marriage front are good. Like really really good. Lo these many years later, I still have a huge crush on him. Our marriage is not full of tension or endless compromises and negotiations. We are great friends who love spending time together, more alike than different, and so secure in each other’s love.
But because things in our marriage are “easy,” it makes it easy to get a little lazy. Many days I go straight from workout clothes to frumpy PJs with white dabs of zit cream dotted on my face. I confess that I sometimes save my most charming and engaging side for other people, my most serving and selfless side for my children, and he ends up getting whatever is left.
When I reflect back on our dating life, which seems like ages ago, I think what I miss most is the dating version of me. It was me who was different—well not different, but definitely letting my sparkliest sides shine. And falling in love brings those sparkles out, doesn’t it? I recall one specific instance that pretty much encapsulates the whole thing. It was the time I woke up at 5am on Thanksgiving morning to join him for the last few miles of a half marathon he was running. Together we ran 5 miles uphill in the dark cold pouring rain. Everything in that last sentence is just plain wrong. But this was love and we were dating and that is the kind of thing you do without even a complaint or second thought when you are dating. It wasn’t that I was selling him a bill of goods or baiting the hook—I was just all in. I had that insatiable desire to be with him and make him happy and if that meant being cold and physically exerting myself before sunrise on a holiday intended for sloth and gluttony, then damnit, let’s do it.
So today, on the eight-year anniversary of when we got engaged, I want to commit to dating my husband. Not necessarily planning romantic rendezvous and epic dates per se, though that would be nice too, but more so being the version of myself that I was when we were dating.
Sure, I got this thing on lock, but I want to try harder…
I want to put a little more effort into my after-hours appearance. I want to try to sparkle a little more. More talking, more togetherness, a touch of flirting, occasional eyeliner. I want to continue to get to know him—to ask him questions and to understand him and care more about the things he cares about. I want to compliment him and cuddle with him and go out of my way to do kind things for him. I want to (metaphorically) say yes to running together, uphill in the rain.
Let’s see if he notices.
Off to make My Man a mix CD.
I am of that golden age where if you only have one glass of wine, people immediately start passing pregnancy rumors. Because my pals are popping out babies left and right, I have had the distinct honor of hosting and attending my fair share of showers.
We can all agree that the best part about baby showers is the mimosas. But what’s the worst part? The creepy games? The mayonnaise-centric menus? Indeed, those are definitely low-points, but in my humble opinion, the gift opening marathon is THE worst.
Traditionally, everyone gathers round and watches the mom-to-be open the mound of gifts selected by friends, colleagues, and distant cousins. So as not to seem greedy or ungrateful, pregnant mama opens each gift painstakingly sloooowly without ripping the paper. Then she must come up with creative and gracious commentary about each burp cloth and nipple shield and off-registry wildcard to entertain the onlookers. Meanwhile, the guests have to react to each item with equal reverence whilst engaging in polite whispery conversation with whomever they are seated next to. Guests watch as each gift is unwrapped, appreciated, discussed, passed around, re-boxed, and recorded. At small showers the gifting bit is no big deal, but at large showers, the gifting process can last for days.
No one and I mean no one likes receiving gifts more than I do (hint hint hint), but being on stage in such a manner was a mildly uncomfortable spot even for me. Here is a montage of my Oscar-worthy performance of oohs and ahhs at my own baby shower way back when:
The traditional gift-opening approach is more than a smidge uncomfortable for the gift receiver and can be like watching paint dry for the gift givers.
But guess what? There is a better way!
Next time you host a shower, try this alternative gift opening method:
The Group Gift Opening Extravaganza
Step 1: Randomly pass out one wrapped gift to each shower guest and the remaining gifts to the Mom-to-Be.
Step 2: Everyone open the gifts at the same time.
Step 3: One by one, go around the room and have each guest give a quick show-and-tell about the gift she opened. Hold it up, show off the cuteness, and say who it’s from. For example: “A Pack N Play from Patricia.” “It’s a swaddle from Susie.” “A WubbaNub from Winnie.” Etcetera.
Step 4: Refill your mimosa glass and get on with it.
This is a fun, fast way to make the most yawn-inducing part of baby showers a breeze–and, dare I say, even fun for the whole group.
At my sister’s baby shower which *gasp* included men, they actually had the guys open the gifts and do the show-and-tell. It was pretty dang entertaining to watch the single guys explain the baby paraphernalia that can make even mothers blush. (like this. and this). Fun times.
A few weeks ago, I was part of the hosting team for a baby shower honoring a pair of pregnant sisters. Adorable. But had we done the present process the traditional way, we would have had to have a medical team on-hand to deliver the babies who would have been born before the girls were finished opening. Fortunately we had the foresight to shake it up and opted for the mass gifting extravaganza. Try it at your next baby or bridal shower and be a hosting hero.
I will leave you with this easy recipe for a delicious champagne cocktail that can take any baby shower or average Tuesday to the next level.
Mr. Funk of New Orleans (for a group)
- 1 bottle champagne
- 2 ½ cups Cranberry juice
- 1/3 cup peach schnapps
- Raspberries to garnish
Mix it up and serve chilled in a champagne glasses. Garnish with a raspberry or two.
Mr. Funk of New Orleans (for one)
- 3 ounces champagne
- 2 ½ ounces cranberry juice
- ½ ounce peach schnapps
- 1 raspberry
Pour the champagne into a stemmed glass, then add the cranberry juice and schnapps. Garnish with a raspberry and serve.
Every parent has a few go-to tricks and tools that they rely on. Here are a couple of mine. The following list includes some of the things that make my day-to-day easier, happier, and more enjoyable:
UberEATS. We all know and love Uber, but until recently, I had no idea of the convenient little wonder that is UberEATS. They offer food delivery from lots of local restaurants and it is just plain awesome. The timing of this discovery was fortuitous for our foursome given that our microwave has been broken for the past month and its replacement is on backorder. It’s positively medieval over here. UberEATS just rolled out their family style program that offers larger portions for two or four. Just type “family style” in the search bar and choose what looks good. ((When you order, use the promo code EATSFAMJH and it will get YOU 50% off your first order, up to $15. Three cheers for delicious discounted food delivered hot to your door.)) Pro tip: order in secret, plate on your own china, and dispose of the evidence. Take all the credit knowing full well you didn’t have to dirty a single dish. Check out the deliciousness delivered to our house Monday night served alongside The Bachelorette:
Amazon Prime. For $99 a year you get two-day or even two-hour delivery on all orders, access to an online on-demand media library, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Diapers, books, and miscellaneous baby paraphernalia magically appear at our door mere hours after they’re ordered. Good luck convincing me that there aren’t little elves living under my house anticipating my every need. Last year, one of those little elves delivered a Fire TV Stick that makes watching all sorts of streamed content (Netflix, Prime, HBO, etc.) a breeze. Prime’s streaming picks are also pretty great too. They have a decent library of movies, a better selection of shows, and some stellar original content for your viewing pleasure, (The show Catastrophe is a solid choices for your evening entertainment)
Common Sense Media. A list about awesome stuff that helps this mom survive and thrive would be incomplete without some mention of television. This summer, when your children take a break from their sensory boxes, wooden toys, and mom-made Spanish scavenger hunts, you want them to watch something with at least a tad bit of redeeming value. The good news is that there are so many great shows and movies out there for kids these days—shows with serious educational value and moral lessons. Bad news? There is also some total garbage. How is a parent to tell the difference without having to personally vet every episode of every show? I’ll leave that to CommonSenseMedia.org. It is my go-to tool to decide what shows and movies are appropriate and edifying for the young audience in our home. Type in any movie or show in their search bar and you will see a great rundown of what to expect. The write-ups start with “parents need to know that…” and each program or movie has a recommended age and is rated on criteria including Educational Value, Violence & Scariness, Positive Messages, and Positive Role Models. You know your child and your standards, and this will help you determine the right watch for your family. See also: My love song to Daniel Tiger.
Instacart. Do you want to schlep cranky children across town in the cold, rain, heat or snow to buy in bulk? Me neither. Enter Instacart. You simply choose your store (Publix, Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger, etc.), put items in your online cart, and schedule delivery. Just today I had a Costco order delivered to my door. Magic. There is a small fee for delivery and some stores markup items a tad in exchange for the service, but there are days when it is most definitely worth it. And I figure we actually come out ahead financially because the possibility of impulse purchases is virtually eliminated. The only person who is sad about the invention of Instacart is my 4-year-old, whose first word was literally “sample.”
The YMCA. I have to include something on this list that requires leaving the house so here it is. The wondrous haven that is the YMCA has been a godsend to me since I became a mother. Some days I go for the exercise. Other (most) days I go for the childcare. Every mother needs the occasional break from her children shelovessomuch, and this is much needed me-time disguised as something virtuous. Whether I am taking a calorie torching class like Turbo Kick or reading mags and watching Bravo while “exercising” on the elliptical, I know my children are in the loving hands of trained YMCA professionals. The best part is so many of my friends are members that we get to enjoy some quality time together while our kids play with their little friends in the play center. Everyone wins.
I’ll leave you with a pic I snapped at Harper’s YMCA swim lesson a few weeks ago. We are hoping that her actual swimming ability will soon catch up with her off-the-charts confidence.
So what tools and tips and tricks and services and solutions have you been loving lately that I need to know about? Wonderful websites? Awesome aps? Favorite products? Other things that can be delivered to my door? Enlighten me!
I don’t know how it is where you are, but around here “breast is best” is tattooed on our bosoms. And it’s true that breastmilk is amazing for babies.
But you know what else is amazing for babies? Formula.
I said it. The F word.
((Before I continue, I want to remind you that this entire post is watermarked with Do Whatever Works Best For You. Only you can decide that for yourself and your children. And in case no one has told you lately, you are a really really good mom.))
The logistics worked out for me to breastfed my firstborn for seven months. I’m not going to get into nipply details (I elaborate a little more here), but it was tough for both of us. Many women are teary and nostalgic during their last breastfeeding session, but I wanted to sing Jon Secada’s Hallelujah Chorus from the rooftops once my baby was fully weaned. I felt free…but I also felt like a quitter for not making it to the one-year mark and guilty for not loving it every step of the way. In retrospect I realize that I was wishing away precious moments of my baby’s infancy ticking away at an arbitrary deadline (I set for myself) for when I would stop breastfeeding. I wanted things to be different the second go round. I wanted to silence the shoulds swirling around my head and not let them dictate my feeding choices or my feelings surrounding them.
So approaching the birth of my second child, I took the pressure off myself and my boobs and I held the whole experience loosely. I didn’t want that pressure to breastfeed to rob me of any of the joy of parenting. Here was my plan: If breastfeeding was making me and my baby happy and working out well for the other members of our family, then I would stick with it. If it wasn’t, then I would give myself permission to stop.
Things were going okay at first, but it wasn’t long before I started dreading every feeding. I was also dizzying myself with juggling the timing and logistics of nursing the baby while availing myself to lovingly parent the three-year-old. Before or after carpool? At the park? Leave now for the pool, or nurse now and tell big sis she will miss out on swimming with her friends? How much should I let what is “best” for one child dictate the program for the entire family? The struggle was real.
I knew our nursing days were numbered when I said the real F-word three times before 7am while that sweet baby and I both sobbed topless in her nursery. That day I ditched the all-or-nothing mentality. From then on, my daughter got a mix of breastmilk straight from the source, pumped bottles, and bottles of formula. By month three, my sweet baby was getting all bottles all the time and all of them were filled with formula. She was thriving and so was I.
It turns out that the alternative to breastfeeding is not poison. And you know what else I discovered? Formula is not made of tiny shards of glass and arsenic! It is actually full of good things that babies need. Feeling the freedom to feed Hallie formula has made her first year downright damn near delightful for our whole family. I am a happier, more present, more joyful parent to both my children (and a more pleasant wife and human) because I stopped breastfeeding when I did. And I would argue that giving my girls the gift of a happy and available mother has far greater benefits than any amount of breastmilk.
If breastfeeding is working for you, then stick with it! You are an awesome mom.
BUT if it isn’t working for whatever reason, or just plain isn’t an option, you are still an awesome mom.
Maybe you are going to great lengths to try to make it work when it just isn’t. Maybe you dread feedings because each one is excruciatingly painful and time-consuming. Maybe you aren’t producing enough milk. Maybe you have had to make extreme modifications to your own diet because your child has an allergy. Maybe you have to head back to work. Maybe you are feeling guilty for quitting breastfeeding when there was more you could have done. Maybe the sacrifices you are making to breastfeed outweigh the supposed benefits of breastmilk. Maybe breastfeeding just wasn’t an option because you are an adoptive parent. Maybe you are the mother of quadruplets and breastfeeding is logistically impossible. Or maybe you just plain don’t like it.
If any of the “maybes” mentioned above sound familiar, give yourself permission to try something else.
Question 1: Can you tell which of these adorable children received the most breastmilk?
Answer: Me neither. And no IQ test, blood test, juggling contest, spelling bee, regatta or footrace would tell us either.
Question 2: Can you tell which well-adjusted adult in the picture below was breastfed?
Answer: Neither. That’s me on the right and my younger sister on the left. My sister and I didn’t get a drop of breastmilk and we both grew into happy healthy adults who enjoy an extremely close relationship with our amazing mother (who still buys us matching clothes). I turned out OK, but my sister turned out great. She is a gorgeous, non-obese, valedictorian, athlete, gourmet cook, mother, and all-around gentle, generous, beautiful soul, M.D. She is a shining star—and a walking endorsement demonstrating that formula fed babies experience zero long-term side effects.
* * * * *
The decision to breastfeed is personal to every mother. We all have hopes and expectations going into motherhood about how it will go. We all have histories and convictions that make us more or less determined to make it work. And we all want to give our children the very best. But what if the “best” means different things to each of us?
There are so many choices we make as mothers—and I am here to say that breast or bottle is not the most important one. Not even close. It is so hard to remember that during the throes infancy. As mothers we have to make a lot of decisions regarding our children, decisions with actual long-term impact, and I know the stakes will only get higher as our children grow. So let’s take the pressure off of ourselves and each other about this one. Okay?
I’m awesome. You’re awesome. We’re awesome.
I was hesitant to transition our daughter from the confines of her cage–oh, sorry. I think the politically correct term for that is crib. Crib. Let me start over.
I was hesitant to transition our daughter from the confines of her crib to her big girl bedroom. I feared that my years of controlling bedtimes and wake-times would be over. Would she be roaming the halls drawing on the walls, playing with knives, and lighting matches in the middle of the night while the adults slept upstairs? Or way WAY worse: would she wake us up before 8am?
In efforts to quell those fears, I bought this AMAZING clock and put it to use the day she moved out of the crib and into her new room. It has worked like a charm. The light on the clock turns green when it is time for her to wake up—a time I decide and set. Then, and only then, she calls us enthusiastically, “Mommy, Daddy, Baby Sister, my light turned green!” And the day begins.
My studies have shown that, like dogs, young children have no real concept of time. You have to be the one to guide them if you don’t want the bedtime/waketime situation to become a GD free-for-all.
A few tips for making the green light work:
- The key to making this clock system work for you and your child is to set the rules and enforce them. Your house, your rules. At our house, our daughter is not allowed to come out of her room on her own accord after we tuck her in for bedtime. She knows she has to stay in her room until morning when her light turns green. If she wakes up in the morning before the green light, then she is free to quietly read, play, and explore the recesses of her imagination in her room. We euphemistically refer to whatever the heck goes on in there before her light turns green as “Independent Playtime.”
- Consistency is key. Clearly set and enforced boundaries benefit the whole family. A few times in the beginning Harper would call us in the morning before her light turned green. Knowing that she was safe and not being attacked by a tiger as she claimed, we waited until the green light to go get her. Then we lovingly reminded her of the rules and we did our best to follow them too. Do not cave! Kids Can Be Tricky Little Tyrants. (←working title of my forthcoming parenting book).
- Both parents must be on the same page about the ultimate authority of The Green Light. Even the softer, sweeter parent needs to be totally bought into the system. There is one in every parenting duo. I’m not going to name names, but if I were to translate the name of the somewhat softer member of our parenting partnership’s name into Spanish, it would be Juan.
- Pro tip: I set the clock for one time on the weekdays and usually a different, slightly later time on the weekends. If it’s been a late and wild Saturday night for the adults, we tick that clock back so that we can get some extra sleep in the morning. Say it with me now, independent playtime. Big sis is nonethewiser and usually sleeps in a bit on the weekends anyway.
- We keep the clock on the highest shelf in the room so that our daughter can’t tinker with it and mess with the buttons. No touching the clock allowed.
- When our children spend the night with my parents or when we go on vacation, the clock comes along. It is just part of the routine around here.
In conclusion, if our house was on fire and I could save one thing from my daughter’s room, it wouldn’t be the heirloom dresses hand-smocked by her great grandmother, or her
woefully neglected baby book, it would be the OK to Wake Clock. It is a tad more expensive than your typical alarm clock, but after seeing how well it has worked for our family, I would happily pay ten times what we paid for it—the peace of mind and sleep it provides are priceless.
I wanted to thank you for your sweet response to my last post sharing about our loss. Each and every note and email and comment you wrote meant so much. Thank you.
A wise friend encouraged me to be gentle with myself during this time while I heal emotionally and physically. Be gentle with yourself… what wonderful advice. I loved that and it really has been such a healthy mindset—and not a bad way to live period. Here is how I have been being gentle with myself and what I have been doing lately to help the fog lift:
- Doing the things that make me happy. Long walks, takeout, crosswords, music, magazines, Netflix, and spending time with friends.
- Doing things that make my children happy. I have been especially grateful for my little chickadees these past few weeks, and as a result I’ve been more indulgent (and more patient) than usual. Extra ice cream, park time, play dates and movies for everyone.
- Feeling the feelings, talking, writing and sharing. I was nervous to press publish on that last post. But it turns out that it was quite cathartic to put it all out there. So many of you have experienced the same sort of loss, and it has been so helpful to share my story and to hear yours.
- Getting back into the flow. After a few days of weepy wallowing, it was time to rejoin society. Returning to regularly scheduled programming and a routine that includes showers, under-eye concealer, real clothes and leaving the sofa is a good thing.
- Saying yes. So often in life we say no when someone offers to do something nice for us because we don’t want to be a burden or an imposition. But when I was recovering from the surgery and the physical portion of all of this, I just said yes. Can I pick up dinner on the way home? Yes. Need anything from Costco? Yes. Can Harper come play? Yes. Another brownie? Another episode? Another glass? Yes. Yes. Yes.
- Saying no. Sometimes no is the best answer. Spin class? No. Conference call? No. That thing you invited me to that I don’t feel like going to? No.
- Buying things. Contrary to what a professional therapist may lead you to believe, retail therapy may actually be helping. I bought a couple dresses to spice up my spring wardrobe, among other things. Since there has been a sudden spike in spending, I was not at all surprised when SunTrust called to see if my credit card was stolen. But it turns out that my card number actually was compromised. Some crook Ubered all over Miami, went on a shopping spree at Zara and made a series of charges to an online dating site for single parents. The jig is up, my friend. SunTrust is coming for you.
- Reading my reads. Currently reading and thoroughly enjoying this book and this book.
- Watching my watches. A friend who knows me well and loves me well recently gave me her HBO Go login information. She knew just what I needed in my time of need. I have been catching up on Girls, Togetherness, Veep and Olive Kitteridge.
- Going to church. We took the family to church the Sunday after everything. We’ve been trying to lean in and worship even though it aches a bit. It was good to be surrounded by friends and a community of people who are all trying to believe. It was like every song we sang that day was chosen especially for us and our situation. This song and this song really got me. I ugly cried pretty much the entire service. It was humbling but quite healing.
- Not going to church. We made the obvious choice not to go to church on daylight savings Sunday. That day, being gentle with myself meant sleeping late and not rushing out the door. Instead we had a leisurely family breakfast and went for a stroll together on a nearby trail. The sun was out and my heart felt full of joy and peace and gratitude for the first time in recent days.
The fog is indeed lifting. I knew it would. There are still sad moments but the sting is gone. Time and distance from all of this is healing. And I think I will continue to put things through the being gentle with myself filter. You should try it.
“There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”
The ultrasound technician left the room and went to get my doctor. I lay there alone in the dimly lit room and felt my heart sink through the floor. The tears came and wouldn’t stop.
* * *
I found that I was pregnant the day after Christmas. I was shocked when I saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test. I shared the news John by hiding the positive test for him to find among the ornaments as we undecorated our Christmas tree. He was even more surprised than I was. Getting pregnant with Hallie and Harper took years and tears and a whole lot of trying. Now we were one of those “whoops, we’re pregnant” couples that I secretly envied. We definitely weren’t trying for a third child just yet, but once the shock wore off, the joyful anticipation set in.
When I went in for the first ultrasound at six weeks all was well. Flickering heartbeat, due date set for September 7th. We began to dream about having three children, and envisioned what it would be like with the last two being so close in age. Whoa. Sixteen months apart. Crazy, sure, but also ripe with joyful and exhausting chaos.
I had a second ultrasound at around ten weeks and all was well. Growing baby, measuring on time, strong heartbeat. We were excited and shared the news that we were expecting #3 with friends and family. Together we were not-so-secretly hoping for a little boy to complete our family of five.
Then another ultrasound at thirteen weeks.
The days that followed have been the longest of my life. The news, the wondering, the waiting, the painful procedure, the emptiness. The moments in between passed painfully slowly. And the nights were the worst. Darkness and sadness covered me, covered us. I tossed and turned, unable to get the image I saw in the ultrasound out of my mind. My precious, silent and still baby boy, a treasured life lost.
My doctor said that, depending on who is counting, the odds of having a miscarriage are 1 in 3 or 1 in 5. As you and I sit here and do the math among ourselves and our friends, we know that statistic is tragically true. That is why I share something so private so publicly. Too many of us are members of this sad sorority. It is heartbreaking that something so painful is so common.
It doesn’t matter how far along you are when things go silent–three weeks, thirteen weeks, thirty-three weeks. The moment a woman sees that positive sign on the pregnancy test, we are already connected and in love with the child growing inside us. Our heads and hearts are already a million miles down the road. When things go wrong we grieve what could have been and mourn the loss of the family we imagined.
John has been amazing through this, comforting me while he walks through his own grief. And our friends have been incredible—many of them have experienced this kind of loss, and some have tragically been through far, far worse. Their unshakable faith and their encouraging words have been our comfort. Over the past few days, friends and family have called and written, sent food and flowers, and taken our oldest out for adventures. We have been covered with love and prayer. We felt those prayers and believe in their power. God is still good.
And what if, what if this was God’s best for us? What if this was His best for our sweet son? I have to believe that He has the aerial view while we sit down here, trying to make sense of the blur with our noses smashed against the screen.
I am grieving but I am also grateful. I have two precious girls. Two! My healthy, happy, hilarious children are the greatest gift I have ever been given. I have been squeezing them extra tight. I know that I am beyond blessed.
But still, my heart hurts.
I know that time and distance from all of this will be healing. So I sit here waiting for the fog to lift. I know it will.
I love seeing my three-year-old daughter’s little wheels turn as she tries to figure out the world around her. Much of that churning comes in the form of a barrage of questions, aimed at me, over the course of the day. At home, in the car, wherever we are–I am peppered with questions asked by a curious girl with the sweetest little raspy voice.
Just to mark this moment in time, I wrote down a portion of the questions I had to answer yesterday. Between our house and Target.
- Can cats swim?
- Can dogs swim?
- When can we get a cat?
- Why can’t we have a cat?
- Does everyone in our neighborhood like rainbows?
- Can I have six brothers and six sisters?
- Can I watch something before my nap?
- Was I born in a stable?
- Who is my fairy godmother?
- Can I have a snack?
- So what do you think daddy is doing right now? How about right now?
- What do seals eat?
- Who eats penguins?
- You don’t know much about polar bears, do you mom?
- What is heaven like?
- Do I have to take a bath today? And tomorrow?
- Where is Cinderella’s real mommy?
- What happened to Anna and Elsa’s mommy?
- Today would be a perfect day for a picnic at the beach, right mommy?
- Should we use some tape to make Hallie’s socks stay on her feet?
- What are birds afraid of?
- Does Jesus live in Winnie the Pooh’s heart?
- Why did you honk?
- Where is that car going?
- Well do you have a guess?
- Why are we going this way?
- The Big Bad Wolf wont be able to blow down that brick house, will he mom?
- Macaroni is healthy for you, right mommy?
- What are we going to do after my nap?
- Is tomorrow the weekend?
- So what’s our plan?
- When will I be 4?
- Mommy, am I pretty special? (yes. definitely yes)
Know that this is just a tiny fraction of the questions I am asked daily. Sprinkle in a few dozen “what does that sign say,” “how do you spells,” “where is my,” why can’t I”…as well as some clearly erroneous statements followed by “right mommy?” and you get a more accurate picture of the sheer quantity.
…And if I answer, “I don’t know” she ALWAYS follows up with, “Well, do you have a guess?”
Having little babies is obviously physically exhausting. The wrangling, carrying, dressing, schlepping and cajoling to get little ones from point A to point B is quite draining. But by three, the physical demands on the mother have been replaced with verbal demands. By the end of the day I am verbally exhausted–though completely and thoroughly and utterly entertained.
Recently, My Man had a milestone birthday—the kind of birthday that called for mild consoling, a new level of intimacy with his primary care physician, celebration and chocolate cake. We hosted a casual dinner with some close friends to mark the big event. It was a wonderful night full of good food, good friends, and good conversation. Our friends are all
decent excellent conversationalists, but sometimes at a big table you end up only talking to the person seated beside you. Ever advocates for the unified larger group conversation, we had our guests play The Question Game. It is not a game really, but a surefire way to facilitate quality convo at dinner parties. This is great to do with new friends and old friends and strangers and family members and strange family members.
Here is how it went down: Before the party, I came up with a list of questions and wrote each one on a sealed post-it. I put all the post-its in a vase and placed the vase (and a few bottles of wine) at the center of the table. Each person took a turn picking a question to answer. There was depth, there was laughter, and I learned something new about even my oldest friends.
I have written my questions out below. You can use them as a jumping-off point to draft your own, or simply print these, cut them into strips, and pull them out at your next dinner party. Everyone can answer the same question or each person can answer their own. You are a grownup and you can make your own rules.
THE QUESTION GAME
- What are you freakishly good at? What are you embarrassingly bad at?
- What are two things you are looking forward to this year?
- If you had an extra $200 a week to spend on yourself, what would you do with it?
- What was the best book you read last year? What are you reading now?
- Who is someone in your life that you wish you could spend more time with?
- What was your proudest moment from the past year?
- Name three people (dead or alive) that you would like to have dinner with and why.
- Name something you would like to do, but are scared to try.
- What is the best gift you’ve ever given? What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
- What is your biggest fear? What was your biggest fear as a child, teenager, young adult?
- If all of your friends and family members were asked to describe you, who would provide the most accurate description (excluding your spouse)? What would they say that not many people know?
- Describe your perfect day.
- What advice would you give your 15-year-old self? Your 25-year-old self?
- What was the worst date you’ve ever been on? Best date?
- Is there something in your life you hope is different this time next year?
- Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that has changed you or your outlook? Has a book or movie ever made you change a behavior?
- What is one trait of yours you hope your children inherit? What is one trait of yours you hope they don’t inherit?
- Have you ever totally changed your mind about something?
- What keeps you up at night?
- Have you ever done something you said or thought you’d never do?
Go fourth and get talking.
It’s Christmastime in America. That means it’s time to gather around family and friends, share traditions new and old, retell the incredible story of the Christ Child born in a lowly manger, count our many blessings…
AND BUY STUUUUFF!!!
I am caught somewhere between wanting to de-emphasize the materialistic overtones of the holiday—-and wanting to absolutely blow my little one’s mind on Christmas morning. After all, she has been an angel this year.
‘Tis the season for giving, and I try to be thoughtful in selecting the gifts I give my children and the other children in my life. I want to get toys that will actually be played with and hopefully enjoyed for years to come. Here is a snapshot of what the kids in my life are getting for Christmas. These are the things we are giving our daughters, nieces, nephews, and godchildren, and the things we have requested when Santa and generous grandparents have asked.
((And please let me spare you from losing precious time to the AmazonReviewVortex. I did the research so you don’t have to. These gifts all get stellar ratings and reviews from the dear souls who actually take the time to write them.))
Games. I love games and my oldest is juuust getting to the age to start playing. Gifting games to families with multiple kids is great because by nature, they have to be shared to be enjoyed. Give a game and boom! You have facilitated family fun. I have done some serious research, and these are some of the most highly recommended per age group. Thinkfun Roll & Play Game (age 2+) | The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game (age 3-7) | Zingo (age 4-8) | Camelot Jr (age 4-9) | Qwirkle (age 5+)
Easel and Art Supplies. We bought an easel from Ikea, but if you or your marriage can’t withstand a trip to Ikea during the holidays, I hear great things about this Melissa & Doug easel. We purchased some paints and other supplies to go with it. (Kid’s scissors will also be in the stocking because Harper got a P on her 3’s report card in the scissor department. P=needs practice. No more 90210 until she gets that grade up.)
Magna-tiles. Yes. They are crazy expensive but any family who has them will tell you they are worth the investment. Looking to save a quick buck, I offered to buy used magna-tiles from my sister-in-law but she said her older kids still play with them. I hear the similar (and slightly more affordable) Magformers are and Stick N Stack Shape Mags are also great.
Lego Chain Reactions Kit. This is what I am giving the little LEGO lovers in my life. It helps turns ordinary LEGOS into a rube goldberg project (AKA mousetrap). According to the manufactures: “LEGO Chain Reactions is packed full of ideas, instructions, and inspiration for 10 LEGO machines that spin, swing, pivot, roll, lift, and drop. Each machine alone is awesome, but put them together and you get incredible chain reactions.” Sold.
Princess First Aid Kit. This is what Harper asked Santa for when she sat in his lap. Lucky for
us him it costs $8 at our local drugstore. Basically it is a box of princess Band-Aids and Neosporin. A perfect gift for our household hypochondriac.
Story Cards. Harper is really into being told made-up stories right now. Awesome! But that is a lot of pressure on the adults in our family to be endlessly imaginative at a moments notice. These cute and inexpensive cards will help her start telling stories of her own and help us as we are forced to be creative in the wee hours of the morning.
Ariel Doll Water Toy Thing. Harper saw a commercial for this water-loving doll and can’t stop talking about it. I am usually not a fan of the one-note plastic toys, but it’s Christmas and I’m pretty sure Harper will freak the H out when she unwraps this on the big day. (And three cheers for long baths!)
PJs. Because new pajamas are a time-honored Christmas tradition. Hannah Anderson PJs on little people make my heart sing and these Christmas pjs are precious too. I am also loving these, and these too. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
Oh. There was one more thing.
A Magnifying Glass. Let me transcribe a recent exchange I had with the 3.5-year-old.
Me: “Harper, what do you want for Christmas?”
Harper: “A magnifying glass.”
Me: “Oh? What are you going to do with a magnifying glass?”
Harper: “Look for clues.”
Me: “Like what?”
Harper: “Clues like footprints.”
Mimi, Nana, Santa, SOMEONE get this child a magnifying glass.
She is going to find El Chapo and we’re all going to be rich.
It is going to be a very Merry Christmas.
Before having children, we all have grand ideas for them as far as playtime is concerned. “They will play outside and use their imaginations,” you say. “They will make up their own games and we will have no need for TV. The playroom will be filled with books and perhaps one wooden toy per child.”
Hilarious. I blinked and ended up with one of these smack dab in the middle of our living room.
In my experience you can only defend your home from the toy invasion for so long. Little by little the plastic (and the princesses) creep in. Some of it is indeed crap, but some of it is solid gold—things that can entertain your children for hours.
Here are some of our favorite toys. These are the toys that actually get played with at our house. These are the toys that our oldest child and her playmates have loved and that won’t be outgrown anytime soon.
2. A to Z magnatab. Great for letter recognition and learning to write.
3. Magic moves wand. This is exactly the kind of toy that you think you would never buy for your child. It’s plastic, lights up and makes noise. But! This is awesome and has provided our daughter hours of entertainment. She plays with it alone and it’s fun to pull out when she has friends over. It is like a Simon Says game with music and instructions–a big hit with boys and girls of different ages. Gold I tell you.
5. Art supplies. Especially washable ones.
6. Magnadoodle. Awesome to play with at home and we always pack ours for road trips.
9. Wooden School Bus Set. Wooden toys for the win. This set is precious.
So there you have it. Most of these toys foster creativity, are great for independent and collaborative play. I hope they bring your little ones hours of (unsupervised) fun.
Reading to my little ones is one of my favorite things. We have a great collection of books at home and we make a point of regularly going to the library to get a big stack to keep things fresh for the reader and the read to. Over the years I have read hundreds of children’s books, and as the reader, I definitely have developed an opinion on the subject.
To me children’s books fall into three categories:
- Really. How did this get published? I’m not going to name names, it just wouldn’t be nice. And I wouldn’t want the author of Gulp! or Crocs! to beat me up in a back alley. These books make you want to quit whatever it is you are doing and start writing children’s books because anyone could do it better.
- Um, okay. I guess. Average blahness is by far the most plentiful category of children’s lit. So many books just make you shrug your shoulders and say meh. Even some books hailed as “classics” make you go hummm. The message may be odd or off, morally questionable, too wordy or just plain boring. These are the books I am most likely to hide in a drawer or donate. (Our copy of Titanicat may be available at a Goodwill near you).
- Treasures. Let’s read that again. Real gems with either great stories, classic characters, valuable lessons, beautiful illustrations, or all of the above.
The list below are treasures and represent some of our very favorites. These books are proud members of our permanent collection that the children and adults in our family love to read and re-read.
Now the breakdown (book titles are amazon links):
What are your favorites? We definitely want to add some new books to our collection so I am taking suggestions. I know I appreciate it when my children are gifted books just as much as they do.
P.S. Need a break from reading to your children? LeVar Burton is fully qualified to take over. Reading Rainbow is now available for streaming on Netflix.
OH AND! My Man was proofreading this post (blame all grammatical errors on him heretofore) and we were revisiting the topic of favorite and least favorite children’s books. Had to add a few more before pressing publish!
This fall we signed our 3-year-old daughter up for soccer, her first organized team sport. Some friends put together Team Fireballs to play in the 3s and 4s co-ed league, and we all thought it was a grand idea to have our kids play together. “This is going to be SO MUCH FUN,” we assured our children. “They are going to LOVE this,” we told each other.
Two dads dutifully volunteered to coach the team, a brave undertaking considering many of its members had never touched a soccer ball before–if they had, it was with their hands which are not allowed in the game of soccer. That was Lesson 1, and we were starting from the very beginning.
I had big expectations for the Fireballs, but they were certainly tempered when I showed up to the field just before the start of the first game. The coach’s daughter had already completely removed her uniform; two girls were fighting over a hair bow; three children refused to set foot on the field, and only a handful actually made it to kickoff. My Fireball made a few kicks but burst into tears every time the other team got the ball. Another Fireball, whose father played collegiate soccer, cried the entire game. The other team scored their first of nine goals moments after the whistle blew. Our team just looked emotionally distraught, disinterested, traumatized, or just plain confused by the whole soccer experience.
In their defense, the Fireballs had three things working against them this season:
- Our teammates were mostly 3-year-olds and the other teams were mostly 4-year-olds about to turn 5. BIG difference. Our opponents were clearly more physically dominate and emotionally stable.
- Some games were played on a big field right by one of the very best playgrounds in town. The lure of the slide was a constant distraction to our team and certainly didn’t set us up for success. It was like having AA in a bar or Weight Watchers by a Waffle House. Each week we lost a handful of key players who simply weren’t strong enough to resist the temptation.
- Games took place at 2:30pm on Sunday afternoons. Smack-dab in the middle of nap time for members of our young crew. Clear disadvantage.
Over the course of each game, my Fireball displayed the entire spectrum of human emotion. Sometimes she was all in, happily chasing the ball and defending the goal (our team was mostly on defense).
Other times she was crying on the sidelines, moping in the middle of the field, or bolting towards the playground.
In a single game, we had to utilize every tool in our parenting toolbox: We bribed*, threatened, praised, pep-talked, punished, manhandled, encouraged, and incentivized in an effort to get her to just keep it together out there. I had no idea that a simple Sunday soccer would require so much parenting. And I wasn’t alone. Most of the time there were at least as many parents on the field as players, each of us whispering some sort of something to our children.
The first few games were just emotional games of dress-up for the Fireballs. Lots of tears were shed and not a single goal was scored. But boy did they look cute in those uniforms.
Where our team consistently shined was during the pregame cheer and during post-game snacks.
The next couple games got rained out, and I think all the parents were relieved. Fortunately the rain-outs set the reset button for our team and from there the season seemed to take a turn.
The Fireballs scored one goal during one game this season, but unfortunately we were still six goals short to pull-off the win that day. But BUT the final game was our very best. Most Fireballs played, many made contact with the ball, no one cried, and no goals were scored…by either team!
We tied that last game zero-zero , but to us, that was a HUGE victory. I’m pretty sure the kids even had a little fun out there too.
And as is custom with this generation, every single “player” got a trophy at the end of the season. And a cupcake.*
The Fireballs will be back next year–and next year we will be the giant, emotionally stable 4-year-olds. Watch out.