To the Mamas Who Don’t Have a Summer Vacation

To the Mamas Who Don't Have
a Summer Vacation

Summer summer summertime, time to sit back and unwind.

On weekends.

Swimming pools, water parks, play dates, movies at the theater.  Strawberry festivals, sleepovers, bonfires, trips to the zoo, lemonade stands, swim lessons, ice cream, lightning bugs, and endless hours spent basking in the summer sun we so desperately wait for all year long.  I could go on.  Insert the most magnificent summer bucket list here.  It’s the stuff childhood memories are made of.

On weekends.  

Actually, just Saturdays.  Sundays are mostly for laundry and cleaning and grocery shopping and prepping for the week ahead.

With most jobs, when you work outside of the home you don’t have summer vacations with your kids.  You just have summers…regular ol’ summers.  Now don’t get me wrong, working inside the home is no cake walk either, not by a long shot, but moms who work outside of the home carry a special kind of guilt when it’s summertime.  They carry the guilt of not being there.  

It creeps in when you see pictures on social media of pool days and popsicles…while you’re at work.  It creeps in when you can’t stay up late to catch lightning bugs because you all still have to be up early in the morning.  It creeps in when you drop off at daycare and notice the emptiness of the classrooms.  It creeps in when you see pictures of your little one having fun during sprinkler day…without you.

It creeps in when you wonder if your child is somehow missing out on a fundamental right of childhood by missing out on those endless, carefree summer days spent swimming until exhaustion sets in and romping around outside until the sun goes down.

A few days ago I sat outside on our deck over-thinking this very thing as I listened to the kids in the neighborhood behind ours laugh, play, and jump into the swimming pool.  It was about 8:00pm and my daughter was already in bed, like most other week nights for us.  I was kind of bummed she was already in bed while the other kids played.  I wanted her to have wonderful memories of childhood summers just like I did.  

I thought back to all of the messy, melty ice cream cones in the car.  I remembered the warmth of my mama, the comfort of her gentle hugs, and how she supported any idea I had or any project I wanted to work on (which I know took the patience of a saint because my concoctions ended up in every corner of the house…but darn it…she let me do it every time).  I remembered the trips to the local pool with my siblings and dad when he was off work.  I remembered how light and silly he was and how we’d always drive with the windows down, music blaring.

Those memories shaped who I am today.  And as I sat back and listened to those other kids play while mine slept, I realized that the memories my heart holds on to the most aren’t from the perfect summer bucket list.  The things I cherish and remember the most aren’t actually what we did – it’s how we did them.  We were relaxed.  We were laid back.  We were uninhibited, carefree, and silly.  We talked and dreamed and joked with each other.  We laughed and listened to the storms and let the ice cream drip without caring and played wherever the wind took us.

Now THAT’S the stuff childhood memories are made of.  And that’s when it hit me.  Summer is a spirit, not an event, and that spirit is what my daughter will truly remember the most, no matter what that looks like for us.

She’ll remember driving home from school with the windows down and the music up.

She’ll remember way too many ice cream cones in the car and those glorious sticky fingers on upholstery I didn’t care about.

She’ll remember eating dinner together in the clubhouse of her swing set.

She’ll remember all of the fun summer field trips and experiments at school.

She’ll remember the times we bent the rules and stayed up way too late and paid for it dearly in the morning, but wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.

She’ll remember stopping at the library every Friday afternoon before dinner to cash in our books for the Summer Reading Program.

She’ll remember our weekends, filled with pool days, trips to the zoo, bonfires, and lemonade stands.  She’ll remember listening to the storms and the freedom to bring her ideas to life.

She’ll remember the relaxed, laid back moments where we were uninhibited and carefree.  She’ll remember playing wherever the wild summer breeze took us.

She’ll remember that she had the best summers EVER.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see past the guilt of our precious mama hearts.  We want the best for our babies and are ruthlessly unforgiving with ourselves when we feel like we’re providing anything less than that.  We always question whether we’re doing the right thing and for some, summer is no exception.

So to the mama who doesn’t have a summer vacation: there is no right way to do summer.  You can create moments of bliss and inhibition wherever you want and you can carry the spirit of summer with you and your family no matter what you do.

Play together.

Laugh together.

Dream together.

Love together.  

Whenever you can, wherever you can.

That time together is as golden as the summer sunshine itself, and that’s what our kids will remember and cherish the most.  

The Dinosaur Shirt

The Dinosaur Shirt

The world is a fine teacher of how our boys and girls should be.  

Our kids go to school.  They have friends. They watch shows and videos and notice what’s going on around them.  They have eyes and ears and they ask questions, so many questions, sometimes out loud and sometimes not.  They listen.  They process.  Even at the youngest of ages they observe and interact with others to identify the patterns of what is “normal.”  And, after a shockingly brief period of time, their little impressionable minds internalize the messages they’re sent and adapt accordingly.

They learn who they should be…and they’re faced with the arduous task of reconciling that with who they want to be.  No biggie.

From the day my daughter was born we tried to keep our home as gender neutral as possible.  We didn’t want to influence her one way or another and while I’m positive we weren’t perfect at it, we tried.  From a very young age we talked about gender roles and how anyone can like any job.  We talked about how anyone can like any toy or like any shirt.  When we bought a baby doll, we bought a monster truck.  When we bought a play kitchen, we bought a tool bench.  And when we bought a ballerina shirt, we bought a dinosaur shirt.

Oh, the dinosaur shirt.

We noticed the change a couple of years in.  Whether it was through society’s messaging or her own preferences and natural tendencies developing as she got older, or likely a mix of both, the stuffed animals, play kitchens, tea sets, dress up clothes, and baby dolls all took center stage and the “boy toys” ended up in a heap in the closet.  We figured it was phase but she never did circle back around.  To this day she still couldn’t care less about guns, toy trucks, or action heroes and instead carefully tends to her growing brood of every single baby doll under the sun.

Well.  That settles that, I thought.

I struggled a little at first but I took comfort knowing we did what we could to allow her to develop her likes and dislikes from what came naturally and not from what she was pushed or conditioned to prefer (at least, not by us).  She learned not to follow what was funny, popular, expected, or obligatory, but instead to follow the beat of her own drum.  And so, we embraced the little princess and tried to balance out the “girliness” wherever we could…

With dinosaur shirts.    

While my daughter may not have taken to the typical masculine toys, she still wore whatever I laid out for her, which always included several shirts from the boys section because I thought it was nice for her to wear something other than pink or purple every once in a while.  I’ve bought clothes from the boys section since she was a baby and it always went over smoothly.

Until the dinosaur shirt.  

This week finally brought some much-needed short-sleeve weather to our area, and with it a new wardrobe of flowers, fire trucks, rainbows, and basketballs.  As my almost-four-year-old pulled out the outfit I had picked out for school one morning, she immediately crinkled her nose and looked back and forth between me and the shirt.  It was yellow and grey with a dinosaur on it.  I figured it was stained or something but when I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Ew, mommy I’m not wearing this. This is a BOY SHIRT.”  

Cue the cringe.

I wasn’t bothered that she didn’t like the shirt.  She’s almost four and she’s allowed to not like things.  I was bothered by the reason why.  I tried to ask her for more.  What makes it a boy shirt?  Do you think you can’t wear boy shirts?  Did someone tell you that?  WHO TOLD YOU THAT?  I nearly gave the poor kid the fourth degree but I caught myself.  She didn’t have any answers. When I sat back to take it all in, I realized, of course.  SHE’S THREE.  She doesn’t have any answers because she doesn’t know any answers.  She just knows she doesn’t want to wear a boy shirt.

Looking back I think I was attempting to make sense in my own adult mind of how and when this kind of gender conditioning happens, and was trying to accept the degree of it that’s totally outside of my control.  I tried to recover and explained that girls can like yellow and grey and dinosaurs, just like boys can like pink and purple and rainbows.  That all of the colors and all of the clothes are for all boys and girls.  

She actually did end up wearing the shirt to school, but I thought about that interaction all day long.

It’s no secret that girls are conditioned to model traditional femininity.  By movies, magazines, retail stores, Youtube videos, parents, families, teachers, friends, and so on.  Be polite and gentle and selfless.  Also, be pretty and skinny and prefer certain colors, clothes, and animals.  Sugar and spice and everything nice, right?  

It’s also no secret that boys are conditioned to model traditional masculinity by the same means.  Control and dominate and win.  Be aggressive.  Don’t be weak, don’t be emotional…don’t be girly.  Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.   

As a mama, what I’ve seen recently is a hard push against that expectation of traditional femininity, and as a girl mom I love it.  I love the empowering videos, the children’s books, the shirts in the girls section with dinosaurs and robots, the articles about how girls can be athletic AND girly and they don’t have to choose.  I love that my little girl has these things to see to help her figure out who she is.

But I can’t help but wonder about our boys.

What I see for them is a much, much less forgiving landscape of gender progress.  Go into the boys section at the store.  Do you see a ballerina anywhere?  A cat?  A unicorn?  Heck, even a HEART? Anyone?  Bueller?

I see nothing that tells our boys how they can also choose, how they can also be athletic and girly too.  What I usually see is…boys…girly?  Are you KIDDING?  I don’t think so.  For males, femininity is still seen as demeaning and weak and to many, as downright offensive.  Female empowerment is praised and promoted but Gillette caused a poop storm when they tried to tackle toxic masculinity for a mere 90 seconds in a recent ad campaign.  The company faced fierce backlash as many threatened to boycott their products.  Ipsy was lampooned when they launched a makeup campaign featuring a male model.  People called it disgusting.  Sinful.  Offensive.  Some cancelled their memberships and sent the company hate mail.

Over what, exactly?

I don’t know.  As a parent, I’m confused.  I’m no expert in gender studies.  I still have so many more questions than I do answers.  I wonder what’s nature and what’s nurture.  I wonder if I would’ve parented a boy differently.  I wonder how much of who my girl is today was her own choice or how much was who she was conditioned to be.

I wonder how confused our babies must be, because if this topic is so complex I can’t even wrap my adult mind around it, they must feel terribly lost and conflicted growing up in a world filled with mixed messages.

What I know is that our girls are still conditioned to be girls and our boys are still conditioned to be boys and mamas, like it or not, we’re raising our babies in the thick of it.  It’s impossible to shield them from it completely.

But it’s not impossible to help them cope with the mixed messages and teach them how to love, accept, and support others who are coping with mixed messages, too.  It’s not impossible to create a home safe enough to struggle and allow our littles to figure out who they truly are.  It’s not impossible to balance out the world’s unavoidable conditioning with intentional, and sometimes difficult, conversations.  It’s not impossible to deal with this head on and explain things in a way their little minds can understand, if even a little bit.

It’s not impossible to love our babies unconditionally.  This, perhaps, is the most possible thing in the entire universe for us to do.  It’s the only thing we can guarantee them in this life.  To love them no matter who they are, who they want to be, or who they turn out to be.

Unconditional love knows no masculinity or femininity, and a mama’s love knows no obligation.  It’s in our bones.

All we have to do is make sure our babies know that.

Either that or I’m reading way too much into a t-shirt.

An Easter Basket That’s Not Full of Junk

Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail…

Hippity, hoppity, junk is on the way.

Easter baskets have come a long way since their creation thousands of years ago.  In ancient times, farmers celebrated the first seedlings of their new crops in the spring by bringing these seedlings to the temple in a basket.  They’d pray that the gods would continue to bless their crops for the rest of the year.

Easter baskets today as we know them developed from more modern Christian history.  During Lent, which lasts for 40 days before Easter, many Christians abstain from certain foods or treats until Easter comes.  Then, there’s a huge feast to symbolize the end of Lenten fasting.  Starting back in the 12th century (year 1050ish), this Easter feast was brought in large baskets to church to be blessed by priests, kind of like the ancient practice with the seedlings.      

And then…here we are today.  

Where Easter baskets are as stressful (and expensive) as Christmas stockings (which also started out with humble roots, by the way) and usually result in an ashamedly expensive raid of the Dollar Spot at Target, all to end up in the trash or toy purgatory days later.  The ancient gods would be ashamed.  I guess we’re the saints who bless the baskets now?

I learned over the past couple of years that Easter doesn’t need to be so complicated and filled with stuff.  Here’s how:

Ditch the traditional basket.  You can stuff almost anything else instead.  Rain boots.  Makeup bag.  Beach bag.  Popcorn bucket.  Tackle box.  Dump truck. Toy wagon.  A new hat or umbrella turned upside down.  Get creative and find something that will actually be used.  Baskets end up either smashed in a closet or trampled on in the garage until next year.  Save yourself the money and get a dollar bucket for the hunt and anything other than a basket for the finale. 

Think summer.  The time of year we all so desperately wait for is just around the corner, so use this to your advantage and stock up on supplies for summer fun.  Bug jar.  Sidewalk chalk. Bubbles.  Flip flops.  Water bottle.  Beach towel. Swimsuit.  Hat.  Sunglasses.  Sunscreen.  Your littles don’t need to know you’d spend the money on these summer necessities anyways.  They’ll be none the wiser.

Stock up on art supplies.  Crayons.  Finger paint.  Watercolors.  Play dough.  Stamps.  Paper.  Coloring books.  Scissors.  GLUE STICKS.  Take this chance to stock up on the things that are easily lost/destroyed/quickly used throughout the year.  You know there’s no such thing as too many stickers.      

Upgrade the necessities.  Take the bedtime routine up a notch by adding in a light up toothbrush or one that plays music.  If your child is older, try a new phone case or journal.  Treat your littler ones to character band-aids or underwear instead of the value brand (no judgment there).  It’s amazing how much thrill comes from Disney characters that you can bleed on…or worse…

Splurge for fancy snacks.  Juice boxes.  Snack packs. Goldfish crackers or veggie straws that come individually packaged.  Give your littles the experience of eating or drinking out of something other than a cup or ziploc baggie.  Yes, I call this fancy.

Don’t you dare by Easter grass.  It’s worthless, absolutely worthless.  I don’t care if it’s a dollar, it’s stressful and annoying and ends up in right in the trash because it’s not even worth the space to store it until next year.  Use napkins.  Use felt.  Use construction paper.  Heck, even use real grass.  Just don’t bring the plastic stuff into your house.  Plastic kills animals too.  Don’t be an animal killer!

Focus on the experience.  Don’t feel like you have to go all out for Easter, or any other holiday for that matter.  Keep it inexpensive and low key. If you really want to do something special, set up a scavenger hunt in the yard or inside the house and focus on having fun instead of things.  Holidays can be special even when you’re not doing anything special at all.  

Motherhood Is Hard. You Do You.

Motherhood is hard.

Bed-sharing is hard.  You’re constantly kicked in the ribs or shoved to the edge of your own bed.  You never fall into a deep sleep and your stiff body is restricted to the same spot, not daring to move.  A trip to the bathroom is a risky disruption and you silence even the mere thought of a sneeze.  You worry if your baby is growing too attached.

Sleeping apart is hard.  You worry if your baby is okay without you.  You sleep with your eyes wide open, glued to the monitor.  Watching every move.  You worry when you hear noise, and then, you worry when you don’t.  Another trip to the nursery to make sure your baby is breathing.  You miss their smell.  You worry you’re not bonding enough.     

Breastfeeding is hard.  You’re attached to a baby around the clock.  You don’t know how much milk they’re getting and you worry about your supply.  You have to change your diet and tie yourself to a pump and all of its parts that need washed.  Your nipples are sore and cracked and mastitis is the devil.  You wonder if this is all worth it.

Bottle feeding is hard.  You have to measure and prepare it just right and all of the bottle parts are a nightmare to wash, over and over again.  Formula is expensive.  You feel awful guilt over your baby’s tummy troubles and question whether you’re giving the best, most nutritious start.  You wonder if you and your baby are missing out on a beautiful, intimate experience.

Having an only child is hard.  You have to teach your child what they would learn from a sibling.  You are it.  People assume you’re having another and you constantly face their questions.  You think of the legacy you’re leaving behind and whether or not your child will be alone when they’re older.  You feel guilty.

Having more than one child is hard.  You’re outnumbered.  Someone is sick or working on it at all times and sleep schedules are never synchronized.  You want to make sure each has their own experiences but you’re spread thin financially.  You constantly multitask to make sure everyone has what they need and wonder if you’re in over your head.  You feel guilty.

Having kids close together is hard.  You’re pregnant for an eternity and your body does its best to recover.  You’re changing diapers at all times and coordinating a simple outing is like coordinating a trip to Disney World.  It’s hard to parent younger kids who are needier and going through challenging phases at the same time.  You’re exhausted.

Having kids spaced apart is hard.  Your freedom and routine are turned upside down and your body isn’t used to this kind of brutality.  You’re overwhelmed by starting from scratch all over again and worry about the adjustment.  It’s hard to parent kids who are going through completely different phases at the same time.  You’re exhausted.

Staying at home is hard.  It’s lonely and isolating and you miss adult conversation about adult things.  There is no break from the looming housework or from wiping runny noses (or butts).  You wonder if you should be doing more to contribute financially.  Life can be so chaotic and unpredictable that you struggle to stay present and engaged.  You’re overwhelmed.

Working outside of the home is hard.  It’s a marathon just to get out the door in the morning.  Your stress level hits the roof when you have to use your precious PTO…again.  Racing back and forth day after day wears you thin, and you miss your family dearly.  Life can be so chaotic and unpredictable that you struggle to stay present and engaged.  You’re overwhelmed.

Being in a relationship is hard.  Quality time with your partner is a struggle when you’re raising tiny humans who need so much of you.  Intimacy is the furthest thing from your mind.  It’s exhausting to always have to get on the same page.  You’ve taken on the nurturing role for the whole household and feel like everyone’s happiness rests on your shoulders.

Being single is hard.  You don’t always have the help you need.  You hate feeling like a burden when you ask the same family and friends for help.  You long for a partner.  It’s exhausting to be both mom and dad to your kids.  You’ve taken on the nurturing role for the whole household and feel like everyone’s happiness rests on your shoulders.   

Motherhood is hard.  All of it.  And no one gives you an award.

There is no magical script for doing it right.

So if it’s going to be hard no matter what…

You do you.

Do what’s best for you and your family.  Do what you value.  Do what’s important.  Do what you believe in.  Do what feels right.  Do what’s worth it.  Do what you want.  Do what makes you happy.

Lots of people will have lots to say

But they aren’t you.

What your friends did is great for your friends.

What your sister did is great for your sister.

What your mom did is great for your mom.

But they aren’t you.

So you do you.

So the happiness can outweigh the hard.

So the joy can outweigh the struggle.

So your sanity can outweigh the difficulty.

So you can soak in this amazing miracle you’ve created.

Because for all the things that are hard,

the love outweighs it all.  

You know your heart.

You know the way.

You do you. 

Book Review: The 10 Best Children’s Books to Teach Diversity

Book Review: The 10 Best Children's Books to Teach Diversity

We can’t buy culture or diversity.  We can’t buy kindness or empathy.  We can’t buy respect, honesty, integrity, or compassion.  We can’t buy the important qualities and characteristics we want our kids to develop…

But we can buy books.  And that’s the next best thing.    

Reading and exploring books is one of the best ways our kids can exercise their brains.  Reading improves their concentration and problem solving skills, increases their language comprehension and verbal expression, and stimulates their imagination and creativity, to name a few of the benefits I know we’ve already heard a lot about.  

Last week I shared ten ways we can teach our kids about the world without actually traveling the world, and one of those ways was by surrounding them with lots and lots of books.  Through reading about people, places, and events outside of their own experiences, our kids learn about the world around them and in turn, learn to connect and empathize with those in situations other than their own.

If you’ve ever been to the library or bookstore (or Amazon) then you know there’s a million different children’s books to choose from, and you may not necessarily have the time to screen each one for the specific topic or message you want to communicate to your little.  Let me help with that!

It was no easy task, but I scoured the internet and library and found what, I think, is a pretty solid list of the best children’s books to teach diversity to our kids.  I read them all myself and tested them out on my own little.  There were so many strong contenders out there that narrowing the field down to just ten almost seemed unfair, but I squeezed in some honorable mentions at the end.  

Books are windows to the world.  Open them!

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World 
by Matt Lamothe

Based off of seven real families from around the world, this book outlines a day in the life of children from Italy, Japan, Uganda, Russia, India, Peru, and Iran.  Learn about where they live, where they go to school, what meals they eat, what their community responsibilities are, and even how they spell their names and games they like to play.  Illustrations are realistic, culturally accurate, and diverse in their representations of different genders, family structures, and physical attributes. This book has a wonderful message of unity at the end, as well as pictures of the real families portrayed in the book.  

Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman

Pink Is for Boys turns gender norms and stereotypes upside down with a fun, lighthearted twist.  Not only does this book address how boys can like colors other than blue and girls can like colors other than pink, but it also does a beautiful job of mixing up the typical male and female-dominated hobbies and preferences.  Children of all diversities are represented and children with special needs are incorporated throughout in an inclusive, natural way.  Pink Is for Boys is a celebration of every girl, every boy, and the colors of the rainbow that belong to everyone.

Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen

This book is a soothing story to help children become mindful of the beautiful, caring people in their world.  Good People Everywhere contains endearing, colorful examples of the different jobs and responsibilities of community members, from carpenters, cooks, and teachers to doctors, farmers, and delivery drivers.  Highlighting that everyone has an important role to play, this book does a great job of building empathy, gratitude, and kindness.

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sarah O'Leary

A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary

True to its name, this book celebrates all kinds of family structures, from a child’s perspective.  From two dads or grandparents to blended families, shared custody, and everything else in between, this story affirms that even when families are different, they’re equally special in their own unique ways.

Most People by Michael Leannah

Most People by Michael Leannah

Most People does an incredibly effective job of discussing very adult topics in a very childlike way.  The book’s message is simple, yet so powerful and provocative, especially to the adult readers who’ve become jaded by the world (i.e. all of us): Yes, there are meanies in the world, but they are vastly outnumbered because most people are good.  Most people want to help.  Most people want to do their best.  Most people have good hearts and most people love, just like you and me, even the person with the mohawk and tattoos.

Home by Carson Ellis

Clean homes, messy homes, tall homes, short homes.  Home lovingly pays tribute to all the different kinds of, you guessed it, homes.  This book is a great opportunity for children to learn that some people live in houses, some live in apartments, some live in boats, and some live in palaces or wigwams.  The earthy, realistic illustrations are diverse and unifying all at the same time.  Everyone has a home, and this book even invites the reader to share about their own.

Windows by Julia Denos

Windows by Julia Denos

What I like most about this book is its outside-looking-in perspective and subtle invitation to consider what’s going in the world around you.  As the town settles in for the night, windows light up one by one and each holds a glimpse into a life that is not yours, if you’re willing to consider it.  Windows is at once a special story about the idea of home and magic of curiosity, but also about the sense of safety, love, and belonging to which every child is entitled.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with opens arms no matter their race, religion, or background.  With vividly detailed illustrations and a gently reassuring text, the author celebrates kindness, inclusion, and diversity in a way that’s easy and fun to read, too.

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates

This little gem is 32 pages long but under a hundred words, and that’s because the red umbrella is the life of the story.  The umbrella gets bigger and bigger as the story continues, fitting underneath it anyone and everyone who needs protection and shelter, no matter where they’re from or what they look like.  Even when some worry there are those who won’t fit, there is always room underneath the big umbrella.


Dreamers by Yuyi Morales – The true story of a mother and child who cross into another country to find better opportunity.  Though they struggle to acclimate and adjust to their new world, ultimately they find success in making their dreams come true. 

I Am Enough by Grace Byers – An inspiring lyrical ode to love who you are, respect others, and be kind to one another.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller – This moving and thoughtful story explores what kindness is, and how any act, bit or small, can make a difference.

I Am Human by Susan Verde – A celebration of the human family that affirms how we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves.

Lovely by Jess Hong – Big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet, smooth, wrinkly.  Lovely explores a world of differences that all add up to the same thing: we are all lovely!

Come With Me by Holly McGhee – A powerful and timely story of kindness, bravery, and friendship in the face of intolerance and uncertainty.