There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.
The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.
I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.
Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:
1. Getting on the school bus.
Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.
2. Their feet (and new shoes!)
Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!
3. Posing with their backpack.
Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.
4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.
Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.
5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.
Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.
6. With their graduating class shirt.
When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!
Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.
7. Post with sidewalk chalk.
Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.
8. In their classroom.
From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.
9. With their teacher.
If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.
10. With you!
We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.
This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.
When I lost my father suddenly to a fatal heart attack four years ago, the pain of loss and subsequent grief were overwhelming. At the time, my husband and I had two little girls (ages 5 and 2), who were very attached to their PopPop Geno, and in many ways, they were my path through grief.
I had to quickly figure out how I was going to walk them through the grieving process while trying to navigate my own emotions. Loss is an inevitable part of life, and the intense sorrow that accompanies the loss of a loved one through death or separation is a normal response. These feelings can be overwhelming and confusing for children who don't quite understand death.
In preparing children for death, it's important to be honest, explicit and as concrete as possible without providing too much information. After a loss, avoid saying well-meaning euphemisms for death such as, "he's gone to sleep forever," or telling a young child that someone, "…was very sick and died," which can stoke fear of going to sleep or getting sick for children who are very literal in their thinking. It's best to have conversations that are simple, honest and developmentally appropriate.
Here are four ways to help children deal with death:
1. Have patience.
2. Develop a narrative.
Often, feelings of change or abandonment can surface depending on how close the friend or family member was to the child. Having a story about that person to hold on to allows them more time to fully process the loss as their capacity to better understand death also develops.
Having a narrative also helps kids understand they didn't do anything wrong and that they weren't the reason the person left.
In my case, we opted to talk about good memories and how much their grandfather loved them. Now, they will often do something they are proud of and say, "PopPop would have loved to be here for that!" It continues to let him be present and for my kids to stay in a relationship with him. Remember that if you don't help your children develop a narrative, they will develop their own.
As you develop a story with them, make sure you share your own feelings as well. It's hard for a child to understand unexpected emotions, but having a caregiver model feelings can be powerful. Children learn well when they have a vocabulary for these feelings and a model for behaviors that are appropriate expressions of grief. Seeing a parent cry can be scary for them but that experience provides a learning opportunity and therapy for you, too. So, sharing that you are okay but sad right now might help children normalize their own feelings.
3. Create a totem.
Children are such concrete thinkers, meaning they have trouble with abstract concepts, so having a tangible object, such as a picture, item of clothing or even a game or figurine from that person can help ease the transition in their absence.
By allowing a child to transfer significance to a lovey connected to a person they lost, they can also grieve in their own time. Creating a scrapbook with memories and pictures can be a powerful way to process loss together in an experiential way. Try making a game of hunting for meaningful items, pictures and items that represent good times.
4. Give children the chance to say goodbye.
You may decide not to expose your child to the funeral and that's okay. However, it's important to let them find a way to help them say their own goodbye. Funeral rituals can provide closure for family members and allow us to grieve in community. Consider having a small family memorial that allows your child to tell their passed loved one about their favorite memory, what they loved about them and what they might miss. At any age, this can be cathartic. If you decide to take your child to the funeral, make sure you prepare them ahead of time that a lot of people will be sad but they are there because they all loved the person who passed.
Above all, respect that your child is handling intense emotions the best way they can. If you don't have the perfect words, just reflect back what you are hearing your child say. The best thing parents can do is be present and empathic.
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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.
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I sit awkwardly with an eight months pregnant belly on a shaggy grey rug with my son's stacked towers of Lego blocks holding little plastic teeth-bearing dinosaurs cascading up and down the tower steps.
My son roars.
His T-Rex makes a big splash into the makeshift carpet-ocean. He swims like a fishy, you know, how a T-Rex would.
I have to be Scar. A smaller, grey T-Rex (definitely the lesser of the cool T-Rexes). I have to hold him and personify him and roar. And basically follow the big T-Rex wherever he wants to go, doing whatever he wants me to.
Normally, my opinions on what Scar might want to do are, well, wrong. Luckily, my exhaustion can be minimized by the fact that I can quite literally hardly move down on the floor (or in general), so Scar can only make arm-length treks. I am safe(ish) in my legs-splayed seated position that I may never be able to get up from.
"Hi," says T-Rex in a jovial voice, bouncing up and down in front of me. "Wanna play?"
I have to pick up Scar, don my enthusiastic, friendly dinosaur-voice (despite the fact that Scar has yellow eyes and gnashing sharp teeth) and reply that I do, in fact, want to play! Any variation of that is actually just incorrect.
"Okay!" says T-Rex, "let's go over here." T-Rex takes massive leaps and practically soars in mid-air, and Scar merely scoots along behind him in little jumps. Scar pretends to fly but is quickly reminded that Scar does not fly.
I set Scar down momentarily and glance at the clock because I have now been Scar for 28 minutes and I am feeling fairly repressed creatively. I set him down carefully on the stairway we made with blocks and then subsequently made our dinosaurs climb up and down at least 200 times in a row.
T-Rex thought it was fun, and Scar was more annoyed and wondering what the point of all of it was. But if Scar stopped, T-Rex—in his ridiculously giddy, adorable little boy voice—kindly reminded him that he wanted to keep going.
It was maybe seven seconds after my fingertip left Scar—my other hand had my mug of (now lukewarm) coffee, not even at my lips yet. And there T-Rex was, right in my face, dino-nose to human-nose. "Where's Scar?"
Within seconds my son hands him back to me. "Here you go, you want Scar?"
My son is happy, smiling. T-Rex is gripped in his other hand, anxiously wondering what Scar was doing getting out of character.
"Wanna play Scar?" He keeps asking that while we are playing and my mom voice comes out.
"We are playing, sweetie. That is what we are doing right now. You don't have to keep asking…."
He looks at me with his innocent little blue eyes and doesn't even let me finish speaking before T-Rex is at my nose, "Wanna play?"
So I'm Scar again.
"Mama's coffee," he says. "T-Rex loves coffee." The little Dinosaur's face, mouth open wide, is headfirst in my coffee.
He looks over at me pensively. "Scar needs coffee too…" He doesn't know if this is a question yet. I have yet to react to the dinosaur he is swirling in my coffee. But clearly, Scar wants to play too.
My coffee sloshes onto my pants, which my son recently wiped a trail of snot on. I watch him smile as I take Scar and let Scar have a sip of my coffee too.
This is a Tuesday. Tuesdays I am home with my son. His cereal bowl is on the counter with remnants of oats and milk. My French press is half full, the cream is still out. I have yet to get properly dressed, or attempt to begin the strange battle that is dressing my son.
I am so pregnant and so tired that I am aware that I may not dress either of us today. I may not even move. The sun is shining through the windows and the dog continuously brings me a ball to throw for her. It's just after 9:30 am.
I have been up for a hundred hours, I am sure. My husband will likely be home in eight more hours. The thought of that brings a moment of panic in my chest. The exhaustion I feel, obviously exacerbated by pregnancy, tells me there is no way I will make it. Even the thought of having to get myself off this floor to make it to the couch has me procrastinating.
This is motherhood. A tiny, tiny glimpse into the job.
I am playing with coffee-drinking miniature dinosaurs. Our house is comfortable, our bellies are full, we are clothed. In this world—the world of my 4-year-old—the biggest stressors known to man are stopping playing to pee on the potty, getting dressed and not getting ice cream.
His pain is real, his stress is real. I know this. I soothe him through it in a practical way. And in the back of my head, I can't help but think of my own larger problems, the world's bigger, more catastrophic issues. They pop up in thought bubbles around me that I work to knock away. Mindfully, I tell myself. Notice it, wave it goodbye. Be here.
I glance at the clock again, and only a minute has passed. I look over at my son. He is watching me. Dinosaur clutched in hand, practicing a rare moment of patience. Eyes hopeful. I take a deep breath. I breathe out the overflow of bills, of dishes, of dog hair, of to-dos, unread-texts and emails.
His eyes are still on me, his fingers inching Scar closer to my leg. I take another breath.
Here I am, on this Tuesday, I am Scar.
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[Trigger Warning: This essay discusses one woman's journey with an eating disorder.]
We stopped for ice cream on the way home from your last day of kindergarten. As chocolate ice cream dripped from your cone and melted onto your hands and smeared across your face, you talked excitedly about how we would spend the summer weeks that stretched out in front of us. The sun had already started to lighten your hair and send rows of freckles marching across your cheeks. My newly minted kindergarten graduate, the little girl big enough to order her own ice cream, but young enough to still ask politely for sprinkles.
Today, you told me that your thighs are chubby. I don't know what caused you to say something like that. You probably heard it on the playground, another little girl parroting an adult's insecurities.
I know for a fact you have never heard me talk about myself that way, because as soon as the ultrasound tech told Daddy and I that the little creature squirming around on the screen in front of us was a little girl, I made a promise to you that you would never hear me talking badly about my body.
Here's why: When I was 15, I had an illness called Anorexia Nervosa. If you were to read about this harsh sounding name on the National Eating Disorders website, you would learn that anorexics have an "intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight," and suffer from a "disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight."
But let me tell you what it's really like to intentionally, deliberately, starve yourself.
I was a freshman in high school when I decided to stop eating. It wasn't a sudden, impulsive decision. My eating disorder was a long time coming, and, in some ways, a rather inevitable result of genetics mixed with my early love of cross-country and distance running.
I was always a very intense, goal-oriented people pleaser. In middle school, I was skipping dessert and wearing one-piece bathing suits because I hated the way my stomach looked. The stress of high school—being in a new school where I didn't make friends easily—and running varsity cross-country as a freshman-brought my eating disorder to the surface.
Also, I didn't know it at the time, but there was something different about the way my mind works. There was something electric, something wild, about how quickly my thoughts went racing around in my head, and I was desperate to find a way to tame the energy and anxiety that sent my brain spinning. And starvation did just that.
You see, anorexia tricks so many girls and boys into thinking that by controlling what you put into your body, you control the parts of life that you truly can't do a thing about. I couldn't help that I wasn't the most talented runner on my team, but I could starve and skip meals and count calories, and if I couldn't be the fastest, my sick mind would settle for at least being the skinniest.
So I starved. I restricted my diet until it consisted of only flavored water, ice chips and gum, but soon even the pieces of gum had too many calories. I starved until my pants became baggy and my cheekbones sharpened.
I became a master of deception. I knew how to trick my parents and coaches into thinking I had eaten, and I learned how to hide food and lie. I starved until my weight became dangerously low and I was forced to stop running.
I was starving when the bloodwork came back that showed my body was starting to break down my muscles because it so desperately needed something to digest. And then, when I couldn't starve anymore, when I finally realized what my lies were doing to my family and understood how much danger I was in, I had to recover and learn how to care for myself again.
It is hard for me to explain to you what it was like to recover from an eating disorder. 'Recover' is too gentle and far too passive of a word to describe what it was like to beat anorexia and learn how to eat again. Every small step forward, from giving myself permission to eat when my belly grumbled to finding the right medicine to help me worry a little less, was an exhausting, miserable, uphill battle that I wouldn't wish on anyone. And I promise you, sweet girl, that the desire to starve never fully leaves you. Not quite. The temptation to relapse and fall back into my old ways of skipping meals and counting calories is always there, lurking in the corners of my mind, ready to overwhelm me when I'm feeling stressed or sad.
That, dear girl, is the thing about anorexia: You either recover or you die. Eating disorders are the most lethal of all mental illnesses, and that's why your comment about your thighs worries me so much.
My first reaction when I heard you say your thighs are chubby was disappointment. I try so hard to model self-love and how to have a healthy relationship with food. I try to teach you the importance of exercise and cook you healthy meals, but I also make a point to let you see me enjoying a donut or a cookie.
Yet, here you are, a 6-year-old who looks at her thighs and sees them as anything less than what they are: Healthy, strong legs that help you do things like chase after your brother or ride the big girl bike you were given for your sixth birthday.
But, I understand. I understand that no matter what I do, no matter how many times I tell you you're smart and beautiful, that your genes might render you vulnerable to a dark voice inside your sweet mind that tells you you're less than worthy. One day, that horrible voice might drown out all the behaviors I try to model for you and all the love that I give, and it might convince you that you aren't the thoughtful, creative, compassionate daughter I know you are.
Let me tell you what will happen if you give in. You will lose, and you will lose so much. Months and years of your life that should be spent chasing your passions, enjoying friendships, and simply being happy will instead be spent counting calories and hiding food as your body wastes away to nothing. You will never have those years of your life back, and I promise you when you do eventually recover, the years you have lost to anorexia will be one of your greatest regrets.
I promise you that if you find yourself on the path of self-destruction that I will never give up on you. I will hold your hand through your darkest days until you are able to treat yourself with kindness again.
I know I'm your mom and you won't think I'm cool in a few years, but please promise you'll always come to me and we will figure this out together. I want you to know that strong is more important than thin. That the ads you see in magazines are lies. That chocolate is good for the soul. That the person who you will spend your days with will love every part of you (including your love handles). That bodies are here to carry around our hearts. And my darling, your heart is the most beautiful heart I know.