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I blinked, and now...it's time for kindergarten

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I just realized the summer that just started is actually also just about to end. Only, the ending of this summer for us means the beginning of a new journey, a new schedule, and chapter in our lives. In a few short weeks, preschool will be a thing of the past. Kindergarten is on the horizon.

For the past five years, I envisioned this point in time to feel so satisfying, like how it feels when you make your final car payment. I thought being done with the monthly expense of childcare would be so freeing. In reality, I don't feel that way at all.

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It hit me recently when I came to pick up my daughter at her preschool at the end of the day. The children were outside playing and I went into the classroom to gather her things. Alone in the room, I looked around and took it all in—the centers filled with bins and categorized toys, the handmade art hanging on the wall, the seasons and birthday calendars, the books and little tables and pint-sized chairs and all of the bold and vibrant colors and charts...and I could go on and on.

This is early-childhood. I wiped away a tear from my eye.

This place has nurtured and supported my little girl's life in a million ways and until now, I hadn't really appreciated the sacredness of this space. This is the place where she has made her first friends, where she coped with natural losses and transitions when educators or friends would move away, where she learned about who she is in relation to others and the world.

This is probably the only, and last, place in time where play will be valued as much as aptitude and productivity.

You see, when I first found out I was having a baby, I was absolutely overjoyed. However, just a few weeks into my pregnancy, I was shocked when I started looking into childcare options. If I had known, like actual monetary figures, how much childcare would cost, sometimes I wonder if I would have had the guts to have a baby.

All of the options at the time were about the same, over a grand per month. I felt sick. I questioned if I was irresponsible to have decided it was the right time to have a child. I had student loans, and a mortgage, after all!

When the baby came and maternity leave ended and it was time to start at the childcare center, I would be lying if I said I wasn't resentful about the costs. In fact, I have complained a lot about that over the years. Childcare is so darn expensive.

In my state of sticker-shock, what I failed to see right away was the invaluable experience it had become not only for my daughter but for the family. I think back now to the early days, schlepping in the mornings with bottle bags and baby food, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Leaving my child in the care of nurturing people who had a routine, structure and patience was so vital. I was able to be a mom and go out in the world and do good, purposeful work, all the while knowing that my daughter would also be doing the important work of being a baby and napping, and singing songs and creating adorable toddler art. All of our needs were being met.

As time passed on, the value only increased. My 18-month old had a "best friend" and his name was Texas. Is there anything cuter than that?

When we moved to a neighboring town, and that meant changing childcare centers, I grieved so ridiculously hard for what that loss would be like for her. A toddler. Losing her Texas. But really, the grief was mine.

I didn't want to admit it, but this place that I had resisted in so many ways from the start, had actually become for me the one consistent element in our chaotic little lives as a new family of three.

And now, with a near 6-year-old, it's all about to wrap up.

The grief again is mine. I think about all of the women over these years who provide childcare and what absolute unsung heroes they are. There is no dollar amount I could pay them that would adequately compensate for the loving and tireless work they perform day in and day out for children they love as their own.

Preschool teachers have my utmost respect and admiration and I am committed, let it be known here, that if I ever win the lottery, I will be sharing my prize with the entire staff at the pre-school as a small token of my appreciation.

When my dad met my newborn for the first time, he looked at her and said to me, "You will blink and she will be starting kindergarten." Well, folks, I blinked and here we are.

It's a beautiful thing—growth and transition and change. My girl is ready for kindergarten and she is well-prepared. But as I stood in that empty classroom, flooded with grief for the loss of this precious period of time in our lives and shame for the pitiful complaints about the financial costs, I realized that all of this is part of the lesson. Preschool is about character development, and not just for the child.

So, as we bid this season in our lives farewell, I am allowing myself to feel all the feelings, but mostly embrace gratitude for what I once thought was an unreasonable expense, that ultimately became such an unbelievable value.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

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"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

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Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
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