As I look back on new motherhood, here’s what I wish I knew then

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Underwear. Shorts. T-shirt. Stuffed animal. One by one my son packed each item into his Batman suitcase, mumbling under his breath about the unfairness of life.

“Okay, Mom, I'm leaving. And I'm not coming back!"

Then off he went, out the door, his chubby little hand pulling all his apparent worldly possessions behind him. He was five when my son “ran away" from home…to the stop sign at the end of our cul-de-sac.

My hubby and I watched him leave from the front lawn, shouting out our proclamations of love and well wishes. Lest you think I'm a crazy, we knew full-well our type AAA would turn around before walking out of eyesight and realizing we weren't coming after him. Allowing him to stomp off and protest was our way of affirming his frustration.

After welcoming back our mini-prodigal, we listened long and hard to all his complaints: he's always the one getting in trouble, little brother gets away with everything, little sister gets way too much attention, and he never gets to do anything fun.

Oh, the stresses and strains of being the oldest with all of five years under his belt.

So we told our mature-beyond-a-half-decade little boy we understood his concerns and showered down love like rain upon him. We explained how some things in life are difficult by default.

Those of you with kids in the youngish stage can surely relate to the throes of childrearing multiple offspring. Kids tug our mom hearts in every direction as we try to manage our days and keep our sanity. Emotions related to infractions, frustrations, or accidents tend to grow exponentially because of exhaustion and the feeling that of no end's in sight. I lay awake for nights on end after our son's pack-up-and-leave incident. Guilt and sorrow overwhelmed me.

However, what I've learned looking back, now that my three kids are in their 20s, is how much truth lies beneath the statement, “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems." Oh, what I wouldn't give for a tiny incident of a kindergartener packing a bag and stomping off in a tantrum.

Decades later, I've realized how some – okay, tons – of my worries, fears, frets, and overanalyzing ways caused unnecessary stress and angst. This is not to say that the burdens we feel in any stage of parenting aren't valid. We can only relate to where our feet our planted, therefore every struggle is relative and real.

I do wish someone would've told me years ago not to sweat the small stuff when motherhood overwhelmed me to the nth degree. I guess a book by that title did come out during my mad dash of raising littles, but I recall an inability to apply the principles. They sounded foreign with so much responsibility weighing on my heart, you know, ensuring the heath, livelihood, and safety of three human beings.

Which is why I'm saying to all of you, “Try your best not to sweat the small stuff." Tomorrow will have enough big problems of its own, and raising teens and young adults requires full-mettle moxie. You might as well conserve your energy now so you have the strength to navigate the pressures of later.

Here is a rundown of a few things to consider today as you prepare for the intensity of the future.

What matters now:

  1. Love.
  2. Basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter.
  3. A place to call home regardless of 8,000 Lego pieces, goldfish, cheerios, singleton shoes, and dirty diapers scattered all over the floor.
  4. The ability to shower every few days. Having clean insides – heart and soul – goes a lot further than fresh hair and flowery armpits.
  5. A vehicle that gets from a to b. Who cares if 79 library books, half-full juice boxes, scraps of food, and wrappers slide all around the floor at every turn?
  6. Love.

What matters later:

  1. Love.
  2. Knowing the health of your child's self-esteem.
  3. Awareness and action plan against all the evils competing for your child's soul: porn, drugs, alcohol, social media fantasy land, bullies.
  4. Warning signs for mental illness and a resolve to get your child necessary help.
  5. Open lines of communication about all things with a spirit of non-judgment and loving support.
  6. Love.

My small lists are not to say huge problems don't exist for parents of young children, or to claim that the teen and young adult years come wrought with automatic strain. Every possibility exists on a vast spectrum of experience, but when we look at the "what matters later" list, those types of problems carry a lot of weight.

When we release some of the little stuff that goes along with raising young kids, we have more willpower to absorb the big-time shock and awe of stewarding young adults.

I'm encouraging all of you younger moms to do things differently than I did. You are strong. You are brave. You have what it takes to get through each day just doing the simple things. Love every moment, stay present, and know that when the future comes and big problems surface, you can handle it after rising above these little struggles now.

I'm cheering you on from an empty nest while trying to stay strong parenting from a distance. We both can do this!

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Things We're Loving

There is so much joy in the world right now, even if our news feeds and the headlines in the paper don't always show it. Babies are being born, mothers are harnessing their power and children (yes, little children) are changing this big world.

That's why we are always on the lookout for the stories that are going to make us smile, because there are certainly things in this world that are upsetting and worth worrying about, but there is also so much joy, so much resilience and an amazing future ahead of us.

These are the stories that made us smile this week:

Mom's post goes viral after she gives baby advice meant for goats 😂

Have you ever replied to a post in an online group thinking you're in another one? It's happened to a lot of us, but never quite as hilariously as it happened to Hailey McHone.

McHone is a member of multiple Facebook groups, including a mom's group and a group for goat owners. When someone needed advice about an ill kid (which, to be fair, can mean a young human or a young goat) McHone replied with goat advice, thinking she was in that group.

"Put the kids in a plastic bag in a warm bath. 103-104 degree water is the best. Rub honey and cayenne on their gums," she wrote.

When one of the Facebook group members asked why a parent would want to raise an infant's temperature, McHone realized her mistake.

"[O]h my god," she wrote. "I thought this was in my goat emergency group. Normal goat temperature is 102. All this advice is for baby goats. Please do not follow any of it."

McHone's advice may not have been what OP was looking for, but it sure made the rest of the group (and now the whole internet) crack up.

2-year-old sees himself reflected in Target display and his reaction went viral 

Representation matters for kids with disabilities, as nearly 2-year-old Oliver Garza-Pena and his mom demonstrated with their now-viral post about a trip to Target.

"Oliver stopped me dead in his tracks and turned back around to see this picture that he spotted! He just stared at it in awe! He recognized another boy like him, smiling and laughing on a display at Target. Oliver sees kids every day, but he never gets to see kids like him. This was amazing!" his mom, Demi Garza-Pena, wrote on Facebook, in a post that has been shared more than 34,000 times.

Oliver's experience is similar to one writer Jamie Sumner had with her then 6-year-old son Charlie at Target back in 2018.

"But when we rolled past the Cat and Jack sign with the little boy in the walker, it became a different kind of day. For Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, it was the moment he saw his own lifestyle reflected in the world."

Thank you, Target, for including kids who move through the world a little differently.

This little girl is going viral and providing 'more than peach' crayons

When Bellen Woodard was in third grade she began to wonder why classmates would refer to the peach crayon as "skin-color" when skin comes in so many colors besides peach. That's why she launched the "More Than Peach" project, aiming to celebrate and highlight diversity by giving kids the art supplies they need to draw what they see in the mirror, at home and in the classroom.

Multicultural crayon and marker packs do exist thanks to Crayola and the company is now helping Bellen put diverse art supplies in the hands of her elementary school peers in Loudoun County, Virgina.

Thank you, Bellen!

Sisters go viral after giving birth on the same day, in the same hospital 

What's better than having twin? Having a "cousin-twin"! That's what sisters Charell Anthony and Cierra Anthony of Indianapolis call their little ones, Terry Valentino (Charell's newborn son) and Dream Monique (Cierra's newborn daughter).

Terry and Dream were born on February 12 at Community Hospital East in Indianapolis, Good Morning America reports. "They're going to be really close," Charell told GMA. "Being born on the same day, that's going to be really special for them."

It was a special memory for the extended family, who were going back and forth between the two hospital rooms and could not believe the timing. "They were so excited," said Cierra.

Viral Instagram photo series shows surrogacy birth creating a family + a friendship

Olatz Mendiola Marinas of San Sebastian, Spain, wanted so badly to be a mother and Celeste Remediz of Texas made her one. Now the two women are connected by a bond most can't conceive of, one that was documented by photographer Stephanie Cabrera of Reborn From Within, who was there for the birth of baby Kala and posted her photos on Instagram.

"I feel so lucky to get to witness how amazing the love between people can be. Surrogacy is something I've always admired, to provide someone with the gift of love, a gift more precious than any other gift in the world is incredibly special," Cabrera, the photographer, tells Motherly.

The surrogate, Celeste Remediz, a former Dallas police officer, told Good Morning America that she found out about her own third pregnancy a bit late in the game, around 5 months along, and felt a bit robbed of the pregnancy experience because of that. Three kids were enough for Remediz and her husband, but she wanted to be pregnant again.

"After the birth of our daughter, I told my husband that if she was to be our last child, I felt I had missed out on half of the pregnancy and didn't get to fully enjoy it and take it all in. I love being pregnant and enjoyed all my pregnancies," Remediz told GMA.

Credit: Stephanie Cabrera/ Reborn From Within

Remediz continues: "I realized then, that if my husband and I were done growing our family, I could be pregnant again and help someone else grow theirs through surrogacy. My husband agreed to support me and we found the agency who did an amazing job matching us to Olatz."

The two women became super close.

"Since I knew Celeste was going to be the surrogate mother, we started to talk regularly on the phone and got along well very quickly," said Marinas, the intended mother. "I had the chance to live with Celeste three weeks before giving birth and to be fully involved in her family['s] daily life, which really allowed me to get to know her well, support her and share her feelings on a daily basis."

Remediz says she was elated when the baby she'd just given birth to was placed in Marinas's arms. "I felt like the baby's aunt or something but never like her mother. This journey has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done and has taught me so much," she explains.

Credit: Stephanie Cabrera/ Reborn From Within

Cabrera says she was inspired by the two mothers who shared a birth and shared their story, and plans to continue capturing birth stories like this one to show the world that there are so many ways to become a mother, and so many ways to support mothers.

"My family and I will be traveling full-time the next few years in our old restored Volkswagen bus and by plane. During this time I will be documenting various individuals during their prenatal, birth and postpartum process. One of my biggest goals is to highlight all of the inspiring birth workers and organizations that greatly improve birth outcomes for everyone especially for people of color and low-income communities that are so often marginalized and at higher risk for maternal and infant mortality. This documentation will also take me across borders to document birthing traditions in other countries and cultures," Cabrera tells Motherly.

These are three incredible women and such incredible pictures.

News

My husband and I dreamed about our future child for years before actually embarking on our pregnancy journey in earnest. We are not unique, of course: That dream we had is shared by so many expectant parents and is part of what makes pregnancy so magical.

And getting pregnant for the first time is truly a magical experience. My husband and I were lucky enough to get pregnant on the second try. While I had nausea my entire pregnancy, I was otherwise gliding through it like it was the easiest thing I'd ever done.

By the time we got to my 20-week anatomy scan, the oh-so-exciting moment when you get to see all of your new baby, we already knew we were having a baby girl and were so excited to get to know her even more. I still remember what I wore that day: a black embroidered shift dress and little sandals, with a brand-new handbag I bought myself as my own push present. I dressed up for the occasion because I felt like I should.

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Toward the end of my scan, the technician said she had to show the doctor my results. It threw up a red flag in the sense that we knew this was not always customary, but not knowing much myself, I was more confused than scared.

I will never for the rest of my life forget what happened next. When the doctor came in and started her own scan, she looked at me and said, "Your baby has a hole in her heart." My reaction was immediate: tears that vowed to never stop. I couldn't breathe.

The obstetrician sent us to see a pediatric cardiologist immediately to do a fetal echocardiogram, a test similar to an ultrasound that can determine the severity of the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD). Our unborn child had what is called a tetralogy of fallot with pulmonary atresia, in which she was missing a wall between her heart chambers and had small pulmonary arteries and one of the more complex defects. We were told that based on the severity, we should consider termination — at 20 weeks, exactly half of a full-term pregnancy.

Technically, I had four weeks to decide: in New York State, 24 weeks is the legal cut off for early termination. I had four weeks to decide the fate of that child my husband and I had spent years dreaming about.

It ultimately took me only that night to make a decision. We found a team of doctors who were, and are, true angels in the face of something otherworldly terrible. They showed us the kind of empathy and care we needed as scared new parents, while also being the best high-risk OBGYN and cardio team in the country to handle this kind of case.

On Nov. 4, 2018, I went in for my induction, and on Nov. 5th, 2018 at 8:13 p.m., our daughter was born. She was whisked off almost immediately, and I didnt get to see her again until the next morning in the Cardiac NICU.

Babies do "breathe" while in utero, but once they are born, there is a chemical released that closes a particular valve in the heart that is no longer needed. Due to her defect, she actually needed that value to stay open so she needed to get medication immediately to keep the valve from closing. That meant I held her post delivery for about 15 seconds before she was taken away; I didn't get to really, truly hold her until three days later.

Once I got to my room, I finally had a minute to breathe — and I just started crying. I wanted my baby. I wanted to hold her, to get to know her, and I just couldn't. The silver lining was that I had that easy pregnancy and a very easy vaginal delivery; I think God cut me a break knowing what I was in for once our daughter was born. The next morning, I was up with the sun and upstairs in the NICU to see my daughter where she would be for the next three weeks.

She had open heart surgery seven days after she was born, a second surgery at month five and a less invasive procedure at month nine. She is now 15 months old and a tornado of a toddler. She is smarter than she should be and a total comedian who knows she's the boss, who loves to climb and dance, who is affectionate and loving. She has filled my heart with so much joy, I could burst at the seams.

Someone asked me recently what was the bravest thing I had done in my life. After some reflection, I realized it was choosing to have my baby — and getting myself prepared for whatever would come once she was born. It was knowing fully that we could only know so much about what her heart may be like when she arrived, and what the course of care would be upon that potential outcome. But I knew in my own heart that she was meant to be here, and I was wiling to endure whatever came my way.

If she was here for a day, a week or a lifetime, that was her choice, not mine, and I would be the mother she needed for as long as she was alive.

Life

I admit it: We struggle with screen time in my house. My 4-year-old is a rambunctious consumer of entertainment and most of his beloved forms come in the mini screen of my cell phone. I do, however, do my best to fill that screen with the most educational kid's apps that exist, and one of his favorites is the world of Sago Mini. Their apps are fun, playful, and yes, help him learn something too.

So imagine our excitement when we found out that Sago Mini is bringing that experience offline with an IRL kid's toy subscription service that sends open-ended toys to you about once a month. The service officially launches today and it's perfect for kids aged 3-5. It costs about $19 a month or $15 a month if you pay for an annual subscription.

The Sago Mini box

The first set of boxes will have planes, road trip and fairy tales themes. ✨The box we tried was road-trip themed and it came with everything your little needs to get off the phone and into their imagination. I loved that even the box itself can be turned into a toy by disassembling it and rebuilding it inside out. Because we all know that sometimes our kid's favorite toy ends up being the box it was shipped in!

The kit comes with three make and play activities, all designed to build off each other. For example, our road trip box came with a felt "road" that my son loved draping all over the furniture, and a cardboard car with wooden wheels in one activity pack. Then the second activity pack had destinations your child can "drive" their car to like Grandma's house, school and a gas station.

I especially appreciated that they kept an eye on sustainability (and cute design!) when creating these play materials. All the paper materials that come in the box are made from recycled goods or sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC certified). The best part? My son played with his set for a good few hours—and never asked for my phone once.

$15
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When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

1. Prep snacks on Sunday

This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

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2. When in doubt, go for fruit

Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

3. Pair snacks with a dip

Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

4. Have high-protein options readily available

Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

5. Always keep the pantry stocked

Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

6. Make cracker tartines

I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

  • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
  • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
  • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

7. Pre-make smoothie pops

The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

Lifestyle
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