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Being a single mom over the holidays can be lonely—but there's still so much joy

But our lives are full of love, happiness and health. ?

Being a single mom over the holidays can be lonely—but there's still so much joy

I still vividly remember the Christmas mornings of my childhood. My three siblings and I would always be up by 4 a.m., but to avoid our parents' wrath we'd vibrate under the covers until the more acceptable hour of 7 a.m. rolled in.

Then, on the dot, we'd leap out of bed, launch down the stairs of our large family home and gasp at the glittering tree surrounded by dozens of multi-colored presents.

We'd creep around the boxes, guessing at the larger ones and hungrily dig through our stockings while mom and dad brewed coffee. Once they were appropriately caffeinated and could combat our excitement—we'd take turns opening gifts, marveling at what new toys, books and clothes had arrived overnight.

After presents, my dad would set about putting together the various "assembly-required" pieces and mom would make breakfast—platters of fluffy pancakes with bacon or waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries.

I guess as an adult, I always pictured giving my children the same experience I had growing up—not just the big house adorned with garland and tinsel, not just the large tree we'd all cut down and decorated together, not just the presents and pancakes—but that magic of family too. A day of slowing down and remembering how lucky we were to have each other.

Since I've grown up and have gone through a divorce, my definition on a lot of things has had to change. My twin daughters and I don't have a family home but instead a two-bedroom basement suite, where one of the girls sleeps Harry Potter-style in a finished storage closet under the stairs. Our space is small and our Christmas tree fake, and both my counter space and budget are so limited that making that brilliant Christmas breakfast is going to be a challenge.

And most of all, my girls' dad won't be with us. He's wonderful, but he's spending the morning with his family so we don't confuse the children, which means they'll miss out on the way the holidays made my parents' love grow, how it would reach out and hold us all in its golden bubble. Instead, I'll have the kids for the morning, he'll have the kids for the evening, and in a way—I feel like we all lose out on something.

Some December days break my heart. This time of year families are everywhere and their excitement is inescapable—it's the mom and dad on either side of their child lining up for a picture with Santa, or taking a picture on one of those Polar Express train rides with hot chocolate. It's this beautiful caroling chaos—and sometimes it feels like my girls and I are on the outside of it, watching through a frosted window.

During the holidays I feel like I exist in this liminal space between happy families and happy childless couples—never sure if finding the same joy they have is possible or even acceptable to the masses. Christmas is a time where our hearts and homes are lit up to celebrate the happy glow of the season and as a single mom, I often don't know where the darkness of my grief fits within it.

I try my hardest to create the same magic other children get—with half the team and half the budget—solely carrying the burden of two parents on my shoulders. As the weeks draw closer, Christmas can feel like a reminder of my feelings of failure around not being able to provide what other children receive—an intact, unbroken family.

But recently, it occurred to me that perhaps my own sadness is entirely due to the fact that I'm expecting the holidays to look like what I once thought they should look like, rather than embracing the beauty in what they are.

Our home might be tiny and I might not be wealthy, but our lives are full of love, happiness and health. My kids are, despite the trauma of divorce, thriving and I am, too—against all odds, I've emerged from the darkness and have come out stronger and quite grateful. At the end of the day—we have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge and gifts under the tree.

We have been blessed with the beauty in the little things.

Instead of feeling sad about not having a house to adorn with lights, we go for magical evening walks and admire everyone else's. We won't spend any time this year worrying about keeping up with long gift lists or the status quo. And rather than trying to meet certain family traditions, we get to make our own. Like the way we baked a huge batch of gingerbread cookies last week and ate them hot from the oven, dripping with unset icing and sprinkles. We've got no one to impress and I'm still scraping glaze off the floor— but there is bliss in our free, unstructured joy.

And ultimately, the biggest reward this year is that I am exponentially more grateful for these holiday moments with my daughters. This Christmas, we've been given the gift of perspective. We're finding love in the limited and joy in our journey, and that could make this the best Christmas yet.

While I might be a divorced single mom this holiday, together my girls and I sure are dancing merrily in a new, old fashioned way—and if I'm being honest, I'd take that over picture-perfection any day.


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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Balance board

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Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

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Detective set

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This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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