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Grieving mama, I see you

Time doesn't heal all wounds, but time did allow me the opportunity to reflect, acknowledge my pain and reach out for help in getting my life back together again.

Grieving mama, I see you

"WHERE IS IT?" I screamed, slamming my palms against the blank dry-erase board that hung in our kitchen. "WHO ERASED IT?" My shrieks shook the walls of the house and one by one my children emerged from their rooms to gather around their hysterical mom in the kitchen who was snotty-nosed and red-faced about her dry-erase board.

"I did it!" My eldest daughter confessed. "I was sick of seeing that date every time I came into the kitchen and being reminded of that day!"

As I faced my then 12-year-old with angry tears streaming down my face, for the first time in a long time, I thought about how this tragedy might be affecting my children instead of just how it was making me feel.

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After my brother was killed in combat on December 14, 2011, the date was marked and circled on our dry erase board because I wasn't ready to move on. When he died, I wasn't ready to move past that day and I certainly wasn't ready to be a mom, even though I had four little ones.

I'm ashamed to say that, for many months after his death, I was an absent mom. I was emotionally unavailable to my own tender-aged kids who desperately needed me. And I needed them, too, but I felt so caught up in my grief that I did not know how to be there for myself, much less for my kids.

Maybe you have your own dry-erase board in your home or in your heart. There's that memory, item, time of year or moment in the day that can send you reeling back in time to the event that changed everything. A miscarriage. An argument that would escalate to a divorce. A medical check-up that revealed something much more complicated.

Whatever your dry-erase board moment or memory is, all mothers are going through or have experienced that time where a certain thing triggered the height of grief, making every responsibility and duty seem obsolete.

I will not pretend that I was a perfect or present mom during the height of my grief, and to be honest, I still have my days. But to the mamas out there in the thick of it right now, there's something I'd like you to know. If I could go back in time and speak to grieving me who had just lost her brother, this is what I'd say:

Your kids don't need you to be perfect; they just need you to be there.

Forget folded laundry, a swept front porch or hosting the sleepover. Do you know what can't be replaced for your kids? Your love, support and affection. Trust me, your kids are feeling some of the weight of your pain, and they need to be comforted through it as well.

It's okay to get help, and you need it.

I knew that things were not as they should be. I wanted to be a better mom, but on some days, it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe I knew it at the time and my judgment was just too clouded to act on it, but that's why I would go back, shake my own shoulders and tell past Renee to get help. Pay for counseling, join a grief support group, whatever "help" looked like for me, I needed more of it. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.

You are so blessed.

I know, this one might sting for those of you in the midst of terrible loss or pain. But consider this: you were chosen to be a mom. Maybe you don't feel like a good mom right now or that you don't even want to be one at all, not because you don't love your children but because you don't feel you have the strength to be one.

Know you are so blessed to be in this coveted role. Your little ones may not have gotten to pick you to be their mom, but you were picked to be one. That's a gift we must always be thankful for, lest we forget to treat our kids like the treasures they are.

Time doesn't heal all wounds, but time did allow me the opportunity to reflect, acknowledge my pain and reach out for help in getting my life back together again. As moms, we have the difficult role of needing to take care of others even on our worst days, but I think much of that difficulty would subside if we committed to talking about it.

If any of my memories or tips are reminding you of yourself or a mama you know, check on them. If that's you, let a fellow mother know what you're going through. Because I promise you, you aren't alone, and this will pass.

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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

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

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.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

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!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

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.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

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.

$45

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

janod toys baby fox ride on

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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