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I cherish the notes I receive from my children—whether they are scribbled with a Sharpie on a yellow sticky note or written in perfect penmanship on lined paper. But the Mother’s Day poem I received from my 9-year-old daughter was especially meaningful. In fact, the first line of the poem caused my breath to catch as warm tears slid down my face.


“The important thing about my mom is...she’s always there for me, even when I get in trouble.”

You see, it hasn’t always been this way.

In the midst of my highly distracted life, I started a new practice that was quite different from the way I behaved up until that point. I became a yeller. It wasn’t often, but it was extreme—like an overloaded balloon that suddenly pops and makes everyone in earshot startle with fear.

So what was it about my then three-year-old and six-year-old children that caused me to lose it? Was it how she insisted on running off to get three more beaded necklaces and her favorite pink sunglasses when we were already late? Was it that she tried to pour her own cereal and dumped the entire box on the kitchen counter? Was it that she dropped and shattered my special glass angel on the hardwood floor after being told not to touch it? Was it that she fought sleep like a prizefighter when I needed peace and quiet the most? Was it that the two of them fought over ridiculous things like who would be first out of the car or who got the biggest dip of ice cream?

Yes, it was those things—normal mishaps and typical kid issues and attitudes that irritated me to the point of losing control.

That is not an easy sentence to write. Nor is this an easy time in my life to relive because truth be told, I hated myself in those moments. What had become of me that I needed to scream at two precious little people who I loved more than life?

Let me tell you what had become of me.

My distractions—

Excessive phone use, commitment overload, multiple page to-do lists, and the pursuit of perfection consumed me. And yelling at the people I loved was a direct result of the loss of control I was feeling in my life.

Inevitably, I had to fall apart somewhere. So I fell apart behind closed doors in the company of the people who meant the most to me.

Until one fateful day.

My older daughter had gotten on a stool and was reaching for something in the pantry when she accidentally dumped an entire bag of rice on the floor. As a million tiny grains pelleted the floor like rain, my child’s eyes welled up with tears. And that’s when I saw it—the fear in her eyes as she braced herself for her mother’s tirade.

She’s scared of me, I thought with the most painful realization imaginable. My six-year-old child is scared of my reaction to her innocent mistake.

With deep sorrow, I realized that was not the mother I wanted my children to grow up with, nor was it how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

Within a few weeks of that episode, I had my Breakdown-Breakthrough—my moment of painful awareness that propelled me on a Hands Free journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really mattered.

That was two and a half years ago—two and half years of scaling back slowly on the excess and electronic distraction in my life...two and half years of releasing myself from the unachievable standard of perfection and societal pressure to “do it all.”

As I let go of my internal and external distractions, the anger and stress pent up inside me slowly dissipated. With a lighten load, I was able to react to my children’s mistakes and wrongdoings in a more calm, compassionate and reasonable manner.

I said things like,It’s just chocolate syrup. You can wipe it up, and the counter will be as good as new.”

(Instead of expelling an exasperated sigh and an eye roll for good measure.)

I offered to hold the broom while she swept up a sea of Cheerios that covered the floor.

(Instead of standing over her with a look of disapproval and utter annoyance.)

I helped her think through where she might have set down her glasses.

(Instead of shaming her for being so irresponsible.)

And in the moments when sheer exhaustion and incessant whining were about to get the best of me, I walked into the bathroom, shut the door, and gave myself a moment to exhale and remind myself they are children and children make mistakes. Just like me.

And over time, the fear that once flared in my children’s eyes when they were in trouble disappeared. And thank goodness, I became a haven in their times of trouble—instead of the enemy from which to run and hide.

I am not sure I would have thought to write about this profound transformation had it not been for the incident that happened one Monday afternoon. In that moment, I got a taste of life overwhelmed and the urge to yell was on the tip of my tongue. I was nearing the final chapters of my first book and my computer froze up. Suddenly the edits of three entire chapters disappeared in front of my eyes. I spent several minutes frantically trying to revert to the most recent version of the manuscript. When that failed to work, I consulted the time machine backup, only to find that it, too, had experienced an error. When I realized I would never recover the work I did on those three chapters, I wanted to cry—but even more so, I wanted to rage.

But I couldn’t because it was time to pick up the children from school and take them to swim team practice. With great restraint, I calmly shut my laptop and reminded myself there could be much, much worse problems than re-writing these chapters. Then I told myself there was absolutely nothing I could do about this problem right now.

When my children got in the car, they immediately knew something was wrong. “What’s wrong, Mama?” they asked in unison after taking one glimpse of my ashen face.

I felt like yelling, I lost three days worth of work on my book!”

I felt like hitting the steering wheel with my fist because sitting in the car was the last place I wanted to be in that moment. I wanted to go home and fix my book—not shuttle kids to swim team, wring out wet bathing suits, comb through tangled hair, make dinner, wash dishes and do the nightly tuck in.

But instead I calmly said, “I’m having a little trouble talking right now. I lost part of my book. And I don’t want to talk because I feel very frustrated.”

“We’re sorry,” the oldest one said for the both of them. And then, as if they knew I needed space, they were quiet all the way to the pool. The children and I went about our day and although I was more quiet than usual, I didn’t yell and I tried my best to refrain from thinking about the book issue.

Finally, the day was almost done. I had tucked my youngest child in bed and was laying beside my oldest daughter for nightly Talk Time.

“Do you think you will get your chapters back?” my daughter asked quietly.

And that’s when I started to cry—not so much about the three chapters, I knew they could be rewritten—my heartbreak was more of a release due to the exhaustion and frustration involved in writing and editing a book. I had been so close to the end. To have it suddenly ripped away was incredibly disappointing.

To my surprise, my child reached out and stroked my hair softly. She said reassuring words like, Computers can be so frustrating,” and I could take a look at the time machine to see if I can fix the backup.And then finally, Mama, you can do this. You’re the best writer I know,” and “I’ll help you however I can.”

In my time of “trouble,” there she was, a patient and compassionate encourager who wouldn’t think of kicking me when I was already down.

My child would not have learned this empathetic response if I had remained a yeller. Because yelling shuts down the communication—it severs the bond, it causes people to separate instead of come closer.

“The important thing is...my mom is always there for me, even when I get in trouble.” My child wrote that about me, the woman who went through a difficult period that she’s not proud of, but she learned from. And in my daughter’s words, I see hope for others.

The important thing is...it’s not too late to stop yelling.

The important thing is...children forgive—especially if they see the person they love trying to change.

The important thing is...life is too short to get upset over spilled cereal and misplaced shoes.

The important thing is...no matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day.

Today we can choose a peaceful response.

And in doing so, we can teach our children that peace builds bridges—bridges that can carry us over in times of trouble.

This article was originally published on Hands Free Mama.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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